Sports bikes, e-bikes, electric scooters…TI Cycles is pedalling into new areas. PRINCE FREDERICK reports from the factory

TI Cycles of India breaks the cycle of inactivity that I have been caught up in. Riding five e-bikes over the test track at its Ambattur factory, serves as a great surrogate for exercise. And, under the pretext of testing these scooters for structural integrity, I am actually having a great time. I reluctantly leave the track, when it registers in my mind that I am yet to visit most sections of this huge factory, which turns out 3 million cycles every year and is poised to produce electric scooters as well.

My day at TI is divided into two sessions — the one in the morning involves watching equipment that test the efficiency of the electronic and electrical components in an e-bike. A young engineer from the newly formed e-bikes team conducts an immersion and ingress test on a motor. A wheel fitted with a motor is placed in a transparent container filled with water, and kept rotating for three hours. The motor passes the test if water does not seep into it and stop it. The motor is then subjected to another test on another device — this time to see if it meets the laid down parameters of speed and torque. The battery and the charger are not left out either.

K.B. Srinivasan, general manager, E-Bikes, says he will ensure that dealers have these testing equipment so that customers can get their e-bikes serviced easily.

With an assembly line in place, the e-bike plant appears complete. But Srinivasan points out that a chassis dynamometer, specifically made for e-bikes by the Automobile Research Association of India (ARAI), and a mechanical testing facility will soon be added. At present, the mechanical components of the smaller e-bikes are tested at the facility installed for cycles.

European standards

After lunch at the sprawling TI canteen, I move on to the cycle plant. Mechanical tests for the cycles are extremely stringent and based on European standards. In 2001, TI cycles called off exports to Europe after China made heavy inroads into the market. Now, with prices of Chinese products going up, TI Cycles is looking to regain lost ground.

In what is called ‘cycle dynamic testing,’ a fully assembled cycle is mounted on a machine with rollers, using clamps. The rotating rollers keep the wheels spinning, while the cycle is loaded down with weights. The bigger models (28 or 26 inches) have weights of 90 kg on the saddle, 18 kg on the handle bar and 7 kg on the pedals. The cycle is made to ‘run’ with these weights for 250 hours. The smaller models, carrying lower weights, are run for 150 hours. The idea is to ensure that none of the components develops a crack or has a fracture even under extremely stressful conditions.

Cycle dynamic testing is preceded by an array of tests targeted at every component. In frame and fork dynamic testing, a fork and a frame assembly is rocked by vibrations (with an amplitude of 7.8Hz) caused by a cam. Frame and fork assembly for adult bikes is subjected to 1,00,000 cycles of this rocking movement. For children’s models, the exercise is stopped at 70,000 cycles. Saddles, carriers and the rest are not spared either; there is a specific test for each.

In the past, TI Cycles manufactured components for its cycles, but now it relies almost totally on suppliers. The resources devoted to manufacturing these parts have now been diverted to research and development.

With cycle components and design sheets lying helter-skelter, the design and product development sections look like a mechanic’s workshop. With mock-ups conducted everyday in his room, Shanmugam, General Manager (Product Development), can never hope to have a clutter-free working space. In fact, clutter is not an issue with the designers and developers. With a BSA model in the making called Freedom parked next to her, designer Madhuri works on the computer, creating a logo for the model.

The design section is not restricted to work on cycles; even the look and size of franchisee stores are decided here. Vasanth Dwaji, head of design, is discussing the details of an upcoming store with a colleague, Vinodhini.

Design space

While every designer has his working space, there is a common design room which is often ‘taken over’ by interns from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. TI has a tradition of absorbing these interns. An NID alumnus, Vijay Kshatriya, is fine-tuning the design of a wheelchair, which can be moved with a rowing movement. The idea has gone down well with the management and it is likely to be put into execution shortly.

With the cycle losing ground as a commuting option, TI Cycles is exploring other areas and has shifted its focus to designing bikes geared towards fitness and leisure activity. Arun Alagappan, who heads TI’s Sports Ventures Section, says several upscale models are set for launch. Even older models have undergone changes to match the changing image of the cycle.

The company is also exploring other applications for the cycle: there are prototypes of tandem bikes, cylinder tricycles, newspaper bikes and vegetable carts.

The workmanlike standard Hercules cycle is just one of the 80 models made at its factory; it is evidence that TI Cycles is not ready to totally sever its ties with the common man.