Press room - Recumbent & Tandem Rider 07/08/2004
HP Velotechnik in the news: the following text is an excerpt from the magazine Recumbent & Tandem Rider, issue 07/08/2004. We recommend to order the complete magazine from the publishing house to read the whole story.
RECUMBENT & TANDEM RIDER
By John Axen
During my college days I guess you could say that I really had it made! I bicycle commuted at least 40 mils each day to school and usually rode another 100 miles over the weekend. After all of those weekly miles you´d think that I would have been satisfied, but the first sign of Spring I´d have a pile of maps spread all over the living room floor while dreaming of a summer tour.
The Good Bug
Family and job commitments have now limited the length and mileage of the tours I can take but each Spring I still get the desire to explore the lesser traveled roads. This year, Spring actually came a few months earlier than usual but it wasn´t the result of global warming or a change of the angle of the earth axis! In October of 2003 I saw a new recumbent bike from Germany´s HP Velotechnik called GrassHopper, and I haven´t stopped dreaming about touring since.
The GrassHopper is an aluminum-framed, dual 20" wheeled, short wheel based recumbent bike that features front and rear suspension and a Euro-style molded seat. Even though it wasn´t properly adjusted for my particular body dimensions, the initial test ride of less than 4 miles was enough for me to stand in line for nearly an hour just so I could obtain a GrassHopper for Recumbent & Tandem Rider Magazine. After all, I was solely interested in providing you with the latest information. Yeah, right!
When I finally go to the front of the line I received the good news that we could order the GrassHopper with a variety of accessories and options that could fulfill anyone´s wish list. The bad news was that once ordered we would have to wait until April before delivery! Awe come on! That´s not fair! It was like being given a big jar of jelly beans in October but I wouldn´t be allow to break the seal until Spring! Patience is not one of my favorite virtues!
The first week of March I received a phone call from the Boss to let me know that the GrassHopper had arrived from Germany but I would have to wait until it was assembled and the studio shits were completed. Was it worth the wait? You be the judge.
Let´s start with the large diameter aluminum frame which features gentle bends and strong, smooth welds around the head tube, swing-arm pivot, and seat/suspension mount. An adjustable boom slides through a plastic sleeve and is secured by two clamps, keeping it virtually scratch-free during the adjustment phase. Both the frame and the legendary HP 'No Squad' rear triangle were powder coated in Steel Blue.
The standard GrassHopper is usually suspended by a rear coil-over spring shock absorber, but to accommodate a wider range of riders we ordered the optional DT Swiss rear air shock. Front suspension is provided by the standard MEKS Carbon All fork which is topped off with the light-weight Glideflex adjustable stem from Terracycles. A nicely curved set of handlebars complete the controls.
By now you´ve probably realized that the GrassHopper specializes in comfort, but it doesn´t rely on suspension alone. The molded BodyLink seat is quite similar to the most European hard shells - but in appearance alone. It is uniquely adjustable to match the body perfectly by not only allowing the angle of the seat back to be adjusted, but the actual length and amount of lumbar support as well! It is then covered with a durable and breathable pad that actually wicks moisture away from the body. As an option, there is a padded carbon fiber headrest that attaches to the BidyLink seat. Initially I felt it to be unnecessary. I was persuaded to order it and certainly glad I did.
The standard GrassHopper comes with a matched pair of 20-inch alloy rims (406), stainless spokes, and a good pair of hubs. Since we do a lot of our test rides in the mountains and canyons we decided to order the optional rear disk brake cassette hub. Our choice for the front hub was the optional disk version of the SON generator hub, which provides nearly 3 watts of power for lights. Rather than the standard V-brakes, which provide more than adequate stopping power, we ordered the Tektro cable operated disk brakes, stainless steel rotors, and brake levers.
The GrassHopper drive train consists of an interesting combination of a double crank-set with a 60/40 tooth chainrings an a 11-34 tooth, 9-speed cassette. If my math doest fail me, that is only 18 speeds. Hmmmm… sounds sort of "retro" to me. The chains travels through Teflon tubing which is quiet and keeps the rider´s legs from getting soiled. Shifting is handled by a pair of SRAM Attack grip shifters and a Shimano combination of Tiagro front and Deore rear derailleurs.
To put the icing on the cake, we ordered our HP Velotechnik GrassHopper with an optional B&M Cyclestar mirror, Welgo one-sided, SPD compatible, clipless pedals, and an aluminum kickstand that mounts on the rear swing arm. The optional B&M Toplights with automatic dusk sensor and wiring which runs internally through the frame makes for a very sanitary looking bike. Due to the GrassHopper´s unique frame configuration and 'No Squat' suspension, a standard luggage rack will not work. Since we had every intention of actually touring we ordered the beautifully crafted aluminum rear rack that can handle up to 58 pounds of touring gear.
Although sleek and sporty looking, our GrassHopper with all of the described options weighed in at a rather hefty 39 pounds! Some of the extra weight can be traced back to the SON generator hub, rear rack, and kickstand. Although utilizing carbon fiber construction, the MEK Carbon All suspension fork should not be categorized as lightweight either. At this point I decided to curtail my disappointment with what the scale revealed and see how the GrassHopper rides.
I first set the boom for the proper leg extension and found that the thin plastic sleeve will protect the finish on the boom quite well while allowing it to easily slide for adjustment. The use of two cinch bolts should easily hold the boom in place, once properly adjusted.
I have grown rather fond of the Glideflex stem, finding it as standard equipment on several other recumbent bikes. Combined with a top loading stem and the curvy handlebars I had plenty room for maneuverability while maintaining a fairly low profile.
Now that the boom and controls were properly set I was looking forward to adjusting the BodyLink seat. I have to admit that I am not very fond of the European style of hard shell seats. While being low and aerodynamic, I have mot always found them to fit my back and shoulders well. In addition, they just don´t breathe well enough to keep me cool.
First I set the length of the BodyLink seat by loosening the machine screws and pulling the two halves apart until it fit the length of my torso well. Second, I set the height of the lower portion of the seat and the angle of recline to where it felt natural while maintaining control. The last part of the BodyLink I adjusted was the lumbar support. Most hard shell seats either have too much or too little lumbar support for me. I was able to fine tune the BodyLink to perfectly fit the curvature of my spine. After a few spins up and down the block I was fairly certain that the GrassHopper was properly adjusted for the first serious spin around town.
From the very first few pedal strokes you will realize that the GrassHopper is a very nimble but stable recumbent bike. I always like to ride up and down al least a half block of driveways to make sure all adjustments are secure and that each component functions normally. It is much better to find any problems while close to home than on the other side of town!
As we had previously reviewed the HP Velotechnik Speed Machine, I was somewhat familiar with the No Squat rear suspension. Because of proper attention to the placement of the rear pivot and oversized idler wheel in relationship to the chain line any compression of the rear suspension while power is applied to the pedals has been virtually eliminated. The DT Swiss air charged rear shock is infinitely adjustable and the dampening control keeps the rider from being launched while rebounding from an impact. The total amount of rear swing arm travel is 4 inches, certainly enough to eat up most potholes!
The standard MEKS Carbon All fork only has preload as an adjustment. You will want the fork to compress to almost 30% of its 2 inches of travel while sitting in the seat. There is no control of the rebound on this particular fork but my initial rides up and down rather high driveways did not indicate that would be a problem to worry about.
There seems to be differing options related to the higher crank positions found on European recumbent bikes such as the GrassHopper. Some riders feel they don´t get good circulation when their seat, although I have never found this to be a problem. I was able to get comfortable with this position almost immediately. However, I realized the low seat angle required more effort to keep my head level. This is where I realized how effective a well designed head rest could be. I´ll share more about the optional carbon fiber headrest a little later in this review.
After a couple runs up and down the street I made a change in the air pressure of the rear shock and readjusted the preload of the MEKS fork. When you first sit on the GrassHopper you want the suspension to compress just a slight amount, perhaps a half an inch or more. The service manual supplied with our bike suggests 30%. By doing so you´ll have a firm but continually active suspension. The sun baked canyon roads where I live provide plenty of potholes for testing the suspension!
I definitely liked the ergonomics of the Glideflex folding stem and the curvy handlebars. I felt like everything was easy to control and the B&M mirror made for good visibility to the rear. There is plenty of rooms on the bars for computers, additional headlights, or a GPS. The real secret to the GrassHopper comfort is the BodyLink seat!
I have to admit that initially I thought that the more laid back angle of the seat was a bit too much for a touring oriented recumbent bike. Boy was I wrong! Both comfort and ease of control are so enhanced by the BodyLink. This seat fits me like a glove and gives great support so I can really put the power to the pedals! I have never been on a hardshell seat that adjusts for length, angle, and lumbar and I am definitely spoiled! I also like that the seat is always in the same position on the frame, in relationship to the wheels. The weight balance between the wheels and the low seat height are key to the stability of the GrassHopper.
Although rim brakes are more than adequate for speed control I began to think about the smaller rim size and the mountainous routes I was interested in riding. It wouldn´t be too hard to heat the rims up on long descents. With cable operated disk brakes being both economical and very effective I felt they would be a good option for our GrassHopper. As is the case with most disk brakes, you must watch your initial speeds until you scrub the sheen off of the rotors. You´ll find it doesn´t take much time at all to notice a significant improvement in stopping power. The Tektro cable operated disk brakes are awesome and only required a couple of fingers to modulate them. These babies are going to be great while touring with a load!
At least 50 of the GrassHopper test miles were ridden during the evening hours and as late as 11:00pm. I usually charge up a rather large battery and mount an 8-watt headlight to the handlebars of our test bikes. I had always been interested in trying the SON generator hub since it is quiet and creates just a slight amount of drag or friction. The only drawback is that it produces a maximum of 3 watts of power, limiting the output of the headlight. I wanted to be able to actually see the roads and trails, as well as being seen. The B&M Lumotec oval headlight we ordered has a slide switch which allows the selection of 2 different lightning options. In one position the headlight is manually turned on and lights up when you ride at just a couple miles per hour. In the other position the light remains off until a sensor indicates you are in darkness and then the light automatically turns on. Normally when using a generator light it quits functioning when you come to a stop. With the B&M Lumotec lights there are capacitors which keep LED bulbs lit for several minutes until you get rolling again. The LEDs are mot bright enough to see with but they do keep you visible while stopped at traffic signals.
So how did the Lumotec lights perform? I have to be honest with you as I have worked in the development of durable and bright headlights when I was involved in the mountain bike industry. I´m accustomed to lights that nearly rival those found on motor vehicles so I was quite hesitant to rely solely on a 3-watt system. But… I did! I am not certain of the type of bulb the Lumotec headlight uses but it puts out quite a bit of light for its size. In fact, I was able to actually see quite a ways down the trail while riding at 15-20 miles per hour. The width and pattern of light is fairly adequate but not neatly as bright as an 8-watt halogen. The rear LED tail light is very bright and is surrounded by a significant reflector. I had several positive comments from motorists I shared the road with regarding my visibility from the rear. Both the automatic sensor and the KED back-up lighting worked as promised.
Most of the initial 100 miles on the GrassHopper were spent riding in and around my community, commuting to and from meetings, running to the market, and doing my usual search for old bike parts at yard sales. Only minor adjustments were made to cables and the seat for comfort. I enjoyed the nimble performance of the 40-inch wheelbase and the crisp shifting. The GrassHopper never felt like a 39 pound bike! I wouldn´t say it is a fast accelerator but it certainly is never a problem and it seems to roll over shirt hills quite well. Steep descents are exhilarating but stable. What I was most impressed with was the suspension package because it took the roughest of roads and made them bearable. So far my opinions have been based upon local rides but I really needed to ride a century and then perhaps a longer tour.
Each year I reserve a couple days on the calendar for what I consider "classic" or "epic" century rides. For the last 23 years I have ridden the Wildflower Century which is put on by the San Luis Obispo Bike Club in California. The ride star7finish is in the historic community of Creston and the route is a challenging roller coaster ride with a few "granny gear" climbs: The roads lesser traveled are also the roads that receive less attention by the maintenance crews. I felt this would be a great challenge for the GrassHopper and me as I was going to have to complete the century on a 39 pound bike!
You only have a couple miles from the start before you get into the hills on the Wildflower Century and the GrassHopper performed quite well on the rolling hills. In fact, I would consider the GrassHopper to be a decent climber. Excellent aerodynamics and the active suspension allowed for some quite impressive descents. Several of the longer downhill runs were in excess of 43 miles per hour! There is a special "treat" immediately after the lunch break that doesn´t allow for even the slightest warm up period. It is a "grinder" of at least a few miles with a rest stop a quarter mile from the summit. The problem is that the hill actually gets steeper right after the rest area and I usually just blow on by because it´s so hard to get rolling again! Well… the GrassHopper and I had no problem on that climb! It truly feels like a much lighter bike. It must have something to do with both the efficiency of the rider position and the ability to push against the firm seat. Not to mention the comfort of the streamlined position! In fact, I was both surprised and a bit concerned that the GrassHopper only had a dual crankset and 18 gears when the recent trends were approaching 30 speeds! Silly me! It is the overall gear rations that count and I still gad 5 cogs left that I had not used in the big climb!
I finished the Wildflower Century in a decent time. No, I did not challenge those on titanium or carbon fiber "Wonder Wedgies" but for a comfortable touring bike it was quiet respectable. Remember this! Most of them were walking sort of funny and complained of sore backs, necks, and legs! I was surprised how refreshed I felt at the finish. I can see how the GrassHopper would be a great bike for touring. At the writing of this article I still haven´t been able to break away for an extended tour with all of my camping gear, but by the time you read this I will! There are a couple 3-day weekends and 10 days reserved for a tour in September that I´ll keep you informed about.
My overall impression of the HP Velotechnik GrassHopper is very much the same as our previous reviews of the Speed Machine and Spirit. They have designed a sporty yet sable bike suitable for commuting, day rides, and ling distance touring. Meticulous attention to detail and comfort make the GrassHopper a true pleasure to ride in both the standard configuration, and as ours was tested. I truly love the BodyLink seat and the Glideflex stem. My first time experience with the Tektro manual disk brakes makes me winder why I would want the extra hassle with hydraulic brakes! This bike is a blast and I can´t wait to go touring again! In fact, I have been looking for a decent pair of 20 inch off road tires so I can do some of the backbone fire roads and trails that I haven´t ridden in nearly eight years. I believe the GrassHopper can handle moderate dirt and gravel roads and perhaps some single track. I certainly plan to try it as time permits. You get the picture? I hope to ride this bike for quite as while!
Is the GrassHopper the perfect bike? I can hardly think of any bike as meeting every rider´s needs but it does come close. As I have said it is a bit on the heavy side and perhaps a lighter fork may help. But of course, the lighter the components the higher the cost! The kickstand alone weighs nearly 2 pounds and I wouldn´t attempt to use it when the bike is loaded with gear! The basic GrassHopper is $1.995. Add up the options we chose and you have a touring bike that approaches $2.995. Yes, we went a little crazy with the options but we did it for you! After all, how are you going to know if you don´t read it in Recumbent & Tandem Magazine? Check out the HP Velotechnik Website for the wide variety of optional equipment and colors. You´ll also be able to locate a dealer near you. Let´s go touring!