When Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee and calmed the storm, the disciples whimpering in the floundering boat were gob-smacked. By contrast, rowers on Lake Karapiro greeted the appearance of a chap riding a bike across the water with profane oaths of incredulity. Words Lawrence Schäffler, images supplied.
Around six years in development, the Hydrofoiler XE-1 is an ingenious, hybrid machine comprising components of a bike, a propeller and carbon-fibre hydrofoils. It ‘rides’ on water – at quite a decent speed – and as an ‘all-terrain’ model it’s suitable for lakes, rivers and sea.
The brainchild of a pair of Waikato designers/inventers/entrepreneurs – Guy Howard-Willis and Roland Alonzo – the Hydrofoiler is now in production at their Cambridge-based company, Manta5. Getting one for this year’s Christmas stocking might be a little tricky, but you won’t have to wait too much longer.
Their respective skills have proved a winning combo. Though a keen cyclist, Guy also has a passion for watersports. He also has business nous – he established Torpedo7 a few years ago and it’s now a leading outdoor and adventure sports retail chain. Alonzo’s an accomplished bicycle designer who operates in the field of rarified, cutting-edge technology.
They’ve been working on the hydrofoiler since 2011 – coming to grips with the subtleties of hydrofoils and propeller profiles. You’ll be familiar with the foil concept: like AC50 cats, when the bike’s going fast enough its two foils provide ‘lift’ to raise the bike and its rider out of the water.
As the concept evolved, so the team expanded to include designers and engineers with specialist expertise in aeronautics, hydrodynamics, mechanics and electronics. Yes, an ‘E-version’ – or pedal-assisted model – is also available.
A major milestone in the development was perfecting the design to enable a ‘submerge-launch’. This allows the rider to ‘re-mount’ and start again if he/she falls off or stops pedaling. No-one wants a swim back to shore towing a bike!
On its own the bike is buoyant and floats. With a rider mounted it sinks – but only up to about chest-level. Enthusiastic pedaling sees the bike move forward and rise to the surface – and all returns to normality. This ‘submerge-launch’ feature is a world-first.
Early signs of success appeared when the Hydrofoiler was nominated for – and won – Gold in the ‘Concept’ category at the 2017 Best Design Awards, hosted by the Designers Institute of New Zealand in October. The company debuted the bike at the Big Boys Toys show in Auckland a month later, where it attracted wide interest.
Designed for riders weighing between 70 and 100 kilograms, the hydrofoiler’s carbon-fibre-reinforced-nylon-propeller optimises performance – producing thrust at low speed and reducing drag at top speed. The streamlined profile offers hydro- and aerodynamic efficiency, and it easily reaches 15-20km/h. Guy and Alonzo are confident more R&D will boost top speed.
Thanks to the materials used, the bike’s light enough to be carried by one person to and from the water. The frame is TIG-welded 6061-T6 aluminium custom-profile tubing – an aircraft grade alloy used by the bicycle industry for its strength and weight advantages. The manual version weighs about 14kg (20kg for the E-bike). Foils are easily removed and the bike fits into the back of a standard station wagon or on to a roof-rack. The rear wing is 2m long – the front 1.2m.
The bike’s drivetrain is a chain-drive/shaft-drive blend. The chain-drive section was deliberately incorporated into the design so that standard bicycle drive components can be used. This allows owners to buy various off-the-shelf cranksets, chainrings and roller chains – to further refine the pedal action.
The drive-shaft section internalises the drivetrain to minimise drag. Proprietary gearboxes have been designed to keep the streamlined body profiles as narrow as possible for the same reason. Items such as bearings, seals, bushes and other bicycle components can be readily sourced from appropriate retail outlets.
Overall, the drivetrain’s designed for easy servicing. The crankset, the gearbox and propeller/shaft sub-assemblies can all be removed independently of each other. Localised servicing or repairs is possible without having to totally dismantle the entire drivetrain.
Although the company recommends a certified bicycle mechanic for servicing, anyone with reasonable DIY skills and experienced with bicycle repair can maintain and service the machine.
And as with many bike manufacturers, Manta5 has also developed an electric or pedal-assisted model. This uses a lithium-ion battery driving a 400-watt motor. Both are waterproof and suitable for use in fresh and saltwater.
Battery life depends on the level of use, but generally offers just over an hour of pedal assistance. Various motor-assist settings allow for adjusting the level of rider input, so you can opt for a workout or a scenic tour.
For rider safety the ‘heads up’ display features different riding modes, battery status and flight level – allowing the rider to optimise planing speed. The battery can be removed and recharged at any standard 240-volt power outlet.
Like most water sports equipment, the bike prefers a thorough wash following a salt-water ride.
With the bike now in the commercialization stage, the company is exploring external investment as it prepares for production and international distribution. The first limited-edition production model will be delivered by mid-late 2018. A final retail price is yet to be revealed.
Says Guy: “Our commitment is to facilitate and support our early adopters as best we can – as they discover new sporting vistas and perhaps organise themselves into local hydrofoiler clubs.
“All things going well, these local clubs may progress into regional and national sporting activities. Our challenge is to be able to grow and develop alongside our advocates and release a family of products and components to supplement their ‘yet to be discovered’ requirements.”
By all accounts learning to ride the Hydrofoiler is a bit like learning how to ride a conventional bike for the first time. But the response to the bike suggests it could create an entirely new style of outdoor activity. At the time of writing, it has had nearly 100 million views on Facebook – and some 9000 registrations to buy.