There’s a certain romance associated with human power.You know the sort of thing – the bronzed noble savage, pulsating limbs, rippling muscles, incredible loads, and not even a whiff of nitrous oxide. Ooh, enough, enough! The reality – as any gap-year rickshaw pilot will tell you – can be very different. Pedal power can move surprising loads at modest speeds on the flat, but come to a hill and rolling resistance becomes the least of your worries…We regularly drag trailing loads of 70kg uphill to the Post Office, so we know a little about these things (and generally choose an electric bike for the job too).
Out of the blue, we had a call along the lines of the washing powder ads: ‘Would we swap all our regular cycles for a Cycles Maximus Pedicab?’ Living in hilly Somerset, the answer would have been a curt ‘No’, but this machine is rather different, because it comes with power-assistance – either a fairly conventional Heinzmann motor in the front wheel, or a much more exciting chassis-mounted Lynch motor at the rear.With this sort of assistance, rickshaws could be poised to strike out from the flat inner city to become practical load-carriers just about anywhere. It comes at a price, of course: £2,900 for the basic Pedicab or Cargo machine, plus £605 for the Heinzmann power-assist equipment (a great bargain, incidentally), or a healthy £2,095 for the meatier Lynch motor, making a total of £4,995 on the road. If that sounds a bit pricey, remember, we’re talking small van capability here, but without the fuel, servicing, parking tickets, congestion charge, taxation or compulsory insurance.
Despite grumbles from black cab drivers, the practicality of these machines is unquestioned in cities, but could a rickshaw provide practical day-to-day family transport?
Cycles Maximus is the creation of Ian Wood, a Bath publican (owner of drinking establishments, for overseas readers).The HPV business started in a couple of lock- ups back in 1997, when Ian and business partner Tom Nesbitt set to work designing, and ultimately producing, a lighter, faster version of the classic rickshaw, or pedicab as they’re becoming known. In April 2001, the company moved to a 5,000 square foot factory unit, and notched production up a gear.Today, Pedicabs, and increasingly, Cargo trikes, roll off the assembly line at the rate of about one a week, making Cycles Maximus the biggest producer in Europe and very possibly anywhere outside the Third World.Total sales to date exceed 160, of which around 100 work in London, with smaller pockets in York, Edinburgh and elsewhere. Most of the Pedicabs are pedal-powered, carrying passengers over short distances, but Cargo trikes are more likely to include electric-assist and undertake longer journeys with bigger loads.
The basis of the machines is a neat tricycle chassis that can be adapted to carry loads of up to 250kg in the charming, but very practical ‘Cargo Box’, or up to three passengers in a conventional looking, but high-tech rickshaw body.With only three mounting bolts, the body units are easily swapped, and some machines earn a dual living: cargo by day, people by night. Not many Ford Transits do that.
Perhaps most striking at first glance is that nearly half of the trike’s 2.5 metre length is allotted to the rider.The business end – either Pedicab or Cargo body – fits neatly between the rear wheels, mounted as low as is practically possible above the central differential.There’s no suspension as such, but the bodies are rubber-mounted to give a degree of resilience.
The rolling chassis weighs 46kg, to which you must add 29kg for the Pedicab (27.5kg for the Cargo), and 46kg for the optional Lynch power-assist, making a total of 75kg un- powered or 121kg powered.To put this in perspective for cycling types, pedalling an empty un-assisted rickshaw is a bit like riding a tandem with an unproductive eight stone stoker on the back. No great problem on the flat, but hard going on hills.
Most of the Maximus trikes are fitted with SRAMs’ excellent 3×8 gear system – the combination of 3-speed hub and 8-speed derailleur being ideal for the purpose. Bottom gear is 14 inches – very low for a bicycle, but essential on a load-carrying trike.Without power assistance, this mega-granny gear just allows a reasonably fit cyclist to inch the trike up a 10% gradient with a three-child 80kg test load, but only the seriously fit need apply on a daily basis. Once over the top, low range takes you from 14″ to 40″, mid range from 19″ to 55″ and high from 26″ to 75″. If you can find the terrain, that’s high enough to spin up to a conventional bicycle speed.Typically, speed tops out in the 6-12mph region, but small variations in gradient can make a big difference.
The batteries (twin on the Heinzmann, large single on the Lynch) intrude into the spacious Cargo Box, but not much
Hills present a major obstacle, pulling speed down to 2mph, one, or nothing, should you be unlucky or completely knackered. That’s where the Heinzmann motor comes in, feeding a little extra zest to the front wheel, as and when required. Designed to give a boost to a conventional bike, the motor can rapidly get out of its depth in the commercial trike world, despite being geared for 12mph, rather than 15mph. Hill starts are a particular challenge, because the stalled motor is being asked to grind slowly away with the sort of load it was never intended for.With 80kg on the back, we just managed to rush a short stretch of 15% (1 in 7.5), which is fortunate because it’s part of our driveway. A restart was beyond us.
The Heinzmann-assisted machine will tackle gradients of up to 8% at modest speed with a load in the 50-80kg range, but certainly not fully laden. Once speed falls below 6mph or so, the motor rapidly wilts, leaving you more or less on your own. If the load and/or terrain exceed these limits, you need something a bit hunkier.
This is a much more sophisticated package – a top quality motor driving a layshaft via its own freewheel. Everything, from the wiring to the mechanical bits, is well engineered, and it needs to be, because the Lynch motor is a seriously powerful beast, designed for heavy commercial use.
Engaging the motor is dead easy.You start by turning an ‘ignition’ key, then feed power in with a twistgrip throttle.To stay within the electric tricycle legislation, Cycles Maximus has provided a torque-sensing switch, so power is only available when you’re pedalling, but you don’t need to be moving, so hill starts are easy. If pedal effort drops below a pre-set limit, the motor resets itself, and you have to pedal harder, wind the throttle back and start again – a good safety feature.
The motor is continuously rated at 250 watts, which brings it within current electric tricycle legislation, so the Lynch- motored trike doesn’t need an MOT, tax disc and all the rest.With a modest load and on modest gradients, 250 watts will keep you chugging gently along all day. Our motor was geared for a comfortable 9mph, but the gearing is up to you, provided assistance is not available above 15mph.
Hit a gradient and the Lynch motor grunts, hardens its note and climbs whatever you put in front of it.The steeper the climb, the more it buckles down and the more power it produces. For example, with Castle Cary’s 10% gradients, and loads of 50-80kg, speed falls to 7 or 8mph and power input from the motor hits 700 watts or so. But restart on a serious gradient with a full load, and power can peak at anything up to 3.3 kw, or nearly five horsepower…We can’t vouch for the accuracy of our test equipment at this sort of level, but the figures are of little relevance, because in everyday use, speed hardly ever falls below 6mph, or power above 1,500 watts.
Maximum power can only be used in short bursts, but it’s nice to know you can restart on more or less any gradient with more or less any load.This is particularly important with the Lynch motor because the heavy-duty layshafts and cogs don’t leave space for the SRAM 3×8 gear system, so you’re stuck with a standard Shimano Deore derailleur giving eight gears of (in our case) 21″ to 58″. Obviously, battery condition is something you want to know about – the Lynch is more likely to be carrying heavy loads in hilly areas, and it doesn’t have the gearing to get home if something goes wrong.
So what about that romantic human-power stuff? Well, it’s true that your puny efforts can begin to look a bit sad against the giant-slaying Lynch, but for much of the time the motor rests or hums gently, leaving a human-powered machine to delight the purists.
On the Road
For a bicyclist, the first, and rather unnerving, impressions are: (a) it doesn’t lean into corners, and (b), if you try to ‘lean-steer’ you will simply veer off the road. After a few minutes you get the hang of this, before being unnerved all over again on the first adverse road camber, because then it will lean and you can’t bring it upright.
Handling is merely a concept at 8mph, but rather more important at 30mph…
Some people recovered their composure fairly quickly, but it has to be said that others failed to adjust and were convinced they never would. Even if you master three- wheeled cornering, the conventional looking front forks can lead you to forget that you’re piloting a vehicle 121cm (48″) wide above the seat. Look over your shoulder to place the wheels through a gap and you’ll find that the Pedicab is three centimetres narrower down there… None of this applies to the Cargo variant, which has a lower, narrower body.
Another advantage with the Cargo is excellent rearward visibility, whereas the Pedicab roof is rather awkwardly at driver’s eye height. This turns out to be important, because unlike a bicycle – even a bicycle with a trailer attached – if you’re driving something 121cm wide at 8mph, motorised traffic soon gets grumpy, and they’ll be fighting to squeeze past.
If you’re the sort of person who enjoys winding up motorists, a Pedicab will give you enormous pleasure, but for cyclists more used to sharing the roadspace in reasonable equanimity, a long queue can be embarrassing. Other people’s jams cause problems too, so jam-phobics should stick to something more traditional. Once you’re stuck, you’ll be watching cyclists wiggle through the gaps and telling your passengers what a bloody nuisance they are, just like any other cab driver.
If you’re used to a bicycle, parking a 1.2 metre-wide three-wheeler sounds like a nightmare, but it’s easy.The Cycles Maximus is small by car standards, and with a bit of practice, it can be turned in its 2.5 metre length, enabling it to squeeze into impossible spaces. If you get boxed in by an ignorant motorist, the trike is easy enough to lift sideways – you can often get away with parking side-on too.
On the open road, the Lynch motor does its bit in the 6mph to 8mph region, leaving the rider to play with the top two or three gears. Maximum velocity depends how fast you can pedal – 12mph is easy, and 14mph is feasible if your passenger is late for work.
Once on a downgrade, speed climbs rapidly to 30mph plus – not bad going for the equivalent of a covered wagon. As one might expect, a vehicle with a drag coefficient of a large brick, sitting on three motorcycle tyres, doesn’t roll very well.We managed an average of only 9.2mph on our test hill, and at that speed wind resistance doesn’t have a great effect, so much of the blame must lie with the tyres and mechanical bits. Strangely, with the more streamlined weather shield fitted, rolling speed fell to 8.5mph, which suggests a massive increase in drag.
Handling is merely an esoteric concept at 8mph, but rather more important at 30mph.The rear wheels do exactly what you ask, but the single front tyre sometimes fights for grip on fast turns, causing mild understeer (ie, it threatens to go straight on). Push too hard, particularly when empty on an adverse camber, and the trike will lift an inside wheel, although a touch on the rear brake should get things back under control.
With a maximum gross weight of nearly half a ton, brakes are important and the same attention to detail applies here as elsewhere.The rear wheels are restrained by a pair of Hope hydraulic discs, which are very powerful, but without the surface area for prolonged use.With an empty trike, it’s easy to lock the rear wheels, and we achieved a maximum stop of only 0.38G unloaded. But there’s plenty more power available, so (up to a point) the greater the load, the more effective the rear discs become.
The front Magura hydraulic rim brake would be pretty effective on a bicycle, but on such a heavy vehicle, it struggles a bit.We managed a maximum stop of 0.39G using the front brake – this time the limit being brake lever effort rather than locked wheels. Heaving on both anchors results in an emergency stop of 0.6G, which is good, but not scintillating.The front brake comes with a little parking clip, which is essential, but not really up to holding a loaded trike on a gradient.
With hard use, the rear discs overheat very rapidly, although the brakes fail safe, progressively seizing on until the discs have cooled.This is unlikely to occur in central London, but it’s easily done in Somerset.The only answer is to think ahead and go easy on the brakes on long descents. Electric regenerative braking would put a bit of oomph back into the battery and ease the strain on the brakes – it’s being considered.
The weather shield is a great favourite, but it increases wind resistance
For the driver, creature comforts are sadly lacking, but there’s a wonderful ding-dong bell to play with.We’d like to see a decent speedometer too, because E.T.A, current time, ride time, average speed, trip and overall mileage are pretty useful in a business environment.The load- carrying Cargo comes with a nicely engineered aluminium body and drop tailgate. If you know what a Euro Pallet is, the load area of 122cm x 90cm x 96cm will apparently accommodate one, but batteries reduce the space a little on powered versions. Rain and prying eyes are kept at bay with a weatherproof hood, fastened to the body with velcro strips, while zips front and rear allow panels to be rolled up for access or ventilation.The cover is easy to remove too.
The Pedicab has a wider and more complex body.The seat is made of a ventilated rubberised material, which is useful, because it will get wet.The hood is generously proportioned and secured with velcro straps, making it easy to remove.The frame is mounted on gas-struts enabling it to tilt downwards – useful should you want to tip water off, but primarily designed so that vandals will fall off and do themselves an injury.
At low speed, the roof keeps light rain at bay, although water tends to pool on top, then sluice all over the driver on the first downhill, to the great amusement of passengers. For monsoon conditions, the weather shield hooks under the roof and more or less eliminates wind, rain and spray. But fitting is a five-minute job, so don’t wait for the rain to start falling.
Lights are adequate for city use – a pair of battery LED rear lights and a Nordlicht dynamo with Busch & Müller Oval front light. But on the wider Pedicab in particular, we’d like to see white/red repeater lights on the extremities, because it looks too much like a bicycle for comfort.The hefty 12 volt supply for the motor could be tapped to power much better lights too.We’d suggest optional rear-facing indicators and even brake lights. Car equipment is relatively cheap and very powerful.
With supplementary bananas, the human-powered jobs will run all day, but the electric-assist batteries have a finite life.We only had a brief time with the Heinzmann-powered trike, but from our Heinzmann experience, we’d suggest 20 to 40 miles from the 984 watt/hour lead-acid batteries, depending on load, gradients and the amount the motor is used.The more powerful Lynch is a faster hill climber, with a smaller 828 watt/hour battery, so range is rather less. Around town, carrying modest 50-80kg loads, we achieved 17 – 181/2 miles, at an average speed of 7.7 to 9.3mph… heady stuff.
…the machine ambles up killer hills, even the 14% kind…
Daft wombats that we are, we couldn’t resist testing the Pedicab over the 171/2 miles of switchback roads and killer climbs, more commonly known as the A to B mountain course.With a good electric bike, this ride takes an hour and twenty minutes, but with a gross weight of over 300kg, including a realistic 100kg load – Alexander (43/4), Jeffrey (8), Alice (10), charger and tools – we were reckoning on a couple of hours.
As expected, the machine ambled up the killer hills, even the 14% (1 in 7) kind, at a steady 6-8mph, and we hit some wild speeds on the descents (31mph, would you believe). But a long trip of this kind can be soul-destroying work for the rider, because the motor only assists up to 8mph. At higher speed, you soon lose the will to live, speed drops back to 8mph, and the cycle repeats itself.
The Lynch motor comes with a sophisticated fuel meter, graduated in ten steps between empty and full, but it’s far from linear.The first light went out at 6 miles, the second at 9.7, third at 12.6, forth at 16 and 5th at 17.1 miles, within sight of journey’s end. That might sound like half a tank, but in fact there were only a couple of miles in reserve. Maximum range in hilly country, carrying 100kg, is 19 miles, but unassisted progress is so scary a prospect, that we wouldn’t recommend trips in excess of 15 miles or so.
Average speed turned out to be 10mph, giving a door-to-door journey time – including two punctures and a brief stop for refreshments – of two hours. Strangely, the trikes’ chunky 23-inch moped tyres proved particularly vulnerable to thorns.We say this because the machine was accompanied by the Greenspeed trike (on racy Primo slicks) and our Giant Lafree, neither of which suffered any harm. Both punctures were fixed with Tyreweld foam, although rather disappointingly, both were flat again by journey’s end.With the frame supported on bricks, tyre repairs are straightforward, although bicycle tyre levers might not be up to dealing with tough motorcycle rubber.
Thanks to a state-of- the-art German charger, recharging is reasonably quick: A 90% charge takes 41/2 hours, followed by a lengthy ‘trickle’ charge, completed in another four hours or so. Unfortunately, we set off after four hours, which took the machine only 121/2 miles.That’s much less than we expected, which might have something to do with the drag characteristics of the weather shield, which was fitted on the way home to keep the 100kg load cheerful.
…one cyclist transported three children in safety and comfort… that’s hard to do without a car…
If you haven’t ridden a loaded rickshaw up a 17% (1 in 6) gradient, let us try to set the picture.With a cyclist standing on the Note the battery under the seat. The motor is behind the differential pedals in the bottom 21″ gear, and two other adults and most of the 100kg load pushing behind, we just inched our way over the summit. In other words, it’s something you might want to do once in life, but never again.The last four flattish miles are lost in mists of pain.
To be fair, this is testing in extremis, and should not be taken too seriously.Yes, we had a few problems, but while the battery held out, one relatively relaxed cyclist transported three children a considerable distance in safety and comfort – something that would otherwise be hard to do without a car. In an easily graded city, Lynch-motor Pedicabs will run for a full shift, but carrying heavy loads in hillier areas, active duty can be two hours or even less.
It’s crazy, but the ridiculous Powershift Grants (see A to B 35) cannot be applied to a Cycles Maximus Cargo or Pedicab because, er, they have pedals. If you have a commercial or private use for such a machine and would like a hefty rebate on the purchase cost, we can only suggest you lobby your MP.
The Cycles Maximus machines successfully bridge the gap between the humble bicycle and diesel-fuelled delivery vans and taxis. Even the Lynch-powered machine is legally a pedal tricycle according to the latest interpretation of the rules, so it can go anywhere a bicycle can go (provided there’s room, of course) and park without risk of a ticket (although the police could presumably invoke the obstruction laws).
For commercial use, these machines make a lot of sense, and the electric options should help to spread the assisted-pedal power message.The Heinzmann gives a gentle push at a reasonable cost, and the Lynch – although expensive – has most of the capabilities of its smaller infernal-combustion cousins, but without the downsides.
We also think a community or local authority-owned machine would find all sorts of uses, including a daily school run.The Pedicab (Bike Bus in Alexander-speak) will transport three children in comfort, and the Cargo (Bike Van) could be adapted to carry four or even six small ‘uns, replacing a veritable fleet of motors. Over short distances, door-to- door journey times compare well with a car, and the young (and young-at-heart) absolutely love travelling this way.Why does everyone choose the dreariest way of getting children to school? Kids really don’t want to be strapped into a bulbous four-wheel-drive with tinted windows – they want to wave, shout at their friends and generally release a bit of energy. For smaller children, the Pedicab is the last word in cool transportation.
Coming from a bicycle background, we wouldn’t swap our vehicles for a Pedicab.True, we need a shed full of folding bikes, a trailer bike, child/luggage trailer and power-assisted bike, to achieve much the same thing, but these individual machines give greater flexibility, no parking hassles, and higher speed (almost double). But if we had several children – especially if we wanted to dispose of a second car – we would seriously consider it.The concept of travelling together as a family, and offering lifts to friends, relatives and passers- by, gave priceless entertainment.We’ll certainly miss the Bike Bus.
Cycles Maximus Cargo or Pedicab £2,900
Heinzmann power-assist £605 extra
Lynch power-assist £2,090 extra
Weight (unpowered) 75kg (powered) 121kg
Overall width (Pedicab) 121cm (Cargo) 118cm
Overall Length (Pedicab) 250cm (Cargo) 234cm
Gear range (non-Lynch motor) 14″ – 75″ (Lynch motor) 21″ – 58″
Battery type Sealed lead-acid
Battery capacity (Heinzmann) 984wh (Lynch) 828wh
Range (Heinzmann) 40 miles est. (Lynch) 19 miles
UK Manufacturer Cycles Maximus tel 01225 319414 mail firstname.lastname@example.org web www.cyclesmaximus.com