Press Room - bentrideronline.com 2004
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HP Velotechnik Grasshopper
By BRYAN J. BALL
The HPVelotechnik Street Machine short wheelbase has long been considered one of best touring recumbents on the European continent. However, it appears that it is facing some pretty stiff competition from a new member of its own family.
The new dual 20-inch wheel Grasshopper is HPVelotechnik's newest offering. The folks at HPVelo pitch this new bike as a fully suspended compact and sporty recumbent for those who like to "enjoy a fast ride and seek maximum seating comfort." However it is also likely to draw the attention of riders who were attracted to the Street Machine in the past.
The first thing that will appeal to them is that it's an HPVelotechnik. The Street Machine (and HPVelotechnik as a whole) has earned a well-deserved reputation amongst the adventurous world-hopping set for its comfort, reliability, predictable handling and ability to carry more weight than a pack mule. While the Grasshopper is a little more sport-oriented than the Street Machine, it is sure to benefit from the reputation of its big brother.
The general layout of the Grasshopper is typical HPVelotechnik. Full-suspension, (optional) underseat steering, sturdy pannier racks aplenty, a very long options list, etc...
Of course the Grasshopper is far from being an updated clone of the Street Machine. In fact, they don't share any frame parts at all. Even the seats are different. The most obvious inconsistency is the size of their respective rear wheels. The Grasshopper has a 406mm rear wheel versus the larger 559mm of the Street Machine. This obviously makes the Grasshopper a much more compact machine. (Which will surely please jet setting world tourists) The Grasshopper was also designed first as an overseat steering bike (although USS is available). The Grasshopper's seat height is also much lower and the overall riding position is a bit more sport-oriented. This new bike was also designed with OSS in mind first while the Street Machine is only available with underseat steering.
A recent review of the Street Machine in Recumbent Cyclist News called it an "old school SWB" due to its shortish wheelbase and forward weight bias. The Grasshopper is much more "modern" design. Its wheelbase is actually even shorter but with the dual 406 wheels and with the seat placed lower and further back from the front wheel the weight balance is pretty close to 50/50 with empty luggage racks.
ITS FATHER'S EYES
The Grasshopper uses a heat-treated 7005T6 aluminum frame that uses HPVelotechnik's two-layer protection process (more on that in our HPVelotechnik factory tour article). The swingarm is also made of aluminum. The frame parts are outsourced to Taiwan but go through a thorough finishing procedure once they arrive in Germany. The Grasshopper uses a Meks carbon suspension fork (in several different trim levels).
Our test bike was painted with a translucent bright green powdercoat that matches its name very well. Other people seem to like this color too. Since the Grasshopper was shown at Eurobike in late 2003, green has become the new black in the European recumbent scene. It sort of reminds of when Specialized debuted the mango-colored Stumpjumper M2 a few years ago. Shortly thereafter it seemed as if every mountain bike north of $1500 was coated with the same fruitopian hue. No matter how many bikes are using colors in the same range, the Grasshopper's color looks great. The quality of the powdercoat was also of a very quality and did not take anything away from the bike's frame details. An equally attractive light blue color and fire engine red are also available.
The build quality on our Grasshopper was just as good as the color choice. The powdercoat was flawless, the welds were nearly perfect and the machined parts were as good as anything I've seen. I've honestly come to expect no less from HPVelotechnik. Our three previous test bikes (a Spirit in 2003, a Street Machine in 2002, and a Speed Machine in 2001) have all been amongst the best we've had in terms of build quality.
Our Grasshopper was also equipped with overseat steering. This is what the Grasshopper was designed for given its more sport-oriented target market. However an underseat steering system is also available and has proven to be a very popular option.
The most unique feature of the Grasshopper is its Bodylink adjustable hardshell seat. The standard HPVelotechnik seat that is still used on the Street Machine and Speed Machine hasn't received too many complaints over the years but it does need to stocked in several different sizes for different body types. It is also possible for a rider's dimensions to be "between" sizes. The Bodylink is a two-piece seat. Its upper and lower halves can be independently adjusted for size. The piece that separates the two halves is flexible. A LOT of thought was put into the overall shape of the Bodylink to ensure that it is as comfortable as it can possible be.
The base Grasshopper comes equipped with a mix of Shimano Tiagra and SRAM 7.0 components with Tektro V-Brakes. Like all bikes from this German manufacturer, the Grasshopper has a very comprehensive list of options. Our test bike had most of them. Highlights included a Rohloff 14-speed Speedhub, Meks Carbon AC lightweight fork, Magura HS33 hydraulic rim brakes, a SON dynohub with B&M Lumotec lights, a sturdy rear rack and full fenders.
The base price is fairly reasonable at $1990 but once you start piling on the options (as most owners and dealers will) the Grasshopper quickly becomes an expensive purchase. With our test bike’s rather long options list, the damage came to $3550.
With all of the options on our test bike it was obviously not at the low end of the bike’s weight spectrum. It is possible to get a Grasshopper down 13,9 kg (30 pounds) but our loaded up tester weighed closer to 18 kg (40 pounds). That's not what anyone would call light but it's not bad at all for a fully suspended touring bike. It's actually lighter when stripped down than some full suspension lowracers that we've tested.
DOIN' THE FAMILY PROUD
No matter how you configure the Grasshopper, it's the ride that matters… Our test bike was not a disappointment.
The Bodylink seat takes a bit of time to set up properly but once you hit the sweet spot, it's an outstanding piece. Combined with the HPVelotechnik Airflow pad I feel confident in saying that it is the most comfortable hardshell seat available. The only downside is the weight. Our test bike used a prototype of the carbon fiber version that will be available sometime soon. When this seat becomes available, it should help the weight situation a little bit.
Our OSS equipped bike handled like the proverbial dream. Starting and low-speed handling was excellent and on-center feel was very good. Mid to high-speed cornering was predictable but a bit on the sporty side when compared to the Street Machine GT.
The new HPVelotechnik steering mast and handlebar system that was designed especially for the Grasshopper is very comfortable and highly adjustable. The handlebar width is somewhere between an "old school" praying hamster SWB and the newer "tweaner" bars used on many current SWB's. The hand placement reminded me of the RANS B37 bars and flip-it stem that came on our Barcroft Dakota S test bike.
I did also get to put in a pretty good ride on a USS Grasshopper while visiting the HPVelotechnik facility. This version of the bike also handles very well. I did slightly prefer the Grasshopper's linkage USS to the Street Machine GT's direct system. The hand-placement on the USS handlebars was also excellent.
Of course one of HPVelotechnik's specialties is suspension and the Grasshopper is a worthy edition to the family. It uses a new version of a HPV's "No Squat" rear suspension. The stock rear shock is a DNM coil over unit. A very high-end DT Swiss air-oil shock is optional. The adjustable Meks coil and elastomer fork matched well with the rear suspension.
The combined bump-sucking abilities the Grasshopper's front and rear suspension was quite impressive. Cobblestones pretty much ceased to exist and all but the nastiest potholes were reduced to nothing but a barely audible thud. Other than the weight, there wasn't really that much of performance penalty. There was a slight pogo from the front suspension but I was mostly able to dial it out.
I also found that the suspension and longish wheelbase made the Grasshopper a fairly decent Dirthopper. I was never tempted to throw knobbies on it and hit the singletrack but I never felt a reason to shy away from any dirt road or unpaved cycle path while riding this bike.
As I said at the start of this review, this new SWB is being marketed as a sporty touring bike. It isn't a Speed Machine (pun fully intended) but it is capable of some pretty decent cruising speeds. With all of the added weight from the optional racks, fenders, lighting, etc... Our tester was not an especially inspiring climber. However, if you check a few different boxes on the order form and trim the bike down to its 13,5kg fighting weight I think you'll find it to be acceptably quick in any terrain. Especially when you compare it to other full suspension non-lowracers.
I never did have the opportunity to take the Grasshopper out on a real tour but I did strap on my Ortlieb panniers and load it down a time or two. The bike handled the extra thirty odd pounds as if it wasn't even there. The only adjustment required was a couple of turns on the rear shock.
A TARGET RICH ENVIRONMENT
The Grasshopper is a very well designed and well executed fully suspended recumbent. HPVelotechnik has a great reputation for quality and customer service. At first glance, it may appear that this bike's primary competition will come from within the pages of its own company brochure. This may be true to a point, but the Grasshopper is also plenty capable of stealing a few sales from other full suspension SWB’s bikes like the Challenge Mistral, Optima Dolphin, or Angletech Altitude. In USS form, it will give another option for American buyers that are lamenting the demise of Haluzak and Vision. The Grasshopper’s ride also reminded me a more refined version of the RANS Vivo; another recently deceased SWB.
No matter what bike you considered before buying the Grasshopper, you most likely won’t be disappointed. It’s a very versatile and competent new addition to the HPVelotechnik family.