When it comes to awesome technology from the movie Aliens, it’s hard to beat Ellen Ripley’s duct-taped assembly of flamethrower, pulse rifle and motion sensor, which she puts to excellent use against the alien queen. But it’s another piece of gear used in her epic fight which makes a more lasting impact on the imagination: the exosuit powerloader she weaponizes aboard the warship Sulaco.
Machines which augment the human body in strength, speed and dexterity as seamless extensions of the nervous system are a long-held fantasy of both humans and armies. And it was in a rather unlikely place — M55’s headquarters, an artisanal bicycle workshop in the Budapest suburb of Üröm — that I first came across a machine which I instantly recognized as one of these extensions.
M55’s Terminus is an imposing, uncanny $35,000 contraption which looks and works unlike any bike I’ve ever seen. It’s heavier, too, at 65 pounds, which is offset by the output of an electric motor built into its CNC-milled aluminum frame. Engine power is mashed with your pedaling via a system of sprockets and chains which connect to the crankset. The motor is powered by lithium-ion cells which give it a range of 62 miles.
It was with the ungainly movements of piloting someone else’s ludicrously expensive, very heavy bike that I set off, pedaling as if on eggshells. The dirt road outside M55’s headquarters picks up a slight uphill grade and this is where I first noticed the big bike shedding its weight. In-house software blends the engine’s power with the rider’s, using an rpm-probe to meter output. The production model will have a torque probe for even smoother titration of power.
The effect is incredibly smooth. Juggling ruts, pedaling in the midday sun, I felt as if a year’s worth of quadriceps workouts had suddenly flowed into my legs. The bike was fitted with chunky offroad rubber, but a stretch of mostly flat highway beckoned for a speed run. In top gear, the engine boosting my burning muscles, I felt wildly alive, riding at very decent speeds in the light traffic, in no way a mobile chicane. A downshift which gives a kick of ’80s-style turbo-power deals with hills: I rode a 20 percent slope in second gear with ease. It was an exhilirating, superhuman ride, and it was only when I stopped for a violet-blueberry mousse that I realized I was laughing with delight the whole way.
It’s taken M55 five years and eight prototypes to arrive at this stage, financed by the company’s owner, private investors, and a $400,000 grant from the New Hungary Development Plan. The final prototype, which I rode, was rolled out at this year’s Top Marques show in Monaco. At the time of my visit to the factory in July, three deposits had already been placed. The company is planning to sell 200 bicycles a year. It’s an all-Hungarian affair: The frame is CNC-milled in Budapest, the carbon fiber body panels are molded in Győr — the home of Audi’s engine plant — and the bikes are assembled at M55’s Üröm factory, finished off with a selection of high-end bicycle parts, including Brembo disk brakes more commonly found on sports cars.
The Terminus is a wonderful machine, a giddy robotic candyland in carbon fiber, aluminum and titanium, but there’s a $35,000 elephant in the room. That’s only slightly less than a brand-new 2012 Mustang Boss 302. You can see where the money is spent, but a price tag like that removes the Terminus from the land of bicycles and places it squarely into the domain of millionaire playthings. The company plans to be a regular at shows like Top Marques, targeting the bike at people who already own Ferraris, Ducatis and such. It’s hard to think of the Terminus as a bicycle, but considered as an oversized dopamine syringe, it suddenly makes a ton of sense. Well, 65 pounds.
All photos: Peter Orosz/
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