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Last updated
26 Feb 1998

Inventor recycles pedal power theory

THE GUARDIAN, 29 April 1994


Sir Clive Sinclair has new designs on an old obsession, writes Edward Pilkington.

SAY what you like about Sir Clive Sinclair, he cannot be accused of quitting. As if he hasn't suffered enough humiliation, he risked further ridicule yesterday with the launch of his latest gadget.

Fellow innovators will pore over the technical jargon - the 174 watts' maximum power, 12 volt output, 7AH lead acid battery and HDT toothed belt. But the most interesting feature is its name.

Sir Clive has again established his claim on the buffoonish trademark. First there was the plastic bone-rattling tricycle, C5. Then the snazzily-titled Zike bike. Now there is the Zeta - Zero-Emission Transport Accessory.

"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing," Sir Clive insisted as he unveiled his new creation. But he failed to explain what he was doing choosing such a silly name.

The Zeta is the latest manifestation of his obsession with electrically powered transport. Where the Zike was a custom-built electric bicycle, the Zeta is an accessory that claims to convert existing standard bicycles into electric ones. It aims to take the tears out of pedal power by providing half the energy needed to carry a 12-stone person up a 1 in 10 hill at 10 miles an hour.

The Zeta box, containing rechargeable batteries and to be sold by mail order for about 150, is attached above the rear tyre. When extra steam is needed the rider pushes a button and the box helps to turn the wheel.

"I don't think this is a gimmick at all," Sir Clive said. At the launch of the C5 in 1985 he predicted 100,000 would be sold each year - the tally before production stopped was barely a tenth that. The Zike has sold 2,000 worldwide. Such commercial failures after the enormous success of his pocket calculator and early home computers have cost him dear. C5 alone lost 7 million.

Time will tell whether the Zeta has more success. But the inventor is steeled to any eventuality. "The whole thing about invention is that some things have to fail."