I’m sitting in a bucket seat, wearing a full-face helmet, going so fast that my instinct for self-preservation is telling me to hit the brakes. I’ve been in this situation before, in cars. But right now there’s no bodywork around me, no windshield, no steering wheel. I’m riding the Outrider 422 Alpha, an electric recumbent tricycle that does 40 mph and writes a strange new chapter in the annals of transportation history — it’s a hybrid where your legs are part of the powertrain. It’s also a blast to ride. If you don’t think 40 mph sounds like much, consider that that’s about how fast you’d be traveling after a five-story freefall. Riding the Alpha is probably about as visceral.
The 422 Alpha has some impressive stats. With a 2.1-kWh lithium-polymer battery, it can cover 100 miles at 20 mph. A recharge takes only two hours. And the price? Well, it’s not cheap: $11,995. But nice bicycles are expensive, and this is really an exotic bike. I guess the way to think of it is not as a $12,000 bike, but as a $12,000 piece of transportation that’s also gym equipment and tech-geek lust object. Outrider also makes a less powerful, all-terrain version called the Horizon, which starts at $8,545. That one was funded through Kickstarter and sold out its first production run.
But the Alpha is, as its name implies, the top of the food chain. Outrider ran a modified version up to 85.9 mph, which they say is the speed record for a vehicle weighing less than 100 pounds. They also won their class at Pikes Peak (yes, there is a class for electrified bikes) and then climbed the mountain a second time without recharging. It should be more than capable for your commute.
Before we set off, Outrider co-founder Jesse Lee gives me a tutorial on how to ride this thing. The front tires are steered through tiller grips at your sides, with power routed to the single rear wheel. The right grip is your twist throttle, like a motorcycle, and each side carries an individually activated hand brake. The twist throttle doesn’t go live until you’re traveling 4 mph, a safeguard to prevent you from inadvertently powering up the motor before you’re ready. So you get moving with the pedals out in front of you, which are linked to a 9-speed shifter. The crankset has a button you can trigger with your heel that switches it between high and low range — even at high speeds, you can add some useful leg-power by going to the high-range setting. On corners, Lee advises me to use some body English to lean into the turns, like a motorcycle sidecar rider with no motorcycle. It is, at first, a lot to remember.
Within 10 minutes or so, though, I’m breaking the speed limit in a 35-mph zone, whizzing along inches from the pavement with a huge grin on my face. At first I’m spooked by the handling—the tiller setup is really quick, and initially I’m steering too much for a given corner. After a few miles of twisty pavement, I’ve got the steering dialed in and I’m dragging the inside brake to help set up for corners. This is some grassroots torque-vectoring, but it works.
We ride for maybe 45 minutes or so, mostly at full throttle. And unlike Lee, who pedals even when we’re doing 40 mph, I sort of give up on pedaling once the electric power is online. Now and then I pedal while heading uphill, just to enjoy the feeling that my superhuman, Lance Armstrong legpower is sending me up the grade like I’m the biggest juicer in the Tour de Steroids. Despite my laziness, the battery still has half a charge when we’re done. This would be a pretty effective urban commuting weapon, weather permitting.
Over the past five years or so, progress in batteries has opened up all sorts of interesting possibilities: consumer drones, Teslas and hey, the Outrider Alpha 422. It’s like a bike where every ride is all downhill.