Yikes!

Enter the YikeBike. An undoubtedly cool, if dorky mode of transportation. This foldable, portable, ingenious little contraption can whisk you around on electric power at up to 15 MPH. Highway ready? I think not. But definitely a project where designers and engineers were able to flex their collective creativity.

Click to watch the NY Times video.


Via NY Times
:

It’s an electric bike. Top speed is about 15 miles an hour. The accelerator and brakes are smoothly controlled by buttons that are right under your thumbs on the handlebars. The handlebars themselves are at your waist level, which might seem odd but makes sense—you ride sitting fully upright instead of bending forward, as on a bicycle. That design also means that you can jump forward off the bike in a crisis; there’s no hardware in your way.

Here’s the twist: the whole thing folds down into its own front wheel. You undo four stainless-steel latches, then snap the back wheel, seat and handlebars into the front one. It takes about ten seconds.

The YikeBike is therefore perfect for covering that distance between your home and the train station. You can fold it down and set it next to you on the train, then unfold it and ride to your office at the other end.

In other words, this is not a bike you lock to a post in front of your office; this is a bike you fold down and carry into your office.

The YikeBike goes six miles on a charge (about 6 cents in electricity). That may not sound like much, but remember that you’re supposed to carry it inside with you. For example, you can just plug it in next to your desk at work. It recharges to 80 percent in 20 minutes, to full in 40 minutes.

It weighs 22 pounds, less than half the weight of a typical electric bike. The balance point is different from a regular bicycle, because the front wheel is practically right under you. Grant Ryan, the New Zealander who invented it, says it usually takes half an hour to master; it took me four tries before I could ride without having to shoot out my foot to the ground to steady myself.
(Our original idea was for me to try riding the YikeBike in a hotel parking lot. Because of the nasty, frigid weather, we wound up migrating inside, to the ballroom. The hotel staff was either too preoccupied or too friendly to care about the spectacle.)

The bike is covered with safety features. For example, it lights up everywhere to remain visible to cars. The right and left turn signals, which both beep and blink, are controlled by buttons right on the handlebars, so you never have to remove your hands. Mr. Ryan says that the YikeBike is the world’s first electric to have electronic anti-skid brakes, giving it a shorter stopping distance than a bicycle with caliper brakes.

The bike also makes a pretty loud whirring noise when in motion. Mr. Ryan says he could have muffled the sound, but thought it would be safer if the bike announced its presence to fellow travelers and pedestrians.

So why won’t the YikeBike become a mega-hit? Well, first, because it costs $3,600 (you can buy it from yikebike.com). And it costs that much because it owes its light weight to a carbon-fiber body, which has to be handmade. Eventually, Mr. Ryan hopes to create an aluminum version that will cost far less.

You also look pretty strange riding the YikeBike, too. It’s perfectly comfortable and very stable once you get the hang of it, but you’re going to get stares. It’s not for the self-conscious.
Furthermore, because it’s so small, there’s no basket or rattrap. If you want to carry something, you’ll have to wear a backpack. (Mr. Ryan did show me, however, an ingenious idea: the bike’s shipping suitcase will soon be able to hook to the back of the bike, creating a trailer.)

Overall, it’s astounding that this idea, and this radical design, could work as well as it does. Every design detail has obviously been thought through. Acceleration and braking, for example, take absolutely no time to get used to.

I’m not sure how many takers the YikeBike will have at $3,600. But I really admire Mr. Ryan’s lean, green folding machine, and I wish him the best of luck.

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