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Wednesday, August 1st 2007

10:46

Response To Lightfoot Cycle

Anyone who has done some serious internet research on buying a quadracycle will have come across the Lightfoot Cycles article “Comparing the Lightfoot to other four-wheel two-seat cycles” found at http://lightfootcycles.com/products-overview/quadracycles-overview/quadracycle-comparisons/.

Lightfoot is the manufacturer of the “Duo” and “MicroCar” quadracycles and so is a competitor to Rhoades Car and the other five or so other North American manufacturers who make four wheeled bikes.

The article seems to a comparison of their two models to the competition, which is a fair enough premise. But it quickly becomes a list of everything that they hate about the competition's cycles and why theirs are so much better. The Rhoades Car models get the brunt of the attack while other manufacturer's products mostly get dismissed as irrelevant. I guess this could be because Rhoades Car outsells the other brands.

Is the view of the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP, as presented in the article, fair criticism or is it seriously biased just to make Lightfoot's products look good? I wanted to gain some experience owning and riding the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP in everyday use and then assess Lightfoot's claims to see if they are reasonable or not.

Two things should probably be kept in mind:

  1. The article is undated so it is quite possible that the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP that they dismantled was a much earlier production version and that improvements have been made since then. I can only go by what I see on the 2007 model Rhoades Car 4W2PCP that I have.

  2. The Rhoades Car 4W2PCP and the two Lightfoot quadracycles aren't really in the same price class. At a base price of US$5750 the Lightfoot MicroCar is more than three times the base price of the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP. The Lightfoot Duo has a base price of US$3950 which is more than double the base price of the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP. For that kind of money you would expect the Lightfoot products to be greatly superior. They should be the “BMW” of the quadracycle world.

Here is the full text of the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP section of the article (in italics), with my observations after each section. Since I am not familiar with the other models referred to after this section I have omitted addressing that portion of the article.

Comparing the Lightfoot to other four-wheel two-seat cycles

The Rhoades Car

We had in our possession for some time a sample of this widely-advertised four-wheel cycle. Though it was only a year and a half old, the cycle was very badly rust-damaged. Because of rust, the bare-metal rear axle and steering column could not be disassembled or repaired, though both required it. By contrast, all steel surfaces of the Lightfoot are completely protected by powder-coat or paint, and the steering mechanism is enclosed within precision headsets.

The Rhoades Car 4W2PCP owned by Lightfoot must have been stored and maintained very badly to be that corroded. Of course I wouldn't expect them to treat it kindly, but they obviously didn't read the Owner's Manual. It clearly states that the steering rod and rear axle must be lightly oiled to prevent corrosion. These two solid rods are of a grade of steel that, like AN aircraft bolts, will rust if left unprotected. Perhaps Rhoades Car should have these two parts chromed, anodized or cadmium plated, as aircraft bolts are, to prevent corrosion, although that would somewhat add to the cost. My experience: I wipe a bit of oil on these rods now and then and we have no sign of corrosion at all.

It was extremely difficult to shift gears on our RC. All shifters were hidden behind the steering wheel, and were very difficult to reach.

Ours came from the factory with the shifters mounted on a tube welded in front of the steering column where they are very easy to reach from the left seat position.

The co-pilot had to ask the pilot to shift for them, an extremely awkward arrangement. By contrast, the Lightfoot two-seater has high quality shifters for both pilot and co-pilot; they are close at hand, correctly placed and easy to use.

This is a valid complaint. We decided that having the left seat occupant shift all the gears is not ideal, although it can be done. We have relocated our right side shifters to a new custom-made mount on the right side where the right seat occupant can shift them for themselves. This was actually quick and easy to accomplish.

The RC was very heavy. We put its partially dismantled frame on our scale; it weighed 140 pounds. Oddly, the literature from its manufacturer claimed a "base weight" of 110 pounds for that two-seat model. In comparison, the Lightfoot Duo has a real weight of 80# and the MicroCar 2.0 a weight of 115#. This means that the Lightfoot is much easier to handle, lift, load, move and easier to pedal (especially uphill, and especially by a single rider), as well as being much faster (especially in acceleration).

Rhoades Car actually claims a base weight of 115lbs for the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP, plus any options that you select. I weighed ours at 159 lbs when it arrived, fully equipped.

Our options with approx weights are:

Steel spoked wheels – 2 lbs each exchange over the standard plastic wheels

Two deluxe seats - 10 lbs each exchange over the standard seats (they weigh 14 lbs each)

Positive-traction assembly – 1 lb

Dual rear cable-actuated disc brakes - 4 lbs

Dual 36 speed compound transmission - 10 lbs

Mirror and mounting hardware- 2 lbs

That all adds up to an options weight of 45 lbs. That means the vehicle base weight would be 114 lbs which is pretty much what Rhoades Car claims.

The Rhoades Car 4W2PCP frame is made up of 23 running feet of 2” X 2” X 0.60” (16 gauge) steel square tubing. This size of tubing weighs 1.67 lbs per running foot, making the raw frame weight 38.4 lbs. Adding in the welded fittings for the wheels and sprockets would bring the frame to about 45 lbs. To that is added the steering gear, brakes, drive components, seats and wheels. I am not sure how Lightfoot could weigh the “partially dismantled frame” at 140 lbs, especially when our fully equipped 4W2PCP with the 45 lbs of options listed above weighs 159 lbs.

Besides that I think that “weight” is a bit of a red herring on a quadracycle, it isn't nearly as important as on a bicycle, as you don't have to lift it or hold it up. Hills can be climbed quite slowly on a quadracycle too, unlike on a bike. I think that structural strength is more important than weight. There is no doubt that the Rhoades Cars are built strongly, they are the “pick-up truck” of the quadracycle industry. High priced racing bicycles are lighter than everyday street bikes, but they cost a lot more. For the prices that they charge I would expect the Lightfoot Duo and MicroCar to be lighter than the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP. It is odd to note that the MicroCar and the 4W2PCP are listed at the same base weight.

On the RC, both pedalers drove the same single wheel. The so-called "go-anywhere posi-traction axle" (which would have driven the second rear wheel, though without a differential) was misaligned and thus unworkable.

Our installed posi-traction assembly works fine and allows either set of pedals to drive both back wheels.

We wouldn't have used it off-road anyway because the RC's fragile derailleurs had barely 2" of ground clearance and would have been damaged by the first little bush passed over. The Lightfoot Duo has two-wheel drive and 6" of ground clearance for the sturdier and much better protected derailleurs.

I just measured the dérailleurs on our Rhoades Car both at exactly 5 inches clearance on a concrete floor.

The relatively new RC front tires were worn bald; its crude steering geometry caused every sharp turn to scrub off tire tread, slowing the vehicle as well. The Lightfoot fourwheeler, on the other hand, has "Ackerman" steering, which means that the inside wheel turns more sharply as it describes a smaller inside circle when turning, thus preserving the tire and allowing the vehicle to corner efficiently and predictably.

This is true, the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP does not have Ackerman steering, both front wheels turn the same amount. You would expect a quadracycle that costs a lot more to have this feature. So far we haven't found it a problem. We have cycled about 1000 km almost all on asphalt and all four tires show very little wear. Perhaps we don't do lots of tight donuts?

Thin 5/16" all-thread tie-rods were exposed to any little bump to the front of the RC, and ours had been bent a number of times, resulting in very bad misalignment of the front wheels and making the vehicle even harder to pedal. Lightfoot uses stout 5/8" tubing for tie rods, massive clamps, and easy-to-tune aircraft-grade tie-rod ends.

This must have been changed since Lightfoot got their Rhoades Car 4W2PCP. Ours has a 3/4 inch steel tube for a tie rod with “easy-to-tune aircraft-grade tie-rod ends”. It hasn't bent yet.

The RC was very difficult to maintain and repair.

Ours has been easy to maintain so far – nothing has gone wrong on it, but we have done a fair amount of disassembling it and general fussing with it. Working on it is easy.

Cheap soft-metal bolts were stripped.

This must have been changed – we have torqued all the bolts and they are good quality hardware, none have stripped yet.

Brakes and shifters were cobbled onto inappropriate mounts.

Ours are well-mounted in standard bicycle fashion on standard 7/8” round tubes in all cases.

The derailleurs were mounted on 1" high stacks of washers.

Ours aren't. They are mounted directly to the custom-made frame mounts.

Wheels could not come off easily for rim or tire repair. We needed to replace one wheel, but could not get the rusted axle free, and would have had to send off to the factory for a new one if we could have gotten it off, since no bike shop that we know of carries such a wheel. In stark contrast, Lightfoot cycles are specifically designed to avoid that kind of maintenance hassle. We use high-quality, yet ordinary, bike components. Our quick-release mountain-bike wheels come off in seconds for repair or replacement. If you want to change to winter tires or high-pressure road tires, it is no problem. You can repair or replace brake levers and shifters quickly and easily.

The wheels on ours are standard bike hardware and come off with one self-locking nut. However you really don't need to remove them very often as tires and tubes can be changed with the wheels on the cycle.

The "standard" seats of our RC were so floppy there was no back support whatsoever.

I haven't used the standard seats, so I can't comment on them.

The "deluxe" optional boat seats looked to be ergonomically improved, but are obviously made for passive sitting and are inappropriate for active pedaling. The high quality ergonomic Lightfoot seats, on the other hand, provide a contoured and padded, yet firm, support. They are quickly and easily adjustable over a wide range. The lumbar support is adjustable and the angle of recline as well. We have ridden Lightfoot seats all day long for days in a row and felt very comfortable.

The deluxe Rhoades Car seats installed on our quadracycle are really comfortable when pedaling and adjustable for riders from 5'6” to 6'8” or more. We have cycled for many hours on them and they are close to ideal.

Braking of the RC was extremely poor. The single go-kart brake was rusted open and barely braked the single drive wheel at all. The Lightfoot cycle, by contrast, has all-wheel disc braking. The Avid-7 brakes are very high quality; very positive and very dependable. They are rust-proof, modulate well and brake without grabbing. When you need to stop a Lightfoot, you STOP.

Our Rhoades Car 4W2PCP is equipped with dual rear disc brakes that work well. The forces needed to stop the cycle are quite reasonable and similar to any bicycle..

The "deluxe" butterfly steering wheel on the RC was an ergonomic monstrosity. It forced us to pedal bow-legged and the knee interference could not be adjusted out. There was nowhere to properly mount the brakes and shifters. In contrast, Lightfoot Cycles uses the correct ergonomic shape of standard-diameter handlebar for easy steering, comfortable hand position and easy accessibility of brakes and shifters. The position of the handlebar can be adjusted over a wide range for comfort. The high quality and securely attached brake levers on the Lightfoot are always at hand for instant and positive application.

I haven't tried out the Rhoades Car “butterfly” steering wheel so I can't comment on this option. We have the standard Rhoades Car “handle bars” and they work just fine, offer good ergonomics and don't interfere with the rider's knees at all. The handle bars are adjustable in the pitch axis over a wide range for people of varying heights and shapes. Even through I am 6'4” and Ruth is 5'6” the handle bars work fine for both of us, without adjusting them when switching riders.

The RC co-pilot had no handhold, and had to grab the pilot, the seat bottom or the frame between her knees to keep from getting thrown off the machine in a bump or turn. Because of our emphasis on safety and efficiency, Lightfoot has provided the co-pilot with a sturdy, ergonomically comfortable handhold in the form of a non-steering handlebar. Its position is adjustable over a wide range. It is comfortable and convenient to hold this control bar, and necessary as well, since unforeseeable emergency maneuvers and powerful braking definitely demand a good handhold. We further offer an optional safety seat for individuals who cannot balance well or hold on; this seat has a wider platform, seat belt, and if necessary, a 4-point safety harness.

This one is an odd claim. Yes it is true that there is no handhold on the right seat of the standard equipped Rhoades Car 4W2PCP. We don't have one and have found that we just don't need it. If you find that, for the type of riding you do, that you need more security then the optional armrests would be a good option or better yet the optional seatbelts. The Lightfoot “non-steering handlebar” would probably work okay in a panic stop as long as you were actually holding onto it. If not you will probably get impaled on it. If this situation is a risk then seatbelts would be the best idea as they work as long as you put them on. The “non-steering handlebar” just looks like a bunch of unneeded weight, complexity and a safety hazard to me.

One of the items that the Lightfoot article doesn't mention at all is stability. To my mind this is one of the most important issues for quadracycles. The Rhoades Car 4W2PCP can easily be ridden by one person – we have both ridden it solo many times and it is rock-solid on the ground because the wheels are well outside the seats.

The Lightfoot products seem to have some problems in this regard as their own pages on each model state:

Here is what Lightfoot has to say about their Duo model, from http://www.lightfootcycles.com/duo.htm

The 32" and 42" wide versions of the Duo differ significantly in stability. Both are very stable at moderate speeds with two riders of roughly equal size. The 32" version, however, is much less stable if one rider is very much lighter than the other, and fast sharp turns with riders of dramatically different weights will require that the large rider (such as a parent riding with a child) lean into the turn. Due to its wider stance, the 42" version is stable even with riders of greatly different weights. In fact, the 42" version can even be ridden by a single rider, as long as caution is taken and the rider leans into the turn when making right turns. The 32" version can be ridden at moderate speeds by a single rider only with the Stabilizer Wheel; it cannot be ridden at all by a single rider without the stabilizer.

And the MicroCar from http://www.lightfootcycles.com/MicroCar.htm

With its car-like layout, with wheels to the outside of the riders, the MicroCar is more stable with a single rider and can be ridden extensively solo. If empty, a large solo rider can tip it in a fast hard right turn, but it takes very little weight on the right side of the vehicle to create the balance and stability needed for normal riding.

Personally for the price of the Lightfoot quadracycles I would expect better stability, since that is one of the main reasons people buy quadracycles instead of bikes in the first place.

So here I have responded to the Lightfoot article with the facts on the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP from our experiences owning one. Some people may discount this treatise saying “Yeah but of course you will say nice things about the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP, since you are a factory agent”. The truth is that we signed up as agents because we like the product, not the other way round.

I will leave it up to the reader to judge the reasonableness of the Lightfoot article for themselves.

Or better yet, test drive both of them, compare the prices and make up your own mind which one to buy.

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