Sir Clive Sinclair, who gave the world both the pocket-sized
calculator (respected) and the electric tricycle (ridiculed), is
resurrecting himself. . . again.
Certified genius, Knight of the Realm, visionary and playboy,
Sinclair has made millions from inventions like the $150 portable
computer and the pocket-size television, and lost much of it on
marketing failures and shortsighted investments.
Now his company, Sinclair Research Ltd., is back on the
innovation trail, with three new products Sir Clive thinks can
change the world: a tiny, cheap microprocessor for multimedia
equipment, a battery-powered electric motor for standard bicycles
and a streamlined electric bike.
"He's a little like Thomas Edison," said Madsen Pirie,
president of the Adam Smith Institute, an economic think tank, and
a friend from Mensa, the genius society. "Without the resources of
gigantic corporate laboratories, he manages by sheer inspiration to
create domestic inventions."
True to form, while some snicker, many others - from retailers
to royalty - are dazzled. Hammacher Schlemmer is offering the
$1,199 low-to-the-ground Zike bike in its summer catalog of gizmos
and gadgets. And Queen Elizabeth II has already ordered the
electric bicycle, which Hammacher Schlemmer targets at affluent
senior citizens, for Balmoral castle.
Sinclair, 53, is a minimalist who makes complex products simple
and in the process cuts costs and size.
A bespectacled, balding man with a ginger fringe, he says an
ultra-light-weight collapsible bike is "my great passion of the
moment." Next on his agenda: an electric car for city use.
The fact that an electric vehicle would put him in competition
with multinational heavyweights like General Motors doesn't
distress Sinclair, who's made a career out of tilting at windmills.
At 17, he became a technical journalist. Four years later, he
founded Sinclair Radionics, which sold radio and amplifier kits and
hi-fi systems by mail-order.
In 1967, Sinclair's pocket calculator - at 2-by-5 inches, the
first of its kind - hit the market, selling for $120, a remarkably
low price for the time. It became the U.K.'s best-selling
Hit by a downturn in 1986, Sinclair sold his stock of computers
and his by-then famous trademark to Amstrad PLC for $5 million.
He created one of the world's first digital watches, but lost
money because of inadequate supplies of chips. Later, the
electronic tricycle was derided by the press and dubbed a
"doodle-bug" because of its egg shape. …