Urban Transport

Clive Sinclair's nephew creates a C5 for today

Clive Sinclair's nephew create...
The Iris eTrike is an electric hybrid recumbent tricycle with a plastic canopy
The Iris eTrike is an electric hybrid recumbent tricycle with a plastic canopy
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The Iris eTrike is designed for year-round use by the general public
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The Iris eTrike is designed for year-round use by the general public
The Iris eTrike  from various angles
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The Iris eTrike  from various angles
Grant Sinclair tries out a prototype eTrike shell
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Grant Sinclair tries out a prototype eTrike shell
Grant Sinclair rides the C5
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Grant Sinclair rides the C5
The Iris eTrike is an updated version of the Sinclair C5 seen here
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The Iris eTrike is an updated version of the Sinclair C5 seen here
The Iris eTrike is an electric hybrid recumbent tricycle with a plastic canopy
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The Iris eTrike is an electric hybrid recumbent tricycle with a plastic canopy

One of the technological oddities of the 1980s is making a comeback of sorts. The nephew of Sir Clive Sinclair – the man responsible for the famous but flawed C5 – is marketing an updated version of the diminutive electric vehicle called the Iris eTrike. The new street-legal, one-person hybrid electric/pedal-powered tricycle is billed as faster and safer than its '80s predecessor and sports a Plexiglas canopy, so it can be used in all weathers.

Sir Clive Sinclair was a familiar figure on the tech scene in the 1970s and '80s. The eccentric inventor and businessman was notorious for his products either hitting the bull's eye or missing the target entirely. On the one hand, he came up with the Sinclair Executive, which was the world's first slim-line calculator, and the ZX-81 and Spectrum computers, which pioneered the transition of the personal computer from the lab and office to the home.

On the other hand, he also marketed a brilliant yet flawed micro-television that relied on a proprietary battery, which killed sales. Then there was the digital watch that fell apart when you put it on, had a battery that lasted only ten days, and would short out if it got near a nylon shirt.

Grant Sinclair rides the C5
Grant Sinclair rides the C5

But Sir Clive's most famous failure was the C5 – a one-person electric vehicle that he thought would be the biggest leap in personal transportation since the Ford Model T. Introduced with great fanfare in January 1985, it was a recumbent tricycle in a plastic casing that used a 0.34 bhp electric motor run by a 12V lead-acid battery to give the driver a break from pedaling. Its top speed was 10 to 15 mph (16 to 24 km/h).

The C5 certainly drew a lot of attention, but only a few thousand were actually sold. The little vehicle was street legal, but it was also tricky to operate, the batteries didn't provide much range, the first motors were so poor that they were rumored to come from a vacuum cleaner, and it was completely open to the weather.

But the biggest problem was its size. It may have been compact and easy to store, but I can state from personal experience that it was terrifying to drive in traffic – it rode so low that it was practically invisible to car drivers, despite its little red flag, and so slow that it was next to impossible to keep out of anyone's way.

The Iris eTrike is an updated version of the Sinclair C5 seen here
The Iris eTrike is an updated version of the Sinclair C5 seen here

In the end, the public stayed away in droves, production ceased after only eight months, and Sinclair Vehicles went into liquidation.

That was in 1985, but in 2017 Sir Clive's nephew Grant Sinclair, who used to work in the family business, has created a new version of the C5 and is marketing it through his company, Grant Sinclair Design. In an interview with the BBC, Grant said that his Iris eTrike has a much better chance of succeeding today because of the infrastructure of bike trails and lanes that didn't exist 30 years ago, and because people are much more used to electric bikes.

The Iris eTrike certainly looks different from the C5. It's larger, faster, and it's enclosed in a hinged plastic canopy made of aviation acrylic. Grant says that this not only allows riders to continue to use the vehicle in wet weather, but it also acts as protection against muggers who sometimes lurk around bike trails.

The Iris eTrike is designed for year-round use by the general public
The Iris eTrike is designed for year-round use by the general public

The Iris eTrike is essentially an electric hybrid recumbent tricycle with a chromoly steel trike chassis set inside a monocoque Quantum Foam EPP body. Grant said that the trike design was chosen for more stability and user friendliness. It's also intended to make the rider feel more secure by sitting them more upright and higher than other recumbents to provide more visibility, safety, and comfort. Unlike the C5, which felt like riding in a roller skate, the Iris eTrike stands chest high, so it's easier for drivers to see. In all, the Iris weighs 55 kg (121 lb) including battery and charger.

Grant says that the body is based on aerodynamic helmets used for velodrome bike racing and helps give the Iris eTrike a top speed of 30 mph (48 km/h). The upright bucket seat is molded into the body and to keep the rider cool there are built-in air vents with charcoal air filters. Since it's intended to be used on the road, it also has LED headlamps, turn indicators, and brake lights.

The Iris eTrike can be pedaled through its eight-speed race bike gearing, or the rider can switch to electric mode and let the 750+ Watt mid-drive motor take over. Powering this is a 48 V lithium-ion battery that provides a range of 80 km (50 mi) and takes about an hour to recharge. Grant says that the Iris has "go-kart like handling" thanks to the twist-grip handlebar throttles and the twin hydraulic disc brakes.

Grant Sinclair tries out a prototype eTrike shell
Grant Sinclair tries out a prototype eTrike shell

Inside the Iris eTrike there are other very non-'80s features, including a backlit LCD display showing speed, distance, battery charge, power mode, and a universal smartphone dock for listening to music or linking into the Iris' built-in rear view camera. There's even a lockable rear compartment that can carry up to 50 l (1.77 ft3). Since the Iris is marketed to businesses as well as consumers, there are bespoke body skins available for company fleet purchases.

The Iris eTrike Extreme is available for £3,499 (US$4,361), and there's also a 250+ watt Eco version priced at £2,999 ($3,738). Delivery is slated for the last quarter of 2017.

The video below provides a tour of the Iris eTrike's features.

Source: Grant Sinclair Design via Cambridge News

IRIS eTrike® as seen on BBC TV - buy on www.grantsinclair.com

13 comments
Milton
Nice, I like the raw matte black model though.
JoelTaylor
Well, if he can deliver at that price that put's it in a good place market wise. Low end velomobiles, without e-assist, start around $5-6k USD fully assembled, with "kits" being in the $4k range. Given the body is molded expanded polypropylene, that explains some of the cost savings. Velomobiles usually suffer from low production numbers and have a hard time taking advantage of mass production as creating the body on a performance velomobile is usually the most labor and time intensive part as they are fiberglass or carbon fiber. But molding the body in several smaller pieces and then assembling them would save production time.
teamqball
If they actually end up selling this, and for the quoted price, it will be a great development. It sounds like this has all the amenities I would be looking for, like locking storage, good ventilation and visibility. How to secure it when parked does concern me though, especial if it is as light as stated. Additionally, is there more than one camera? I ask this due to the apparent lack of wing mirrors.
Nik
Like the original C5, it will suck underneath a truck very well.
Terence Hawkes
I think this has a good possibility of success. I really like the use of the poly body. There are a couple of things that will need to be looked at. The first is how you keep that canopy clear on rainy days or free of fog in high humidity. The second is providing access for large amounts of cooling air on warm days. That bubble will get really hot from solar gain.
Dan Lewis
Very glad they got the wheel configuration the right way round this time. Lol. It appears the vehicle has little to no suspension and does not allow for leaning. The wheels require further research as they need to be sturdier for daily multi surface use. The problem of 'weight to options' is always there. I imagine eTrike 4 or 5 will have it nicely nailed down. I'd like to see a sail-assisted version.
Bruce H. Anderson
An 8-speed hub might be better than a derailleur setup (couldn't tell what was there), if for nothing else to provide a wider stance for spokes to better handle the lateral loads. It looks well built and the price seems reasonable.
PAV
The price (for once) on this Velo is right. The Ventilation is definitely necessary with the plexi cover. I like the idea of the carbon filters but not certain it will allow enough flow of air here in So Cal. I like the look and the specs, especially a 1hr charge time, how is that possible? I can go to the beach, have lunch, and charge while I'm eating then be assured I can get back to my start point. One thing I was confused about however was this statement... "can be pedaled through its eight-speed race bike gearing, or the rider can switch to electric mode and let the 750+ Watt mid-drive motor take over." If I am reading this correctly then you can not peddle and have the motor assist. If this is not the case then I'm in, I hope the last quarter means October and not Nov or Dec!
StWils
As much as I like the look, light weight and aerodynamic body profile it also has a high sail area that will make the vehicle somewhat difficult and even unsafe in even a modest wind. Also while the charcoal-grey-to-matte-black colour shown is stunning the only safe colour scheme must have lots of high visibility yellow with an especially bright rear end. I will look forward to seeing & test driving one of these.
Tom Lee Mullins
I think it is everything the C5 isn't. I think if this was created in the place of the original C5 design, they would still be made (or at least a lot longer that the original C5 design). I really like the design.