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From C5 to Iris: Sinclair’s latest innovation redefines the e-trike

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What really drives people to launch new mobility businesses? In a new series, Zag takes an in-depth look at the backstories of Founders to understand the origins of their inspiration.

Grant Sinclair was born into an unparalleled cradle of innovation.

Nephew of one of the world’s greatest inventors Sir Clive Sinclair, he grew up testing his uncle’s creations which revolutionised calculators, home computing, flat screen TVs and electric vehicles.

“I was working for my uncle demoing computers when I was 10 years old,” Grant tells Zag Daily. “I’ve seen all the problems and the successes, all the positives and the negatives, and tried to address them in my own work.” 

Clive Sinclair created one of the world’s first mass-produced electric vehicles – the C5. The three-wheeled bike – with an electric motor to boost pedal power – was designed as a cheaper alternative to cars in the 1980s. It was famously owned by celebrities like Elton John, Prince William and TV magician Paul Daniels. The Sinclair family also launched an e-bike conversion kit series in the 90s. 

“People don’t really remember the Sinclair ZETA (Zero Emission Transport Accessory) e-bike conversion kits. We opened up that whole market and also built a lot of very small bikes – almost like scooters,” says Grant. 

Grant did not initially think he would become an inventor like his uncle, but rather a graphic designer. “I could do graphic design layouts with instant lettering before I had learned to write joined-up,” he says. 

Combined with his innate disposition to understand how things work by taking them apart and putting them back together, Grant’s skill-set would wind up fostering a futuristic evolution of the Sinclair C5 – the Iris e-Trike.

Fostering an idea

The concept for the Iris e-Trike emerged while Grant was cycling from Bristol to Bath in 2012 late at night. Previous attacks during the day had stopped people from cycling in the area.

“That’s when I thought that if a vehicle had an enclosed protection, it would feel safer. I would also often be cycling in the rain which I noticed also deterred people from opting for two wheels. Then I thought this is something that is not being addressed.”

Building from his uncle’s creations 30+ years earlier, Grant sought to build a superior electric vehicle. He says “if Apple were going to make a car, that’s the sort of quality I’m after, and that’s what we will achieve.”

Perhaps the C5 was ahead of its time. Grant remarks that “cars seen where we live in Europe, especially in the UK, are often occupied by only one person, so I think now is the right time for Iris.”

The real challenge to tackle was adding weather protection and a roof. An idea came to him when he received a little remote control helicopter as a present. 

“I was flying it as high as I could at a party to see how far it would go before losing reception and falling down. Because it’s made out of foam, it was a bit broken but when I looked inside the motor and the battery were intact, perfect. That was insightful. It really was a lightbulb moment.”

Sinclair explains that part of the reason why his uncle’s C5 did not have a roof was because in the UK there is a 60 kg overall weight limit for the vehicle, while the battery alone was 15 kg.

“But with this kind of EPP foam material used in RC helicopters, you can achieve the 60 kg target weight with weather protection included.”

From concept to product

Sinclair worked for a few years to develop a working prototype. “It was designed for manufacture, so you could see it was almost like a product right at the outset, only the interior wasn’t perfectly finished.” 

One of the changes in the original design was in the body, initially thought to be a single piece. “In case of a crash, it would be a whole body ruined, which would be quite expensive to replace, so we changed it to separate sections instead.”

The model features a chromoly steel chassis, an expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam body with a polymer skin and a clear Plexiglass-hinged canopy with a water-repellent coating.

“I wanted to make sure it looks very futuristic, that’s part of the whole package. And we’ve got a cooling system inside for hot sunny days, as well as a filter to avoid pollution – and during the pandemic, we had the idea of fitting a virus filter.”

It was around that time when Sir Tim Peake, a British author, Army Air Corps officer and European Space Agency astronaut, contacted Grant to test the Iris e-Trike for BBC’s The One Show. The vehicle was then brought to London for the footage, with the Crystal building in the backdrop. 

“I asked him what’s the fastest you’ve ever been in a vehicle and he told me he’s gone 4,000 miles an hour when he’s travelling to space… It was pretty nerve-racking because Peake is obviously a very experienced test pilot. The normal point of a test pilot is usually to basically find where the equipment breaks.”

During the tests, Peake noticed a slight wobbling when leaning into corners that Sinclair informed would not be there in the production phase: he noticed he could get the body tilted slightly at curves while all three wheels remained on the ground.

“We’ve actually kept that feature because it feels really nice. And that was the thing about having someone with that level to test it, discovering things like that. That was palpable feedback.”

Astronaut Tim Peake test ride

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The final prototype of the Iris e-Trike can reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour and boasts a quick 60-minute charging time. He highlights that the elevated position of Iris provides a sense of safety, while driving in traffic “feels like being in a big bubble,” he says. “So you almost feel protected against the outside world.”

Mass production

Now ready to take the next steps and start mass production, Sinclair will be inviting Tim Peake to test the Iris e-Trike again ahead of its launch in London, at a date to be confirmed.

With manufacturing partners and a broad mix of distributors in place, including in the bike industry, Iris e-Trike is expected to start being shipped to consumers in the next year. 

Iris targets the premium section, looking to build a loyal supporter community. “It’s a natural progression. Early adopters are the first to get the product. Once people get used to the idea of using them and those orders are fulfilled, we will ramp production. What is clear is that the appetite for enclosed e-bikes is rapidly growing and our intention is that the Iris eTrike will fulfil this global demand.”

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