Audi’s beautiful e-bike concept may be what the future of bicycling—and, indeed, most non-highway single person transportation—ought to be aspiring to: It gets people out of cars they don’t need to be pushing and buying so much gas for; it’s great for city and suburban use; it has built-in safety features; it still allows the rider to pedal if desired; but it also offers an electric motor that will take you at close to car-speeds wherever you need to go.
Take a good look at the bike (ignore the seat, for now) and you’ll see what I mean. The bike is made of carbon fiber frame, and even the spokes, giving it high strength and light weight, as well as looking incredibly cool (if you like grey, I guess… but I’ve heard of a great invention called “paint”…). The bike can accommodate a standard derailleur, giving the user multiple gearing options. The bike comes equipped with shocks front and rear, and even has built-in head and taillights for safety. Front and back tires sport hydraulic disk brakes, much more efficient when the roads get wet. This model was designed for Audi to show off, so it even includes a digital speedo, thumbprint-lock with anti-tamper alarm, and fob-enabled locking.
But most innovative here is the electric motor, placed at the low center of gravity, and designed to turn the rear wheel through the front pedal gear and allowing the rider to ride effortlessly. This is a prototype, so there’s no point in going through specs and figures here… but you can see lots of close-up shots of the bike at ElectricBike.com.
But whether or not this particular bike ever makes it to market, it can still serve as the template for a unique and much-needed new segment of transportation vehicle for the masses: The Portable Powered Vehicle. Though we like portable vehicles, especially bikes, many people don’t see many advantages to them in crowded urban areas, or when traveling long distances, or when the weather is not so accommodating (mainly, when too hot or too wet). Audi’s prototype demonstrates that many of those obstacles can be easily overcome, giving riders the option of riding a bike to places further away than they would normally consider, or allowing them to get there without being sweaty or smelly at the other end. They also satisfy the need of some to get to places quicker than a standard bike, even with multiple gears and Armstrong-rated legs to pump them, can get you. As those constitute a significant number of the reasons Americans give for not riding bikes more often, you can see the great potential in a vehicle that solves those problems.
Environmentally speaking, this is one of the best uses of power for transportation, given that it’s electric, sparing everyone from gas emissions, and that its significantly lower weight (even with a rider aboard) will allow an electric motor to power it more than adequately… vigorously, in fact. Electrics can be plug-in charged, which means less emissions per mile pumped into the air from the plant that supplies the power, and if that plug you just connected it to happens to be supplied by clean technology, you’re cutting back on even more emissions. And of course, there’s no reason why you can’t pedal yourself, giving you much-needed exercise, possibly running a generator that will recharge the battery, and saving on even more power use.
As these bike designs neatly coincide with research into better battery technology and the ever-constant effort to create more efficient motors, I expect to see many more Portable Personal Vehicles of this type appearing and giving us more and more alternatives to cars and trucks for everyday use. We could finally be getting a glimpse of the post-automobile world; a retro turnabout back to the improved simplicity of the lowly bicycle.