Germany and the Netherlands are an enormous market for new bikes, many times bigger than the UK. Recumbents, cargo bikes and the like represent a tiny percentage of total bike sales even here, but a tiny sector of such an enormous market is large enough to support a vibrant trade show. Since the first show in 1996 the Spezialradmesse (Special Bike Show) has outgrown its original space and now occupies three halls in addition to large outdoor exhibition space and a huge bike try-out track. The approach to the show gives a taste of what’s to come; Cycle rickshaws and Conference Bikes trundle up and down ferrying visitors the few hundred metres which separate the exhibition halls. The whole area is wall to wall with interesting bikes, ridden to the show and locked to every available pole and railing. Alongside the expected assortment of recumbents, tandems and folders are some very special bikes indeed; a Brompton which has been converted into a (folding) SWB recumbent, a ‘push-me-pull-you’ back-to-back recumbent tandem, an unidentified vintage folder nestled in the bed of a Long John cargo bike. Many are home-made specials such as the beautiful timber LWB bike and what appeared to be a bike converted into lawn mower tricycle. And, casually parked up among the hundreds of visitors bikes the super-bad stars of the show; velomobiles. Bright yellow, lime green, carbon black and about as inconspicuous as a shark in a pond full of goldfish. Every now and then the distinctive rumble and crash of a thin carbon body shell announces the arrival of another, every head in the crowd turns as it darts through the crowd. Until now the only place I’ve seen so many Velomobiles (or HPVs) in one place was at the races.
Spezi is the showcase for the sharp end of cycling technological development. It combines the high technology of an HPV World Championship race pit-lane with the wall to wall exquisite detail of the Hand Made Bicycle Show. There was much to admire, almost every stand featured something of interest to the bike technology geek in me, but of course what catches the eye are the truly groundbreaking machines. I’ll give you a rundown of the products that were, for me, the pick of the show.
Whike (who, I am delighted to announce, accepted my invitation to exhibit their machine in Cyclorama) produce a rather nice recumbent trike which, uniquely, comes equipped with a sail which is designed to take advantage of the free energy blowing around us all the time. This is a truly great, though not entirely new idea. Cycle sails surface and disappear every couple of decades. Blown over probably You can imagine how unstable a bicycle with a sail would be in a strong wind. Whike’s innovation was to attach the mast to a recumbent trike. With three wheels and a low centre of gravity for stability it becomes a cross between a recumbent cycle and a land yacht. A superb design, beautifully manufactured. I was very impressed with the quality of the finished product. Far from cheap but hey, Spezi is the wrong place if you want cheap.
A significant development in the bicycle market in recent years is the fairly rapid expansion of the high end. When mainstream bike brands produce machines which register in the multi thousand Dollars, Pounds or Euros you know something is going on. There have always been expensive bikes – we remember with a cringe the 80’s and 90’s wacky show-bikes with gold plated sprockets and chains destined be hung on museum walls and never turn a wheel – but today’s high Dollar bikes are built to be ridden. There is a new kind of bike purchaser, the wealthy professional who cares about fitness and for whom the attraction of high technology means almost as much as the ride. They holiday several times a year, drive expensive cars and look after their bodies. When these folks get into cycling they want the best. And they are prepared to pay for it.
Innesenti’s carbon-fibre recumbent tricycle is the first of its kind and must be one of the most desirable pedal-powered machines ever constructed. We’ve seen Treks and Giants with this level of finish but we’re not used to seeing it in the recumbent world; the frame design itself is elegant, nicely swoopy, clean and tidy. Details are neat and immaculately finished. It really is quite beautiful, something I rarely can say about a recumbent. The level of finish was truly extraordinary. Show goers stood, slack-jawed, in awe of it.
It has long been possible to produce a carbon fibre recumbent tricycle, the technology has been around for two or three decades. Recumbents are still niche though, so whilst the market can support the manufacture of a few thousand super-high-end road and mountain bikes every year only time will tell if the market is ready for this stratospheric carbon recumbent. (Innesenti, gladly, also accepted my invitation to exhibit their trike in Cyclorama).
There is a very strong sense when wandering around the Spezi that we are all members of an exclusive club; exhibitors and visitors alike, Cyclorama’s visit to the show was an opportunity to connect with our existing exhibitors and to introduce ourselves to potential new ones. There was a really nice atmosphere at the show, a sense that we are all on the same team. We were pleased to note that twenty percent of the show’s exhibitors were already signed up to Cyclorama before we left the UK.
One of the machines I was most impressed with and hope to feature on Cyclorama was the Swingtrike. It’s an upright (delta) trike, the front wheel steers and the back wheels are articulated. We’ve seen similar things in the motorized bicycle world where the front or rear pair of wheels tilt to allow the trike to lean into corners. To be honest I haven’t done enough research on this thing to know what the manufacturer claims for it. Other than it has more grip in the corners. Well ok. I’ll go with that but that’s not the reason I like it. I like it because someone thought it was a good enough idea to make the immense effort to put it into production and for that I admire them. And because it’s front wheel drive. Front wheel drive. How cool is that?
Delta trikes are problematic. The trouble is that the rear wheels go around corners at different speeds because they describe different arcs. The history of the search for a solution to the problem of transferring drive via the wheels to the ground includes the invention of the differential (later pilfered by multi-track motor vehicles). The cheaper way is to drive just one wheel and this is the method found on most contemporary trikes below a certain price point. But driving just one wheel brings its own set of problems as the machine will tend to push one way under power and pedal speed varies according to which direction one is turning. But front wheel drive has its own set of problems, the possibility of torque steer if the pulleys aren’t aligned perfectly, a hike in transmission drag and the increased likelyhood of traction loss on slippery gradients. The cons might still outweigh the pros for this machine and it may prove to be a cycle design evolution Cul-de Sac but you have to admire them for trying. Very cool, very clever and brilliantly engineered and – judging by the way it was haring around the test track – it certainly looked like it handled well too. www.swingtrike.de
The show was so busy that we struggled to exchange more than a few words with some of the folk we went to see but we ended up chatting to the very nice guy – Henk van der Woerdt of Nazca Ligfietsen -outside after the event and we got a chance to ride the stunning Gaucho28 ‘highracer’ before it disappeared into the van. One of the (probably unfounded) concerns that people (even the Dutch) have about recumbents is their lowness. As Henk explained, for many years all these enormous 6’4” Dutch guys have riding around inches from the ground slung between two dinky little twenty inch wheels. The Gaucho28 uses standard 700 road bike wheels. Crucially this also allows a standard road bike group set. The benefits are; reduced costs as all the parts are off-the-shelf, the reduced rolling resistance of the taller wheel means greater speed – Henk claims that this is his fastest recumbent yet – and a commanding riding position. All good things but the really interesting bit is that this recumbent, which gives nothing away to any other bike in their line-up for comfort and speed also has the unique ability to mix it on the road with regular road bikes. A Gaucho28 rider can hold a conversation and interact with riders of regular bikes in a way that lowriders simply cannot. Real innovation responding to need and in the process creating a whole new category. I love it. www.cyclorama.net/viewProduct.php?id=259
For anyone interested in recumbents this is a show well worth visiting but I was a little disappointed at the poor showing for the other niche areas of cycling. Folding bikes were represented and there was a smattering of special needs cycles but surely not enough considering the many visitors who arrived by wheelchair – some manufacturers are missing a trick here – and only a handful of electric bikes, cargo bikes and trailers. But it is what it is, and it was big enough and good enough to keep this bike geek amused for two whole days. I’ll definitely be attending next year.
And the best thing? There wasn’t a fluorescent green and pink bandwagon fixie within 100 miles!