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The humble beginnings of Hell-Bent go back as early as 1990. Rickey and his wife Melanie Horwitz started a company called Practical Innovations. Their first product was a folding canopy bicycle trailer called the Omni cart. The folding design allowed it to be stored in the trunk of a car. Although these trailers were innovative, reliable and solid, it wasn't long before the competition caught on and released their version of a folding canopy trailer.
Our humble beginnings, the Omni Cart and Zephyr prototype
Eventually Practical Innovations went dormant for three years. Then in late 1993, Rickey and Melanie experimented with recumbent tricycles. After three prototypes, they finally hit pay dirt with the Zephyr.
The Zephyr Prototype
The Zephyr boasted disc brakes and a radically designed seat sling. However, the main signature of the Zephyr was the wrap around bumper. The Zephyr trike won first place in the Houston Autorama show. However, the Zephyr was not without fault, as it weighed 48 lbs, the brakes were plagued with problems, and the wheel base was too long for practical use.
The Zephyr Mk I being delivered to the San Jose Tech Museum for permanent display.
In 1995, the Zephyr was modified and released as the Zephyr Mk II. The Mk II reduced the overall weight by almost 10 lbs, it had a removable front bumper, and front spring suspension! The Mk II was also a winner of the 1995 Houston Autorama show.
The Zephyr Mk II proved that elegance did not have to compromise performance
Adapting a windscreen to a Zephyr was extremely easy, thanks to the wrap-around bumper.
In 1996 the Zephyr Mk III was released. The Mk III had a modified seat sling, lighter frame and refined front suspension system. The Mk III also came with a brake linkage system called the Sycro-pull. This device allowed all three brakes to be either operated by a single handle or by independent handles just by turning a switch.
Although there was still room for more improvements, the Zephyr series had reached the end of the road. The trikes were too labor intensive to build and required special tooling.
Below is a photo of the steering linkage and cable routing of a Zephyr Mk III. Note the Syncro-pull brake linkage system.
The Photo below shows the suspension system and custom disc brakes of the Mk III.
The photo below is a 63 speed, 1996 Mk III GTX. The Zephyr MK II & III have one of the highest resale value of any recumbent HPV fetching a price as high as $5,800! Not bad for a trike that's 6 years old and originally cost $4,295 to $4,650.
Also in 1996, the Thunderbolt Sports Recumbent Trike was finally released. The Thunderbolt was a low cost alternative to a Zephyr. The trike had simplified steering, a plain seat sling and a bullet proof frame. At the time of release, the Thunderbolt was the lightest tadpole trike on the market. Although the Thunderbolt was a great performer, the sales were an utter disappointment.
The Thunderbolt. There exist 10 of these original trikes. However, the replicas number in the hundreds.
With the loss of thousand of dollars and the lack of venture capital for new equipment, Practical Innovations finally ceased operations.
As an ongoing passion, Rickey continued refining the Thunderbolt and eventually released the plans free of charge on his Ricks Innovative Cycles webpage. Eventually he donated the plans to the IHPVA to ensure they would always be available to the public. These plans can be found on the on the IHPVA server at http://www.ihpva.org/com/PracticalInnovations/index.html .
In 2002, Rickey purchased a new machine shop and started building trikes once again. In August 2002, he released the pre-production Spitfire. Like the Thunderbolt, the Spitfire is leading the competition once again.
The first Spitfire Prototype
In the fall of 2002, Hell-bent Cycle Works, in Austin Texas was formed. The name is partly derived from the term 'bent' referring to a recumbent. Hell-bent, as it has taken a lot of determination and courage to start this business all over again.
Rick formed a partnership with Steve Frick of Factory Sports. Steve's business management and engineering expertise creates a synergy of talent that has given Hellbent it's forward momentum.
The company name changed to Hellbent Cycles Inc and moved to a 2,500 ft facility in beautiful Lago Vista TX overlooking lake Travis. The added space allows for future manufacturing expansion. All frame components and assemblies were manufactured locally by hard working Texan who take pride in their skills.
In 2004, Rick moved to California and Steve eventually lost interest in building trikes. After an unsuccessful sale of Hellbent Cycles Inc. in 2005, Rick takes back his intellectual property and machine tools. After nearly year-long legal battle, Hellbent Cycles Inc is dissolved.
A Word From Rickey
Many people have approached me with their new recumbent designs thinking that there is pot of gold somewhere at the end of the rainbow. They ask me for advice and I tell them they need these three qualities:
Last, very few if any make a good living building recumbents.
God bless you all!
Rickey M. Horwitz