HP Velotechnik, Grasshopper fx, redux

 

On the left, Robert on an HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx. On the right, a Volae Tour ready to roll. In the background, the Copake Falls campground in the Taconic State Park — about 100 miles north of New York City and you can get there by bike.

Today, I posted a review for “Bent Rider On-Line” of HP Velotechnik’s Grasshopper fx.

I’m reposting it here because there has been a lot of interest in my more emotional review that I wrote about a year ago when I brought in the first ‘Hopper.  Long and short, I still love it.  The review, below.


The Harlem Valley Rail Trail “collaborating” with Robert and an HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx.

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Positive aspects: Folds quickly and easily, aerodynamic and fast, full suspension, great high-speed handling, accessories look great

Negative aspects: Optional under-seat steering upgrade requires a skilled rider.

First, I should reveal that I’m in the industry — I’m an HP Velotechnik dealer in New York City.  However, I’m also a happy owner of a Grasshopper fx (“GH fx” or just “GH”), which serves as my “luxury” urban ride.  Like everyone in New York, I don’t have any extra space; I store my Grasshopper in my home office.  If I want to take a bent with me on the train or bus, the GH fx’s fast fold and carrying bag are ideal.  Also, to grab my space on the street, I like a fast ride with nimble, positive handling.  And since I have to lift and carry the bike any time I go out — down/up the stairs of my apartment building, down the stairs to train platforms, wedge it into elevators, etc. — a light and compact bent is a good bent, too. Lastly, I ride in all weather, year-round, and need to carry cargo, so strong, well-designed racks, fenders and light systems are a must.

The Fold: quick and easy.
Another reviewer on “Bentrider Online” has criticized the folding mechanism, but I can’t imagine what the gripe could be.  I like it.  And I know more than just a little about folding bikes — I also own a Brompton folding upright, possibly the world’s most successful folding bike, and a Montague folding MTB, which, in my hands, is possibly the world’s most abused folding bike.  The Grasshopper (in my hands) folds as well as any of them — easily, quickly, smoothly and intuitively.  The frame is stiff and straight with a strong hinge design.  Ride quality is that of a top-end fold-less bent.  And because it fits into a bag, I can carry it onto trains or buses as luggage.  In other words, it’s a true folding bike in every way (though not as small as a Brompton).

Aerodynamic: Fast on the flats and downs, slightly slower uphill.
People are often surprised to learn that the seat height on a GH fx is 5″ lower than the bottom bracket which, with the dual 20” wheels, provides a moderately low center of gravity.  In spite of this fairly aggressive design, the seat height of 21” and the appropriate front-end geometry make this a full-fledged touring and commuting bent.  The GH fx is fast on the flats and stable at speed, even when fully loaded.  My machine has the optional under-seat steering, but the standard GH fx comes with aerodynamic above-seat steering.  Sometimes I wish I had the speed and turning advantage of above seat steering, but I like the relaxed comfort of USS.  It’s a toss up.

It goes without saying that it’s hard, slow work pedaling a bent up a long steep hill.  Add to this that the GH fx, like any dual 20″ bent, is additionally challenging to balance at slow speeds, like 3 – 5 mph.  Some novice riders might benefit from the stability provided by the gyroscopic action of a big rear wheel (such as on a HPV Street Machine), instead of the GH’s small rear wheel.  However, in my experience, the GH handles better on hill climbs than other small-wheeled bents, and, at any rate, as you become skilled and stronger, hill climbing only gets easier. (For context, when I talk about hills, I’m referring to 7 to 12 degree climbs.)

Handling at speed.
At normal and high speeds, the GH fx handles like any HP Velotechnik — it’s positively awesome.  With an intuitive and stable ride, and a moderately low center of gravity, it feels secure and responsive on the turns.  It’s an unforgettable riding experience.

At low speeds, it’s fine, but the optional under-seat steering (“USS”) upgrade on the GH fx puts a fly in the ointment.  As a result, unless you really must have USS on the GH fx, or are an experienced rider, I’d recommend choosing the standard above-seat steering configuration.

Here’s what you need to know about the under-seat steering configuration on the GH fx.  First, the ointment: everything about the bike is outstanding, just as you’d expect from the minds behind HP Velotechnik.  But, as is normal with USS (but admittedly frustrating), there’s a limit to how sharply you can turn at slow speed before the handlebar (or your hand) hits the seat.  Therefore, when you need to make a particularly sharp turn, you need a little momentum (and good balance) so you can bank into a sharp turn.

For me personally, it rarely creates problems in normal New York City riding, which is full of 90-degree turns at intersections, fast starts and sudden stops. The only time I find it truly irritating is when I need to ride at walking speed around obstacles like bridge stanchions (or tourists) or when stopping at a red light where I also need to make a close right angle turn (in this last case, I simply pick up the bike and pivot).  Mind you, this is a common issue with under-seat steering bents as well as long wheelbase bents, so admittedly I’m nitpicking an otherwise phenomenal bent.

All in all, this means the handling of the Grasshopper fx has a longer learning curve than other HP Velotechnik bents.  The balance issue caused by the two 20” wheels is no big deal and simply requires time in the saddle.  The limitations of the under-seat steering option are easiest resolved by simply ordering the standard above-seat configuration or…putting in time and practicing your handling skills.

Weight-weenies be gone: this is what a high-quality, fully-suspended, folding bike weighs.
I can lift the Grasshopper fx with one hand, so I don’t really consider its 33.75 lbs. to be heavy.  Still, for a fully-suspended, folding bent, rated to carry 275 lbs. and designed for touring and commuting, it would be hard to find the excess weight (maybe a half-pound could be knocked off the drive train and wheels of the stock build).  It is unreasonable to compare this type of machine to a 26-pound non-suspended, non-folding Volae Team, for example.  Good rear suspension adds weight as do front shocks.  Solid, high-quality folding mechanisms add weight.  And touring/commuting bikes, as a rule, are over-built to withstand punishing back roads and still keep rolling.

Comparing the GH fx to my tiny, unsuspended Brompton, which weighs about 31 lbs. (with hub dynamo), or my Surly Cross-Check (diamond frame) which weighs about 30 lbs., I can’t consider the 33.75 lbs. Grasshopper fx to be heavy, especially for a bent.  Does it make me work harder while riding up a hill?  Undoubtedly, but I don’t notice.  And, at any rate, I’m happy to have full suspension and a quality build when I hit bad asphalt while ripping downhill in the Appalachian Mountains.

Options and accessories fit easily and perfectly.
The Grasshopper fx’s accessories attach neatly and elegantly, as you’d expect from HP Velotechnik.  Fenders mount securely and look good.  Racks install quickly, are incredibly strong, and look like they belong.  The kickstand holds the bike firmly, even when fully loaded.  The lights have appropriate mounting points and electrical cables can be run through the frame.  The GH fx always looks stylish and classy and even lycra-clad roadies give it the “cool bike” salute.

Long and short, in skilled hands, whether in the above-seat steering config, or with under-seat steering, it’s an amazing ride that does everything, goes anywhere and folds easily to boot.

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Best,
Robert
————
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2010 Robert Matson

5 comments on “HP Velotechnik, Grasshopper fx, redux

  1. Hi Robert,

    I live in Portland, Oregon and haven't been able to find a GH to test ride, but I was able to ride a Street Machine with USS in Bend. It wasn't initially the model I gravitated to, but I really enjoyed it. How would you compare the ride between the two? Comparing the two I notice that the Street Machine has a direct USS connection, and the GH has a connecting rod. Does this make a significant difference in how it handles? Other than visibility, is there any advantages with the seat height being at 21" (GH) or 25" (SM) ? I'm still gravitate towards the GH, but need to reconcile with my conflicted emotions. 🙂

    I really appreciate your great review.

    Thanks,

    Andrew

  2. A-
    SMGte and GHfx ride very similarly, have much the same attributes, and given the quality level, I can't imagine you going wrong with either one. GH is more aero w/ feet higher compared to seat and therefore will feel more sporty. SM rides more like a touring bike. SM may feel a touch more stable and has better steep hill/low speed (i.e., 1.2 mph) balance because of the larger rear wheel, but you can learn to handle either bike at crawling speeds. GH is most often specced w/ dual drive (otherwise, the 20" wheel asks for a rather large chain ring) and the chain tube has a "hinge," as a result I believe there's a touch more friction in the drive train, but it's no big deal. Indirect steering on GH is fine — a bit different from SM, but fine. There's a quirk with the way the removable AL (alum.) handlebar attaches which requires a lighter touch on the handlebars than the SM Gte (steel handlebar). Higher seat on SM gives better visibility of the road (than GH) at insanely high speeds (IHS), but the GH has better handling at IHS due to the lower center of gravity.

    Long and short, my opinion is that if you need the fold, go w/ the GHfx; if you don't, go with the SMGte. Otherwise, it's all in balance. HPV has optimized both bikes to the point that everything else is pretty much six of one, half dozen of the other.

    – R