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Zeta 2 - Good buy or good-bye?

by Colin Packman

Having finally received a replacement for the backwards-rotating Zeta 2, and been further delayed by a missing component from the fixing kit, I was ready to try once again. First I tried to beat the 20 minute claimed fitting, but failed. Speed is not my middle name. Another promise not fulfilled came shortly afterwards: that the noise of the motor would reduce after the first mile or so. In fact, it was rather embarrassing and became somewhat annoying on a longish climb. According to the engineer, Alex Kalogroulis, the noise has been reduced on the latest models and he hopes it can be made lower still by the use of specialist material.

Of necessity, it was refitted to my racing cycle, as attempts to attach it to a 1982 Hercules 20" wheel folding cycle placed a severe strain, I felt, on the mounting bracket because of the angle of the front brake mounting point in relation to the front spindle attachment - although Alex says the bracket is designed to cope with such stress. In any event, because of the loop-frame design of the Hercules, it was not possible to attach the battery pack in the indicated position, and an alternative position across the handlebars proved rather dangerous on a short trial run.

The most annoying fault, which - to be fair - may have been magnified by the fact that the rock-hard racing tyres did not yield to the many bumps, was the almost constant self-rotation of the disengagement lever. This resulted in the unit coming into contact with the tyre when not required. So, it became a habit to ride with the thumb constantly on the lever, to prevent this. Use of the supplied wedge made little difference on bumpy surfaces.

Anyone buying the Zeta, expecting it to make cycling effortless, would be bitterly disappointed. The instruction leaflet supplied does go some way to dispelling such thoughts but I am bound to say that it does tend to overstate the capabilities of the unit, claiming that it will propel a 10 stone rider a 12mph unaided on the flat. One could have hardly had a better combination: racing cycle with high-pressure narrow-section tyres, a lightly clad rider of 10st 4lb and virtually no breeze; yet the abysmal 7mph it achieved on a truly flat surface is, of course, less than half the speed an average cyclist would travel on such terrain. On the positive side, the Zeta does have a noticeable impact on quite steep hills, but only within the limited speed range of 6 to 8mph. Above or below this the benefit diminishes rapidly. Although it may seem to be stating the obvious, one should engage the correct gear for assisting the motor at such speeds. I found it critical on a 12-speed cycle. Just one gear above meant that the optimum was lost and, with it, went the benefit. The slight delay when changing to the correct gear again upset the momentum together with the limited benefit available.

I became concerned at the likely life-span of certain components. After only limited use, I detected weakening of the tension in the band holding the unit onto the tyre, resulting in a degree of belt slip. The motor itself, unlike the harshness of the original, was very smooth at this stage. Toward the end of the test period it became very stiff to rotate, for no obvious reason, and may well have been a contributory factor in the apparently quicker discharge of the battery that I experienced towards the end of the period.

At the end of the test, I compiled a report of my findings, which included some other points not mentioned here, but which were acknowledged as welcome feed back by Alex Kalogroulis who affirmed, for example, that they were looking into the possibility of special fitting kits to suit the Moulton.

My overall verdict was that although there was some undeniable benefit, I felt that research and development was lacking in certain areas and that, given a year or so, if the enthusiasm for the product is still there, we could see a refined version that will be useful to a wider range of cyclists. When that day comes, I will again be one of the first in the queue. From that you will gather that I said "good-bye" to the Zeta ... until the day I can be assured of a good buy.

First published - December 1997

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