A Visit to Lightfoot Cycles
Who else has a page titled “Industrial Work Cycles”? I took a trip up the Bitterroot Valley, down the long dirt drive and through the trees to his shop near Darby, Montana to look around (Lightfootcycles.com... give yourself some time, lots of photos and discussion).
In the shop there were the usual tools of the bicycle manufacturing trade. The staff is small and dedicated, obviously taking their work as more than just a job. Rod wants to make vehicles so friendly that it becomes natural that they would be anyone’s first choice for transportation. Lightfoot does make recumbent bikes. He has designed them for the real world so they will be useful. They all have room for fenders. The frame is one size and the seat moves easily to accommodate different riders. It neatly addresses the problem of showing off your recumbent without having to say, “This would work better if you were taller” or shorter or thinner, and so on. Honesty might be a handicap here. When Lightfoot gives the weight of a bike the number includes the pedals and seat, in fact, everything you will need to actually ride it.
What most impressed me was Rod’s insistence on function. While I was there they were working on an order for an industrial fleet of delta trikes. Pictures from the customer showed trikes on a factory floor with large red tool chests nestled between the rear wheels. This is done with a jackshaft that moves the drive chain to the side, to line up directly with the rear drive wheels. That leaves the space between the wheels open to carry loads well below the hubs of the wheels. Heavy loads can thus be carried safely. The jackshaft allows another point to shift gears, so the gearing can get down to 9 gear inches. It may not be fast but it will haul a load.
Want to earn some money while training? Lightfoot can make a pedicab for you to move people around your town while saving gas and strengthening your quads. Rod can put a canopy roof over the passengers and enclose it if you want. The cabs are built with triangulated steel sections in the frame where the passengers would be. It adds parts but reduces weight. The pedicab comes in at around one hundred pounds, half the weight of pedicabs of similar function (in the photos what looks like steel plating is aluminum). It won’t win any races but it is functional.
Rod said, “I want to build a Model T for bikes. Something people will just use like they use cars now.” I have heard the same sentiment from other manufacturers. They really believe in what they are doing. If Lightfoot has a mantra it is “Capable, Functional, Usable”. I think Rod is taking a valid approach. He uses separation plates to connect the sections of his larger HPVs. That means Lightfoot can have a standard front with seat and pedals that attaches to various trikes for riding, cargo or passengers. That process lowers the cost of manufacture while still allowing the building individual orders.
I just left the Oregon Human Powered Vehicle Challenge in Portland. There was a collection of very nice velomobiles, and I wanted every one. But I’m reasonably thin, fit and agile. Someone with extra weight and a bad knee could never get into one of those lovely rockets. Many, if not most, people could use a wide trike with room for luggage and lots of gears. If you want an HPV for the masses of people, you need to build for massive people.
Lightfoot has also specifically addressed the needs of people with “mild special needs”. That means building trikes for people with specific physical problems that are not actually crippling, such as a stroke victim with weakness on one side. Another niche is a four wheel, two seat conveyance for parents with handicapped adult children. There are four different steering methods, including side sticks that move fore and aft. All this is possible in a small responsive company. Internet sales allow interactions and limited orders from people around the world.
A less positive result of small size in the current economy is the loss of Lightfoot’s R&D budget. The dream of the cyclist’s Model T is still just that.
Lightfoot will be at the Recumbent Cycle-Con in California October 15-17. Stop by and take a look.