On your bike - are electric bikes worth it?
Are you a car driver, or do you prefer to be out and about on your bike? A new product from a New Zealand company promises to give you the agility of a bike, with the self-propelled benefits of driving. Called the YikeBike, it looks like a modern day unicycle, but its lithium phosphate battery lets you zip along at 25 km/h.
The unit folds down into a package the size of a backpack, and weighs under 10 kg, meaning that you can take it with you into the office, and charge it from a power socket under your desk. Moreover, it includes antiskid breaks, electronic indicators, and enables you to ride while sitting upright, rather than bending over a set of handlebars.
This isn't the first electric bike on the market. Others are available, and apparently, the Chinese market for more conventionally-designed electric bikes is booming. Over the years, we have seen a variety of bizarre designs that were supposed to revolutionise urban transport. In the early 1980s, British entrepreneur Clive Sinclair developed the C5, a small electric car that was meant to serve as an easy short range commuting vehicle. Then, at the start of this century, Dean Kamen unveiled the Segway, a stand-up device that you could ride around the streets by leaning backwards and forwards.
The trouble is that, aside from specialist applications such as, say, beat cops or mail carriers, both of these devices disappeared from the streets. The C5 made an excellent golf cart, but didn't seem to succeed anywhere else. The Segway probably wasn't helped by the fact that George Bush fell off one.
For me, the whole idea of electric urbanised transport seems a little pointless. I can pay $500 for a very decent pushbike, on which I can put panniers, and which will take me as far as my fat little legs can pedal. Or I can play almost ten times as much for a YikeBike, which has a maximum range of 10 km before I have to charge it up again - meaning, if the specifications are correct, that it won't even ride for half an hour at top speed.
Well, alright. I'm not sure I could ride for half an hour at top speed either. But perhaps that's the most important point. Riding a short range electric vehicle doesn't get you fit. If I'm going to cycle to work, I'd like a little bit of a workout at the same time so that I can compensate for the calories I consumed with that apricot danish, thank you very much. Aside from the geek value, this whole concept seems like a drastically over-engineered and expensive solution to a problem that we solved over a hundred years ago. Really, why would anyone bother?
Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets