Press room - Recumbent & Tandem Rider No. 4 / 2001
HP Velotechnik in the news: the following text is an excerpt from the magazine Recumbent & Tandem Rider, Nr. 4 of November/December 2001. We recommend to order the complete magazine from the publishing house to read the whole story.
HP Velotechnik Speedmachine
By John Axen
The massive doors opened and I passed over the threshold with program in hand, anticipating some of the finest art ever known to mankind. Adorning the building's high walls were Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel on the ceilings. In another wing the sculptures of "David and Condottieri" by Donatello and Rodin's "The Thinker" garnered much attention but the largest crowd seemed to be just a few aisles away. So, curiosity got the better of me and I ventured over and wove my way through the throngs to discover spotlights focused on a Speedmachine by HP Velotechnik.
OK, I really wasn't in an art museum but instead at the Las Vegas Sands Convention Center where the 2001 Interbike trade show was taking place. But the impact was nevertheless the same as some of the most adored sculptures ever created by the hand of man. HP Velotechnik, the German recumbent manufacturer, has been making a variety of recumbents for about 10 years and recently introduced the Speedmachine. It is a short wheel base, above-seat steering recumbent with front and rear suspension, and a seat lower than most.
The Speedmachine features an oversized aluminum tubular main frame, chrome moly integral suspension fork, and a chrome moly swing arm attached to a coil over rear shock with adjustable preloading and damping.
The seat is a traditional European design, constructed of molded carbon fiber, padded with EVA foam and covered with a breathable mesh. The front wheel is a 20-inch aero-style silver anodized rim with a Vredestein semi-slick tire and the rear wheel is a 26-inch with the same type rim and tire.
The drive train starts with a lightweight forged triple crankset a Sachs chain running through Teflon guide tubes and terminates with a SRAM 9-speed cassette. Shifting is accomplished by way of SRAM Attack shifters, a Shimano 105 front derailleur and a Shimano XT 9speed rear derailleur. The crankset is protected by a well crafted chain guard. Stopping power is provided by Magura hydraulic disc brakes.
The aero handlebars are wide, swept back and are attached to a forward angled stem. All of this together helps make a low, sleek machine built for comfortable speed, and a style rarely seen in the States.
My challenge was to get my hands on one for an extended review. The HP Velotechnik booth was very busy throughout the entire show and all of the `bents on display were already spoken for as they were headed for dealers in the US. It could take take quite a while for another one to arrive from Germany.
Fortunately, Peter Stull, proprietor of The Bicycle Man, in Alfred Station, New York offered to allow us to test the Speedmachine on display which was destined for his shop following the show (THE BICYCLE MAN 570 Main Street, Alfred Station NY 14803. Phone: 607587-8835 http://www.bicycleman.com). We received it a few days after the show. I wasted no time in assembling and tuning the bike, and afterwards stepped back and simply admired its flowing lines and ingenious suspension. It felt as though it had been designed by engineers who know how to make human propulsion efficient without sacrificing comfort or ease of operation.
The next morning was clear and warm as I headed out for my monthly ride along the Ventura, California coastline with my fellow `bent enthusiasts. After I fought them away from the Speedmachine, I finally got to take the first few pedal strokes. Now I know that when you take your first ride on a new `bent that it should not be with a large group, at least until you are familiar with the bike's handling. All the literature that I have read about the Speedmachine assured me that it was stable, comfortable and built for speed.
Those first few strokes proved this to be true. Now don't get me wrong, because each `bent has its own characteristics and different learning curves. The seat on the Speedmachine is quite low, beautifully swept back and very comfortable, with excellent hip and back support. The Speedmachine's aero-type bars bring the controls close to you, with your knees actually rising behind the elevated stem.
The ride begins with a 17 mile climb and the Speedmachine was efficient with its elevated cranks and low seat height. Shifting was flawless and the drivetrain is very quiet, mostly encased in Teflon tubes. One advantage of having the chain run in the Teflon- tubes is that your leg never gets that tell-tale "rookie" grease streak.
Our route includes a variety of interesting surface obstacles - cracks, lots of pot holes and tree roots in the pavement provided the perfect testing ground for the suspension.
HP Velotechnik calls their suspension design a "no squat" system, which means the cranking forces do not cause the suspension to compress under pressure. Both the front and rear suspension is fully active all the time and keeps both wheels in contact with the pavement over all types of road obstacles.
When you want to accelerate the Speedmachine, you can do it fast. There is no perceptible loss of power due to the suspension. The suspension did cause one problem though and I have to apologize to some of my riding friends for my lack of sensitivity. The Speedmachine is so efficient at absorbing all types of imperfections in the road that I became less observant of them and my drafting buddies felt the brunt of it all. In fact, I found that while I was actually aiming for tree roots, pot holes and uneven pavement, I was still able to maintain significant speed.
On the descent back to the parking lot I had an opportunity to test the Magura hydraulic discs in a sharp, blind turn which suddenly revealed three riders taking the complete width of the path. The brakes were easy to modulate, and brought the Speedmachinc to a controlled, if not panicked stop with only two fingers. Superb!
The ride at speed is very stable and predictable with the 47-inch wheel base, low center of gravity and lively ride. It likes to carve fast turns and still maintain straight lines when climbing steep grades. I had Peter's Speedmachine for a little over two weeks and put in about 300 miles on it over a variety of riding conditions. I found that as I increased the miles I kind of became "at one" with the Speedmachine. I know that sounds a bit heady but the bike has a very confident, comfortable and yet speedy tide. Even on 50+mph downhills the bike felt stable and inspired confidence.
At this point I need to comment on the various options that HP Velotechnik offers. Most are aesthetic in nature-, but there're a few that I feel are necessary. One of the most fundamental options is the-rear rack, designed specific for the Speedmachine. Since there is absolutely no unused space in the design of the frame there is also no place to attach a bag to carry tools, tubes or food. So, in my opinion, the rack is a necessity. In addition, the only water bottle mount is on the front derailleur mount and is not accessable while riding. So if you don't drink, no problem. For the rest of us, the many different bladder-type hydration systems are best carried in a bag on the rear rack. Another much more aesthetic approach to carrying things on the bike is to use the two different aero trunks available, which provide storage while making the Speedmachine more aerodynamic. Both of these tail boxes are pricey but worth every penny if you appreciate craftsmanship.
Is this the right bike for you'? The bike is a bit heavy at 35.25 pounds. But some of that weight is offset by the efficiency of the bike and the comfort provided by its suspension.
The European style seat might not be your cup of tea due to its more rigid approach and its lack of ventilation, although I never had any problems even though I sweat more than the average Clydesdale.
The cranks are a bit higher than the hips on the Speedmachine. While this makes the bike a little more difficult to get used to for new bent riders, experienced hands will appreciate the aerodynamics. Personally, I had no problem with the height of the cranks and found no lack of power while climbing.
The price tag is $2,499 without any options. This may not be the best bet for the new bent rider, but it with its fast learning curve and stable ride, it could be mastered safely enough by someone not easily intimidated.
The Speedmachine is great for all types of riding, including cross-country touring. In addition, it would make a great racer for those who want to compete but don't really want a full-on low racer. It is designed for speed, comfort and reliability and requires minimal maintenance, even with the sophisticated suspension system. At $2499.00 the Speedmachine is not inexpensive, but offers the sophistication of a well executed suspension design and a unique high performance ride.
Is the bike worthy of comparison to the works of Donatello, Michelangelo, or Rodin? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the realm of the bicycle building arts, the Speedmachine is right up there with the masters.