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Last updated
4 Mar 1998

Sinclair puts buzz into weary cyclists

THE TIMES, 29 April 1994


By Nick Nuttall, Technology Correspondent

A DEVICE that gives an electric-powered boost to a standard bicycle was launched yesterday by Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the highly successful Spectrum personal computer and the spectacularly unsuccessful C5 electric tricycle.

The device, called Zeta and selling for 145, is aimed at the old, the unfit and the downright lazy who would like to cycle to work but are daunted by steep hills and strong headwinds. It is the size of a shoebox, weighs 10lb and is bolted above the bicycle's rear wheel. A switch on the handlebar activates an electric, belt-driven motor that turns a small wheel resting on the rear tyre.

Sir Clive brushed aside references to the C5, which folded after six months of production, and disappointing sales of the Zike, an electric bicycle launched two years ago. He said that sales of his latest creation would be "amazing". The Zeta - Zero Emission Transport Accessory - will deliver a top speed of 15 mph on the flat and can carry a 12-stone rider up a one-in-ten gradient at 10 mph, Sir Clive claims. It has a range of up to 30 miles and the lead acid battery can be recharged overnight at a cost of about 1p.

The Zeta can be used on the road by anyone over 14, with no need for tax, a licence or insurance and has been launched to capitalise on environmental concerns. Sir Clive, 53, said: "A lot of towns and cities in the world are going over to banning petrol and diesel-driven vehicles. Oxford is an example in England, there are a lot on the Continent and it is happening in the United States. Bicycle and electric power will be the only form of transport legally allowed." The Zeta will be sold initially by mail order and should be available in shops in the autumn.

Whether the device will restore Sir Clive's once-untouchable reputation remains to be seen. The Zike, which had been claimed to need sales of 10, 000 a year to break even, has sold about 2,000 so far. "Most new products fail," Sir Clive said. "If your business is invention, you are bound to have failures. As long as your successes outweigh the failures, and thank God for us they do, that is OK."

In a test-ride around the grounds of Imperial College in London, the device gave a pleasing boost to flagging legs. However, the bumps so common on London roads caused its plastic cover to rattle like a pair of joke false teeth.