YikeBike - Super Compact Electric Bike

How many of you have ridden an electric bicycle? The sort that uses battery power to aid human effort, making mincemeat of hills and expediting long journeys. They’re superb – we recently tested one designed by Smart to accompany its new electric ForTwo – but like normal bicycles they are hindered in urban environments by their size, weight and inability to collapse when not being used. The answer to these (admittedly nonessential) problems, say YikeBike, is their eponymous ‘super compact electric bike’, and with around two billion bicycles worldwide there’s plenty of scope for adoption.

YikeBike – Bicycle 2.0

The YikeBike’s design – a folding mini-farthing – was created by New Zealander Grant Ryan in 2009 in response to question: What is the simplest way to get from A to B with the aid of a machine [in ‘congested, polluted, stressful cities’]? Other questions included what the smallest wheel possible to put on a safe and comfortable bike was, and if such a bike could be small enough to go anywhere with you in a city. That means up escalators and lifts, under an office desk, into cafés and restaurants, and on metro and tram networks. The last, and most revealing, question asked whether a unicycle could be made ‘dramatically easer to ride and fold’. Traditionally the only thing that made a unicycle dramatically easer to ride was hour upon hour of often painful practice. Folding wasn’t ever seen as an issue.

YikeBike are ambitious, in the past admitting that they aim to replicate the way Tesla has roused interest in electric cars without seeming like a fad, but in the bike world. The Tesla Model S is a simple proposition to operate, though, so what’s it like to ride a YikeBike? (We don’t know where the name comes from, either).

Unnerving, novel, brilliant. You know the YikeBike is a new take on the original bicycle recipe because you have to learn how to ride it anew. Mercifully this time it takes minutes rather than months with stabilizers, but the experience is still quite unsettling, mainly because of the unusual seating position (with handlebars down to your sides instead of out in front). With your feet on the foldout pedals on the driven (front) 20-inch wheel and knees tucked in (very important), squeezing the trigger underneath the right handlebar sends charge to the wheel. Et voila - you have motion, but don’t hang around because the YikeBike remains unstable, with its short wheelbase and small wheels, until centripetal forces kick in at higher speeds.

It doesn’t take long to settle into the swing of things. Top speed is 14mph, which sounds slow but is actually almost exactly 50% of Usain Bolt’s best efforts (so quite quick) whilst range on a single charge is around 8 miles (this can be extended to 20 miles with additional battery packs). Simple maths suggests than the YikeBike can be ridden flat out for just over half-an-hour, although having ridden one for a week around London we can’t imagine a situation where that sort of frenzied operation might occur. The brakes are not only regenerative, recuperating charge and relaying it back in the YikeBike’s battery, but also feature an anti-skid mechanism. They are not, however, the last word is stopping power, bringing the rider to a (sometimes) graceful halt rather than stopping on a sixpence like a disc brake-equipped bicycle will. You've been warned.

But where does something like the YikeBike fit in to urban mobility? Those who already own and enjoy riding conventional bicycles probably won’t see the appeal as much as people who commute by private vehicle or public transport. The YikeBike folds neatly into a large briefcase-sized bundle, which takes around a minute to complete after some practice, and as such can easily be taken on trains and buses. YikeBike to train; train to city centre; YikeBike to office is just one example. YikeBike in car; car to city outskirts; YikeBike to city centre is another. There’s no need to find parking and it’s quicker than walking.

The steel YikeBike we tested weighed 14kg – not exactly light, but not prohibitively heavy – and costs £1,898,95 in the UK. That’s expensive, yes, but right now this is a machine for early adopters (are you an early adopter?) who are typically willing to pay more for the privilege of owning new and exciting toys. There’s also a version wrought of carbon fibre and various other composites – weighing around 12kg – that costs £2,874.95. That’s very expensive, but there’s no question—it looks the business.

There’s a reason why the Yike Bike came 15th in Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions 2009, sandwiched between a potentially lifesaving handheld ultrasound scanner and a vertical hydroponic-farming system that could curb catastrophic deforestation and save enormous tracts of the world’s ecology. Its cause perhaps isn’t quite as noble as those two but it addresses a growing problem – that of getting around in congested cities – with a clean and imaginative solution. Electric bicycles are still a curio, but for how long?

Curious? Then have a chat with Guy Wheeler at Leftfield Bikes.

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