John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Beep boop bip!
Hey guys, wanna go yiking? It's like biking, only much sillier.
At first, I wasn't sure if the YikeBike out of Christchurch, New Zealand – purportedly the world's smallest and lightest folding electric bicycle – was real. In its folded-up position, it looks like something you'd want to shoot lasers at in the Star Wars universe; people riding on it could be mistaken for office workers stealing ergonomic chairs. But its website lists a network of dealers that spans six continents, and then there's this rad safety-testing of the anti-skid brake system:
So it appears that we are all awake, and not dreaming about a collapsing commuter gizmo that's modeled on the old-timey penny farthing yet still costs as much as $3,985 for the carbon-fiber version. Between steam-powered bikes, a two-wheeled transport for loads of child cargo, the electric unicycle, the return of the dandy horse and a bike you couldn't afford without taking out another mortgage, it would appear that the world's rapacity for unconventional bicycles has no end!
The YikeBike falls into a new micro-class of bicycle known as the "mini-farthing," which as far as I can tell consists exclusively of YikeBikes. They are retro rides celebrating the design weirdness of those 19th century "high wheels" or "ordinaries" (you know, the kind with one small wheel and one giant one). Grant Ryan, the popularizer of the mini-farthing as well as the YikeBike, was inspired to fashion these toy-sized vehicles after being mega-disappointed with the debut of the Segway. Hoping for something that would "dramatically change our transport system," Ryan was crestfallen to learn it was just "a bit overly complicated" for widespread appeal.
Enter the Yike, which he asserts is often the "most convenient and fastest way to move around congested cities – particularly when combined with public transport." The bike weighs as little as 25 pounds, can travel 6 miles on a full charge and takes 15 seconds to fold. Its big selling point is safety. Or, as some people might see it, slowness. The speed tops out at 14 m.p.h., which isn't enough propulsion to get into much of an accident. And the way the handlebars are set at butt-level, promoting proper posture in the rider, turns what would've been a face-plant for a bicyclist into a hilarious running dismount.
One California YikeBiker named Wayne was so impressed by how unspeedy his bicycle is that he penned a mathematical formula to explain it:
m is the mass of the body
v is the velocity (speed) of the center of mass of the body.
"Thus, on my street bike I routinely submit my body to significantly greater kinetic energy risks (i e 400%)," Wayne summed up. "When that energy is expended abruptly by accident we all have seen the sometimes devastating result."
Despite the promised safeness of the YikeBike, it ships with an astonishing flurry of warnings. Among the 18 bullet-pointed don'ts listed on this page, there's this alarming one: "Do not place forceful downward pressure on the handle bars as they may break causing injury or death." And then this proviso: "Do not overcharge the YikeBike. When fully charged please refrain from excessive downhill braking as this could over-charge the battery and cause the YikeBike to shut down or malfunction."
Perhaps it should be rechristened the YIKES! Bike? Here are more images of the zany contraption:
All images courtesy of YikeBike.