Thursday, September 3, 2009

An Interesting Way To Get Around

The YikeBike is an electric minifarthing - the minifarthing being a small, foldable and portable bicycle based on a penny-farthing. The designers say they originally considered an electric unicycle, but thought that the difficulty of balancing on a unicycle wouldn't make it terribly efficient. I think the best thing about this is that it was invented by New Zealanders, but there are a few other benefits - and downsides, too.
For safety, it is limited to a top speed of 20km/h - even when you're going down a hill. With full tyres and a full battery, it weighs 10kg - but it carries a maximum weight of 100kg, including the rider and their personal effects. So if you weight 95kg, you're not allowed to ride it wearing a 10kg backpack, and if you weigh 101kg, you're not allowed to ride it at all - unless you want to just ride it anyway and to heck with the warranty!
The range of the YikeBike, with a fully charged battery, is 9km. The creators invisage it as being used by commuters to travel short distances to work - when it's too short to drive, but too far to walk, and cycling would get you all hot and bothered in your suit and tie. If you can charge it at your workplace, great - but tough luck if you can't, cause you'll have to live within 4.5km of your place of work, unless you integrate public transport into your journey - more on that later.

The FAQs make me laugh. In response to the question "What happens when I brake hard?" the website says: "The YikeBike is the first in the world to have electronic anti-skid brakes, giving smoother braking and a shorter stopping distance than a bicycle. It is likely that you will jump off the front of a YikeBike in an emergency braking situation – this is very easy as there are no handle bars in the way." Sounds just like a unicycle in that respect!

As an answer to "Does the YikeBike come with a lock?" they say "No – because you can fold it up and take it with you there is no need to leave it outside where it can be stolen." I disagree with this. Just because you can fold something up and take it with you, that doesn't mean you should. I see the advantage of it folding up to be that you can carry it on public transport (in Auckland you have to buy a "cycle ticket" to take convential bikes on trains and they won't let you take your bike during peak hours - the YikeBike, being the size of a large bag, escapes this rule), or to carry it into your place of work/destination to charge it up for the return journey. Say you rode your YikeBike to a job interview. Would you fold it up and carry it under your arm into the interview room? Possibly. It'd be a great conversation starter. But even though it's the size of a large bag, there are lots of places where I would take a bicycle but not a large bag, because I can lock my bicycle outside.

I do admire the way it folds up. The front wheel goes back into the frame, and the rear wheel turns 180 degrees to rest inside the front wheel, while the seat and handlebars fold down on top. They say that it takes 15 seconds to fold up or unfold - but I'm sceptical of that. I know that it takes about two minutes of tugging and swearing to unfold a fold-up scooter, including locking all the moving parts into place so that something doesn't collapse once you're at terminal velocity. The Yikebike website doesn't specify whether their 15 seconds includes setting all the parts rigidly in place ready to be ridden (say that five times quickly!).

In conclusion, it's definitely interesting. We'll just have to wait and see how, and if, it takes off - although I suspect it might just be a gimmicky fad, like the Segway it was inspired by.

If you thought this was mildly interesting, you may also find recumbent bicycles worth a look. I had never heard of them before today.

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