Monday, September 21, 2009

It's a "Bike" only because it has two wheels...

Here's the "Yikebike", a Kiwi-designed transportation device that is going to get a lot of press as the successor to the Segway. In some ways, it's a worthy successor. Here's the remarkably well-produced marketing movie, replete with Europop-music, neon-green contrail, and catchy phrases.

The Yikebike is a foldable, baggable, portable, minimalistic electric transportation system. It's not an "E-bike", at least insofar as there is no way to pedal the thing when the battery runs out. It's not high-performance, as most average-to-good urban cyclists could whip it soundly over a short course of a couple of city blocks.

The "YikeBike" has been getting more coverage on gadget blogs than on cycling blogs, and this is for good reason. (It's not, after all, a bicycle as we think of it.) Here are some pertinent specs:
  • Range: 9-10 kms (5.5-6.3 miles);
  • Payload: 100 kg (220 lbs.) including baggage;
  • Charging time: 20 mins for 80% charge;
  • Charging cost: $0.15-0.20;
  • Vehicle weight: 10 kg;
  • Cost: Between $5200 and $5900.
There's a lot to like about the YikeBike concept, especially its product design. The folding design is top-notch, really well thought-out, and clever to boot (I love the "penny-farthing" iconography combined with the "Keep-on-Truckin" posture of the rider). The unit, when folded, appears to be actually compact enough to sling over a shoulder in its special bag. The steering system is compact, innovative, and (at low speeds at least appears to be) effective. The marketing (so far) is quite catchy. But as a serious alternative to bicycles (and let's be fair, it does present itself as such an alternative in its movie), it fails. The range is too short as an alternative to cycling (my daily commute is twice the YikeBike's range each way), and certainly too short as an alternative to car-commuting (which it also tries to undertake).

This raises the problematic question: if the YikeBike isn't a serious alternative to cycling or aut0-commuting, what is it an alternative to? The uncomfortable answer: walking. Walking on a very short commute, or walking to and from the bus-stop. Not even an e-bike purports to replace walking, typically they replace hill-climbing. (And that's fair enough, I suppose.) E-bikers will actually pedal on the flats, extending their range indefinitely, although too bad for them on the climbs when the juice runs out.

I say we need more walking, not less, and therefore I predict the YikeBike will join the Segway in the pantheon of vehicles for sore-footed tourists who want to do extended-range walking tours in urban settings. There are a lot of good design ideas there, though.

Postscript: what do I really, really, really like about the YikeBike movie? Check it out. The uber-cool YikeBiker is wearing Chuck Taylor All-Star Black Monos. This is the ultimate shoe in the world. It can be worn anywhere: your local skateboarding park, a cocktail party, with a tux to an opening at the Kennedy Center. It's green, recyclable, and your yoga teacher will like it, because it folds and gives your feet an opportunity to learn how to Walk Right. I own two pair (one high-top and one low) and am happy to bestow on them the Practical Cyclists' Seal of Approval. (Now if Converse only made them SPD compatible!)


Anonymous said...

Yikes! Be sure to wear a football helmet with a large face-guard when traveling on uneven surfaces. Pedestrian travel has been on the endangered species list for years.

SMB tech geeks said...

Does it remind anyone else of an early sketch of those little chairs that all the characters in the Wall-E movie scoot about in?!

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Yike is not designed as a replacement for bikes, cars, walking but an additional tool. You can have on in the back of car, or take on the train and store in a small apartment. Check out blog post on the rational for the range

YikeBike guys