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Zeta 2 - a very brief encounter

Colin Packman

The birth of the Sinclair Zeta 2 was announced on Radio 4 early one morning in late July.  Later that day I phoned the distributors.

"Could I order one please?"

"Er ... no, they're not in production yet."

"When will they be?"

"Not before September" came the reply.

"In that case, could you send me a brochure?"

"Sorry, they're not back from the printers yet, but I can send one when they're ready" the lady said.  About 10 days later, the brochure arrived showing the new front wheel drive unit, at a surprisingly low price of £95 + £5 for postage.

Claims abound regarding the performance; "... Zeta 2 still does half the work required to carry a 10 stone person at 8mph up a 1 in 12 hill" and "Without any pedalling, Zeta 2 can zip you along at speeds up to 12mph".  However, the instructions that come with the motor warn: "In the interests of both motor and battery life, it should be remembered that the Zeta 2 should be used as pedal assistance, rather than a sole means of power".  It also advises "If smoke is ever seen or smelt coming from the motor unit, disengage it from the tyre, and let it cool down for half an hour before reusing".  The range is quoted as 10 to 15 miles with pedal assistance, and 5 miles without.

When the unit eventually arrived in late August, earlier than originally promised, I set to work with the aid of the 'idiot proof' diagrams and instructions, which include a useful ruler printed on the side of the page, calibrated in 'new money' of course, in order to set clearances.  Having initially briefly connected the battery to ensure that the motor worked before fitting it to the cycle (I was pre-warned that the motor would be noisy initially - it sure was!), I was now all ready for the trial run.  As the book says, pedal away, then press the button.  A lot of noise - a different noise, but no detectable power.  Keep pedalling ... after no more than 25 yards ... silence, the motor had jammed solid; closer inspection revealed the drive belt had tried to part company with one of the pulleys and jammed against the casing.  Free, and try again.  Same result!  Then the horrible truth emerged: the motor was driving backwards!  No, not my fault Officer.  I reversed the leads on the battery, though they were correctly wired up, and got forward motion for the first time.

It may not be fair to comment upon the performance, or lack of it, though I suspect it will not be spectacular from a 12 volt, 168 watt motor, as I further detected harshness of the motor unit when turned by hand, plus considerable play in one of the pulleys: probably caused when the motor jammed solid.  Though I did cover about 3 miles in total, which included a steep hill that requires the lowest of 12 gears to climb, which, with power assistance, using the next to bottom ratio for about the same effort, as it was obvious there was an assembly fault.  The distributors urged me to return it to the assembly plant in Scotland the same day, carriage paid.

I have had to wait no less than 2½ weeks for a replacement, which feels much smoother when hand rotating the unit, and drives in the right direction now, but which I still cannot use, because a vital part of the fitting kit was not included!  This therefore concludes the road test that wasn't.  By the time you read this will I have:

  1. got it running at last
  2. been so pleased with it, I could tell the world, or
  3. returned it long ago for my money back?

Answers on a postcard please.

First published - October 1997

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