John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
It's a bike that's built for people who hate bikes, basically.
This promo for a new, high-end e-bike called Footloose left my mind littered with questions. Is it really that slow? Why are there pedals but nobody's pedaling? Why aren't people picking it up – too heavy?
And why on earth does the camera at 0:40 segue to a shot of boiling water? If this wonder-bike can make coffee for me in the morning, I might be tempted to break the bank for its rumored $3,900 to $5,100 price tag.
A perusal of the Footloose catalog opens up some paths of understanding. The lily-white ride was designed by Britain's Mark Sanders and Dutch e-bike specialist Han Goes as a commuter vehicle for "regular humans," not bicycle enthusiasts. That perhaps explains the nontraditional bicycle-gear choices of the product's models, including Little Miss Barefoot:
And ready-for-the-runway High Heels Biker:
What does it mean for a bicycle to be made for "regular" folks? In essence, it means it's not a bike. Its components aren't fabricated by Shimano, but by South Korea auto-parts manufacturers Mando and Meister. A throttle makes it go; the pedals are there only to charge the lithium battery hidden in the frame. And forget shifters. A sensor nestled in the frame automatically detects hills, clicking into the gear it calculates will be most comfortable for the rider. You could ride this thing all over the city without breaking a molecule of sweat.
Performance-wise, it's also far from a standard Trek or Mongoose. The battery can propel the rider for about 19 miles on electric power alone, or nearly 30 miles with the electron-driving help of pumping calves. But if I'm understanding the technology correctly, when the juice runs out you're royally screwed. You'd either have to crank the pedals until there's enough of a charge to reach your destination or sadly push the bike back home.
The Footloose also weighs more than a moderately sized sack of concrete, at 48 pounds. (A modern hybrid bike tips the scales at 25 to 30 pounds.) The designers' solution to the bicycle's big-bonedness was to make it foldable so the rider can lift it up or push it by its seat like a wheelbarrow. That would be handy for manhandling it onto a bus or into a car. Carrying it up four flights of stairs to your apartment would be a decent workout.
Some positives? While the top speed of 15 mph might frustrate adrenalin seekers wishing to catch some air, it's perfectly suited for heading to the coffee shop or taking a leisurely joyride around downtown. It has a unique anti-theft system, too. Mounted on the handlebars is a glowing "Human Machine Interface," a digital dashboard that displays stuff like distance traveled and energy produced. Remove the HMI, and the machine won't start.
So there you have it: A green gizmo that looks like a bike but couldn't be any farther from a bike. It's supposed to hit the market in Europe in 2013; if you'd like to own one of these stealth scooters but are suspicious of that folding mechanism, here's a demonstration of how it works from this year's Eurobike Show: