Big Apple Traffic, Cobbles Hobble Bentrification

Chris Malloy at Recumbent Journal wrote a hilarious article about bent riding in New York City.  Check it out.

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2011 Robert Matson


Wake up! Get up! Stand up! Stand up for cyclist rights!

Last night, New York City Dept. of Transportation Senior Policy Advisor Jon Orcutt spoke to the New York Cycle Club.  He had several vitally important messages for cyclists:

– The NYC DOT is 100% behind improving bicycle infrastructure.  There are wonderful projects in the works and we are going to see a huge growth in cycling AS LONG AS the Bloomberg administration is in office.  For example, the new bike share program is going to be huge and run by experienced international vendors.  The bike parking plans are everything we could hope for.  And much, much more.

– When Mayor Bloomberg leaves office, there is no assurance that the next mayor will be in favor of cycling (during the last election, Bloomberg’s opponent said he planned to remove bike lanes).  Furthermore, a VERY vocal minority is speaking out against cyclists.

Therefore, in order to maintain the advances, cyclists _MUST_ get involved in local politics and advocacy and actively work to protect cyclist rights.  We CAN NOT AFFORD to sit on our asses and passively accept the favors.  Active engagement includes: writing letters to the media; on-street protesting against laws that hurt cycling; community advocacy; joining and attending community board and city council meetings; joining and funding advocacy groups (such as Transportation Alternatives and Bikes Belong); observing all street laws; doing anything else you can think of that promotes cycling, STOPS backlash, and helps solidify gains.

– The New York police dept. has been directed to ticket cyclists regularly.  No one wants to hear this.  But the status quo, of cyclists riding however they please, is entirely unsustainable from any perspective, especially the political and practical.  The administration, which supports cycling 100%, can not be seen to condone or coddle law breakers.  Also, in the political realm, it is impossible to argue that cyclists should not be ticketed until after all the motorists start driving properly; it’s not going to happen.  Orcutt did not give a time table for this, but presumably this more aggressive stance starts immediately and we’ll see abundant ticketing in the spring, as cycling picks up.

– All this goes for New Jersey cyclists as well.  YOU MUST GET INVOLVED IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS.  NOW!


RIGHT NOW: Stop bitching about the unfairness of it all and how motorists do the same stuff and get away with it.  This accomplishes nothing and creates a culture of apathy.  THIS WILL KILL CYCLING.

TODAY: 1) join Bikes Belong and Transportation Alternatives and pay at least double the basic joining fee, if not more; and 2) make a commitment to get personally involved in grass roots advocacy.

TOMORROW: 1) write your local city council member and mayor in support of cycling and bike infrastructure; 2) find out when your community board and city council next meet and make a commitment to attending the meeting in order to personally, face to face, voice your support of cycling.

THE NEXT DAY: 1) write your local news organizations in support of cycling and safer streets; 2) Volunteer with a cycling advocacy group to help their efforts.

FOREVER: Obey the road rules, engage in the community.  (Law breakers will never gain the hearts of the community, which is what we need to do.)  Never let up.  Once a month, _DO_ something that supports cycling in the political and public realm.

Orcutt’s bio (he’s also a cyclist).

NY Cycle Club meeting summary
(Hey, look, it’s Robert Matson in the red shirt, front row.)

Bikes Belong:

Transportation Alternatives:

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2011 Robert Matson


Get involved in local politics to improve street safety.

Bicyclists must get involved in local politics if we want roads that are safer for everyone and for cyclists in particular.  That means attending meetings of your Community Board.  It also means attending City Council hearings on topics that concern cyclists.

Last Thursday, the New York City Council’s Transportation Oversight Committee held a hearing (read: charade) on whether new bike lanes are being installed too quickly and without enough oversight from City Council and Community Boards.  Some Councilmembers seemed blissfully — even gleefully — ignorant of the fact that the City Council and the Community Boards already weighed in on the topic many years ago and approved a master plan of bicycle paths.  The current Department of Transportation is implementing this plan, which the previous DOT commissioner failed to implement (Failed due to Incompetence? Political machinations? Too much oversight? Too much candy and donuts? You decide.).

The result of these failures to install bike lanes, along with other failures to take strong measures to improve safety on New York City streets, has resulted in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers who have been killed in motor vehicle accidents.

James Vacca, Chairman of the Transportation Oversight Committee, began the hearing with a diatribe against the rapidity of the DOT’s work and the evils of cycling.  Then DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan presented, and was grilled.

Then came the testimony. Some 72 New Yorkers signed up to speak for two minutes each.  The first six speaking slots were given to those who object to bike lanes, particularly on Prospect Park West, and apparently prefer streets where motorists drive with murderous intent.  (Fortunately, most Park Slope residents like the bike lanes. See  And in a true lesson of City democracy, they were allowed to exceed their two minute time limit allowed for delivering testimony.

I showed up at 8:30am for the 10am hearing.  And at about 3:15pm I delivered the following two-minute testimony.  At the time, only one councilmember was still present (friend of a livable Brooklyn, Councilmember Letitia James), Chairman Vacca being on break.  By this time, and for the last hour and a half or so, the testimonies and audience members consisted only of those who support bike lanes and the DOT’s aggressive approach to creating livable streets.  Little surprise.  Ultimately, bike lanes are better for the city.  We can hope that good sense will prevail.


Dear Honorable Councilmen and Councilwomen of the City of New York:
In the five boroughs of New York City, 266 people were killed in traffic fatalities in 2009. This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.(1)  Are those 266 deaths in 2009 too few?  Or are they too many?
In the 15 years from 1994 up through 2009, 5,746 people were killed in the five boroughs of New York City in motor vehicle accidents.  Are 5,746 fatalities in 15 years too few?  Or too many?  How many more people need to be killed in traffic accidents before we take aggressive steps to make our streets safe?
Personally, I believe these fatalities were needless and are entirely unacceptable.  For this reason, I support New York City’s Department of Transportation for making changes to city streets that decrease injuries and save lives.  Projects that result in safer streets — like the creation of pedestrian areas in Times and Harold squares, the redesign of Park Circle and Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, the installation of bicycle lanes city wide, and the wide use of modern traffic engineering to protect citizens’ lives, health and well-being — are an unambiguous benefit to New York City, when measured in irreplaceable lives.
Furthermore, I believe there are some services which city government should be expected to provide, such as saving lives, without micro-management.  It should be self-evident that a deadly street is a bad street.  And a safe street is a good street.
There are those who might argue we are moving too quickly with safety improvements.  But, if we consider the death toll, the question is not “are we moving too fast” but rather “what is taking so long?”
5,746 deaths over 15 years is too many.  We do not need more people to die on the streets.  We need fewer dead.  We need safer streets.  And we need them fast.
Sincerely yours,

Robert Matson

2009 and 2008 Traffic Fatalities in New York City, by borough(1).
2009 traffic fatalities
2008 traffic fatalities
New York
(1)   The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia” at


If you attend a community meeting about bike lanes and street safety and you aren’t sure what to say. Use the testimonial above. Our political leaders must take responsibility for the daily fatalities on our streets. Hundreds dead every year, in New York alone, is not an acceptable price to pay for motorists to drive badly and illegally.

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


Bicycle advocacy – act today

Nothing lasts forever in New York.  It seems that every generation puts their stamp on the city.

Right now, one of those stamps is the bike lanes.  From the perspective of managing the city’s growth and making safe and liveable streets, bike lanes are critical to ensuring the quality of life in the city.

So it is unbelievable, and regrettably true, that there are city residents who are adamantly opposed to bike lanes.  They organize protests.  They coerce spineless elected officials.  The lie, cheat and play dirty to get what they want.  They act like the complete a-holes we know them to be while they’re in their cars: parking in the bike lanes, driving while intoxicated and/or talking on their cell phones, and hitting cyclists and running from the scene.  Yes, this is basically road-hogs versus tax payers who want to live nice lives.

It comes down to this.  Cyclists must get involved in cycling advocacy.  Support bicycle advocacy groups.  Write letters to the newspapers.  Get involved in the local political process by actively attending Community Board meetings.  And if you really want to make a difference, get a post on your local community board; it’s not as hard as you might imagine.

The easiest, most undemanding way to get involved in cycling advocacy is 1) become a member of Transportation Alternatives and 2) Give them an extra financial gift to help them do their work.  Here’s the link.  Act today, because cycling today depends on what we do right now.

The future livability of The City is at stake too.  If we don’t continue building safe streets in New York, the quality of life for everyone in the city will deteriorate.

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


A Struggle to Stay Upright (and Cool) By Sean Patrick Farrell

Now, this is really something to write home about….  You know recumbents have arrived when they make the New York Times.

Read S. Patrick Farrell’s Spokes Column here:

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


Recumbent Times: news and discounts (Fall 2010) – the BLOG version –

Greetings NYC Recumbentologists,

I hope the early fall finds you well.  I enjoy this time of year because it means — as the “fair weather” bike season slows down — I’m free to do more long bike rides.  Ironic, isn’t it.  Thankfully, I enjoy cold weather rides.  (And thanks to Busch & Mueller’s extremely good high-intensity lights, early darkness isn’t a problem.)

The other weekend, I took a spur of the moment three-day bike tour in up-state NY where I had nothing but great weather, great hills, and could see the beginnings of fall in the trees.  With a fully-loaded HP
Velotechnik Street Machine Gte, I spent the days riding the endless rollers of the Taconics and the nights sleeping under the stars.  Nothing quite like it.  There are many wonderful two- and three-day tours right outside our doors, for NYC bent riders, so what are you waiting for?  The hardest part might be carrying a fully-loaded bent down the front stoop.  (The easy part is granny-gearing up the 3-mile long hills.  Maybe.)

I’ve attached a photo of the expansive lowlands heading up towards Chatham.  As for those hills in the background?  Yes, eventually you get to climb them again, and again, and again… :-D.


— News —

:: Metro North and LIRR Repeal Restrictions on “Recumbents” ::

After a long period of allowing short recumbents on the regional rail without trouble, as long as it wasn’t a holiday, last Spring, the MTA suddenly instated new prohibitions, specifically naming “recumbents” as disallowed on the Metro North and Long Island Railroad.  Previously, the limit had been simply on bikes longer than 80″ and with protrusions (which would mean, among other things, long wheelbase bents).

Chun, an NYC Bacchetta Giro-rider I met last year, brought the new restrictions to my attention.  From there, I posted a note on the e-mail list for the Metro Area Recumbent Society (MARS) and on Bent Rider On-line reporting on this change and asking who in the community would like to join me in efforts to create a fairer rule.  It seems like only a matter of seconds before Neile (a Bacch./Rans/Lightning rider and veteran New York Cycle Club ride leader) leaped forward with wherewithal, whatwithal and whowithal, including the support of both NYCC and the Westchester Cycle Club.  Among those was David, with WCC.  (If you want to know more last names, etc., join me on the Third Sat. bent ride and I’ll fill you in.)

At Neile’s request, I wrote what was apparently a compelling letter, explaining that many bent riders were either riding bents, or nothing.  Neile knew exactly what to do and who to contact, what to say and I can’t imagine what else in order quickly to negotiate the red tape.  And David claims he did nothing more than put the final nail in the coffin, but it was obviously one heck of a nail, because it was within a matter of weeks, that the prohibition against short bents was lifted.

Even better, the MTA now more clearly defines their concerns and what they want us to do.  For example, don’t get dirt and grease on the train and other passengers, don’t block the aisle, and generally don’t inhibit the smooth operation of the train.  Seems fair enough, and it’s now easier to make sure we’re properly traveling with our bents.  Just look out for those holiday and rush hour trains.

Just so you know, the maximum dimensions for a bike are 80″x 48″.  I think we can safely assume that this is the length and height, though it isn’t specifically said. The width of a FOLDING bike is limited to “32 inches in width.”  I’m well aware we don’t have an exact definition of the envelope of a bike here, or even for a folding bike, but I do hope no one creates problems for New York bentriders by bringing a limousine bent on the train and starting an argument with the official about how the rules aren’t specific.  Do that and we’ll be back to square one except maybe this time they’ll rewrite the rules to say that recumbent bikes are fine; it’s recumbent RIDERS that aren’t allowed.

Trikes are still named as disallowed, but there seems ample allowance for a folding trike especially if it goes into a bag, becoming merely bulky luggage.  The HP Velotechnik Scorpions fs and fx and HPV’s new Gecko all fold and fit into a bag.  The Greenspeed trikes fold even smaller, so a bag would seem to do the job there as well.

Oh, and though it goes without saying, please be courteous to the
conductors and train officials.

Suggestions: to cover chain rings I carry a strong lightweight plastic bag.  You may know it as a “Chinatown grocery shopping bag.”  Costing only about $3, they’re available in all your favorite colors, as long as you like black/white plaid, red/white plaid or blue/white plaid.  As for chains, I recommend chain tubes or covering chains with a plastic trash bag cut open length-wide.

For folding bents, the HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx is a true folding bike that goes into a bag.

Related links:

Metro North Bike Rules

Metro Area Recumbent Society
(ignore the dates on the website’s home page. The e-mail list is active.)

Bent Rider On-line

New York Cycle Club
(They don’t encourage bents on rides but they’re worth supporting simply for their wonderful ride library.)

Westchester Cycle Club
A very nice group of riders.

HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx

:: Everything On Sale Forever: 4% Discount on Everything ::

Until further notice, customers get a discount of 4% off on all new recumbent bikes and accessories.  No catch.  That’s all there is to it.  No club card, no forms to fill, no cash-back, no passwords to remember, no points to keep track of, just a simple 4% discount on everything when you buy it.  There’s nothing more you need to know, but if you have any questions, just call me.

:: The East Coast’s Newest HP Velotechnik Premium Dealer ::

This summer New York City Recumbent Supply(tm)/The Innovation Works, Inc. became a Premium (top-level) Dealer for HP Velotechnik.  What this means for you is that I will always have at least three HPV models in stock for demo rides and am committed to developing and providing the highest levels of expertise on HPV products to riders in the region.  If you have questions about HPV, call and ask.

At this time, demo models consist of the Street Machine Gte, the Scorpion fs, and the Grasshopper fx.  I’m also carrying the full line of HPV accessories and options.

This is where I say that HP Velotechnik makes the world’s best bents, but you already know that.  What you may not know is that they can be sized to fit small riders.  Or that when you’re going 47mph, fully loaded with 40 lbs. of gear, they feel rock solid and comfortable.  (Yes, that orange blur ripping down Rock City Rd. onto County Rte. 66 in Old Chatham, NY, the other day was me.)

:: Reminder: HP Velotechnik sets new prices on October 1st. ::

Last year, HPV was unique in that they _dropped_ their 2009 prices due to the strong Euro.  This year it’s a different story.  If you’ve been thinking of ordering a Velotechnik, consider doing it before the end of September 2010 to get this year’s prices.

:: Blog ::

Everyone has a glob.  I mean a blog.  And I do too.  In my case, I’m posting useful information for bent riders and breaking news about the brands I carry.  My aim is to create the best knowledge base I can to help more people ride bents in the metro area.  Anything you’d like me to cover?  Just drop me a note.

:: Mirror, Mirror, Who’s the Fair(ing)est of Them All? ::

Last summer, recumbent accessory maker Terracycle (“TC”) bought Windwrap (“WW”) fairings.  They’ve made some changes, they’ve organized the line-up, they’ve made it all easy to understand, and now I’ve started bringing in TC’s new strong and lightweight fairings.

It’s simple to get the right fairing for your bent.  TC has two fairings for Volae and HP Velotechnik.  And then, of course, HPV has their own brand of fairing (the Streamer).

If you want a TC/WW fairing for your HP Velotechnik, you will use either the GX or XT fairing (with mounting hardware).  Though, in general, I advise HPV owners to use HPV’s Streamer fairing to keep it simple and most useful.

For Volaes, you will use either the GX or XT fairing (w/ hardware).  Easy.

For Greenspeed tadpole trikes, you’ll use either the GX or XT.  (Anura delta trikes take the BLC.)  And for Rans short wheelbase bents, it’s either the…wait for it…GX or XT.  (Rans LWB’s are a different story.)

The fit chart is at:

Where it gets interesting is when you want to add a headlight to the mix.  Terracycle recommends you mount one or two headlights to either side of the fairing or else attach one to the hardware below the fairing at the front of the bike.  This is because the light from a headlight situated behind their fairing will simply reflect backwards off the material.

So, how does HP Velotechnik handle this, when their bright B&M headlight is mounted on the front boom, behind the Streamer fairing?  Doesn’t it just reflect backwards?  No, it does not.  That is to say, HPV solves problems before anything goes out the door.  Put simply, there is no problem combining a HP Velotechnik Streamer fairing along with a
headlight.  Extra parts are required, but HPV supplies them at no extra cost when you buy a fairing.  Don’t worry.

The easiest thing to do is this: if you own an HP Velotechnik, get the Streamer fairing.  If you own a Volae or Rans or Greenspeed, get the TC fairing.  In either case, follow the manufacturers instructions.

:: Four Reasons to Use a Front Fairing ::

1.  It keeps your feet warm when you come out for the Third Saturday “Grant’s Tomb” Bent Ride in January.  And any other time you ride on a cold day, you’ll be glad you have it.

2.  It keeps you drier when it’s raining.

3.  It’s the easiest way to add a few mph for no additional effort due to improved aerodynamics.

4.  Maybe, like me, you wear glasses and you think your bike should wear glasses too.

:: Flevobikes?  And Green Machines?  Here in NYC?! ::

Did you know you can buy a Flevobike Green Machine right here in New York City?

Rick Horan, the USA Flevobike distributor, lives in Queens.  And I can get you Greenmachines.  For those who don’t know it, the Green Machine is a remarkable bent with a fully enclosed drive system and Rohloff speedhub.  Basically, it’s a nearly zero-maintenance bent.  It’s not feather light, but it’s not too heavy either.

Recommended for everyone who doesn’t like greasy chains.  (And who does?)

:: Volaes: “best for the buck” ::
Ideal for road biking, commuting and light touring

If you want the fastest bike for your dollar, you should be considering a Volae.

They’re light.  They’re fast UPHILL.  They have attachment points
(“braze-ons”) so you can install high quality Tubus racks and fenders, too.  Dynamo lights can be added with no hassle.  They carry up to 250 lbs. for commuting and touring.  With Pitlocks they can be locked to a bike rack.  They’re well-made and have good components.  They’re better than anything in their price range.  Special orders arrive in a week.  Each bike is a custom-fit (for no extra charge).  They even have great paint.  And the price is right.

Call me for a test ride.

:: Greenspeed Tadpole Trikes ::

Greenspeed trikes are like second cousins to HP Velotechnik Scorpions.  That is to say, they’re a very good machine by any definition.  But they’re the perfect choice when you want a fast, strong trike that handles well, but you don’t need the maximum performance and suspension of a Velotechnik.

Most notable about Greenspeeds is their incredibly tight turning radius.  They also place the rider close to the ground, so there’s high stability and a low center of gravity.  Vital, for when you take those tight turns at speed (and you will).

One fun machine.  And great colors.

:: Got Photos? ::

I’d love to post more photos of customers enjoying their bents.  If you have a photo you’d like to share on my website, please send it in!

:: Current Brands Carried ::

HP Velotechnik, Volae, Rans, Greenspeed, Flevobike, Ortlieb panniers, Tubus racks, Busch & Mueller and Spanninga lights, SON hub dynamos, Terracycle accessories, Schwalbe tires, hand built wheels by Peter White.  And more.  Just ask.

Have a great fall!!

All best,


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


There is HP Velotechnik, and then there’s the rest.

I don’t like to play favorites, but time and again, I’m amazed by the way HP Velotechnik pays attention to tiny but crucial details.

For example, they do a better job of wrapping bikes, than every other bike manufacturer I’ve worked with.

Here, above, is a Street Machine Gte in the process of being unwrapped for final assembly. Almost every other bicycle manufacturer in the world could learn something from this photo.

This, directly above, is a Scorpion fs about to be unpacked. Ain’t nothin’ getting scratched, dented or bent in that box.

Having said this, mind you, Volae packs their bikes equally well, which is why I also like Volae. That is to say, I like manufacturers who, when you buy a fresh new bike from them, you receive a fresh new bike. (Why all manufacturers can’t do this is a complete friggin’ mystery to me.)

It’s in the tiny things, where they really set themselves apart. Like, with a simple water bottle. Friends, there are water bottles, and then there are HP Velotechnik Moonbiker water bottles.

Look closely. In case you missed it…
– It has two-color printing (not just one-color).
– It is translucent, so you can see what’s in it and how much remains.
– The plastic doesn’t smell nasty. (But you can’t see that.)
– The graphic is huge, covering most the water bottle (costs more, looks better).
– It has a good well-threaded screw top with a good nipple so it simply works better. (You can’t see that either.)
– It has milliliter markings on the side. Check it out.
– And, of course, each water bottle arrives separately, and entirely, wrapped in a sheet of bubble wrap so you get it in perfect condition.

Who else cares so deeply about the people who ride their bikes, and the quality of that experience, that they go to this kind of effort? Very few, my friends, very few.

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


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

HP Velotechnik, Grasshopper fx


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


It’s not about the helmet; it’s about safe habits.

When the arguments are in and weighed, I shall likely remain in favor of me and my loved ones wearing helmets when we bicycle, even though some research suggests that the act of wearing a helmet actually makes us more likely to be hit by a passing vehicle.

According to a September 2006 BBC story (link below), research demonstrates that “Cyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be knocked down by passing vehicles, new research from Bath University suggests.”

Still, I shall continue to wear a helmet, because I stubbornly believe that if, or more pessimistically, when I am in an accident, it will help protect my head to some degree. And, if nothing else, by wearing a helmet I am showing my wife that I want to see her again, even if we just had an argument. And I am promising to my nieces and nephews that I want to see them again. And I’m promising to my clients and customers that I’m going to come through on my promises. And I am promising to myself that I’ll take the precautions necessary so I can compete in next season’s masters swimming events. In other words, I’ll wear a helmet because I take myself seriously, I care about my well being and I care about other people.

After years of cycling in New York City, and witnessing the habits of other cyclists, I have come to strongly suspect that it is the act of caring, and having safe riding habits, rather than the presence of a helmet on the cyclist’s head, which results in cyclist safety. Too bad once again motorists have to spoil the party — as well as the environment — by driving yet more dangerously around helmet-wearing cyclists.

Unfortunately, those who would legislate bicycle helmet wearing seem more concerned with winning their argument than with saving lives or protecting cyclists’ health. Presumably they make money if they win their argument; no other force is powerful enough to distort simple evidence or widely accepted notions of self-determination.

The most typical argument, as it is revealed in public anyway, goes something like this: In the first place, helmets protect the head. In the second place, facts show that when cyclists are hit by motorists, fewer of those who wore helmets end up dead; and, in contrast, more of those who were NOT wearing helmets, DO end up dead. Therefore, helmets must provide the cyclists with safety.

However, it is a causal assumption, and precisely the sort of superficially convincing argument put forth by a person who is more concerned with winning arguments (and making money) than with being right (and saving lives).

I would imagine that in and among the many cyclists who are hit by cars every year, there are some who are tragically or mortally injured someplace other than the head, like, perhaps, the spine or the internal organs. It is obvious that a bicycle helmet does not prevent a car from hitting a cyclist in the first place. Add to this the research demonstrating that, rather than protect the rider, the presence of a helmet INCREASES the likelihood that the cyclist will be struck.

(Foot note: one wonders if it’s better to wear no helmet at all, rather than one that fits improperly or is incorrectly adjusted, since an ill-fitting helmet provides little protection and the act of wearing a helmet increases the risk of being hit by an over-taking car.)

Being as I live in America and no longer so naive, I believe the insurance companies likely have a hand in advancing the cause of helmet wearing laws. For one thing, who else would care. It can’t be mothers, because Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are…against drunk driving. I can’t imagine doctors and dentists objecting as a mass political force; after all, it gives them more work, and some of it probably pretty interesting. That leaves perhaps the unions of school teachers, compelled to mass march because they’re fed up with their math and history lessons going down the drain when their ex-students are hit by cars. Right? I don’t think so.

The weather vane points to the insurers — motor and health insurance, at least. The logic is so simple most dunces could follow the money trail: when (not if) motorists — drunk, tired or distracted — hit cyclists, the insurance company of the driver will be called upon to pay damages to the injured cyclist or the family of the killed cyclist. The insurance company will be compelled to pay LESS money to a less severely injured cyclist than to a more severely injured cyclist (and presumably still more to the survivors of the dead cyclist). Furthermore, the health insurance company of the injured cyclist will be looking at a smaller average medical bill from cyclists — dead or otherwise — who were protecting their heads, but larger average medical bills from those who were not.

From the perspective of insurance companies who are involved in the equation, obviously, the financial incentive is to pay as little as possible for claims. That’s been proven often enough. Therefore, insurers would naturally prefer there to be laws that require all cyclists to wear helmets. And not because it will save lives.

The question I wish to raise is this: if motorists drive more dangerously around cyclists who wear helmets, why are not more helmet-wearing cyclists killed?

Presumably one reason is because when they are knocked off their bikes, they suffer fewer brain injuries. But I don’t believe that’s the main reason. The main, overwhelming reason is that those riders who care enough to wear helmets to begin with are simply more inclined to ride cautiously; they care more about their health and well-being and they’re motivated to take safety precautions to protect themselves. …Like wearing helmets, yes, but also, precautions like not running red lights, using lights at night, getting regular tune-ups and checking their brakes before each ride, etc.

About a year ago, I mentioned this notion to a researcher in the automotive industry whom I met at a transportation conference here in New York. (His name was John, he had a PhD, he was from Michigan, he worked for Ford, and he also happened to be a touring cyclist.)

In reply, and in support of my theory, he relayed a true story about Volvo cars, which are famous for being particularly safe. And why are they safe? John’s story went along the lines of this: transportation researchers were looking at video footage taken from above a roadway to observe how much space motorists were allowing between their own car and the other cars on the road. As the data accumulated, an intriguing fact began to emerge: on average, drivers of Volvo cars, in comparison to the drivers of other makes, put more space between their car and the car in front.

In other words, the operators of Volvos drove more cautiously. Their cars didn’t FORCE them to drive more cautiously. They, simply, drove more cautiously. Now, Volvos may well have features that make the cars safe. But could it ALSO be, that Volvo cars, through successful marketing, particularly appeal to drivers who are inclined to drive cautiously? And is it too far-fetched to argue that cautious drivers have fewer bad accidents than incautious drivers? I think not.

I shall go out on a sturdy limb and suggest that cautious cyclists are less likely to have accidents than incautious cyclists. And cautious cyclists are more likely to wear helmets. And are more likely to behave, overall, in ways that decrease the likelihood they will have an accident.

Generally, when I see a cyclist riding like an idiot — riding the wrong way down a one-way street, running red lights, swerving through traffic, talking on a cell phone while riding, riding with ear phones in their ears, riding at night without lights, riding an inappropriate or ill-fitting bike, and generally riding carelessly — they are also rarely wearing helmets.

Conversely, I rarely see cyclists who are wearing helmets but also riding like idiots (I have indeed seen it, but in my experience, it’s simply more rare). One can even see this casually, for example when a newspaper publishes an article on-line about some contentious cycling subject. In the reader comments, one will sometimes read multiple criticisms of those who would ride like utter fools “without even wearing a helmet” as if the helmet will protect the idiot from his idiocy. It would be odd to find the perpendicular observation: of cyclists riding idiotically but at LEAST while wearing helmets.

I have no faith that it’s the helmet that protects me. But I am a safety-centric cyclist and I shall continue to wear a helmet, even if it compels drivers to drive closer to me. To ward them off a small amount, I put reflective tape on my helmet. And I wear a high-viz highway workers safety vest (research shows it wards drivers away a bit more).

To keep out of the hospital, I shall try to keep from being hit in the first place. If nothing else, I am confident that the mere fact that I think at all about things like safety tape and driver behavior will increase my chances of survival.

Should my efforts to be safe fail to ward off every single one of the millions of terrible drivers in New York, it is my hope that if a driver still manages to hit me — in spite of the helmet, the high-viz vest, the good cycling habits and the adherence to traffic rules — that I’ll have provided my lawyer with a much better foundation for securing a judgment that adequately pays for my medical needs and/or the needs of my loved ones left behind.

If insurance companies continue to hold the reins of power, one can anticipate future laws that are meant to decrease the insurance payouts but not intended to save lives: cyclists must wear helmets. And cyclists must not wear high-viz safety vests or use bright lights at night. For the insurers, there’s more profit to be earned from blaming dead cyclists for their own deaths.

Obviously, from my perspective, I do not consider that an acceptable state of affairs.

All best,


Robert Matson
NYC Recumbent Supply (TM)
 The Innovation Works, Inc.