“The bicycle as we know it was largely a product of the Victorian imagination and the tremendous ingenuity that characterized that age. By the end of the nineteenth century, in fact, nearly all the main features of the contemporary machine were already in place: the familiar low-mount profile, wheels of equal size, rear-wheel drive powered by a chain, and inflatible rubber tires.”
— David V. Herlihy, Bicycle: The History, 2004
Is the Yike Bike what happens when bicycle design comes full circle?
Since the 1880s and 1890s, when bicyclists shifted from the high-wheeled “penny farthing” to the “safety bicycle” — a bike with front and rear wheels of equal size — the basic geometry of the bicycle has been much the same.
Materials and componentry have changed dramatically. But, at first glance or from a distance, a century-old safety bicycle could be mistaken for a modern bike.
Not so with the Yike Bike, dreamed up in New Zealand by inventor and entrepreneur Grant Ryan. It’s a whole different animal. But its geometry is reminiscent of its ancient ancestor, the penny farthing — big wheel in front and little wheel in back.
That’s about all that’s similar to previous bikes. The Yike Bike is miniaturized, foldable, carbonized and electrified.
In November, Time magazine listed it as one of the 50 best inventions of 2009. “It’s like getting your first Big Wheel all over again — and you don’t even have to pedal,” Time said.
One blogger wrote that it looks “like a unicycle with a training wheel.”
What’s not to like about the Yike Bike?
For starters, the price. According to the Yike Bike website, delivery of the first batch of 100 of the the revolutionary — or perhaps, devolutionary — bikes is targetted for sale late this month in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and selected other European countries at a price of around $3,000. For that, you could buy a pretty good road bike.
Purists also wouldn’t like the fact that you don’t pedal the Yike Bike. You just sit on it and steer it around with handlebars that wrap around your posterior, sort of like a sit-down version of a Segway.
Its major attraction, however, is its portability. The carbon-fiber Yike Bike folds up into a compact package of about 21 pounds that fits into a bag that you can sling over your shoulder. It has a range of about six miles before its lithium phosphate battery requires a recharge. Time magazine says the battery can be charged to 80 percent capacity in 20 minutes.
Check out the two videos of the Yike Bike in action.