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Flying Machine of the Day: An Airborne Bike for About the Cost of a Small Car

Don't get too excited — this prototype technically won't let you sail above your morning commute. 

After riding in narrow bike lanes and dodging cars and pedestrians, reaching the open roads of the outer suburbs can feel like flying to the urban cyclist. Two inventors from the London suburbs are hoping to make that a bit more literal.

The Paravelo combines a lightweight folding bicycle with a large, biodiesel-powered fan system to take you airborne, up to 4,000 feet at speeds of 25 mph. In order to fly, the bike and trailer are locked together in a compact trike form. The engine, similar to the kind used on an electric scooter, propels the bike and allows a specially designed sail called a para wing to catch air. 

Designers Yannick Read and John Foden took the bike out for its first test flight in November 2011 and have spent the last year and a half refining the system. They launched a £50,000 Kickstarter campaign in mid-June to develop an easier-to-produce bike that future pilots could buy off the shelf. As of Thursday at noon, with 99 backers and 35 days to go, they've raised just over £8,000. Foden says they plan to use the money to make the bike production-ready by the end of the year. And it won't come cheap. The Paravelo is marketed for about the same as a "single family car," and designers are aiming to create a model below £10,000. 

In a video of the full contraption making its way through downtown London, the Paravelo makes for an odd sight  a small, commuter bicycle tugging a three and a half foot fan and parachute system down a narrow city street.

Once folded back into shape, the Paravelo is ready to take off from any relatively open space. Footage of a recent flight from the Kickstarter campaign video shows the trike seemingly floatin over a small Dorset village, a large parasail keeping it aloft.

But don't be fooled by the buildings in the video; the Paravelo is likely a strictly rural toy. Riders will need a private pilot license, and most jurisdictions restrict flight over populated areas. Foden says that they envision the Paravelo as an expedition vehicle. A pilot would hop on his bike in the city (it's designed to fold up for storage in a home or office, Foden says), ride to an open area, and fly out for a few nights of escape from the city. They call it "flamping" – a mix of flying and camping.  

"It's about that dream of getting away," Foden says. "This is just a different vehicle for it."

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