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Thursday, October 18, 2012

How To Build An Electric Bike That People Will Actually Want To Ride [FastCompany]


THE STORY OF HOW ADAM VOLLMER LEFT IDEO TO MAKE AN ELECTRIC BIKE AMERICANS COULD LOVE.
Up until last year, Adam Vollmer had been making a pretty good run of things as a mechanical engineer at Ideo. He was responsible for developing groundbreaking new instruments for spinal surgeries and had worked on solutions for improving access to drinking water in developing countries. Today, he’s the founder and CEO of a company that makes bicycles. Just one bicycle, actually--the Faraday Porteur, a handsome $3,800 ride with bamboo fenders, pistachio accents, and a cleverly hidden on-board lithium ion battery and front wheel motor. Yep, it’s an e-bike, a designation that’s at the heart of the challenge Vollmer’s facing with his new venture: how to build an electric bike for a country that just doesn’t really like the things all that much.











It’s a problem the designer first had to start thinking about early last year, when Ideo was invited to participate in the Oregon Manifest, an annual competition that challenges designers to build "the ultimate modern utility bike." Vollmer was informally known as the bike guy at Ideo’s Palo Alto office--the person you went to if you needed a flat fixed or a recommendation for a new ride--so he was the obvious choice to head up the effort. As an avid rider, he was enthusiastic about the new project, but he also knew that electric bikes, at least in the U.S., were perceived as a decidedly uncool way to get around.

THE PROBLEM WITH E-BIKES

To be fair, that’s mostly true; electric bikes overwhelmingly are uncool. It’s an unfortunate consequence of how they’ve been conceived by manufacturers here for years--namely, as something entirely different from regular bicycles. "I think electric bikes have been sort of dominated by a mentality of, 'this is not a bike--this is a different category: an electric bike,' Vollmer told me. That meant we got a lot of high-powered monstrosities that tried to set themselves apart from conventional bikes by being able to go longer distances at faster speeds. Vollmer refers to these as "do-all creations," overly ambitious bikes that were saddled with cumbersome battery packs, complex controls, and expensive price tags...
Continue reading at FastCompany

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