Bicycles from automakers are nothing new. Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ferrari, and BMW are just a few of the car companies that have offered bikes in the past. Some of the designs are better than others, but usually they are really just relabeled bikes that were designed and manufactured by another company. In many cases, the bicycles are just accessories added by the marketing department, not unlike the branded floormats, key chains, and little model cars that can found at the dealership or online.
The bike concepts that have recently been unveiled by Lexus and Volkswagen are a bit different though. Both of these new concepts are electric bikes, and they appear to have been actually designed for or by the companies the companies that are showing them. First we saw the “hybrid” Lexus bike, which features a carbon fiber frame, 8 speed internal gearing, and a 240-watt electric motor. That bike has been spreading all over the web this week with gadget blogs, design blogs, and automotive blogs all picking up the story. On Twitter and cycling focused blogs, the reaction to the Lexus concept bike has been fairly negative (as you might guess). Sure, some of the apparent issues are pretty easy to criticize… the lack of a decent braking system or the inability to adjust the seat height just to name a couple. Even though I don’t personally love the design, I will state for the record that I am glad to see a concept e-bike from Lexus. The company says that they have no plans to put the bike into production, but the concept is getting way more mainstream press than a real e-bike from a bicycle manufacturer ever could. If a luxury car company can help to make the general public aware of hybrid e-bike technology, I say more power to them.
Unlike Lexus, Volkswagen plans to actually release the “Bik.e” concept that they just revealed at Auto China 2010. VW’s new concept bike has been getting a lot of coverage on the web too, but unfortunately their “Bik.e” is not a bike at all. It is really just a low range folding electric scooter that can be charged by the car’s DC current. The idea of a folding electric bike that can be used in place of the car for short trips is great, but this concept, which was designed to fold into a flat disc that can replace the spare tire in a car’s trunk, seems to be geared primarily toward emergency use. With a range of only 12 miles for the electric motor, it really seems like a provision for pedaling should have been included. Of course, if the motor runs out of juice, the stranded driver can always just hobby horse the “Bik.e” the rest of the way to the service station. At that point, I am pretty sure that he or she will be wishing for that old spare tire that the “Bik.e” replaced. Maybe I am being too hard on VW’s concept though; watch the video and let me know what you think.
While I am posting about electric bikes (and scooters), I will mention the first consumer magazine dedicated to the growing e-bike market. Velo Vision Ltd will debut the first issue of Electric Bike magazine in August of this year. The magazine will be publicly launched on May 8th at the Tour de Presteigne Electric Bike Rally in the UK, so check that out if you are nearby. That is a bit too far for me to travel for the launch, but I am looking forward to seeing the first issue. If it is anything like VeloVision, I know it will be worth reading cover to cover.