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by Matt de Neef
July 29, 2020
Vivax Drive, the Austrian brand famous for its hidden bike motors, has been forced to shut up shop. Like so many other businesses in cycling and beyond, Vivax wasn’t able to manage the financial hardship brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unfortunately it is a sad certainty today – our business has not weathered this crisis,” the company wrote in a statement on its website. “We were not able to start this season as usual and had to close [due to] coronavirus for several weeks.”
While COVID-19 led to increased demand for Vivax Assist e-bikes — and indeed for cycling more generally — the virus also “massively worsened the delivery situation for frame and bike manufacturers.”
“Unfortunately, it is still not foreseeable today when we will get bikes ordered months ago,” the brand wrote. “Even promised delivery times of up to 12 weeks can no longer be met, even though our warehouse is well filled with drive kits.”
First introduced some 15 years ago as the Gruber Assist, the Vivax Assist was designed to be hidden in a bike’s seat tube and connect to the crankshaft via an interlocking gear. It could be controlled via a wired or wireless button and provided a healthy power boost when engaged. The technology was designed for the recreational rider, to “balance out the performance difference between riding partners” while ensuring “the bike’s aesthetics and an authentic feeling ride are preserved”, but more sinister applications were obvious.
As reported on CyclingTips in 2015 — in the most-read article ever published on this site — the Vivax hidden motor could feasibly be used in professional bike races without detection. The minimal noise from the motor would be difficult to hear over the rush of the peloton and the cheering of roadside fans. Any telltale signs of the hidden motor as seen on lower-spec models — e.g. a wire to a button on the handlebars, or a battery in a saddlebag — could be easily concealed with optional upgrades.
Indeed, at the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships, 19-year-old Belgian rider Femke van den Driessche was found with a hidden motor installed in a spare bike. “The motor was a Vivax which was concealed along with a battery in the seat tube,” the UCI said at the time. “It was controlled by a Bluetooth switch installed underneath the handlebar tape.”
Van den Driessche was subsequently handed a six-year ban for “technological fraud”. In the years since, the UCI has conducted frequent and widespread checks for hidden motors at professional bike races.
Vivax was an early pioneer in the e-bike space, making hidden motors at a time when e-bikes weren’t nearly as widely accepted as they are today. But as bigger brands stepped into the e-bike space, and the stigma of riding with assistance started to fade away, Vivax struggled to keep pace with the competition. It branched out from making e-bike conversion kits to selling full bikes with the Vivax Assist kit installed — everything from town bikes and commuters to dual suspension and hard-tail MTBs to carbon road bikes.
But despite these offerings, and despite what the brand called “the world’s lightest e-bike kit” — just 1.8 kg for the entire setup, including the battery — Vivax was never able to break through and compete with the big manufacturers.
Now, due to coronavirus, Vivax is out of business entirely.
“Our heart always beat for our Vivax Assist and it hits us hard as a family business, but we are forced to take this step and stop selling and accepting the service from today,” the company wrote. “Open service appointments and repairs are of course still being processed and all down-payments have already been returned to our customers.
“Unfortunately we have not yet been able to find a partner who will take over any services. Should a suitable partner be found, we will of course communicate this immediately!”
The company is planning to hold a “large clearance sale” in Wörgl, Austria in mid September.