Yikes! Electric YikeBike Like a Barstool on Wheels

Well, it's an improvement on the dorky-looking Segway, which has never taken off as its inventor hoped. This U.K.-designed electric, motorized - can we call it a bike? - will surely turn heads when it gets onto the streets next year (pre-ordering has begun). But the YikeBike, though it is foldable - a big plus - and sleek, and zippy, suffers some of the same pitfalls as other street-ready motorized stuff such as Segway and GM/Segway Puma.

Safety and integration with streetscape

YikeBike's founder Grant Ryan says the bicycle is the 'most commonly owned form of transport in the world today' with over 2 billion two-wheelers worldwide and 130 million being sold annually. And since the 1870's when the safety bicycle first appeared, bike design hasn't really changed that much.

There's a reason for the that. Prior to the safety bike, penny farthings, with their huge front wheels, were faster than predecessor bikes, but also difficult to mount and a bit unwieldy, and off limits, of course, for skirted humans. YikeBike has some similarities with the penny farthing, though the steering perches behind you, instead of in front.

But can it really be called a bike? YikeBike's pedals are more properly called foot rests - the 1.2 kw electric engine does all the work, while brakes and controllers are located on the steering. YikeBike's designers followed the idea of bicycle to help them get street-use approval in the countries (not the U.S. but the U.K., Germany, and New Zealand, among others) where it will initially be distributed.

"Our aim was to design a personal transportation device that was as safe, manoeuverable and as easy to ride as a bike but was designed for lower speeds 20km/h and vastly smaller so that it can be easily taken anywhere in a congested city."

A 'mini-farthing' that folds

Ryan says the strongest argument for YikeBike's design is that it, much more easily than a full-sized bike, allows riders to seamlessly connect with all other forms of transport - bus, car, taxi, train. It also folds quickly - after practice in able 15 seconds, the company says.

To deal with safety concerns, YikeBike's top speed will be around 13 miles per hour (even downhill) and have anti-skid brakes. It will also weigh in at 'under 10 kilos' according to the web site. But these features don't help the rest of the street traffic - unpredictably pedestrians, zooming bikers, and speedy cars - look out for or be able to deal with this new take on transport.

YikeBike will use a lithium phosphate battery (1,000 charge lifespan) that takes around 30 minutes for a charge that should last 7 - 8 kilometers.

But there are limitations. You must be 5'3" to be able to comfortably ride the YikeBike, which cuts out us short, spinky types. Maximum weight for rider and goods is 100 kilos, so as with many new-fangled bike designs, the need to transport stuff around your city is pretty much not in the design brief.

And the final kicker? The price tag - around U.S.$4,800.

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