Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ideas behind the Kiw-E-trike


HI, I'm Cliff and I currently live in Auckland, New Zealand. Yup, that's the place far, far from anywhere on the bottom of the world. I moved out here a couple of years ago to check out a different lifestyle after many years of working in the IT industry in London. This has worked out; I'm still working in IT, but it's now for a small analytics company which is far more fun, I live on a wharf with a view of a volcano and I walk to work in the sun for two thirds of the year.

ONE of the things that struck me when I moved here was the number of cars. New Zealand has a very 'clean, green' image but ranks number eight in the world for car ownership per capita. Everyone seems to own at least two cars, one for town and the ubiquitous 4x4 for pulling boat trailers and forging through the bush to remote holiday cabins.

THE public transport system in Auckland is hugely underused by anyone with enough income to buy even a cheep car. The city has been casually fragmented by a network of motorways that are always clogged with traffic, heritage building have been demolished to make way for car parks and almost all urban flow decisions prioritise motorised vehicles over pedestrians and cyclists.

ODDLY, there is a relatively high level of bicycle ownership in NZ, but these are predominantly mountain bikes and ultra-light road racers that must be used in conjunction with colour coordinated Lycra. These bicycles are usually delivered to their point of usage on the back of a 4x4 of course.

PERSONALLY, I spent many years living in central London. When I moved there I found that my car was an inconvenience for several reasons:

  • The city is very highly populated, so it was generally quicker to walk, cycle or take public transport,
  • parking is limited and it was common to spend a great deal of time hunting, lurking and competing for a spot,
  • like any large city there is a fair amount of crime, and a car left unused for a period almost always got broken into for the radio, glove-box content and the like (my partner Fiona even had one wheel stolen from her VW outside our apartment),
  • unused cars seem to degenerate quickly and the annual maintenance and tax costs became inordinately high compared to the hours of usage,
  • and finally, driving in heavy traffic is an aggressive sport, and I always arrived at my destination in a fowl mood.
CONVERSELY, when Fiona and I divested ourselves from these albatrosses, all we got were positives:

  • no more, tax, maintenance and damage bills,
  • no more worrying about the cars whenever we heard a noise in the street at night,
  • no more expectation of visitors to collect them from airports and railway stations,
  • when travelling to remote country locations we were justified in hiring cars, and therefore enjoying a new vehicle, matched to the conditions, luggage and number of passengers; with the added fun of trying out different vehicles (you see, I do actually quite like driving a car, most people do which is a large part of what I see as the problem)
I'VE been pondering the fascination with the car for many years. I've been cycling since I was a small child, and when I went to college I graduated to a motor cycle rather than a car. It was a few years before I took the plunge, and some of the reasons why people move to four wheels became immediately apparent:

  • cars are comfortable - you sit in an easy chair protected from the weather, with a heater and an entertainment system,
  • cars are easy to drive - it is far, far easier to drive a car fast, and aggressively than a motor cycle,
  • cars are practical - you can load them up with luggage, carry passengers, you don't need special clothing to drive them, you can tow things and strap stuff on the top,
  • cars are (relatively) safe - in the event of an accident you are protected by seatbelts, crumple zones and roll-bars, although the feeling of security may be more in the mind than a reality,
  • cars are (relatively) secure - you can lock yourself and you goods inside and feel they are protected from the big bad world,
  • cars are an extension of your home - you can fill them with nick-nacks and your favourite music and treats,
  • and finally, cars are an affordable status symbol - if it's really important to you, most people on a moderate income can afford an impressive car that boosts your self image.
NOW, I love bicycles and motor bikes; but they are both a bit of a lifestyle choice. I like to treat them as a form of transport rather than sports equipment, but they do involve special clothing to be carried and require you to keep a keen eye on the weather conditions. Neither method is very practical in the business world where it's not generally acceptable to arrive in full leathers or a sweaty tea-shirt and shorts.

SO, for the past few years I've been looking for something to avoid most of the disadvantages of a car, while retaining many of the advantages.

Various Thoughts

I'VE been interested in recumbent bicycles for the last 10 to 15 years. When I first discovered they existed, I was amazed at the story of their banning from competition by the UCI. It seemed simply bizarre that a more efficient racing bicycle design would be banned simply because it was faster; clearly vested interests in the industry didn't want the competition...

IN 2004 I bought an HP Velotecnic Street Machine on ebay after a fair amount of research. It was a fascinating experience, quite unlike riding an upright bike. The hardest thing initially was operating it at low speed, and specifically starting off as you couldn't use your body to maintain balance. I cycled it around London and attracted a great deal of attention as recumbents are still remarkably uncommon. The various statements I had heard about being safer in traffic as they were noticed for being unconventional seemed to be true. Unfortunately when I was just beginning to completely get the hang of the new skill the bike was stolen from inside my apartment block, and I was so dispirited I decided not to replace it for a while.

WHAT I did learn from the experience was that, even though I was very impressed with the recumbent riding position, I didn't like the feel of the high centre of gravity with your entire body perched above the wheels, low speed manoeuvrability was tricky, and restarting up a hill was extremely difficult and not much fun in a city with as many traffic lights as London.

MORE research, and it seemed that recumbent tricycles seemed to alleviate most of the disadvantages of the two wheeled options. The centre of gravity is much lower and starting is easier as you obviously can't fall over. The tadpole design with two wheels at the front and one at the back looked attractive as it avoided the obvious issue rolling over if turning a delta trike at speed with a single front wheel.

THE disadvantages seemed to be wide turning circles due to limited space to rotate the front steering wheels, width if cycling on a path or trying to get through a standard door frame, weight, poor grip from the single driving rear wheel and the fact that trikes tended to cost even more than the already expensive two wheeled recumbents due to being a niche with a niche market.

THE Internet is a wonderful place for finding things. Eventually I discovered Pro-Cruiser made in California by Sidewinder Cycle Inc ( This trike is a front wheel drive, rear wheel steered tadpole which gives you a tighter turning circle and better traction. The trike is also very reasonably priced and allows partial folding so it can be stored vertically if space is an issue.

THE design of the Pro-Cruiser got my mind moving on to the other features of car use I would like to include in a human powered vehicle. I would really like some sort of electric assistance as I usually find that can cycle without turning into a sweaty lather as long as I don't have to climb too many hills. I would also like a lighting system that wasn't dependent upon batteries so that I could travel at all hours without the worry of 'going dark'. I'd like luggage capacity and probably some sort of fairing to improve performance and help keep the weather off.

WITH all this in mind I've decided to go ahead and have order the Pro-Cruiser as a base for my 'E' vehicle project. And with a nod to my new home I've named it the Kiw-E-trike Project.


  1. Go for it Cliff! Though I have to say the one thing that needs to be sorted out for recumbents to be more widely used is visibility. How will you be seen in busy traffic in London alongside a bendy bus or juggernaut? That has been the main reason why I've steered clear of them

  2. People normally go with the flag option it seems. But when I had the two wheeler I felt more noticed than I ever did on my upright.
    Trikes seem to benefit from another advantage as far as I can tell. Drivers catch a glimpse out of the corner of their eye and think "wheel chair" and subconsciously give you far more room.
    The only real worry I have are people reversing out of parking spaces, but that tends to be an issue for all types.

    I will probably add an incredibly loud horn though :-)