Archive: Sun 10 Nov 2013

  1. Sinclair transportation

    While never quite having the resources or dedication to experience Sir Clive Sinclair’s transport revolutions in the same wholehearted manner that I did his computer breakthroughs, I have done my best to at least experience them.

    The Sinclair C5 was his first and most famous vehicle. Launched by Sinclair Vehicles Ltd in the United Kingdom on 10 January 1985, it was a battery-assisted tricycle with a top speed of 15 miles per hour (the fastest allowed in the UK without a driving licence). It was widely criticised for being impractical, if not dangerous, on the UK’s roads and in the British climate (a point reinforced by the January launch). By August of the same year production had ceased, with only 17,000 sold. 1

    However, back in the late 1980s I got to ride in one of them. Below is photographic evidence of my one and only Sinclair C5 excursion.

    Photograph: Sinclair C5 on the Norfolk roads, late 1980s

    Me, driving the Sinclair C5 on some Norfolk back roads in the late 1980s

    Photograph: The Sinclair C5

    The Sinclair C5, with an enhanced battery pack to help on the hills(!) of Norfolk

    The Sinclair C5 belonged to the mother of a friend of the family. She used it for regular trips to the local shops. I remember her telling me that she only pedalled when she thought no-one was looking. I also remember that someone had installed an extra battery for her – to give the machine a bit of extra impetus on the hill near her house. I loved every minute of my C5 drive – marshalled I’m sure by my probably very nervous parents.

    The C5 remained popular with a small group of fans. Events have been held all over the world – well, at least as far as the Netherlands – and some went to a lot of effort customising their vehicle. For more information, a good place to start is

    After the C5 and the collapse of his computer empire that its failure helped precipitate, Sir Clive went back to the drawing board and worked on a number of electric motor attachments for normal road bikes. These ‘Zetas’ were followed by the ‘Zike’ in 1995, a full-sized bike with a battery stored in the frame. However, neither really caught my attention – or, it seems, that of many other people.

    Newspaper clipping for the Zike

    This newspaper advertisement is from the site of someone who has refurbished a Zike (C5Martin).

    However, in 2006 Sir Clive was back with something a good deal more interesting – the A-bike. The A-bike was a folding bike, designed to be used by commuters, with an emphasis on portability and ease of use – with all of the mechanisms internal to the bike. While sales figures are a little difficult to come by, the A-bike was briefly a news sensation, although even from the outset it was clear that while the bike was indeed very good at being portable, it was not that good at being a bike.

    A friend of mine acquired one for review purposes, and he was kind enough to let me have a go.

    Photograph: The A-bike, ridden by the author

    Me, staying on the A-bike

    The C5 felt safer.

    Still, I think I only fell off a couple of times, and he assured me that it got easier with practice. And despite my difficulties, I did consider buying one for a while. I didn’t though. There were plans for an electric version, but I’m not sure it ever materialised. However, the latest iteration, the A-Bike City, with larger wheels and numerous other iterations to improve the ride is still available.

    Sir Clive moved on though, with plans for a new electric bike called the X-1.

    Photograph: the X-1

    Sinclair’s X-1, yet to be made available

    It was due to launch in July 2011.

    I’m still waiting.


    1. There is a good deal more information on the Sinclair C5 on the C5 wikipedia page