Why is Ford making e-bikes?
Here at TreeHugger we've been hearing about and advocating the advent of the e-bike revolution for a number of years. Just as (supposedly) the revolution won't be televised, it also isn't exactly punctual.
With the succesful fund-raising campaign of the cheap (and possibly vapor-ish) $500 Storm e-bike however, once again the cries of "e-bike revolution" can be heard echoing around the Internet mediasphere.
And then here comes Ford Motor Company, saying all the right gee-whizzy things as it displays its gee-whiz e-bikes and mobility ideas at the Barcelona Mobile World conference.
MoDe:Me and MoDe:Pro are the names of the bikes that Ford showed as part of its "Handle on Mobility" experiment. The fact that they used the word experiment probably gives you pause, and it should.
The bikes are very sweet: they are pedal-assist folding electric bikes with 200-watt motors and 9-amp-hour batteries that can go up to 25 kilometers per hour (15.5 mph), which is sufficient yet not optimum for city biking. The MoDe:Me is actually a Dahon-designed bike, while the more heavy-duty MoDe:Pro is currently designed by Ford.
The MoDe:Me folds sufficiently to fit in Ford vehicles, the company said. (Removing and reattaching the pedals is required, however, which seems a big drawback to everyday riding).
Both the bikes have rear-facing sensors that can alert a rider that a vehicle is overtaking, by vibrating the bike's handlebars. In turn, the bike automatically alerts motorists of the presence of the e-bike by illuminating handlebar lights.
There's also a smart, handlebar vibrating alert that signals to the cyclist when to make turns on a pre-designated route. It's the iPhone-based MoDe:Link software that will help the commuter with route planning and interconnecting between transport modes.
It's nice that Ford is thinking about all this stuff.
Or, is it? Instead of introducing these e-bikes as truly green-and-clean, healthy modes of transportation, Ford seems to be treating them more like PR tools. They are prototypes, without set ship dates or prices. In other words, they don't discourage the car as the #1 city-transport tool; instead they are treated as more of a handy add-on for people who just can't any longer find parking in crowded city centers and might have been considering the purchase of a Ford vehicle.
Still, Ford is thinking that a foldable e-bike is a great way to easily connect various city transportation options, and in this we concur.
“There are so many ways to get around a city, but what is really needed is a way to connect all of these transport options together,” said Ken Washington, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. “Being able to seamlessly move between cars, buses, trains and e-bikes and react to changing traffic situations can make a big difference both for commuters and for those delivering goods, services and healthcare.”
Ford has a pilot project called Info Cycle running in Palo Alto, California, to see how bikes (not the e-bikes) with sensors can gather data that might improve the riding experience for people on bikes.
Let's hope that Ford keeps up these "experiments," develops these prototype bikes into the real thing, and actually reduces dependence on cars and improves safety for bicyclists.