Cycle Show 2008 – launch of 2009 electric bikes and Univega relaunch

We’d like to thank everyone who came to see us, new faces and old friends, down at Cycle Show 2008 in London’s Earl’s Court. We were exhibiting there for the first time since 2004, this time with a new line-up of Kalkhoff pedelecs and a selection of 2009 Univega road and mountain bikes. 

We split our stand into Univega and Kalkhoff sections, with a small display of Yakkay helmets in between. Thursday, the trade day, saw the official relaunch of Univega in the UK after nearly a decade’s absence, and the launch of the website. Below are a couple of the models we’ll be launching with  – the other six can be found on the new website. Expect to see them on a road, track or trail near you soon!
We also saw a couple of clever accessories that will be showcasing on the site soon, that fit the electric bike bill nicely. All in all, a bloody good show – even the sun came out!

Kalkhoff electric bike hire in Richmond Park

Richmond Park’s 2,000 acres includes some of the finest cycling in the UK. Miles of roads and dedicated tracks take in rolling woodland and open grassland dotted with pretty ponds. There are panoramic views across London, roaming herds of deer and several bustling cafés. It’s a cycling nirvana. All that and now – for the first time – our electric bicycles are available to hire there. We recently delivered a number of our best-selling models to Richmond Park Cycle Hire in Roehampton Gate car park [map]. They’re open every day and easily accessible on the eastern side of the park. You’ll find the subtle yet powerful electrical assistance offered by the Kalkhoff Agattu and Pro Connect is perfect for tackling the hilly stretches and seeing the whole park in one visit. They are so simple and satisfying to use that we encourage anyone who’s curious about electric bikes to ride one in these wonderful surroundings. Please take note of the following:

  1. If you hire a bike in Richmond Park and decide to order from us, we will deduct the cost of hiring from your bill
  2. Due to the limited number of bikes, pre-booking is absolutely essential
  3. A photo ID (e.g. driving licence, passport) is required
  4. Helmets are supplied.
To book, please complete the form on the 50cycles electric bikes website
or call 07922 237 700 between 9am and 5pm.

New A to B magazine reviews the Kalkhoff Pro Connecy

The latest issue of A to B magazine makes our Kalkhoff Pro Connect its cover start and includes a detailed review of the bike inside. We’ve published some extracts on the website – A great machine in a class of its own

“In the UK, where people make most of their journeys by car, electric bikes are paradoxically regarded as ‘cheating’, whereas, presumably, a Ford Galaxy isn’t. A strange attitude, and one we will need to overcome if we are to survive in the Peak Oil era. Kalkhoff’s new Pro Connect is, arguably, the perfect machine for this brave new world. At 21kg (2.5kg battery + 18.5kg bike), it’s one of the lightest electric bikes we’ve seen and really not much heavier than a fully-equipped conventional bike.”

Tour de Presteigne 2008 electric bike rally report

We’re back from our third outing to the Tour de Presteigne event.

This year’s two-day event felt busier and better than ever. The exhibition was focused around a large geodesic dome in the town’s green and pleasant industrial estate while the race was held in the town centre with a twisting, turning course centred around Broad Street.

Last year’s event was marred by persistent rain which carried on for months afterwards, threatening to sink the whole country at one point. This year though conditions were near perfect for a cycle endurance rally, dry and cool.

The starting grid: Lloyd (topless), Tom (black top), Dan (red top)

The format of the race stayed the same – the winner is whoever completes the most laps of the circuit in one hour. This years rally was split into two categories for the first time – modified (ie bikes with post-production performance enhancement such as derestriction, extra battery packs) and standard (ie bikes straight out of the factory as the manufacturer intended) – with perhaps the widest range of bikes yet and possibly the most riders. Certainly the most determined and Lycra clad.

We fielded four entrants this year, all riding our new Kalkhoff bikes.

Tom Gilfedder of 50cycles rode a Kalkhoff Pro Connect electric bike stripped down to its bare essentials, leaving little more than 17kg of prime German electric bicycle.

Lloyd Clarkson, also of 50cycles, started the race on Kalkhoff Agattu electric bike he had modified himself and named ‘Project X’, something he had been secretly working on in the company’s own Skunkworks for weeks.

Dan McIslay, an upcoming track cycling star, borrowed an Agattu for the event

Emma took to the streets of Presteigne on an extra-small Kalkhoff Pro Connect step-thru electric bike (finishing the race as the first female).

Peter Henshaw glided the top-spec Tasman around the course (probably one of the more comfortable ways to tour Presteigne, and at a sensible speed).

Also, a special mention for Dave Cockroft, who piloted his own Kalkhoff Agattu successfully around the course in a good time. Nice talking to you over the weekend Dave, keep up the good work!

Lloyd and Tom got off to a flying start, hitting and exceeding 30 mph on the first lap, even lapping the back markers before the end of the first lap. Lloyd’s rather revealing race costume helped stir some excitement from the crowd, as did the wheelies he was able to pull on the much-modified ‘Project X’ Agattu. Tom’s factory Pro Connect was neck-and-neck with Project X for the first half of the race, with other makes and models struggling to make an impression on the electrodynamic duo. However, this is when things started to get tricky…

While taking part in a little crowd interaction on a particularly tricky corner off Hereford Street, Lloyd lost a battle with a ‘safety’ bump and came off Project X at high speed, injuring his knee with spectacular effect. He also picked up a puncture shortly after. Despite this, Lloyd was able to continue (averaging around 20mph even with a flat rear tyre) finally completing the course on a standby Kalkhoff Agattu (the one we use for reviews and which many customers in the South East will have test-ridden recently).

Meanwhile, Tom (pictured left, with 15 mins to go – it’s lonely at the front) continued his cracking pace to lead the pack by a couple of laps at this point. However, he too sustained a puncture in his front tyre (a usually impregnable Schwalbe Marathon that was beaten by a dirty great tack). Fortunately we were able to swap out the quick release front wheel from another Pro Connect within a couple of minutes (the donor Pro Connect had started the race ridden by A to B’s David Henshaw before a last-minute mod using a gear sprocket swapped over from David’s Brompton caused the chain to give!)

Despite this serious, almost race-finishing delay, Tom apparently regained and then kept his lead until the hour was up, ending the rally with a racing finish.

Some confusion over timekeeping and who was where on the final lap saw Tom Gilfedder gracefully concede the overall top spot to last year’s winner and one of our customers Ian Johnson on his modified eZee Torq (pictured right, with Tom, during discussions at the finishing line)

Happily, Tom still took first place in the standard category, winning a bottle of champagne and his place in Tour de Presteigne history.

After their flying starts and breathtaking pace throughout the first two thirds of the race, Lloyd and Tom would surely have taken the top two places had it not been for a pair of pesky rusty old tacks they picked up on the course.

Lloyd has vowed to fit absolutely puncture proof Specialized Armadillo tyres to next year’s incarnation of Project X. Special congratulations to Emma for finishing first among the female entrants this year.

50cycles in Shanghai Part One

You have a lot of time to think on a flight to Shanghai. I chose instead to watch as many movies as possible before falling asleep.
I sat through Red Road, was wound up by Crank and suffered Severance. Finally as my Airbus roared out tonnes of CO2 thousands of metres above a million square kilometres of rapidly-thawing Siberian tundra, I decided to take in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Of the many cases put forward for global warming, An Inconvenient Truth is one of the most persuasive and best known. It’s hard climatic evidence, unnerving footage of floods, droughts and gravel wastes where once were glaciers will soon be compulsory viewing in British schools.

And of the many reasons to buy and use an electric bike, helping to stabilise the level of atmospheric CO2 must be one of the best. My trip to Shanghai was partly about seeing what’s new for eZee and electric bikes, partly a chance to catch up with the people that run the company and make our stock. But it was also a great opportunity to see how this city-of-the-moment compares to London, take a trip on the world’s fastest train, check out some skyscrapers and enjoy lots of local food.

Descent into Shanghai
Everywhere in Shanghai is 10 or 15 miles from anywhere else. Except the airport, which is 30 miles from anywhere else, waaaay to the east of the city centre, at the edge of Pudong, right by the sea. Any journey from the airport will take you through the early 21st century’s Workshop of the World, thousands of Shanghai Essential Widget Co., Ltds, mostly low, sand-coloured factories strung out along newly built roads. Bicycles and tricycles are used everywhere, around half of them electrically powered. More on the species of bikes roaming Shanghai’s roads later.

Approaches to the Huangpu river are very much motor vehicle territory though. The monolithic Nanpu bridge takes six lanes of solid traffic (no bikes) up and over the river, feeding a vast spiral ramp that descends to street level. This is how you enter Shanghai, on a slingshot, slung from the 21st century into a 19th century street pattern of crumbling old warehouses, bicycle repair workshops, restaurants and apartment blocks hung with laundry and power lines. No tree-lined boulevards. Everything looks a little grey and washed out with weak sunlight barely penetrating an ever-present fog that refuses to lift throughout my stay.

So I was grateful to step inside a warm and welcoming Brazilian restaurant with the boss of eZee, Wai Won Ching. We were in Xintiandi, one of the smartest areas in the city centre, a few neat and compact city blocks that combine the sheen of Bond Street with the hubbub of Covent Garden and the buzz of China Town. It’s a chic, up and coming sort of place.

I hadn’t seen Ching since his visit to the UK last August and we spent the meal (made up of perfectly roasted slices of every kind of meat… plus some salad) catching up . It was good of eZee to pick me up from the airport and set me down in such fine surroundings. I was beginning to feel at home already.

The eZee Factory
eZee have moved to larger premises since 50cycles first visit back in 2003 and they plan to move to an even larger site in an upcoming area later this year. But I was impressed by their current base, two large buildings for storage and fabrication plus an office block and gatehouse, all arranged round a couple of large yards. There’s also an unusual pond containing a gnarled ornamental rock, bridge and concrete pagoda that I wish I had taken a snap of now.

Stores selling 8-foot-high gnarled rocks, stone lions and pagodas (pond sold separately) are a regular sight along the highways of Pudong. It’s clearly a big business here. If you’re reading this and you’re looking to transform your garden with that sort of thing, Shanghai is the place to come.

The eZee factory is located in Nan Hui, a busy district criss-crossed by canals and studded with newly-minted industrial units. A few people here can definitely remember when “it were all fields round here”, less than two decades ago.

If you ignore the frenzied industry, exotic traffic and distinctive architecture, it’s not unlike the English Fens, especially when seen through a cold mist. But incredibly, bicycles are even more popular out here on the Chinese fens, along with 1950s vintage heavy goods tricycles, weird Mad Max agricultural contrivances and countless, countless VW Santanas taxis. Volkswagen are evidently doing very well out here. Shame about the pollution.

After meeting Ching’s son and wife who also work here, my tour of the factory began. I was very pleased to see that each bike is hand-made and thoroughly checked by an experienced team. Ching says that most of the staff have been with eZee since the earliest days, which is unusual in a city with a very high turnover of workers who come from miles around Shanghai to work. On the day of my visit, about a dozen men and women were quietly transforming the surrounding racks of gleaming frames, motors and wheels into Torqs and Sprints destined for the Northern European market.

I was shown the various calibration and rigs their designers use to test the bikes before, during and after production. eZee have invested heavily in this area and it was encouraging to see that each bike wheel, for example, is hand-trued and carefully adjusted for balance by the chap pictured above.

Next picture in my slideshow is one of the mechanical rigs eZee have bought to test the strength of frames. It’s a sort of robotic bike rider with the annoying habit of jumping up and down incessantly, thereby pushing the frame to its physical limit. It’s sole purpose in life is to try to break all the innocent eZee frames it is fed by tiring them out and causing metal fatigue. However, it doesn’t have much success.

Usual testing regulations demand each frame survive a mere 50,000 revolutions before a structural failure is allowed to happen. The frame you see here had reached 95,782 revolutions after more than 7 hours of being jiggled up and down and in and out. I think it went on to about 125,000 before everyone got bored and had to go home.

This apparatus (left) is a jig used to measure individual frames and costs thousands of US dollars. It’s important for ensuring that every delivery of frames meets the strict engineering tolerances demanded by eZee’s designers.

Those red tubes you can see arcing out apparently feed air to pneumatic counterweights or something. Ching did explain it to me a couple of times – maybe it was the jetlag or the cold, but it didn’t go in.

After showing me round the site for the first time, Ching revealed that he had just completed work on his lastest bike, the eZee Liv.

We stocked a small number of the first generation of this bike that went by this name back in 2005. But there have been a number of vital, major improvements since then those early days.

Most obvious is the frame, it’s a new geometry for eZee, and features a low crossbar, rather than the step-through design we’d seen before. It gives the bike a nice, discreet look.

Next up is the addition of a Shimano Nexus Inter-3 hub gear in the rear wheel. This proved very popular in the Sprint between 2004 and 2006. It’s reliable, mostly maintenance free and gives the rider to drop gears when forced to stop at lights or a junction, ready for a quick, efficient get-away.

Finally, the motor is the same as that used in the Rider, eZee’s first bike. This is very much a road-tested, reliable motor. Not quite as efficient as the brushless motor used in the Sprint but it works well with the Liv’s 36V 9A NiMH battery (the previous Liv battery was somewhat less powerful).

Ching is determined that this bike will take a significant share of the less expensive end of the electric bike market. He says he is sick and tired of seeing such a lot of crap masquerading as viable electric bikes and wants to shake things up with a practical, powerful machine. Priced aggressively at £545 including delivery it will give all those underpowered bikes in this price bracket a kick up the backside!

And so ends the first installment of my contribution to the 50cycles blog. Next time I’ll take you on a tour of the wintry streets of Shanghai and describe how no amount of sleet, fog or mortal danger puts off the city’s courageous cyclists.

Tim Snaith
© 50cycles Ltd, February 2007