Tuesday, May 29, 2012

HP Velotechnik Speed Machine - Cool Bike

HP Velotechnik's hotrod: the Speed Machine

I'm now stocking an HP Velotechnik Speed Machine (abbreviated here as "SPM") for demo rides.  I wasn't sure what to expect since, at the "speed" end of the market, there is so much competition and clamoring for the bragging rights for "the fastest bike."  The Cruzbike Silvio and Vendetta are clearly special.  So, why bring in a Speed Machine?

So far, after a few training rides, I must say I'm rather impressed.  It's a cool bike, just as we can always expect from HP Velotechnik.  Before it arrived, I anticipated something like a Street Machine Gte, just lower-slung, but it's really a whole new vehicle, as different from the Street Machine as is the Grasshopper fx.

First of all, regarding aerodynamics, the leg, body and head positions are in the "typical" range for racers, whether high, medium or low -- very flat and layed back.  What is special is that the frame is extremely stiff, straight and responsive, as we expect from HP Velotechnik, and the frame design allows great power transfer to the wheels.  Till now, I've believed unsuspended racers would be lighter, faster and more responsive, but the Speed Machine handles beautifully with the added benefit that, with the suspension, it hugs the road even when the pavement is rough.  Frankly, I feel a lot more comfortable with full-suspension because, when I'm traveling at high speeds, the inevitable unforeseen bump in the road doesn't throw the bike off the ground or force me to veer into traffic.

The build I have here is fitted with the Concept front suspension, the DT Swiss air shock, Shimano XT hydraulic disk brakes, aero bars, the standard Alex wheel set, and the upgraded XT drivetrain.  Long and short, it's light, responsive, and reminds me a bit of a standard frame road race bike in the way that the faster you're riding, the better it seems to handle.

I've seen a review of the Speed Machine somewhere on the internet that was written by a fellow who seems to have sparse knowledge about bikes and equally sparse experience with the Speed Machine.  Oddly, this guy once contacted me personally to challenge my admiration for HP Velotechnik engineering but then didn't reply after I pointed out the mistakes in his review.  Among his absurd comments, he criticizes the Speed Machine's front shock as being comparable to that used in Walmart bikes (which may tell us something about the kind of bikes he rides).  If you've seen that review and have been negatively swayed by it, be assured that there is no remote resemblance between HP Velotechnik's over-sized Concept suspension fork, with steel spring, adjustable dampening and 50 mm of travel, and your average -- or below average -- bicycle front suspension, least of all a typical Walmart bike.  The SPM's front fork is beautifully designed, both internally and externally, and is truly worthy of the HP Velotechnik reputation.  And, for the record, I do actually have the dubious honor of knowing something about Walmart bikes.  In early 2013, I was part of a 3-person team who competed in an adventure race in Virginia, one leg of which was on a Walmart bike with front suspension.  In addition, I did the mechanical work before the race to try and whip the bike into shape.  Why, for Pete's sake, did I race on a Walmart bike?  Because our team's bike had been stolen, and it was the night before the race, and we weren't willing to spend more than $200 bucks on a replacement that we were going to leave behind with our Virginia teammate.  At any rate, I assure you, as much as I wished otherwise while I was riding it, the front suspension of a Walmart bike has NO resemblance to the suspension on a Speed Machine.  (Our team came in seventh place, by the way.)

A word about the seat angle: while the deepest seat recline is 25 degrees (which is very flat and aero), the seat can be adjusted up to 35 degrees, which is the same as the "medium" setting on a Street Machine Gte or Grasshopper fx.  In other words, this "speed" bike -- for racing or randonneuring -- becomes a highly aerodynamic touring machine by simply changing the seat angle (which takes 5 seconds) and adding racks, fenders, panniers and light kits, which it is built to accept easily and quickly.  Looking at it another way, with the fully suspended build, we have a very nice, fast and aero touring machine that can be easily stripped down and turned into a weekend racer.

I'm very excited about this bike and I think it provides a great new option for the city rider who is limited in the number of bikes he or she can fit into their small space at home.  Many bent riders seem to own a folding bike and two or three bents.  We usually make hard choices between a bent for fast club rides, one for commuting and grocery runs, one for long distance trips, one for off-road, one for pavement, one for folding and taking on the train, etc.

Speed Machine set up for touring. Note that the rider's line of sight is clear
and unhindered by his feet. Darn, that's a nice set-up.

This summer, I'm trying to find time to go through the Adirondacks and Green Mountains using the Adventure Cycling routes.  Now that I've put a few miles on it, I am seriously considering taking a Speed Machine.  While I still need to resolve the issue of taking a non-folding bike on Amtrak or a bus, and whether the high foot position will cause "hot foot" issues -- which I'm prone to have, I think it may be nice to use a highly aero machine like the Speed Machine for the route.  Given how little time I have for the trip -- I won't know if I can get away from work till a week before the trip -- it may be nice to be a little more aero and add a few miles an hour or so to my touring pace and see if I can't complete the 800-mile route a day or two (or three?) faster than I'd ordinarily plan.  We shall see.

Note, a year later:
I'm a working stiff -- if not an over-worked stiff -- which means I don't get to just go out and ride as much as I'd like.  I ride a beater-bent every day to get around town, but the demo Speed Machine sits here clean, used mostly for demos.  I didn't have time to take it up to the Adirondacks last fall to test it as a fast tourer; I intend to try again this July.  However, over the past ten days I've taken it out three times for quick 25-mile training rides in Prospect Park as a mid-day break; I also rode it recently on an 80-mile ride with the NY Cycle Club.  I wanted to remind myself what it feels like and compare it to the Cruzbike Silvio.  If I'm looking for the highest sans-fairing speeds, which do I prefer?  Also, I wanted to remind myself again of the shock absorption characteristics of the Concept 2 fork.  How low do I feel in traffic on the SPM?  Too low?  How is the low speed turning and tight navigating around people, dogs and curbs?  How much speed do I lose on the uphills compared to a Silvio?  How does it handle at 35 mph?  How do I feel about the 25-35 degree recline of the seat, given how accustomed I've become to 35-45 degree reclines?

And I still really love it.  Every time I've come back from a ride, I'm so happy with the speed and handling, and the way it feels on city streets and in traffic.  Yes, my head height is lower than it is on a Street Machine or Silvio, but I don't feel terribly vulnerable.  I have good eye contact with drivers of ordinary cars.  As I'd do on any bike, I'm extremely cautious around trucks and vans.  There's a speed sacrifice on the uphills and flats, compared to a Silvio, but I get some of that back on the downhills.  I love the aerodynamics when a headwind is blowing.  There remains the benefit of the relaxed upper body compared to a Silvio, so, over all, I feel less end-of-ride tiredness.  But there's that quality I love in all HP Velotechniks: the way the bike behaves when you're going fast and hit unexpected bumps.  This is simply a great fully suspended machine.

If I wasn't so concerned with keeping it clean and in low-mileage condition, the Speed Machine could easily become my favorite bike for "vacation riding" -- for my non-commuting bike time -- which is basically training and touring with remnants of a need-for-speed.  It's a really cool machine that can truly serve many purposes: speed, touring and commuting.

The fast-'bent market segment is very cluttered and noisy though, which may cause the SPM to get lost.  Also, at 30 lbs. -- for the stock build that will accept a 286 lb payload (!) -- prospective riders may view it as heavier than some other bikes in its performance/price range (which generally have lower payloads).

It's a cliche that inexperienced riders are preoccupied with bike weight because it is an easy number to compare without understanding what has been sacrificed -- or never included -- to achieve a light weight.  When bike shopping, we're always comparing apples (Granny Smith to Empire) and oranges (Navels and Valencias). 16 ounces of quality that results from good analysis and engineering does not equal to 16 ounces of who-knows-what coming from a bike enthusiast using a shareware CAD program and gut instinct.  Do riders understand the benefits of an oversized main tube and head tube?  Are we willing to accept that shocks are vital for safely handling high-speeds?  Do riders readily understand a list of technical specs?  Or understand that a build specced to support a 286 lb payload might be significantly lightened to suit a 170 lb rider?  (Hint: buy the SPM as a framekit, with the front fork, and then build it with your favorite components and wheels.)

It's an interesting and complex business.  Ultimately, the more I ride and work on HP Velotechniks, the more I like them.  And the Speed Machine, it may be one of those things "of beauty [which are] a joy for ever" (Keats).

Have fun and stay healthy,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Q & A: What tires for trikes?

On Tue, May 15, 2012 12:28 pm, M___ L____ wrote:
> Hello,
> I have a recumbent trike and need new tires (Catrike Villager). Can you
> recommend tire?  And also need them
> to change tires on now. I am in Marine Park Area.

> Thank you,
> M__ L__

Hey M___,

Good to hear from you again.  I'm partial to Schwalbe tires due to the quality of manufacturing.  The Catrike Villager has 20" wheels, front and rear, so I'd suggest Schwalbe Marathon Racers or Schwalbe Trykers if you're riding on maintained roads, either paved or dirt.  For unmaintained roads, double-track trails, and rough off-road terrain I like Schwalbe Mow Joe knobby tires.  They were created for BMX racing so they are very grippy, responsive and fast.

All best,

# # #

Have fun and stay healthy,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hase Pino. Four thumbs up.

The new Hase Pino semi-recumbent tandem arrived in the shop the other day. On Saturday I had the chance to take it out for a test ride.  My friend and I treated ourselves to a casual 65-mile hilly ride from my place near the Brooklyn Museum of Art up to the Alpine Picnic Area at the north end of the NJ section of the Palisades Park.

Wish I had a photo, but you can't really take a picture of yourself riding a bike.

Neat bike.  I've ridden a fair number of tandems and there are several points that make this one stand out.
- Both captain and stoker have a great view of the surroundings; there is no "obstructed view seat." This is a wonderful feature.
- Stoker has an semi-independent pedaling system, so he/she can rest when desired.
- Bike is easy to handle by the captain.  I anticipated needing to take some time to master the handling, but it felt very natural from the get-go.  No learning curve at all, not even to take tight U-Turns.
- Very stiff frame, steering system, drivetrain and wheelset.  Everything felt tight and responsive.
- It's easy to pick up this big bike with one hand and maneuver it down stairs and through doorways.
- Handlebars can be positioned for comfort. The position I carefully chose when we started began to feel uncomfortable at about mile 30 or so.  It was a simple and effective process to reposition the bars to achieve a more comfortable hand position.
- High quality drivetrain.  The rear derailer is great; no comments there.  The front derailer shifts better than I anticipated while pedaling.  I like to lighten up my pedaling force when I shift a front derailer.  On a tandem it can be hard to coordinate that with the stoker.  I was pleasantly surprised that the front derailer shifted just fine, even with the stoker still pedaling normally.
- Front recumbent seat is nice.
- Nice rack.
- Nice brakes.

Nothing is perfect....
- As a longtime bent rider I've become spoiled by comfortable seats.  If this was my bike, I'd change the captain's "stock" seat.  No surprise there.  It's not bad, but I'd change it for a Brooks saddle or an ISM noseless saddle.  Still, it's a standard frame-type seat and it'll never be as comfortable as a recumbent seat.
- The stock "handlebars" for the stoker are good quality but are merely bar-ends and, as such, are rather minimal. Larger bars would be nice.
- I'd carry a Camelback-style water bladder if this was my usual ride, instead of relying on a frame-mounted water bottle.  While there are threaded bolt holes in the frame for mounting a water bottle, it'll take some practice to feel comfortable grabbing a bottle from this location.  Even after 65 miles I still found it tricky.  You'll also need a seat-mounted bladder system for the stoker, but that's normal for a bent-type seat like this one.
- If you want a mirror, a helmet-mounted mirror works best.  I installed a handlebar-mounted mirror, but it was unhelpful.
- The stock bell on the captain's handlebars is too quiet.  I'd like something louder for the city.  That's no big deal and isn't worth mentioning, really.  The challenge is where would you install a loud bell that isn't directly next to the stoker's ear?  So, a quiet bell is useless, but a loud bell unusable.  Tough one.
- The captain's stock handgrips became uncomfortable after a half-day of riding in spite of all my adjustments.  I'd install Hase's optional Ergo handgrips and, in addition, install an ergonomic grip like those from Ergon.
- It might be only me, but I could not figure out how to pedal in a standing position (as captain).  There isn't enough knee room.  There's a nice photo on the Hase website of a guy pedaling a Pino in a standing position, but I can't imagine how he pulled that off.  I had to stay in the saddle.
- I was disappointed by the stock front light since I expected something better.  I immediately replaced it with a B&M IQ Fly.  (Manufacturers sometimes need to change components like lights.)

Have fun and stay healthy,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Aligning Avid Code hydraulic disk brakes on the Hase Pino

Is it me? Or is it the bike?

Sometimes, when you're struggling to fine-tune a system, it's hard to figure out where the fault lies.  In this case, I'd been struggling for -- I won't say how long -- to align the disk brakes on a Hase Pino tandem that's new to my shop.  No matter what I did, how often I repeated my efforts with slight variations, or how hard I stared at the darn thing, I just couldn't get the disk brake pads and get rid of the scraping between the front wheel disc brake rotor and the brake pads.  It made no sense.  Is this an Avid issue?  A Hase issue?  A moi issue?  It got to the point where I simply lost all patience and went and rode it anyway, scraping and all.  I grabbed the nearest friend and we rode for a half-dozen miles just to see how the bike handled.  (That Pino is very cool, by the way. Wow.)  However, being concerned about vapor lock, we kept it to a reasonably slow speed.

Now, all that slow speed stuff is over.

If you have a Hase Pino with Avid Code hydraulic disk brakes that you just can't align, look for this, among the other typical things to check.

On the front wheel, if you have fenders, the hydraulic hose has to go around a clamp holding the front fender.  On my build the hose went around the left-side clamp on the wheel side and there is contact between the hose and the clamp.  It turns out that there is enough horizontal pressure in that contact to prevent the calipers from floating freely while the bolts of the Caliper Positioning System™ ("CPS")  were loose.  This thwarted the CPS from aligning the calipers correctly to the rotor.

If you have the same problem on your Hase Pino, do this: first, unfasten the left hand front fender mount so the hose can move freely.  Then proceed as per the directions in the manual.  It aligns as designed.

Arrow pointing out the culprit.

I didn't have a free pass on the rear wheel either.  The disk rotor was rubbing a lot less than the front rotor, but, still, more than it should.  (I like it not to rub at all.)  I checked and, sure enough, there was a culprit: a hose clamp that pulled the caliper a little out of alignment when the CPS bolts were loose.  I unfastened it, followed standard procedure, and voila the caliper aligned as it should.

Hard-to-see arrow, in middle left of photo, pointing at culprit.

Long and short, so was it the bike? The brakes? The mechanic? I suppose it was the human, once again, for I was the only element that had the capacity to look at the problem differently and change my approach.

Have fun and stay healthy, and go find a friend for a ride,

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Wednesday, May 9, 2012