Comfort and ability accessories
Press room - VELOVISION 06/2006
HP Velotechnik in the news: the following text is an excerpt from the magazine VELOVISION, issue 06/2006. We recommend to order the complete magazine from the publishing house to read the whole story.
Ride the Scorpion
Peter Eland tests the new HP Velotechnik Scorpion - a German machine aiming to snatch a healthy share of the competitive sub-£2000 recumbent trike market. So can it sting its rivals?
Recent years have seen ICE more or less dominating the UK recumbent trike market (it's very different in the US and Australia of course, and less cut and dried in mainland Europe). So when HP Velotechnik, long-time and respected makers of two-wheeled recumbents, chose to launch a trike, it had to be a good one, at a good price. With ICE's new 2006 range (we tested their Q NT last issue) and other machines from Greenspeed, Redmount, Windcheetah, Hase and more all jostling for position, it's a crowded sector. And I'm reliably informed that another well known manufacturer, not currently making trikes, will be launching into the trike market too at the end of this year.
So we were keen to test the Scorpion, now available via HP Velotechnik dealers worldwide. Our machine had the standard SRAM 3x9 DualDrive transmission and was supplied by Kinetics of Glasgow. It was fitted with the optional carrier rack (£105) and mudguards (£70). That's on top of the base price of £1780. We'll use UK prices throughout this review for simplicity - check the HP Velotechnik website for the Euro equivalent.
A very full range of additional accessories and transmission options is also available, and we'll describe those later.
Looking at the Scorpion you don't get the impression that this is a first effort, a Mark I. All the details are nicely finished, and to my eye at least it's a visually well integrated design, in proportion and purposeful.
The thick-tubed, bright orange aluminium frame stands out immediately, with its forwards-swept cross-beams and neat TIG welding. HP offer a ten year frame guarantee. The idea of the angled cross-beans is to let you stand further back before lowering yourself into the seat - and to make it easier to get your feet under you to lift yourself back out. In this I think it succeeds, and with the fairly low seat (the base is around 25 cm off the ground) any help is welcome. Usefully the handlebars are strongly constructed, and can bear a good weight if you need to help yourself up with your arms.
The seat is HP Velotechnik's 'BodyLink' model, with a back which adjusts for length, lumbar support and angle. The lumbar support adjustment is achieve by angling the base section, which has two supports, the front one slotted. There's another slotted adjuster for the upper section, so between them you can force the central section of the seat to bend a little, from flat to pronounced bump. I left it just about flat, and almost fully extended for length, and it suited me well. Overall angle adjusts, they say, from 33 to 42 degrees. It came with a 'camping mat' foam cushion, although a more sophisticated and breathable mesh mat is also available. The foam's warmth was quite welcome during the winter test, and it doesn't retain much moisture when rained on.
Behind the seat is the rear suspension swingarm, supported by an coil-over shock unit, adjustable for preload. Three springs are available to match rider weight. The swingarm is very well supported on widely-spaced bearings for torsional rigidity, and the pivots and shock together seemed to have little 'sticktion' - so even small shocks would get the suspension moving. Although no rear brake was fitted to our machine, bosses are provided for a V-brake, and also for a dynamo.
Also worthy of note under the seat is the clean chain management - well-supported plastic tubes keep chain and clothing clean, and the drive-side pulley is generously-sized ( and runs very smoothly. The drive side of the chain passes just over the suspension pivot for what HP call 'No-Squat' - meaning that the suspension shouldn't bob with each pedal stroke.
The suspension pivot also provides the lower attachment point for the exceptionally robust rear rack: made from serious aluminium tube, and rated to 25 kg. Overall weight limit for rider and luggage is 120 kg. There's a lower rail to keep the centre of gravity low when panniers are used. A rear reflector is provided, and its mounting plate could of course be used for a rear light instead. A flag mount is also located at the back of the rack.
On to the transmission, and it's fairly standard SRAM Dual-Drive - three hub gears and nine derailleur gears, all at the back wheel. Although it was unused on our bike, a front derailleur post was fitted, possibly useful for future upgrades. The post has a pair of bottle cage bosses on the front, which could also come in handy for mounting lights. Chain protector rings each side of the single chainring were robust and effective. The gears are controlled by twist-grips, placed 'normally' at the bottom of the grips. This does mean that they're operated by your littlest fingers, rather than between the stronger thumb and forefinger, but it does keep the cable run very tidy. You can drop your hands down for a better grip, but I did still have problems sometimes shifting with gloved hands. Certainly it would be an improvement of they could a source some shifters with a longer rotating grip section - there's not much more than an inch on these, though it is soft grippy rubber.
Brakes are Avid mechanical disks, and the 20" (406) front wheels are built on HP Velotechnik's own hubs - a neat design which keeps overall width to a minimum (it's around 0.83 m, and overall length is 1.7 to 2.0 m depending on leg length). A neat system makes removing the wheels easy: just undo the Allen bolt at the inboard end of the axle a few turns and the axle is released to drop through a slot in the kingpin. Our trike was equipped with Schwalbe Marathon Slick tyres.
Finally, a very professional set of mudguards was fitted. The front ones attach neatly to the kingpins, with a stepped sleeve dropping over the kingpin top and secured by a neat cap. The rear one was also very well supported - twice to the swingarm and also by two stainless stays.
The trike came equipped with some basic platform pedals, but for safely these should really be replaced ASAP with the clipless pedals of your choice to avoid any risk of your feet slipping off and being pulled under the frame.
Weight as tested was measured at around 20 kg. The manufacturer says weight is from 16.2 kg with pedals, so even allowing a fair bit for rack and mudguards that sounds a bit high. It's quite possible that our scale is being a little pessimistic.
I think the best way to sum up the Scorpion is that it's smooth: the transmission is quiet, the steering is light and easy-action, and the suspension does its job without drama. It rolls along willingly, and those fat frame tubes really lend it a solid feel: mash against the gears up a hill, or load it with luggage, and there's no discernable flex - though I did provoke a frame creak a few times: perhaps the boom adjustment bolts weren't quite tight enough.
The Avid disk brakes were powerful and well modulated with a nice definite 'bite point', and could certainly be considered a speed caused just a gentle, easily controlled drift over to that side. Hard to say without a side-by-side comparison, but I think they've matched ICE in this respect. At slow speed too the steering was excellent, with an exceptionally tight turning circle and unless you get silly with the speed, not a hint of tyre scrub even at full lock. It really does feel very nimble.
Gears also worked fine, with the caveat as above about gripping the shifters. Having said that I'm not a huge fan of Dual-Drive: the hub gear ratios never seem quite wide enough to be worth the efficiency loss and weight of a hub gear (bottom is down 36%, second is direct drive, and top is up 36%), but it does keep the front of the trike clean and offers a reasonable range of 21"-104". It's also occasionally useful to be able to drop down in the hub gears while stationary. The ratios were well chosen, so I could ride in the most efficient direct drive ratio most of the time, just using the derailleur gears. For touring I'd probably prefer just a complete derailleur system: more efficient and repairable anywhere.
I found the seat comfortable over a day's riding once I'd got the adjustments right. Of the people who tried it (without much adjustment each time) most also liked it. Some would have preferred more padding (there's an optional breathable mat which would help) and one felt that more lateral support at the base would help for a more secure feel when leaning in corners. It felt fine to me - the foam gripped the seat of my trousers quite firmly enough!
The suspension did what it should - soak up small bumps without making its presence felt, and easing the sting of heavier impacts. Riding alongside as someone else had a go, it was clear that the suspension was active even on relatively smooth surfaces. It also seemed nicely damped, settling down fast after speed bumps.
Next time I would definitely have specified the mirror and parking brake options. It's really tricky to look behind without a mirror, and it's just annoying when the trike rolls away on a slope! If you're in weight-saving mode you could always use a hefty rubber band or Velcro watch-strap over one of the brake levers, but a real parking brake is much nicer.
For UK use the mudguards are near essential, and unless you plan on towing a trailer everywhere to carry luggage, then so is the rack. Both worked very well.
Overall the Scorpion is a very polished ride. It definitely felt more of a tourer than a racer for me, despite the manufacturer's blurb saying it could be both. It's a full-width trike, with a relatively low bottom bracket: this gives a relaxed and stable riding position, perfect for touring.
OPTIONS AND ACCESSORIES
No less than four transmission options are available alongside the standard DualDrive set-up:
- Deore/Tiagra 18-speed: this uses a 40-60T double chainring up front and an 11-34 rear sprocket. Costs £75 extra.
- XT/105 18-speed: as above but with higher-end components: costs £145 extra.
- XT/105 81-speed: all the low gears you could ever want, combining the Dual-Drive with a high-end 30-42-52 triple derailleur system, giving ratios from 12" to 124". The front derailleur is controlled by a bar end shifter, with twistgrips for the DualDrive hub and rear derailleur. Costs £200 extra.
- Rohloff Speedhub 14-speed, using a 52-tooth chainring. Costs £695 extra.
Our machine was fitted with the optional carrier rack (£105) and mudguards (£70). Additional accessories available include:
- Custom colours (£75)
- A boom without derailleur post is a no-cost option if you have a transmission that doesn't need it - saves some weight and cleans up the looks.
- Quick-adjust boom and chain take-up system: this lets you quickly adjust leg-length through the full range (to suit riders from around 5'5" to 6'7") without tools and without adjusting chain length: ideal for hire centres or for families where more than one rider uses the machine. (£50)
- A headrest (£50) - a dinky cushioned carbon-fibre item. I didn't miss its absence, but some riders do prefer to have one.
- The 'Streamer' front fairing (£235) keeps your feet dry and should make you faster…
- The 'Airflow' washable and breathable seat pad, replacing the standard foam (£70). Nice but pricey!
- Busch and Muller dynamo lighting system (£85), using the Dymotec 6 dynamo, with internal double cabling, and front and rear standlights.
- Hydraulic Magura disk brakes. There are two options here: one can simply replace the mechanicals with lightweight Marta hydraulics (£250) or instead use the Magura BIG system, which links the two front brakes together hydraulically and operates them from a single lever (£215). This leaves the other hand free to operate the rear V-brake, and there's a catch on the lever so it can be used as a parking brake.
- The parking V-brake is also available controlled by a thumb shifter (£30). Well worth the modest cost in my view.
- A DT Swiss air shock unit (£185) is available to replace the standard suspension shock, saving about 200 g in weight. As I found the standard one pretty good I'd have to be convinced (by a further test ride?) that there's much scope for improvement!
- A frameset is also available for £1425.
Other more standard accessories available include pedals, short cranks (155 mm), various panniers, different tyre sets (including 50 mm Big Apples), a bottle cage set, mirrors, computer mount and flag.
HP Velotechnik approve towing two-wheeled trailers up to 30 kg with the Scorpion, but if you use the carrier rack as well then only the Chariot hitch is recommended as having enough clearance.
If you're looking for a well-specified machine to take on tour or to enjoy for day trips, the Scorpion has to be a very strong contender, even given the competition. It really feels plush and smooth, a confident performer and impeccably well built. It may not satisfy those with more boy-racer tendencies - they'll want something lighter and narrower - but even adding up what I would consider 'necessary' accessories, it looks quite competitive price-wise against more established competition - and yes, I do mean the ICE range. The Scorpion is just a little more pricey (in the UK at least), but you do get the disk brakes as standard.
Unusually for a newcomer machine the Scorpion is also 'established' in a sense: HP Velotechnik already have a service record and dealer network, so purchasers in many countries will have peace of mind about backup. For a new machine the accessories are also very well sorted. The only thing I can think of that's 'missing' is a mesh seat option which might suit hotter climates.
In fact, with its various drivetrain options the Scorpion is rather more flexible than the basic ICE models when it comes to specification, though the 'nicer' transmissions do of course add to the price.
The HP Velotechnik team are to be congratulated for putting together a trike that is up there with the very best, in their very first attempt at the trike market. But as with any other trike, please don't take my word for it. Take a test ride. You need to be quite sure that your back gets on with the seat, and to try some trikes for yourself. With so many good ones around - and the Scorpion is definitely up there - it's not a question of which is best, but which is best for you.
From HP Velotechnik dealers worldwide: see our adverts section or contact the manufacturers for a list. HP Velotechnik: Tel +49 6192 910218 or see www.hpvelotechnik.com
Our test trike supplied by Kinetics: Tel 0141 942 2552 or see www.kinetics.org.uk