Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
YikeBike's inventors see it becoming "the most commonly owned transport device in the world." But it's got some drawbacks.
The YikeBike doesn't look like much. That's no slight against it: At around 25 to 30 pounds—modest enough to stash in a cymbal bag—the thing's just really small.
Yet despite its diminutive frame and cutesy name, this miniature penny-farthing is the product of some outsized ambition. Since Time named it one of the best inventions of 2009, the YikeBike's New Zealand inventors have pushed forward with the design, recently rolling out two new models. Through a Kickstarter campaign, the company is now taking preorders for its brand new Model V and Model C units. The company's goal is nothing short of global domination.
"Our aim when we started this project was to design something that could become the most commonly owned transport device in the world," the campaign reads, "and we think we may be on to something."
The YikeBike is something of a hybrid between a car and a bicycle. Or maybe it's a cross between a scooter and a Segway. It promises some specific improvements over any of those options, but also a couple of significant apparent drawbacks.
The YikeBike draws some of its best qualities from electric or hybrid automobiles. It runs on a lithium-ion battery that is powered in part by regenerative braking, meaning that it charges on the go, just like hybrid cars and other battery-powered motorized rides. (More on those in a minute.) The Model V's got a charge time of 90 minutes and a range of 8.7 miles, according to its stat sheet; the Model C takes 100 minutes to charge but ranges more than 12 miles. An hour and a half per charge is not utterly convenient, but it's not tragically sluggish, either.
What's maybe most impressive about the YikeBike is its zip. The new Model V and Model C units are designed to reach a maximum speed of about 14.3 miles per hour. That's about as fast as the speed sustained by someone riding a bicycle at a good clip on a city bike path. Weighing in at between 25 pounds (Model C) to 30 pounds (Model V), the YikeBike is about as heavy as a bicycle, too—but more collapsible and easier to carry than most bikes.
Of course, a YikeBike is not a bike. People on bicycles have to pedal. Many bike riders consider that a feature, not a bug (though maybe not every day). But you do not pedal on a YikeBike. It's not a Segway, either. The YikeBike's got a built-in seat, making the Segway look like an exhausting standing desk by comparison.
Then there's the cost. The suggested retail price for a YikeBike is—yikes!—$4,995 for a Model V and $7,995 for the lighter, carbon-fiber Model C. Right now, a $2,995 pre-sale pledge buys you one Model V. For the money, a buyer would be well on the way to owning a used car. Factor in the costs of parking, regulation, and maintenance, of course, and a car is a much more expensive proposition. By the same token, a bicycle is far cheaper.
As of this writing, the YikeBike campaign has raised nearly $73,000, with 40 days left to run. If the campaign breaks $100,000, the bikes—electric scooters? motorized seats?—will begin shipping from the production facility in Christchurch, New Zealand, starting in April. If nine more people pony up for a Model V, it's a done deal.
The campaign comes with some funny caveats: For example, it's up to buyers to check whether YikeBikes are legal in their jurisdictions. How would a prospective YikeBiker even ask? Promotional videos show YikeBike riders taking pedestrian paths as well as sharing roads with drivers, suggesting some ambiguity about where they fit in the transit ecosystem. If people who ride bicycles can only barely tolerate the behavior of less experienced cyclists, what will they do when they're asked to share a bicycle lane with YikeBike commuters?
The YikeBike isn't the only personal-transport product out there angling for a spot in the growing personal-transit economy. The Zboard 2 is to a skateboard as a YikeBike is to, well, a zippy bar stool. The Copenhagen Wheel is a fix that would add a motorized boost to a bicycle ride through regenerative braking. Both of these are cheaper than a YikeBike, which is in the same ballpark as a Segway.
Is it destined to overtake the bicycle, the car, or even the Segway? Probably not, because it's hard for any product to meet expectations set that high. Surely many of the same jurisdictions that object to e-boards and protected bike lanes would register some complaints about a motorized device that is smaller and faster than a pedestrian.
Think of it a different way, though: Imagine that you've moved here from a different planet, and you were being introduced to automobiles, bicycles, e-boards, and other hybrids for the first time (putting aside plainly preferable modes of public transportation). Is it all that clear that a Prius would beat out a YikeBike?