March 2 - March 8, 1995

[Out There]


By Kevin Franklin

DEAR GOD I'M going to die! While this thought screams through my mind, my legs pump furiously at the pedals. My hands have welded themselves to the grips on either side of my seat and my lungs surge like a great pair of bellows.

The machine whizzing me along the streets and through the washes of east Tucson was born from the imagination of Greg Fisher. A former engineering student, Fisher has fused a love of bicycles, the outdoors and tinkering to create a human-powered revolution in mountain biking.

Fisher calls it a "quadracycle," and it resembles nothing the trails of Tucson have ever seen. The quadracycle, as its name implies, is a four-wheeled bicycle. But calling the quadracycle a bicycle with four wheels is like calling a superconductor a refrigerator magnet.

It's a two-person machine which both riders pedal. But that, too, is misleading, because the mechanics behind the quadracycle leave tandem bicycles light years behind. Even the new mountain bike tandems don't come close to the capabilities of Fisher's pet project.

Mountain biking is fun, but it becomes more fun with company, Fisher says. A two-person bicycle ensures that your riding pal doesn't get left behind, but tandems bicycles offer only a slight improvement.

"The tandem mountain bike set-up is no good," Fisher says. "Who wants to sit behind some sweaty guy all day?"

Quadracycle riders sit side by side in a recumbent position (sitting with legs up, as on a coffee table, rather than straddling, as one would a horse). This is more comfortable, and it allows your legs to rest without supporting your body.

The most critical element tandems lack, however, and where the quadracycle shines, is in power transfer.

Pedaling a tandem requires maintaining rhythm with the other rider. This is not the end of the world riding on a paved road, but it becomes quite another matter going over rugged terrain.

"When your feet slide off the pedals," Fisher says, "your legs are just turned into confetti (by the spinning pedals propelled by the other rider)."

In addition, the differences between riders' abilities amplify in exerting situations. The stronger rider feels weighted down by the weaker and the weaker feels pressured, if not downright bullied, by the stronger. Fisher throws this equation out the window by making use of a drive shaft and separate gearing.

Instead of each rider powering a single chain or wheel, they each power a drive shaft, which powers both rear wheels.

Not only does this give the machine two-wheel drive with posi-traction, but each rider can control his individual gearing. In other words, the Superman of the team can be in 10th gear while the other rider can stay in 3rd gear while snickering at the sweat on Superman's brow.

Even if both riders are supermen/wonderwomen, this type of set-up creates an advantage to mountain bikers.

On the trail, conditions can change suddenly. Either you have to gear down--and lose momentum--or risk stalling out on a rock. With Fisher's system, one rider can gear down while the other maintains momentum. Then the first rider takes over the momentum component, while the second gears down.

It's like having two completely separate engines in different gears on one land-based craft.

And then there's the clearance element. A tandem is awkwardly long, and if you encounter any kind of sharp hill the center of the bike (and all those expensive gears) tends to bottom out. The quadracycle is not much longer than a mountain bike, but it's clearance is far superior because the gears ride higher.

Then there's the subject of dimensions to consider. For stability purposes, bicycles are two dimensional--height and length. Having width makes the quadracycle three dimensional. With this additional stability riders can enter all sorts of dimensions heretofore undared.

Which lands me in my current situation: A steep wash runs by Fisher's house and he's demonstrating the remarkable capabilities of the quadracycle while I ponder life after death.

As we pedal furiously, he takes us off a two-foot ledge and into the cobble-strewn stream bed. This is not a jump I would successfully attempt on my mountain bike. The quadracycle takes it in stride.

And so do we. Among the 15 patents Fisher has on his machine is the suspension. A mountain bike with shocks generally has little more than two inches worth of travel up and down its front forks and maybe four inches in the back.

The quadracycle travels four inches in the front and a whopping 12 inches in the back. Combined with the separately suspended seats, this system makes huge leaps quite comfortable--much more so than in my truck.

The beauty of all this engineering is it uses off-the-shelf components. So while the drive shaft freewheels and other parts perform functions their designers probably never dreamed of, they are still readily available parts. If something breaks, you can just go to the bike shop and replace it.

But that still doesn't make it cheap, which is why I'll probably never be fortunate enough to own one. Fisher plans to go into production within the year and aims to sell the quadracycle for around $4,000. Amazingly, some folks can afford that, as evidenced by the sales of the comparably priced Cannondale mountain bike tandem--a vastly inferior machine.

My suggestion? Make friends with these people, if only to enjoy the thrill of riding the prodigious quadracycle.

Big Bend, The Biggest Nat'l Park in Texas
U.S. National Park Service (Information Center for the Environment)
American Hiking Society
Explore Mount Timpanogos
GORP - Hiking and Backpacking

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March 2 - March 8, 1995

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