HP Velotechnik, Grasshopper fx – pics, notes

That’s me on the bike. 🙂

It’s a dreadful business to be sure. Every new bike has to be tested. This unbearable task falls to myself, since it pains me to delegate the job of riding a Grasshopper fx for 50 miles of pure Jersey on a crisp fall day.

Tasks like this put one in an awful temper, so you can well imagine my delight upon finding something wrong with HP Velotechnik’s new Grasshopper fx. I’ll just get it out now: the platform pedals that are supplied with the bike are crap. Truly awful. Specifically, they are too small. Most people would be grateful they provide pedals at all to make demo rides easier. And most people think cheap stock pedals are more than good enough, since most people stuff the stock pedals in a drawer anyway after a week, having replaced with either a clipless system or good platform pedals (e.g., MKS Touring or Grip Kings).

Beyond the stock pedals, from there on out and for the next 50 miles, HPV’s Grasshopper fx simply ruined a perfectly well-tuned bad attitude. And as hard as I looked for something to dislike, I simply couldn’t find it. Instead, I found a bunch of nicities. And a darn fast folding recumbent touring bike.

Let me give you some examples, however, by no means is this list complete. For example, I didn’t mention the rear rack, which is large, light and strong as the dickens.

– OK. The chain tubes that protect your pants and keep the chain clean? They work perfectly. Friction is low. The chain is quiet. And I didn’t get a speck of grease anywhere on my legs, socks or hands, which is odd. The chain tubes are a matte, classy black color. Grumpy people, who prefer ugly and tacky colors, won’t like the color.

– The USS steering is comfortable and enables confident and effortless steering. We easily hit 40 mph on downhills where 35 mph was the speed limit. Nit pickers with a grudge will argue that the Grasshopper fx’s under seat steering is less aerodynamic than other options and might slow a person down by two or three mph. These same people might prefer something harder to steer, like no handlebars. As for me, I dig USS; it’s like steering a rocket.

– The Grasshopper fx folding ‘bent rides like a strong, straightened and trued, non-folding bike, riding true at all speeds — slow uphill or breakneck downhill. At 40 mph, it remained responsive and felt sure-footed and safe. This particular morning, the roads were slick from a morning drizzle, so it was a good test of road feedback and traction, both of which were excellent. The bike’s aerodynamics help press it into the road at speed, providing greater stability and grip.

And there’s the rub. When I’m in a bad mood, I prefer bikes that feel unstable and set my teeth on edge when I’m riding in traffic. If I’m going so fast that my eyes start to water, I also want to feel like the bike is out of control. I want to see my life flash before my eyes. On the Grasshopper, the level of control is fantastic, and that will leave the ill-tempered crowd sorely disappointed.

– The DT Swiss (rear) and Spinner Grind (front) upgraded shocks are extraordinarily nice. I stopped bothering to avoid bumps, cracks, manhole covers and road debris, as I normally do, even at speed. High quality shocks provide a safer bike for several reasons. One, when you hit bumps, even at speed, the wheels remain in contact with the road, providing positive traction. Two, you never feel the need to swerve from your line — and into the path of cars — to avoid obstacles, like broken pavement and potholes, that could cause you to lose contact with the road. Three, they absorb shocks that would otherwise impact the frame which, over many years, can cause frame fatigue. Four, they absorb shocks that would otherwise go into your body, which causes rider fatigue.

– The fenders are solid, provide good coverage, are intelligently designed, and are built with better materials than we normally see on USA bikes. Americans are used to seeing a certain quality (low) in fenders, and we tend to think of these as standard: plastic fenders with adjustable supports that are designed to LOOK like expensive fenders, without all the expensive manufacturing.

The fenders on the GH, like everything on an HP Velotechnik, are on a new level. For example, the braces are reinforced with a metal bridge; the metal bridge connects the supports from the left side of the fender to those on the right side, making the structure very strong. The bolts and fasteners for clamping the supports are especially strong. And the fenders themselves are no ordinary black plastic; they feel especially strong and thick. What this means, in short, is that these fenders aren’t going to break anytime soon.

Fenders are great. The only bad thing about fenders is when they break. And “ordinary” ones break all the time. But the HPV fenders are going to be with you for a long time. For everyone other than the grumpy, that is good news.

-The Magura Louise hydraulic disk brakes work so well I felt like I was driving a luxury car; which makes me mad, because I don’t necessarily like cars. The Louise brakes provide a full range of stopping force from soft to hard, are responsive, give excellent feedback and control, and are, in short, essentially perfect. To sum it up, like any good brakes, these make the bike significantly safer and easier to control on any road at any speed.

– The SRAM dual-drive. I admit to being dubious, at first. Although I like the potential for internally geared hubs, I also like the simplicity of chain rings and sprocket/derailer* systems (*using Sheldon Brown’s spelling). However, I think SRAM is on to something here. I won’t go into the benefits of the predictable stuff — like the fact that you can change the internal gears while standing still, which is helpful on a ‘bent — but what I particularly liked is how widely spaced are the three internal gears, compared to a standard chain ring setup, providing a huge range of gearing for the 27 gears.

I found myself treating the three internal gears more like my main gears, not unlike a 3-speed gear box on a car. I’d find a cog in the cassette that worked for most of what I was riding, and then change the internal gears depending on whether I wanted more speed or was heading up hill or hitting a stop light. I’d use the cassette simply to fine-tune the gearing. It enabled me to take a new approach to gear selection which I thought befitted ‘bent riding particularly well.

– Seat: I was using the ErgoMesh seat, which has a mesh back. I expected to prefer the hardshell BodyLink, but after 50 miles of hills and flats, I can honestly say, pros and cons weighed, I have no preference one over the other. They are both very good. I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.

The ErgoMesh seat is positioned higher off the frame than the BodyLink seat, so your head is higher in traffic. The mesh fabric back is tight and strong so climbing performance is almost equal. It’s comfortable under your bum — I didn’t get recumbent butt — and the ergonomics of the back support is good. While hard-shell seats generally enable better power transfer, I did not notice any loss of performance with the ErgoMesh seat. Maybe there’s a little; I couldn’t tell.

HPV is famous for their attention to detail, and in the case of the seat, there are many examples. I’ll point out the pocket in the seatback. First of all, (a) it closes and (b) with a zipper which is (c) decent quality. Inside the pocket, you’ll find a rain cover for the seat, along with space for a cell phone, wallet, keys, a multi tool and a few gels. I was also able to cram in a warm hat and gloves.

Other details they’ve attended to include the seat back straps used for tightening the mesh. They are wide and strong and include velcro for securing the straps after you’ve tightened them. Lesser seats will loosen during a long ride, so this is a detail I appreciate. After taking the time to adjust the seat mesh to provide good support for my back, I prefer it stays that way.

Another nice detail is they’ve left the structural bars exposed at the back of the seat, so a rear light can be mounted or a water bladder bag can be hung there.

– Being a folding bike that is rated to carry a remarkable 275(!) pounds (rider weight and luggage combined), it should come as no surprise that the aluminum Grasshopper is both exceptionally strong as well as comparatively heavy.

This is a good thing: the bike is engineered to last indefinitely, even under the stress of touring. And a strong frame means it’s efficient with your energy. But riders who don’t need a folding ‘bent and prefer a lighter bike may prefer non-folding touring machines like HPV’s Street Machine or Volae’s Tour, Century or Expedition.

If you care more about sturdiness, lifespan and practicality than ounces, this bike has it in spades. Urban dwellers will appreciate the ability to fold the bike for easy storage at home or work. Air/train/boat/car travelers, who wish to take their favorite ‘bent on a trip, will also appreciate the fold. The long and short is that this bike is a workhorse touring machine that also folds and is fairly small. If that’s what you want, this is your machine.

– More aerodynamic than you might expect, especially from a touring bike. The Grasshopper is a hybrid touring/speed machine. With a bottom bracket at 26.25″ from the ground and a seat height with the ErgoMesh seat of only 22″, we have a 4.25″ raise to the feet. It may come as a surprise that this raise is similar to what you would see with a high racer. For example, Volae’s Team, an ultra-fast 650×650 high racer, has a bottom bracket height of 33″ with a seat ht. of 29″ (with their mesh seat) which gives a 4″ raise to the feet; one-quarter of an inch less than on the Grasshopper fx!

However, giving the Volae it’s due, when using hardshell seats, the Grasshopper fx with the BodyLink hardshell seat gives a 5.25″ raise to the feet. A Volae Team, using the hardshell carbon seat at a height of 26″ provides a very aerodynamic 7″ raise for the feet. This is 1.75″ more than on the Grasshopper.

So, for riders who are concerned about speed, and whether the smaller 2 x 20″ wheels can cut it, you need not worry. Being a heavier bike (especially compared to a Volae Team), the Grasshopper fx will be slower on the uphills, but on the flats and downhills it’s truly an impressive ride.

It is for this reason that I consider the GHfx a folding version of the HPV Speed Machine, but more suitable for urban traffic conditions. The SpeedMachine has a seat height of 20″ with the ErgoMesh seat and a bottom bracket at 27.5″. This raise is 3.25″ greater than on the Grasshopper. The StreetMachine has a seat ht. of 26″ with a bb. of 27.2″, a total raise of 1.2″; more comfortable on a long tour, perhaps, and higher-sitting in traffic, but less aerodynamic than the GH.

The summary of my very positive experience with the Grasshopper is that I think it will appeal to the customer who wants to be able to carry a lot of weight and wants a fast bike that folds down into a small package for traveling or storing at home or the office. The GHfx will also be preferred by an “experienced” rider, by which I mean one who fully understands the advantages that come with functionality and who is comfortable with a fairly low-riding bent in urban traffic. Also, stronger riders will be less bothered by the weight penalty than newer riders.

All in all, it’s all good stuff.

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2009 Robert Matson

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