HP Velotechnik, Grasshopper fx

Salut,

Fall is always a time of change in my business, where bicycle sales start to fall off, but the new bikes and bike technologies begin to arrive. At the same time, the creative side of my business begins to pick up, as if everyone is madly catching up on the time lost during the hot summer months.

The weather is better — cooler — for riding and hiking, though the leaves are beginning to fall, hiding the potholes and glass shards and making the wet, oily NY streets yet more slippery.  However much I like Spring, Fall may be my favorite time of year. The time of change. And “change” is always a nice place to be. Besides, with bike sales falling off, I suddenly have more time to ride again, and that is so nice, indeed.

Today I took time to study the details of the HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx: the frame and clamps and springs and braze-ons and the myriad of quick releases and the other details that make these bikes the masterpieces of engineering that they are.

People often ask what could possibly be the difference between an excellent bike, like a Volae, which is really everything a person could reasonable want from a road bike, and an HP Velotechnik, which might be two or three times the price and triple the wait for special orders.

Although the question falls into the category of “you simply have to own one to understand,” today, an explanation began to vaguely take shape: it’s in the details of the darn thing.  Unfortunately, this is a used cliche, but it’s perfectly apt.

HPV engineers have thought carefully and intelligently about each one of the tiniest details. There is nothing misplaced, neglected, forgotten, misaligned. Quite simply, it seems to me, the HPV team set out to create the absolute best human powered vehicle that their collective intelligence could fabricate.  And they succeeded.

Everything seems perfect. Everything is easy. Everything is right. Everything is complete. But, it’s a complex piece of machinery. The user manual, for the bike alone, not counting the manuals for the lights or suspension or Magura hydraulic disc brakes, is 72 pages long (in half letter-sized format). And that’s only the English language version. But it’s easy to read and it’s useful; it’s not merely a marketing piece in disguise. It’s a manual, truly written for the rider. And, as I looked through it, I realized how well it answers many of the questions new riders have. Not all bikes are this complex, but it would be nice if every manufacturer invested in creating a user guide like this. If nothing else, a good manual helps remind riders of the importance of taking care of the bike and how to recognize wear and tear. (Photo of table of contents for Grasshopper fx manual, below.)

There’s only one way to describe the Grasshopper fx: it is a masterpiece. There are other great bikes, Volae’s Century ES foremost among them. But of masterpieces, there are very, very few.

I keep searching for a comparison, something that most of us can relate to. What is this like? What is this extraordinarily good, and that many of us are blessed to have experienced? What is wonderful and fascinating and perfect in a way that — surprisingly — is calming?

Try this. Imagine the most perfect day of your life, the day when everything goes your way. Imagine every ingredient of that perfect day. Imagine the feeling of total perfection of the day, as if everything fits snugly and perfectly. It’s the day we each aspire to obtain, but by all rights, can not ever exist. It is unreachable within the imperfection of life. Or, if it happens, it’s by chance; a fluke; an oddity that could only happen once.

Or, maybe it could happen, if you could only control each and every detail of the day — or, rather, by entirely giving up control over every detail of the day. A day, built entirely of flow, and peace. A day of such evenness that you feel thoroughly alive, eager, alert.

The Perfect Day is the nearest description I can offer for this bike. And, like the perfect day, it oozes life energy. Some things are so fine you don’t dare touch, taste or use them; they’re intimidating; what good is a bike that’s so beautiful that you’re afraid to ride it? Grant, from Rivendell Bicycle Works, wrote a piece in early 2009 describing exactly this phenomenon; that of the conflict between pride of ownership and fear of usership. What’s so wonderful about a Grasshopper is the way it embraces you, instead of intimidating you.  You just want to ride it, no matter where or how.  I’ve even zip-tied a plastic milk crates to the rack, like the cheapest ghetto cruiser, to carry heavy junk across town.  I treat it like a truck as well as like a sports car.  It just wants to go.

For me, the Grasshopper increases my yearning to take it on a trip; it feels like a good companion, for you can see and feel all the attention that has gone into making the bike complete. It’s a bike with soul. It’s a good friend in those quiet moments.

In this way, like anything that is extremely well made, it transcends its existence of merely being a bike. Truly, it is a vehicle, a vehicle for experiencing some of the richness of life.

Neptune’s rig (photo by R. Matson).

Oh, by the way, all those on-line “experts” who say it’s heavy and slow?  Don’t believe them.  Ask for a photo.  They’re probably weak and out of shape.  It’s an aerodynamic frame, goes as fast as you want, and weighs only about 7 pounds more than my Brompton folding bike.  Heavy, my eye.

All best,

Robert

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