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Zoomla folding bike

Concept, Electric bike 20 746

Many of you will recognize the name Eric Stoddard. He is the guy who recently wrote three excellent guest posts here at Bicycle Design about his impressions of the Taipei Bicycle Show. Eric has an interesting new design that he just added to his website. It is a small-wheeled, lever-driven folding bike called the Zoomla. He points out the Zoomla folds in 2 seconds and fits in a school locker. I particularly like the optional integrated backpack, which attaches to the frame below the seat. You can read more about the design and see additional renderings on Eric’s website. While you are there, check out some of the other bike and trike concepts on his site, Speed Studio Design. The Trik.E concept is my personal favorite.

In other bike design related news:

Kinya sent me a link to a YouTube video of a Mitsubishi electric tricycle. This design has a roof similar to the one on Torkel Dohmer’s “This Way” concept. The roof on this Mitsubishi trike has integrated solar panels though. Pretty interesting! I wish that I could understand the commentary (in Japanese) on the video.

Speaking of solar panels, Yanko Design posted the Solar Man electric bike concept by designer Chen Weiping. I also spotted this one at Cyclelicious.

Byron, from Bike Hugger, let me know about a design exhibition that many of you may be interested in. The exhibition called “aLIVe: a Low Impact Vehicle exhibition” will take place in Seattle in August. Registration is open now and they are looking for “Functional mechanical prototypes, design drawings, or digital renderings of low impact vehicles.” They want to see new ideas, so “products already widely marketed are not eligible” and “you are not required to have every detail resolved.” Download the pdf here to learn more.

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  1. Ron April 17, 2009 at 10:35 pm -  Reply

    Good stories today. Thanks for the links.

    Looks like Mitsubishi beat Torkel to it. Just looking at the video, its either the Japanese rider who’s terrible at control or the bike itself rides horribly. And this is a trike. This leads me to question as to how better a two wheeler like This Way might perform.

    Also, both bikes have not shown or laid out how they’re going to place a solar panel and connect it to electrical instruments. Your terminal box and batteries needs to be installed somewhere on the bike. Your solar panels also cannot be some cheap junk as it has to be of good grade and built to withstand hail, rain, and other elements and if its going to be bent on a roof, you have to get yourself a flexible, custom made solution which is going to cost you.

    While This Way (the bike for the masses) looked sleak and great on paper, in reality, with all the equipment needed for the process, its going to look pretty crude. I just cannot see how a bike like this is going to be efficient and like Torkel and judges said, a ‘fraction of the cost’ of a car. And there was even no hint of an electric assist, but it proposed a carbon fiber structure! If one could spend so much money running a few lights off solar power and dishing on CF parts, he would be better served spending a little more and installing a hub motor or something and then using the solar to drive that, although I just don’t see how efficient this can be.

    Sorry to bring up the design competition again, but I still have my doubts.

  2. Joseph Letzelter April 18, 2009 at 6:17 am -  Reply

    Nice Post. The bicyle design is very nice.

  3. James April 18, 2009 at 6:25 am -  Reply

    Ron, You are welcome to both bring it up and have your doubts. I still think Torkel’s concept bike is a good one. Many of the necessary developmental considerations have already been discussed on the blog. Go back and look and you will see that the need for electric assist on Torkels bike was discussed at the very beginning.

    Yes, “This Way” was a rough concept and would take much more development to be a real product, but that wouldn’t necessarily make the end result “crude”. Just curious Ron, have you as a mechanical engineer, ever worked with industrial designers on a project?

  4. Ron April 18, 2009 at 8:46 pm -  Reply

    Ron, You are welcome to both bring it up and have your doubts. I still think Torkel’s concept bike is a good one. Many of the necessary developmental considerations have already been discussed on the blog. Go back and look and you will see that the need for electric assist on Torkels bike was discussed at the very beginning. James, with reference to the original proposal from Torkel, there is not a single mention of an electric assist. That’s something we were told the judges brought up in discussions, in this statement from you : In addition to questions about rider position, the jury pointed out other issues that could be addressed with future development; shielding from road water spray, transmission routing, the possibility of electric assist, etc. Most of those points are minor details though.(

    Not sure why you would term them as “minor details”. These are important issues. I thought ID is concerned about form and function. There was little talk of function and more of form, which I thought was an imbalance. The necessary developmental considerations have not been discussed at length, I thought they were just “skimmed over” inadequately.

    Just curious Ron, have you as a mechanical engineer, ever worked with industrial designers on a project?When industrial designers and engineers work on a project under the umbrella of a corporation, there is a definite constraint as far as cost, practicality concerns, and viability through market research and risk assessment are involved. You can’t just venture out and create any fancy item you think up in your sleep with infinite amount of cash or without doing your research. If you’re preparing a concept for an RFQ submitted by a paying customer, it has to be cost effective (for bid considerations) and should lay out details well to show why its cost effective and practical for the NEED AT HAND. That’s the real world and there is a fine balance between “getting the job done” and aesthetic practicality.

    Torkel has not done his research and presented it to us. That’s okay for now…but after he completes that, he may find out a whole list of scenarios for which the This Way bike is practical or plainly IMPRACTICAL. After that and many engineering considerations, this design has to be worked on and modified until you get something refined, as opposed to a sketch on a piece of napkin. This is why I think that the initial concept drawing for This Way should not be labelled as tje “Perfect Commuter Bike For The Masses” without any input from the masses. This is just misleading.

    Your thoughts?

  5. gsport george April 19, 2009 at 11:40 am -  Reply

    The Mitsubishi trike does look like it has stability issues, hardly surprising really, you cant just angle the steering axis over however you like to put the bars in convenient position and expect it not to mess up the handling.

    Putting the PV panel on the roof isnt going to be a good idea until we can make very very light weight panels with a high efficiency. Currently it is a huge weight penalty for a pretty meagre supply of energy compared to the consumption, and as long as you have a house or a business with a roof that you can use to mount a panel permenantly aligned to get the best output you will be better off putting it there rather than lugging it round with you…

    I really like the look and concept of the Zoomla, but it looks a little unstable to me, the riders COG looks very close to being over the front wheel, and small wheels can easily hang-up on small obstacles…

    As always, the real challenge would be in the detailed design: getting a very high gear ratio to turn those small wheels at a decent speed that is small cheap light and efficient; making a folding mechanism that is strong enough to support such an overhung load and locks securely in both open and closed positions yet releases easily; and making the steering linkage smooth. All very difficult…

    I wonder why he didnt opt to put the seat on a parallelogram linkage so that it also folded in as the “bike” folds?


  6. Eric April 19, 2009 at 8:28 pm -  Reply

    I own Strida and the CG is way above the wheels. It took some getting used to , but I’m fine with the handling. There are already bikes on the market with even smaller wheels, like the A-bike and of course Razor scooters. Small wheels have their limitations, but the purpose of this bike is local transportation and convenience, not high speed and long distance. I thought about folding the seat, but I wanted the simplest possible folding mechanism. I think of the Zoomla as a Razor scooter you can ride like a bike. It’s just a design concept, I admit there are some big engineering issues to overcome. Folding bikes are an interesting design challenge, because trying to find the ideal compromise between performance, size, convenience, and foldability creates so many interesting opportunities.

  7. Anonymous April 19, 2009 at 9:45 pm -  Reply

    Interesting bike concept .But it seems more a art work then a commuter bike .Art bikes are fun to look at . I love it myself, but just cause you can use your CAD program to design it doesn’t it will work or be comfortable or fun or useful .I think you need to check out the hands on designs the crew at Atomic Zombie are coming up with .

  8. James April 20, 2009 at 10:41 am -  Reply

    Ron, how can you say it is misleading? I never called it the “Perfect Commuter Bike For The Masses” as you stated in you comment. Yes, we chose it as the winning entry in the competition, but as you know from the jury comments, we had suggestions for improvement/further development. We didn’t feel like any of the entries were perfect, but that was to be expected; it was a pretty daunting challenge for a 5 week competition. As I said in a comment to the original post, “This competition was never intended to produce a ‘one size fits all’ solution. The point was to encourage creative thinking about ways to reach that vast majority of people who are not currently interested in cycling.” So yes, I acknowledge that there is a need for further development of Torkel’s concept and of many of the others that were entered. I always have acknowledged that fact, but you seem to insist on putting words in my mouth.

    Regarding the electric assist issue, yes, I mentioned that we discussed it in the original post. Torkel also mentioned it on his website as soon as he was chosen as a finalist. All I said was that it was discussed previously and it was. Maybe some further development issues were not discussed at length (by me at least). If anything was “skimmed over inadequately”, it was probably due to the fact that the free time I have to spend on the blog is limited. That is why others, including yourself, were free to make comments and suggest improvements.

    You described what it is like when industrial designers and engineers work together in the real world, but you didn’t really answer the question directly. I am just curious; do you work with industrial designers on a daily basis? I have worked with mechanical engineers on hundreds of projects and I know that the phases of the development cycle differ dramatically depending on many “real world” factors. That development cycle also differs depending on the type of product. A consumer product is generally not the same as an industrial product for example. In some cases, you are right, there is no time/money for a lot of early “blue sky” concepts. In a competition though, it is generally OK to not worry about all of the issues that will be encountered later on in the design process. That doesn’t mean that those issues are not important, but as you yourself said in a comment on the PUMA post, there is a difference between a concept and a fully engineered product.

    Anon 10:45, I agree that the Atomic Zombie creations are all worth checking out. I have mentioned them on the blog a few times.

  9. Lloyd April 20, 2009 at 4:49 pm -  Reply

    Interesting post, the Zoomla has a 'grown up, yet fun' look that current scooters, even adult scooters just don't have.It makes the NY favourite Xootr look crude. Add lever power (like Alenex) and you get an interesting new product. I dont get the usual 'nay sayers' who expect all new design concepts to a)conform to their narrow existing product definitions & b)to be fully developed ready for sale. Wrong blog – get some imagination and smell the coffee.

    The Mitsubishi trike looked interesting, but the design was not a subtle as Torqel Dohmer's. Interesting how the rear roof detail was quite similar, I guess that is the best way going from an upright to a canopy, like branches of a tree which is a well tried and tested structure.

    Being narrow these type of future vehicles would be able to get through traffic and obstacles better than say the wider segway PUMA, yet the PUMA probably has a a smaller footprint per person.

    These are All fascinating glimpses of the future please keep them coming.

  10. gsport george April 20, 2009 at 7:11 pm -  Reply

    Hey Eric, I probably didnt put enough emphasis on the fact that I like it… I think a single fold is a nice starting point, and cranks and pedals on folding bikes can be a big source of problems (gearing up, folding up etc) so a treadle drive is an interesting way to go that opens up new posibilities in this area…

    I wouldnt put the Strida in the same category as the A bike or razor scooters, but together they are a good demonstration of how much difference that change in wheel size makes. And if there were any way to get the wheels on the Zoomla bigger it would really help it I am sure.

    I understand that it is a concept, but the single hinge at such long lever is a problem that will always “jump out”. So for the concept to fly it would be an enormous advantage to have at least ideas of ways to make it work sketched out… For example, if I were to “design” a bike where the seat magically hovered over the BB on magnets then it would be fairly had to “sell” if I couldnt show how it could be done… this is obviously a difference of degree but I am sure you see my point. You can only claim the advantage of the fold if you can make a case that it can be made to work. The X-bike has the advantage of opening against a stop, wheras the Zoomla would place all the load on the lock…

    Obviously this is academic if the design is never intended for production, however I think it has enough merit to be worth considering it as more than that…


  11. Eric April 20, 2009 at 9:59 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for the comments guys…Dahon and many others build folding bikes with a single main tube that has a hinge joint in the center. ALL of the structural integrity depends on that single hinge joint. Dahon bas been building them for years, so I think it’s not too big a stretch to engineer the Zoomla for a single pivot. The bigger challenge to me is the remote steering required to eliminate the steering tube. Cargo bikes like this ( it using tie rods, but I think some kind of cable or belt system could also work. This is just a design concept intended to generate discussion..I think there have been some really good comments and debate.

  12. human_Amp April 21, 2009 at 6:20 am -  Reply

    Good post James, well done Erik and fascinating comments. I too like the Zoomla, Tike.E and your inspiring site Erik, well done.

    I’ve just caught up on several blogs, and comments. It is interesting to read the comments about the segway Puma (engineering test rig mule) and the comments about Zoomla, and various Trikes, velomobiles and bike alternatives (even Torkels) which are more aesthetic concepts.

    The comments could be matched and so self cancelling 🙂 several commenter’s talked about the ugliness and image of the PUMA, and several about the engineering and performance challenges the visual concepts need.

    It is easy to get entrenched at either end of the ‘design continuum’ .. with pure engineering design at one extreme (Jet engines etc, where image has no place) and say fountain design at the other where the image and aethetics is all. BUT most products lie within this range of design, I don’t even like the terms ID (Industrial design) and ED (engineering design), its ALL ‘just’ design !

    In fact over the years having a foot in each ‘camp’ has shown up prejudices a few times: , i’ve been called a ‘felt tip fairy’ by a group of engineers, and a ‘dirty finger nailed nerd’ by a group of designers :-).

    There is obviously huge overlap, and in most cases this gives a BIG respect between engineers and designers, where either can see the limitations of their training and experience, but equally recognize the importance of the other – aesthetic and human centred design is clearly often THE differentiator amongst products with similar engineering specs. This is true, even (and some would say especially !) in the bicycle business – but I would expect to be flamed for this comment here 😉 .. Mark

  13. Ron April 21, 2009 at 9:59 am -  Reply

    James : I don’t want to start a design vs engineering rant. How different they both from each other in the real world is moot. However, what gets me are the bicycle designs out there that are nothing but fancy artwork, and a lot of details of how its going to work and whether it will be practical is just wishy washy. In this regard, I can say that engineering has some more substance to it as the proposals have definitive details to it. However, the sort of erratic behavior we see today from design artists sitting in front of computers with nothing better to do but draw fancy cartoons in the name of “better bicycle designs” are sure to drive anyone educated in the traditional sciences nuts.

  14. James April 21, 2009 at 10:42 am -  Reply

    Ron, it is not about design vs. engineering at all. It is about understanding the need for collaboration in order to compete successfully in the marketplace. As I already said, I have been lucky enough to work with many very talented engineers in my career and have learned a lot from each of them. I have also worked with a couple of engineers who wanted to show off their knowledge by trying to kill every slightly different idea before giving it a chance. In almost every case, those latter engineers tried to cite an example of a previous idea that failed as their justification for not even considering something new. In general, those engineers, who seemed to have something to prove, were not the best in their field and didn’t last long in their positions.

    Anyway, it sounds like we disagree about the value (and the definition) of industrial design. I don’t have time to really elaborate right now, but I do think you are greatly oversimplifying the idea of early stage conceptual design with this comment. That is fine though…if it drives you nuts, maybe this isn’t the blog for you.

  15. Ron April 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm -  Reply

    James : About past designs failing, there’s a reason engineers are wary of that. Your biggest mistake would be not to learn from history. The standard bicycle design, well over 100 years old, shows elegance of strength, light weight and durability. Today and pretty unfortunately, a lot of stuff
    gets changed for visual impact without any functional improvement. They also introduce more problems than they seek to solve. In the end, one will wonder a couple of things – What was the real value of this design exercise and of the end product? And, did the designers ever do some research in past bicycle designs, or even ride one for that matter in their life. No offense to your blog.

  16. James April 21, 2009 at 4:37 pm -  Reply

    Ron, I don’t disagree that is important to learn form the past. That is not at all what I meant. Using bikes as an example though, I can point to many ideas that “failed” a long time ago, but have become commonplace in recent years. Clipless pedals, indexed shifting, full suspension- those are just a few examples of ideas that were not commercially successful until many years (nearly 100 in some cases) after they were first introduced. If you are interested, you can read an old post on that subject here.

    So yeah, while I agree that it is important to learn from history, I think it is also important to keep an open mind throughout the development process. The distinction between aesthetic and functional concerns is not as clear-cut as you seem to indicate. The best solutions take both into consideration, but it takes work to get to that point. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be so many products on the market that may be functionally passable, but are not user friendly or aesthetically pleasing. Think of the success of the iPod. Many other MP3 players may be functionally equivalent, but Apple has a cult following because they have created a better user experience. Engineering is important and nobody is denying that, but it takes more than engineering to create a successful product.

  17. gsport george April 21, 2009 at 6:36 pm -  Reply

    The Dahon hinge works accross the axis of maximum stress, this hinge would need to work under forces that were constantly trying to fold it up. I think that is a very significant difference.

    The cable steering doesnt worry me that seems eminently doable and was what was on the X-bike. I have just about finished building (test ridden the basic skeleton and just need to build the “box) a “long john”/bakefits type cago bike and the steering linkage is virtualy un-noticable, in-fact there is a slight play in the rod-end joints and a cable system might well work better from this point of view.

    What happened to “form follow function”?

    Many of the most aesthetically pleasing things are very utilitarian pieces of engineering-design, arguably the ipod is constrained by the engineering (screens need to be flat (currently), batteries tend to be flat, circuit boards are flat, peoples hands like holding curved edges etc etc) not much is left to non-engineering design or styling. The strength is largely in the interface, and surely that is largely software-engineering?

    The Zoomla is clearly a piece of engineering first and a piece of “industrial design” second? The aim is to make it fit in a locker, be transportable with and integrate with public and other transport, to be fun etc etc. I would call these parts of an engineering specification…

    Essentially I guess I am saying that you cannot say “forget the engineering for now” because what you start with IS engineering and you cant put the “styling” in a vacuum…

    To me the word “design” is far more related to engineering design than it is the sculptural design of a shell who’s form will always be largely dictated by the function..


  18. Easy Tiger May 1, 2009 at 1:17 am -  Reply

    What a Zoomlahrific ergonomic disaster area. Why do Industrial Designers CONSTANTLY give themselves a bad name by playing with pretty shapes and calling it design? Seriously, it’s making us all look really, really stupid. Actually stupid is the wrong word, SUPERFICIAL is the word I’m looking for, like we’re too busy fluffing the marketing and managers egos than designing proper, functioning, good looking, smart products.

  19. Strida May 12, 2009 at 12:56 am -  Reply

    Great Blog with very good posts .Can you please tell me that how much time you take to create this wonderful blog,although i am new on internet but your work is very good and i appreciate your work.

  20. Stevbike October 8, 2009 at 10:09 am -  Reply

    I looked at this bike design. I found it interesting to look at. I find that some of these concept bikes do not look like they are really look like they are too practical in the real world. I designed this little bike that has been used in the real world. It is called the Mini Max, a one off recumbent mini bike to be used by an adult rider It rides nice using standard bike parts that are used right now. It was designed 11 years ago. This is my answer the dream like concept bikes I have seen. This one is built and in use.

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