Two San Francisco-based start-ups are beginning to make waves, as one delivers double-diamond, Rivendell-esque electric bikes, and the other takes orders for a keyless, Bluetooth-activated U-lock, due in early 2015. We met the founders of both companies in late May.
Adam Vollmer, a Portland native and avid cyclist, launched Faraday Bicycles while he worked at the famed Palo Alto design firm IDEO (best known for developing the first computer mouse for Steve Jobs 30-plus years ago). Vollmer became so smitten with the advancement of his electric bicycle concept that he took the plunge and started a new company, named after Michael Faraday, who discovered electromagnetic induction and invented the electric motor in 1832.
After a big public relations push and a crowd-funded effort that closed in early August 2012 with $177,268 raised by 368 backers, the $3,500, consumer-direct Faraday Porteur was launched.
How does it ride?
I met Vollmer and his team of six at their shared space with Mission Motorcycles, then took a Faraday Porteur for a lengthy spin on the downtown hills of San Francisco to find lunch. The patent-pending pedal-assist delivers a subtle ‘tailwind’ feeling, regardless of pitch. We referred to it as ‘the hand of God’, and it felt good passing hipsters and uptight Lycra types as we pedaled from South of Market to Russian Hill. Power was provided by Faraday’s state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery hidden within the slightly oversized steel downtube.
I liked the Porteur’s grab-and-go design, made for ease of use. Just hop on, flick the left handlebar thumb switch to “ON”, and pedal away. No throttle here, bub; built-in sensors measure how hard you’re working, and the electric motor’s output silently matches yours. When you stop pedaling, the motor quickly shuts down. Want to save battery life or get a little extra workout? Flick the thumb switch to “OFF” and you’re riding a perfectly normal bicycle, albeit a 39 pounder. Still, that’s 20 pounds less than a Specialized Turbo.
But wait! There’s more.
Holding the thumb switch down activates Faraday’s “BOOST MODE”, an extra surge of power to provide a bionic nudge, which helped us deal with typical Financial District head winds. An e-ink display on the handlebar controller reflects how much battery charge remains. And a Gates belt drive keeps the pant leg clean. Faraday’s compact AC adapter is no larger than a laptop charger, and recharges the battery in just 45 minutes.
Probably the only thing cooler than riding electric bikes with a former IDEO designer was sitting down with two former Boeing, Sikorsky and Jawbone engineers to discuss their keyless, solar-powered and Bluetooth-friendly U-lock, which has seen 30-plus prototypes, according to co-creator Gerardo Barroeta.
Why another lock?
Al-Kahwati and Barroeta wanted Skylock to be many things, based on their bigger-picture vision of bike sharing—something like AirBnB for cyclists. Plans are being made to develop a cloud system for Skylock owners to lend out their bikes and allow others to unlock them. They’ll even be able to charge for that service, and set prices based on demand and location.
A simple app, coupled with Bluetooth Low Energy and WiFi, also allows a Skylock-equipped bike to be detected and paired with a bicyclist’s phone while riding and message friends or emergency responders in case of an accident.
The Skylock looks and feels like a cross between U-locks offered by Abus and Knog, but what sets it apart is an accelerometer embedded in the device. The Skylock alerts bike owners via their smartphone if someone’s been messing with the lock for an extended period of time. Think that’s cool? How about an integrated solar panel that collects enough energy in an hour of sunlight to power the keyless lock for an entire month.
Early backers can step up and pre-pay $159 for Skylock, which will eventually retail for $249 in spring 2015.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #31.