Three recent college graduates with a shop in Fletcher North Carolina have taken on the task of offering one of the most exciting and expensive electric bikes on the market. But instead of just building an electric bike, these guys have chosen a platform that few companies are willing to try…the tadpole recumbent trike.
Recently, these 3 guys (Jesse, Tommy, and Daniel) built a custom trailer and headed out west to California, where I got a chance to meet with them and test ride their creation…the 422 Trike. We met in Fairfax California, a town known for its bicycle culture, and rode from noon until sunset (a total of 40 miles), and climbed to the top of Mount Tamalpais (2600 feet). This ride was very close to the companies target “adventure ride” which they are huge advocates of. After the ride I had a really good idea of what this trike was all about.
The 422 Alpha
The “4″ in 422 stands for 4000 watts. That is 5.3 horsepower. The motor is a highly efficient Astro 3220 mid drive (read our story on Astros: Terrifying Speed). The 422 is an ultra-clean all-belt drive, but with a single speed. It can climb anything, and has a top speed of about 45-MPH.
The 22 stands for 2200 watt hours. (read our story on watt hours and calculating range) That is the most massive pack offered on any production electric bike. 2200 watt hours is enough to get you an honest 100 mile range, if you’re riding at a reasonable 20-MPH.
The Alpha stands for Astro….the mack daddy of lightweight ebike drive systems.
The 422 Alpha costs $12,000 and has earned its spot on our list of 10 most expensive electric bikes.
This is a hard bike to describe, because it isn’t really an electric bike…this is definitely a tadpole trike. The 422, like all Outrider trikes, is based on a KMX recumbent trike. It is basically a conversion (the frame is not built custom) but a very involved conversion, with lots of custom CNC parts and machine work, and one of the most elegant drive systems ever put on an electric bike…..errr electric trike.
The Astro Drive System
That 5 horse power is being cranked out of an RC motor that weighs only 5 pounds, and fits in the palm of your hand. To do this requires an elaborate gear reduction system made up of belts and pulleys, and a lot of custom configuration to both hardware and software, to make sure that little motor does not fry at 4,000 watts. The guys at Outrider USA have successfully made a reliable vehicle out of this sexy piece of ebike porn. See our list of 10 pieces of ebike porn.
Pikes Peak Proven
If you are wondering if the Outrider Trike is reliable, two of these things crushed the Pikes Peak bicycle race in 2012, Conquering a grueling 10-mile climb while averaging over 30-MPH, and finishing 7 minutes ahead of a team of Optibikes who until that year dominated this race. It is an impressive feat to climb a mountain on an ebike, but to do it at high speed is pretty incredible to see.
This achievement really impressed the members of Endless Sphere who thought RC motor set ups were finicky and not a good set up for climbing mountains…especially at high speed. Remember the motor of the Outrider Trike only weighs 5 pounds and fits in the palm of your hand. The Outrider trike guys made believers out of the doubters.
Read our story about the Outrider trike victory on Pikes Peak.
During my test ride, I rode the trike up some fairly steep hills, and the motor and controller only got warm to the touch. In case you do happen to get your drive system too hot (a killer for ebikes) there are auto shut down features in the Outrider system. It seems very difficult to set those off however (maybe riding with the brake on?)
Service and Warranty
The 422 Alpha indeed seems like a reliable machine that is unlikely to break down on you, even riding in grueling hilly conditions. It has a 2 year warranty, although…unless you buy in North Carolina it is going to be hard to get full warranty support.
Reliability is extremely important on a ride like this, because it is going to be hard to service if something does break on it. Accessing the battery pack is a real pain, and if you have to send the trike to North Carolina expect super high shipping fees both ways. More realistically you will have to do your own service on this vehicle with Outrider’s phone support, or find someone mechanically skilled in your area (preferably an ebike expert) to help.
The 422 Alpha is a complicated machine, far more complicated than a hub motor ebike, and honestly things are bound to go wrong with it eventually through the years.
Inevitably this trike will need service and you should think in advance how you will deal with that. The Outrider trike is only sold direct from North Carolina.
Why a trike?
Outrider USA has been specialized in building electric trikes for 3 years now. The company founders agree that they want to focus on building trikes, even though building and offering an electric bike would be relatively easy for them since they have figured out and dialed in one of the lightest, sexiest, and most efficient power systems available (the Astro motor drive). They are convinced that a trike is the right platform for this kind of high performance build. After building and riding a trike they are not interested in offering an electric bicycle because they feel that the recumbent trike is the perfect platform to carry such a large battery packs at high speed.
With this much power, they feel the E-trike is safer than a ebike. Better balanced, more comfortable, more fun and more capable. They are true believers in what they are offering as the ultimate electric machine.
It seems that they made a believer out of one reknowned ebike builder, Matt Shumaker (ES member recumpence) who helped them develop their Astro drive system. After helping with the Outrider Trike, Matt decided to focus on trikes in his own builds, and built this 50mph trike also based on the KMX platform.
A learning curve
An Outrider Trike takes a little time to get use to when riding. It is totally different from riding a bicycle. Because of its immense power, a first time ride can be an intimidating experience.
According to Jesse, he spends a good deal of his time educating new riders on how to ride the trike. I watched this first hand when a local Marin man asked for a test ride while we were there. It took a good half hour of patient guidance to get the man acquainted with the bike. Nothing at all like a test ride on an ebike, where you show them the throttle and they go. Even watching this man ride for the first time on a electrified trike was a frightening experience. But once he got through the initial uncomfortable stages he seemed happy and cozy on that bad ass 422 Alpha trike.
When you are learning to ride the trike you set it to 750 watt mode which makes it a much more docile machine that is much easier to handle.
According to the Outrider Trike guys, they have a one in four conversion rate…meaning out of 4 people who seek out a test ride with the trike, one buys. Pretty good considering the high buy-in price of this vehicle.
The E-bike Grin in 3 levels
The Outrider Trikes utilizes a V3 CycleAnalyst (read review) with 3 different programmed modes to ride in. 750 watts (street legal), 2000 watts (safe and sane) and 4000 watts (racing).
When you get into 2000W and 4000W modes, the Outrider USA trikes are definitely a thrill ride…a rare feature in todays production ebike market. The only ebike on the market that compares to the Outrider trike in terms of performance would be the Stealth Bomber (read review). The Outrider Trike obviously made our list of 10 fastest production electric bikes. The acceleration on the Outrider Trike (even in 750 watt / one-HP) mode is pretty good compared to most production ebikes, and at the 4000W watt mode (5+ horsepower) it is practically obscene! The power on the trike comes on nice and smooth, so it is very controllable. I actually found the 2000W level to be the “sweet spot” with just the right combination of power and efficiency. If it were mine I would ride in 2000W-mode about 80 percent of the time.
The 422 Alpha actually has enough power and range to make it a serious candidate for a car replacement.
Is it possible that this $12,000 could actually pay for itself? It definitely could if you used it instead of a car….and be much more of a thrill ride.
Part of the ebike grin effect is getting away with riding fast and saving money at the same time.
A legal go-kart getting away with it
Riding through the hills of Mount Tamalpis on this wonderfully powerful machine, leaning into and powering through the corners, I really felt like I was on a go-kart…something you could never get away with riding on the street if it were gas powered. When you ride these high power trikes on the street, they are silent and unassuming (they look like a recumbent bike) and you can easily get away with riding at 30-MPH speeds without being hassled. Its really a sensation that’s hard to describe, except imagine being able to take out a 5-HP Go-kart out on the street for ride any morning you feel like…so much fun!
But wait…is the Outrider Trike Legal? Outrider made out list of Illegal Electric Bikes, and technically it can be illegal if you ride it in the higher power settings. You do have the choice to ride it in 750 watt mode which is totally legal in the US. Wink Wink.
When heavy weight is a good thing
The 422 Alpha weighs in at about 100 pounds, which is not bad considering how much battery (2,200-WH) and power that this thing is packing. See weight comparison chart
The key feature to a recumbent electric trike is that the battery weight is as low as possible, under the rider, and it actually serves as a ballast. According to Tommy, the Outrider trike handles better at high speed than a stock KMX trike (pedal drive only) which is 50 pounds lighter. The added weight makes the trike much more stable.
This is not the case with electric bikes, where adding weight is always bad for the handling of the bike, because of the weight being up high trying to tip the rider over. With the Outrider trike you can go with a battery pack as big as you can afford with little consideration for having to carry a heavier battery. The 422 Alpha, since you sit on top of all the weight, feels light and nimble. Again think riding on a go-kart to imagine what the trike feels like.
Having a big battery pack is a real luxury. Not only do you have the capacity to do some exquisitely long rides. Even if you don’t use all these watt hours, having such a large pack really improves the longevity of the battery when you only discharge it partially on most rides.
The only suspension you have when riding the 422 Alpha is the air in the tires. This is different from an electric bike which often comes with some kind of active suspension, plus you can always stand on the pedals to minimize the effect of heavy bumps. While riding the trike you have all your weight on the seat which you cannot wiggle out of, and feel the bumps through out your body when you hit them. I really felt the road when riding the 422 Alpha and some bumps were downright scary at high speed.
Off-road riding would be a bumpy ordeal that is not recommended on a recumbent trike.
Outrider trikes has installed a very expensive and elegant Swiss-made Schlumpf Planetary crankset on the front of the trike to ensure the right pedal cadences. One key to the Outrider Trike is the motor will not kick in until you get the trike up to 5 -MPH. This is for safety, and to prevent stuttering in the motor, which uses a sensorless controller so it will sputter if you try to power-up from a stop. Sometimes it is a pain to get to 5-MPH, and you need low gearing to accomplish this especially when starting on an up hill. At the same time you need high gearing to have pedal cadence at high speeds.
The Schlumpf accomplishes this by offering a 2.5 to 1 reduction. When in its low mode, you have in effect a 40-tooth front chain ring to help you pedal to 5-MPH…when you kick the button on the center of the Schlumpf with your foot, you have in effect transformed it into a massive 100-tooth chain ring…giving you a sweet pedal cadence even at speeds as high as 45-MPH. With the 422 Alpha I was able to get exercise at my choosing…no matter how fast or how slow I was travelling.
In the picture above you can see the silver button shifter at the base of the crank. You kick it with your foot to shift. Such a sweet piece of ebike porn.
Lovingly Built in the USA
Each Outrider Trike is built by hand, by the 3 company founders in their North Carolina shop. It takes a week of full time work to build a single trike, most of this going into the assembly of the battery pack. You can tell these guys really love their creations, and each of them have their own trike for their own adventure. Each time they build a Trike they improve slightly on the Trike built the last time. When you buy an Outrider Trike you are definitely buying into a rare piece of American craftsmanship, and you will own something really special. This is a refreshing change to most imported from China production bikes. Of course this US craftsmanship does not come cheap.
Very nice wheels
Speaking of American made craftsmanship, Outrider USA had custom trike wheels built for them by Industry 9 in North Carolina. These are expensive wheels with thick burly spokes and top grade everything. Industry 9 wheels utilize an innovative design that minimizes spokes coming loose etc.
On a wheel carrying a 100-pound trike at high speed, you want the highest grade bicycle tire as possible. Industry 9 wheels are as rugged as bicycle wheels get, and the fact that Outrider has outfitted them on their trikes shows their commitment to excellence, safety and performance…no matter what the cost.
Built for adventure
The Trike is named Outrider because it is meant to get you outside and into an adventure. This is the adventurer’s dream machine, with a huge battery pack capable of incredible range, a powerful motor for adrenaline-packed top speed, and the capacity to carry significant cargo, camping supplies, etc. This is a serious transportation and recreation machine, that can take you places and transform your life and mindset into a dream-like state. Very few store-bought electric bikes have the capacity to transform your life to the extent that this vehicle can.
What can I say…these trikes are totally awesome. This counts as my favorite test ride of any production electric bike ever. This is also my longest and farthest test ride. I rode the 422 trike a whopping 40 miles, and we were out for 7 hours and still had battery to spare at the end of the ride. Having a massive battery pack is a great luxury, even if you don’t use it all.
Outrider Trikes are so much fun to ride, that anyone spending a day on one in the right terrain on a good day will probably not forget that day for the rest of their life. Everyone should have one…and then a second one for when friends visit….if only they were not so damn expensive.
The Outrider Trikes are not silent, but are also not too loud (unlike the annoyingly loud noise of an Optibike). The Astro motor has an awesome electric roar to it, and the all belt drives minimizes clatter noise so all you hear is that sweet Astro singing….
The Outrider Trike is single speed but has ample power for acceleration and climbing. I can honestly say this Trike has as much power to go as fast as I could ever want and all the torque I would ever need.
Riding a high powered electric recumbent is an entirely new experience, and its hard to describe all the sensations in words. You are in a completely comfortable riding position, nearly lying down. You feel safe when you are cornering hard because you are so close to the ground. If you forget to lean into a corner you can tip over, but once you are accustomed to riding the trike, leaning into the turns becomes second nature.
Because of the nature of the trike, it is not a ride-anywhere vehicle such as a bicycle. It is not a very practical offroad vehicle and is not as maneuverable as an electric bike for example riding on single track or just getting around obstacles on a tight bike path. The Outrider trike seems best suited for road riding….especially when void of traffic.
Are trikes safe?
Recumbent riders all have the same problem of not being as visible in traffic as a bicycle, and being in a more vulnerable riding position in the event of an unfortunate run-in with a car.
I do not like the feeling of riding in traffic in a recumbent trike, because of the fear of getting run over (on a bicycle I would get hit, which seems better). Because the trike is so strange looking, you will get a motorists attention faster than if riding on an ebike, and may even get a motorists respect if you take the full lane. Because of the trikes 40-MPH top speed you can safely take the lane in most road riding conditions.
I really like the lighted LED whip light that the Outrider trike uses…it is proof that the designers of this vehicle put serious thought on what would make this vehicle ride-able and safe. I would estimate that the LED-lit flag pole doubles the visibility of the 422 Alpha trike.
However I do feel safer on the trike than a bicycle, in that I am closer to the ground and have more control when cornering even on slick surfaces.
A full-faced helmet is advised when riding this machine.
Why so expensive?
The Outrider models start in price at $6,000 with a smaller battery pack, a smaller motor, and less fancy components. The top of the line 422 Alpha Outrider trike which I tested will cost you $12,000. This may seem like a lot of money but its on par with what other top performance electric bikes cost such as the M55, Optibike, Stealth Bomber, and Hanebrink.
In my mind this trike is a better value than the other bikes I just mentioned.
Why so expensive? For one thing this trike is hand-built in the United States, and it takes many hours of skilled labor to build.
In addition, the 422 Alpha has some very expensive components, and these costs add up quickly…more expensive components in fact, than I have seen on any other production ebike. Here are some of the expensive components I noticed:
Industry 9 custom Trike wheels (made in North Carolina) – $1200
Astro 3220 Motor Custom built (made in California) – $800
2-Kw high output lithium battery (assembled in North Carolina) – $2000
Castle HV-160 controller (USA company) - $300
High output lithium charger and balancer units – $900
Cycle Analyst and Cycle Luminator light (made in Canada) – $320
Not an idiot-proof BMS
BMS stands for battery managment system and is a circuit board built into the battery, which makes sure the battery is never over-charged, or discharged too much. Lithium batteries can be ruined or even become a fire risk if over or under charged.
A BMS can serve as a redundant protection system, since all lithium electric bikes are charged with a smart charger designed specifically for lithium.
The Outrider is the only commercially available electric bike I know of without an idiot proof BMS built into the battery. This means if you hook the wrong charger to the trike or accidentally change your charger settings, or your charger malfunctions, you could feasibly set your Trike on fire. The Outrider charges at 1,000 watts, which is no joke. The battery is enshrouded in a metal case so even if the pack does catch fire it should be contained. Low battery level shut-down is controlled by the V3 Cycle Analyst, but if you happen to reset your setting, and do not keep an eye on your voltage…you could ruin our battery pack by discharging it too low.
Basically you would have to do something very idiotic to set fire to your trike or ruin your battery pack, but because the pack does not have its own BMS, it is possible.
When you charge the pack you also have to hook up a separate unit which handles the cell balancing….another spot for possible user error.
DIY’ers have been running electric bikes in this manner for years with few problems, and the Outrider Trike is using some really cool charging technologies to ensure safe charging. It is still something a new owner should be aware of…that a 2,000 watt-hour lithium pack is nothing that should be taken lightly, and if you were to own this trike, you would really want to understand what is going on with your lithium pack. This is not as much of a plug and play system as all the other ebikes on the market, which you can just plug in and forget about…
Pros and Cons
This trike has some magnificent “pros” and then on the other hand some pretty awful “cons”. This is an extreme vehicle and has extreme benefits and drawbacks. If you are weighing on whether to buy or not…if you can afford one buy one…you won’t regret it, and it will probably end up being one of your most prized possessions.
Fun as hell
Unique and special
One of the coolest ebikes available
2 year warranty
Expensive! These things are too sweet to be cheap.
Bike will have to be shipped to North Carolina in the event of a break down
More dangerous than a bicycle in traffic
Jarring going over bumps with no suspension
Much harder to park and store than an ebike
Not as maneuverable as an ebike
Mechanical disc brakes (Avid BB7′s), not hydraulic.
Not a plug and play battery with a BMS
Technically illegal in the higher power settings