Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Azub Origami is in the house.

The "Origami," made by Azub in the Czech Republic.

This pretty folding recumbent bike arrived the other week.  This is an Azub Origami.

Kitted out with SON dynamo hub and full light system with Busch and Mueller Lumotec Lyt headlight and the ever-reliable Bumm Toplight Plus at the rear, fenders, shock-absorbing Schwalbe Big Apple tires, and a rear rack welded into the frame, it begins to approach a reasonable answer to the Brompton for the recumbent bike world.  I'm not sure anything comes close to a Brompton in terms of sheer magic of fold, small size and ride quality, but designers keep taking swipes at the top of the pole, always getting closer.  For recumbents, inherently long and heavy, it's a worthy challenge to make a folder that is just as fun to ride as a non-folding bent.  The Origami folds pretty easily, the seat can remain attached, there's nothing too weird or complicated about it, you (I) can pick it up with one hand once it's folded.  It weighs about 36 lbs with the extras shown here which, in fact, is only about 6 lbs. heavier than my 30 lbs. Brompton with all the same accessories, so we're well within striking range.  I think a dyed-in-the-lycra weight weenie -- I originally mistakenly wrote died-in-the-lycra, which is awfully friggin' bleak but, frankly, barely registers as a slip for the cycling realist -- could get it down to 30 lbs. by throwing money at the problem.  This is the Shimano Alivio 8-spd drivetrain, so it's not as if we tried to shave grams anywhere.  Bike payload is 100kg (220 lbs).

Interesting note: the red paint is matte as opposed to gloss.  That was a nice surprise.  Matte colors are less common on bikes in the USA than gloss colors and, IMHO, lend a refined appearance.  But those attached to gloss will need to be aware of this.

Ride Quality
When you have a small-wheeled bike, you lose the stability created by the gyroscopes of larger wheels.  I think stability is a matter of perception, assuming we have a professional quality bike and strong legs, and riders will only notice greater or lesser stability at extremely low speeds, like on steep hill climbs or making slow tight turns on city streets.  Azub has done something interesting as concerns this quality.  By stretching out the wheel base of a small wheeled bike, they have counteracted somewhat the "instability" of small wheels.  Of course, when you stretch out the wheelbase, you lose something in turning radius -- it gets larger -- and in compactness -- it gets longer -- but I really like this company's creativity, both in this solution and in other places.  Since the Origami has above-seat steering and a wheel that turns backwards should you wish, you can make your extra sharp 91 degree turns.  Another note about this "stability" issue.  I tend to look askance at claims that a given bike is "unstable."  Instability problems may be problems of rider balance, skill and core strength in combination with the forces that create instability, like speed, payload, center of gravity, absence of wheels....  Once one masters a given machine, assuming it's a straight frame, round wheels, and an appropriate center of gravity, instability (should) become less an issue.  Is it the bike that's unstable, or is it the rider?  A unicycle is unstable, but you know what?

Wheelbase comparison:
Azub Origami: 122 cm (48")
HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx: 109 cm (43")
The Grasshopper has that sporty, nimble feel for which HP Velotechnik's are famous, but it also has a tiny bit more of a learning curve, compared to the Origami.  The Origami has a touch of that long bowsprit feeling when making tight turns and navigating within buildings, but you get used to it.

Something cool:
The Origami's seat can be reclined from 50 to 20(!) degrees.  That is unusual.  The result is a machine that can make the upright-sitting crowd happy, but also those riders who want a seriously aero machine can get that too.  I can enjoy an aero bike, so I was pretty happy to discover how far I could recline the seat.  Also, the above seat bars are more an aero praying mantis style than a Harley chopper style.  On both points, you might (or might not) lose something in comfort to gain something in speed, but I thought it was a good move.  It helps confirm Azub's character as a manufacturer of sporty, performance-oriented bents as opposed to sofa-cycles.  They're still working in a crowded marketplace, but they are offering something good that is a little different than the others, making them well worth checking out.

Another note about the seat and the fit.
Azub uses both a sliding boom and a seat slider on the frame.  Fine, it's easy enough to find that perfect adjustment of seat angle and leg length with any decent boom and seat angle adjustment system, but what is really noteworthy is that you can also adjust the location of your center of gravity on the bike, fore and aft, between the wheels.  That's pretty critical with a performance-oriented bent that allows a severe seat recline.  Otherwise, as you recline the seat, you end up moving your CoG over the rear wheels, which causes a dangerously lightened front wheel.  So, the upright-sitting crowd can to dial in their CoG same as the reclined crowd.  Excellent design work.

Stay reclined, stay healthy,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2013 Robert Matson


  1. Angular momentum doesn't help riding a bike as much as most people think (particularly at low speeds) - I've ridden a bike without any angular momentum and I could barely tell the difference (you could turn it on or off by having counter-rotating wheels on top of the two regular wheels).

    I've got a 20" tire folding bike converted with a Cruzbike kit and I almost can't tell the difference riding it and the 26" Sofrider. Off road, going up curbs, and really large potholes, you'll notice a difference, but in general, if the gearing is there small wheels work just fine.

    Regular folding bikes with 20" wheels are often more twitchy than standard DF bikes, but that has to do with the steering geometry and not so much the wheel size.

  2. Thanks Robert, I'm very interested in the Grasshopper for multimode touring (I have a Brompton for town) but was struck by the cost and better fold of the Origami. You didn't really discuss ride comfort and I guess a big part of that cost difference is the Grasshopper's suspension. Any comments on that?
    Best wishes from Sheffield, England
    Chris Rust

  3. Hey Chris,
    (I'm a long-time Brompton rider as well, by the way.) In terms of fold, the Orig. and GHfx fold in similar ways; and the differences are pretty much 6 of one, a half dozen of the other; no advantage to the Orig. Ride comfort: suspension is far preferable when you hit a bad pothole in heavy traffic; let's not fool ourselves since our lives may depend on it. But mere comfort can be improved by adding Schwalbe Big Apples to a non-susp. frame like the Azub Orig. I've put in a lot more miles and have gone through some heavy stuff on the Grasshopper fx, so, I'll tend to recommend the GHfx simply because I know it and HPV well and it (and HPV) has stood by me; I'd trust it/them with my life. The Orig. is a "real" bike, though and the Azub guys are real-world riders. Ultimately, I think we learn to live and ride with whatever we own as long as there is a base line of quality. Both HPV and Azub hit that. - R