Tilting at windmills - The FastFWD Munzo TT

by Nick Marshall

That nice Mr Burrows has asked me to tell you about my FastFWD Munzo TT tilting trike, which comes from the land of clogs, tulips and other clichés, but is about as far from being a cliché as it is possible to be. This, though, is not a ‘review’, because I think reviews of bikes and trikes are silly, each machine being what it is and each potential rider, reviewers included, being an individual. What's that? You wish to make a complaint? You thought you were getting a Review? Oh, all right, if you insist... I like it. That's why I ride it. Can we get on with the story now, please?

If it's peculiar, this machine has it: two suspended rear disc wheels with a lockable tilting mechanism, reversed-fork front wheel drive (FWD), remote steering, a separable frame for transport... hence the name under which it races. ‘Munster’, for those who don't follow the results. The reversed-fork FWD system is a nothing less than a work of genius. It derives in part from a design by Bauke Muntz. There is no knee interference, and your inner thigh is safely distanced from the drive side idler. Munzobijten? Nee bedankt! The return chain idler is fitted with a self-aligning bearing to accommodate steering movement. It does seem to do something positive; the transmission is very smooth and quiet in all gears, though like most front wheel drive machines it doesn't particularly like being rolled backwards unless you keep the steering perfectly fore-and-aft. The front wheel is closer to the rider's centre of gravity than on most FWD machines; I have never experienced wheel spin, even during the fiercest sprint. There is a slight tendency for the front wheel to weave when pushing hard in gears at the extremes of the cassette, but this diminishes with practice. Because the head tube is quite far forward in the frame, it limits insertion of the boom somewhat - riders who are shorter than the Dutch average need to trim quite a lot off. It is not obvious to me that the reversed-fork design makes remote steering an absolute necessity, but that's what the Munzo has. It will be, for some people, an acquired taste. It feels similar to a tiller, in that you look where you want to go - and it happens. The handlebars can be swivelled up and down, to allow them to get out of the way when mounting/dismounting. This is intentional, but it does mean that the angle of my rear-view mirror can vary while riding. I have a hole drilled and tapped through stem and bar so that a bolt can be screwed in, preventing the bars from moving in that plane.

It would be nice to have the option of open cockpit steering, but for that there would need to be a second type of frame lacking the, um, extension for the, er, handlebar pivot mounting point (excuse me while I go and lie down for a moment - I feel a case of terminology-strain coming on here). The trike can be separated into two roughly equal-sized parts by means of a pair of quick-releases in the middle of the frame. I have hardly ever bothered, because its short wheelbase allows it to fit neatly into the back of a small estate car anyway; but its separability conforms with the regulations for travel on trains in the Netherlands (any machine which folds or separates gets on any train, I believe). Suspension: yes, it has suspension. Have a look at the pictures - they will make more sense than any attempt to explain in words what goes on at the rear end. All three wheels are 406 size; I have a Kojak slick tyre on the (spoked) front wheel, and slightly narrower Stelvios on the (solid) rear wheels. On these valve accessibility is limited, so you really need to use a round-the-corner blowing widget with your track pump. Numbers department!! The (fixed) seat angle is about 30°; seat height is 23cm (that is, pretty low if it were a bike, but not as low as the lowest trikes) and bottom bracket height 50cm (pretty high, for a trike). Wheelbase is 118cm; track 40cm; head angle 100 degrees; trail 45mm. Or maybe that's minus 45mm. Ask Mr Burrows. He'll know. The trike is neatly constructed, though (predictably, given the tiny numbers in which it is made) not to the standards of finish achieved by the likes of Challenge and ICE. It doesn't look like a home-build, but it definitely has a ‘factory special’ character about it. The frames, I understand, are built in some enormononymous manufacturing facility in Taiwan. From there they are sent to Naarden, a small town not very far from Amsterdam, where Bram Smit completes the machines in his tiny but well-equipped shed. While the layout and dimensions are now well established, the design is in a constant state of detail evolution, so if you bought one today it would differ from mine in minor ways. You can't walk into your local bike shop (or any bike shop, for that matter) and ask to see one; you need to go and visit Bram, as Judith and I did in November 2009. You'll enjoy yourself if you do - you couldn't do need to be careful not to put a hope to meet a more charming, friendly chap.


windmill windmill


By the way, the FastFWD name comes in part from Bram's old job in the recording and broadcasting industry - he used to be an engineer maintaining studio tape machines.The progressive digitisation of studios allowed him to take early retirement, and he now spends his time developing his bike and trike designs. Munzo? I don't know. Maybe it has a significance in Dutch which escapes me. Now, the bit you have been waiting for: that tilting malarkey. The Munzo TT's rear end is inspired by a Ducati motorcycle, designed by one Carlos Calleja. But why does it tilt? There is, after all, a Munzo bike too - of much the same separable/suspended design, but with one wheel on the rear end instead of [two + the tilting gubbins]. Well... (author pauses lengthily for cogitation) be honest, I'm struggling for an answer to this question. Does there really need to be one? Anyway... because the trike tilts, tyre scrub on cornering is eradicated, so little energy is lost in twisty bits. Once under way, there is very little about its handling to tell you that the Munzo is anything other than a bicycle, except that the third contact patch seems to give a little Tilt Action more certainty through tight, fast corners and in the wet. Ah, yes, the wet... it's been ridden rather a lot in the wet. Remember the Alamo? No, but I remember Fowlmead... You get two streaks of crud from behind, instead of one but neither of them goes down the back of your neck. Bonus! Tilting allows the rear end of the trike to be very narrow - less wide than my shoulders - without any adverse effect on its stability. You rear wheel over the edge of the race track tarmac at high speed. The only time I did that I flipped the trike. Instantly. Tilting has the surprise benefit in a race of mes merising following riders. They become so enchanted with watching you go round corners that they don't want to pass you. Honestly.

We bought the Munzo in the hope that it would help Judith to make the transition from three recumbent wheels to two. Things didn't work out like that. When it is locked upright, it is a very-narrow track, not very stable trike; when unlocked, it is in effect a bike. Making the transition between locked and tilting modes while in motion is tricky. I always wobble during the brief period of “Am I a trike? Am I a bike?” schizophrenia. It's probably just a matter of practice, but in the absence of any pressing need to start locked upright and with both feet clipped in, I simply start off unlocked and tiltable. The Munzo cost us 1500 Euros, which seems remarkably little for all the work that goes into it. Some cost cutting is apparent in the original equipment spec - for example, the press-fit/square-taper bottom bracket. It's all perfectly functional, but I have made quite a few component changes to suit my preferences (as I always do, with any bike or trike). The tilt lock lever is a locking short-pull/high-cabletension brake lever on the handlebars; it operates a modified Sturmey-Archer drum brake which serves solely to stop the machine from flopping about and keep it upright. You really, really, really wouldn't want to use it in error when hurtling towards a corner. To do so would result in certain death. So I've rotated it round the handle bars to put it at an angle which makes it non-intuitive to apply, requiring a deliberate action. The actual braking brake lever is (now) a locking one too - very useful on trikes, these. It prevents Munster from going off to explore slopes unsupervised. The original functional-but-bulky derailleur cable routing roller has been replaced with a neater Bramapproved Travel Agent V-brake noodle, and the trigger shifter which was part of the original brake lever, and which I found awkward to operate, has been replaced with a Shimano bar-end gear lever. This required some reaming of the handlebar, an easy enough job once you have the correct, inexpensive, tool; or you could probably file down the bar-end-pluggy bit of the gear lever to persuade it to fit. As it has only been used for racing so far, the gearing has been made closer. The trike comes as standard with a guarded 65T chainring. I have fitted a 57T Alligt chainring, because I happened to have one spare, a short-arm derailleur and an 11-28 cassette which gives a range of gears from 37 to 94 inches.




The 64,000 Euro question: Is a tilter faster than a scrubber? Hard data is a bit lacking. My experience has been that the very lowest conventional trikes seem to corner as fast, although their riders may of course be expending significant extra effort to do so. I've only managed to beat Ian Perry on his Greenspeed Xtra Xtra Xtra Low (I think that's what it's called) once, despite it being a scrubber - but then Ian does have a highly sophisticated, finely engineered tail fairing, which I haven't. On the other hand, I do tend to beat Richard Everett on his Windcheetah, and Richard, I reckon, is just as good a trike engine as me. And tilters have been unbeatable in American trike-only races. So what's the point? Well, it's fun and recumbents are largely to do with fun, aren't they? On the other hand, I suppose it might be less fun than a scrubber, because scrubbing, I hear, can be fun in itself. I wouldn't know, because I am that rare creature, a trike rider who lacks extensive scrubbing experience. Most people identify the Munzo immediately as a suitable candidate for bodywork, since it can stand up on its own three wheels and has no need of ‘landing gear’. But you would need to master the transition, while under way, from nontilting to tilting mode. And the delta/FWD layout is less than ideally suited to a full fairing, since its widest point is towards the rear (and some provision has to be made to allow the wheels to lean, whether inside or outside bodywork, just where you would want a fairing to be tapering towards a point). A super-narrow,

tadpole layout, RWD/frontsteering/leaning trike with a tilt lock might just be the perfect streamliner chassis, but would be a whole new engineering project. For somebody. Would I ride it on the road? Not without a few further changes. I suspect that the disc rear wheels, which make a satisfying rumble on the race track, would make an annoying racket on any road less smooth than the world's finest fietspad. More importantly, there are only 8 gears, and with all that gubbins it is not a light machine, so hills would be a chore. It prefers flatlands. And it needs a second brake to be legal on UK roads. I'd like to try the Munzo bike. Ideally, I'd like a non-separable one, to get the weight down a bit, but I don't think you can have one of those - although I might ask anyway. I'd keep the suspension. My preference would be for open cockpit steering, and I'd like the boom to have a threaded bottom bracket shell and a front derailleur post. Such a machine would be close to ideal for me, capable of everything I want to do and with the best available front wheel drive system. That said, I think you would have to search long and hard before you'd find a more interesting/different/categorybusting/value-for-money/fun racing trike than the Munzo TT. Bram Smit may be contacted via email at (and speaks excellent English). His web site is at


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