For bike commuting to become a practical option for the average office worker, it may have to clean up its act. Not everyone can show up to work with grease-streaked pantlegs, pit-stained and panting. Bleary-eyed morning routines are challenging enough without turning them into an athletic achievement. Plus, hauling most bicycles onto public transportation can be more trouble than it's worth in many unequipped transit systems.
While designer Gabriel Wartofsky was analyzing these challenges as a student in the transportation design program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, serial entrepreneur Bob Vander Woude was noticing an electric bicycle boom firsthand while doing business in China. "This is interesting. This is gonna pick up," he thought to himself, wondering if the U.S. market was ready. "I’d be in China three weeks and I kept seeing more and more." Vander Woude's research proved him right. He cites a report from Electric Bikes Worldwide Report that found electric bikes will be one of the world's top industries by 2025 with 130 million bikes sold per year, four times the current haul.
Wartofsky went on to design a prototype for a lightweight, folding electric bike that allows users to pedal as much or as little as they need to. If a rider is tired or going up a steep hill, an electric, chargeable motor makes the front wheel move with the squeeze of a throttle. When the biker gets to the office or bus, the 25- to 30-pound bike folds up into a portable package.
When Vander Woude saw a video of Wartofsky's prototype, he was stunned. “I remember the hair standing up on my arm and the animation folding together. There’s nothing like it.” The pair united, started the company Conscious Commuter, and put the wheels in motion to bring the vehicle to market.
This week the duo is at South by Southwest, giving revelers—sober ones, that is—a chance to test ride the bike at the Whole Foods-sponsored "Green Zone," an area for green companies to strut their stuff. The bike can legally go up to 20 miles per hour on the road, can travel 15 to 20 miles before it loses its charge, and has an ergonomic design that's easy on the back. The founders say the bike will be available for sale later this year for around $2,500
Images courtesy of Conscious Commuter