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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
'Move over Segway, I'm planning the C6'
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online

Sir Clive Sinclair, inventor of the fabled C5 electric tricycle, road tests the revolutionary Segway scooter... and announces secret plans for another pioneering new personal transporter.


It was rumoured to be powered by a washing machine motor, was lusted after by pre-adolescent schoolboys and risked vanishing under a heavy goods vehicle without the driver noticing.

When it was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 1985, the Sinclair C5 was the last word in futuristic transport. Ten months, and 6m of investment, later it was consigned to the commercial scrapheap.

Now its inventor, Sir Clive Sinclair, is working on a "C6" - a top-secret follow-up to the ill-fated C5, to be unveiled next year.

Sir Clive broke the news of his intriguing new invention while road testing the revolutionary new Segway scooter for BBC News Online.

The Segway is the brainchild of American inventor Dean Kamen and has been compared to the C5 for presenting an innovative solution to getting around congested cities.

Sir Clive
Sir Clive in 1985, on a C5
But since going on sale in March, it seems to have fared better than its groundbreaking British equivalent all those years ago.

In America, the Segway is becoming the method of transportation du jour for workers who would otherwise have to walk long distances. Postmen in Florida, police officers in Boston and staff at Disney World are among those to have been issued with the upright electric scooter.

Even George Bush took a ride on one, although any White House endorsement was somewhat undermined when he was catapulted over the handlebars.

Chris Grindley, chairman of Planet Moto - the company which started importing the US-made Segways into the UK in February - cautions they are easy to ride, but demand some confidence from the user.

Bearing this in mind, Sir Clive fared well on his first go on the Segway, and declared himself highly impressed.

In London there are lots of people milling around - a heavy vehicle like that, if you hit someone at 15mph it would knock them for six
Sir Clive on the Segway
"I found it very enjoyable - a nice sensation once I got over the initial nervousness. It's very manoeuvrable, no trouble there at all. After a few minutes practice you can do anything you like.

"I think it's wonderfully entertaining, as a toy. That's not to be disparaging. It works very well."

He stayed tight-lipped about his new project, describing it only as a "new product designed at getting people around town". It is being developed in tandem with a British-based engineering company which specialises in compact electric motors and drive systems.

But if all goes to plan for Sir Clive, the Segway will be squaring up to some British competition next year.

He is convinced there is a gap in the market for his new invention, declaring the Segway unsuitable for British streets. The device weighs about 40 kilos and, unlike the C5, was designed to be used on pavements.

"In London there are lots of people milling around - a heavy vehicle like that, it's a lot of weight and doing 15mph, if you hit someone it would just knock them for six.

SIR CLIVE SINCLAIR
Sir Clive Sinclair rides a Segway
Born in 1940, excelled at engineering from a young age
Focused on miniaturisation, invented world's first pocket calculator in 1962
Went on to develop the digital wristwatch, pocket TV and home computers
"I think it's got applications for going around factories and the like."

But he was impressed with its upstanding design - the Segway uses gyroscopes to stay upright - and conceded it was less likely to scare off customers than the low-slung C5.

Driven by a combination of battery and pedal power, the C5 was declared a death trap by the Automobile Association because it was too small to be seen by lorry drivers.

Although several thousand of the tricycles were sold, Sir Clive, famed in the early 1980s for his range of affordable Sinclair home computers, failed to win over a sceptical public.

The plastic trike became a cult novelty toy - singer Elton John bought two to zip around his country estate. Today they trade for between 500 and 1,000 on Ebay - more than the original 399 price tag, although still a fraction of the 4,600 a Segway costs.

Sir Clive Sinclair rides a Segway
Moving with the times: Sir Clive Sinclair rides a Segway
Sir Clive was also "disappointed" the Segway did not live up to the early hype, when pundits speculated the then "mystery invention" could be a jet-pack or hover skateboard.

In fact, Sinclair says he was involved in devising something similar to the Segway - using gyroscope technology - 20 years ago, with a company called Cambridge Consultants. It fell by the wayside.

So does he wish the C5 had come out looking more like the Segway? "No, no, no, I don't at all. We sold 5,000 of them."

He has worked long and hard at re-inventing personal transport, launching the Zike - a mini electric bike - in the early 1990s, and the Zeta - an electric engine that fits on to an ordinary bike.

Does he think the humble but enduring push bike can ever be topped? "Just wait," he cautions, "until next year."


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