Why is it that so many microcars have cutesy names? The two-seat Tango? The ultra-skinny Naro? The Smart? The G-Wiz?!?! Add the "Twike" to the list, albeit with a disclaimer: while it sounds like an all-too-precious version of "trike" (an impression supported by its three wheels), the word has not heard in the same way in Switzerland and Germany, its point of origin. Instead, Twike comes from "twin bike" -- and it's a much more intriguing concept than it might initially appear.
The Twike is a lightweight (~500-800 lbs.) three-wheel, two seat vehicle. It comes in two models, and both feature electric motors able to take the car up to 130 kilometers at speeds up to 85 kilometers per hour -- not quite freeway speeds, but more than enough for major roads and thoroughares. Like most modern electrics, it has regenerative braking to help recharge the battery, but can be "refilled" from a standard outlet. What differentiates the two models -- the Active and the Easy -- is that the Active also has a pair of recumbent bicycle pedals for each passenger, allowing the driver to extend the range of the vehicle, and get a bit of exercise while at it.
Few people have heard of the Twike and fewer still own one -- but they (and vehicles like them) may be the answer to a sticky transportation problem.
If you follow the comments on WorldChanging, you'll notice that most posts about personal transportation innovations will elicit a comment or two extolling the virtues of bicycling as an alternative to cars. Indeed, there are good reasons to prefer biking for shorter-range transit: they're completely emissions-free (beyond what the biker herself puts out!); they cost far less than a car; and they have clear health benefits. But the drawbacks of biking are equally self-evident: they can't carry nearly as much as even a small car; they lack a car's enclosure to protect the rider from the elements; and problems of health and/or age can make biking difficult.
The Twike Active design has most of the advantages of bicycling with few of the disadvantages. They appear to be as roomy and comfortable as a microcar, and can be sealed up against wind, rain and temperature extremes. Twike pilots (Twike owners seem to prefer this over "drivers" -- perhaps it's the joystick steering) can exert as much effort as they desire to power the vehicle, but the Twike can still run at full speed and power on batteries alone. As with other electrics, the off-site emissions from power generation can be reduced or eliminated using home solar and/or wind.
The Twike is as much a PEV on steroids as it is a micro-car. As with the vehicles in both categories, the Twike is a niche vehicle for intracity transit, and could conceivably serve well as a short-range commute or errand car, with longer trips handled by rented or shared vehicles.
The Twike is available in Europe and has been imported into both the US and Canada. The electric-only version has to be upgraded to meet safety standards for three-wheeled motorcycles; the hybrid version, however, qualifies (in some states, at least) as an electric bicycle, limiting its highway use but not requiring extensive modification.
The main drawback of the Twike (aside from the difficulty of getting one in North America) is the price: while exact current prices are elusive, Twikes appear to run in the $17,000-$20,000 range.
This is a lot more aesthtically pleasing than the boxy "minimobil" dud. I could easily see myself commuting* and making local shopping in it. If it can fit a passenger, it can fit a couple of bags of groceries or a sack of crap from GoodWill.
I wonder how well my dog would do in it...
* I'm a bit more than three miles from work, 95% of it on a major boulevard with bike lanes.
haven't kept up with worldchanging enough to really notice this, but electric bikes are everywhere in Korea and most of Asia. But mostly models similar to the Chinese Zinc-Air model offered here:
I might add that mini or low bikes distribute the weight of a load better by making bike bases closer to the ground and also using thicker wheels. While it's probably not the best bike for up-hill climbs Asian mini-bikes can haul TVs, entire loads of laundry, or groceries very easily. I haven't seen this in the U.S. at all, but their EVERYWHERE in Japan and Asia in General and some are quite stylish too.
Unfortunately can't find an exact auction for a good korean mini-bicycle, but there around. generally have a flat about 2 meter stand on the back thick wheel for hauling larger loads.
Just to correct the mistaken belief that "everywhere in Korea" and "everywhere in Japan" means "everywhere in Asia":
I don't claim to speak for the rest of Asia, but I can definitely tell you that these electric vehicles are certainly NOT as widespread as you may lead yourself to think, particularly in those countries that people tend to gloss over when describing what they believe to be "all of Asia".
I wrote a brief post about this vehicle, and my thoughts about integrating it into the Philippine transportation situation here:
I'm not sure that pedaling a 600 pound vehicle would make much sense or difference, but maybe it would soothe the conscience of guilt-ridden liberals.
And I'd hate to be in this vehicle because it is 1) less maneuvarable than a standard bike and 2) shares the road and bumper height with 4,000 lb vehicles.
If there were no hummers on the road, these would make great city vehicles, but if I've got to share the road with SUVs, give me two-wheel bicycle anyday.
Two-wheeled bicycles, still the most efficient vehicle ever made.
You have to share the road with big, heavy cars, so you'd prefer a smaller, lighter bike instead of this vehicle? I don't understand your reasoning.
It's the fact that I would have to compete for space with vehicles whose mass is an order of magnitude greater than mine that makes me unwilling to ride my bike on the road (or at all, since I recently learned that riding one's bike on the sidewalk is considered uncouth).
I didn't get UmmPedaling's point at first. I think what he was concerned about was the twike's lack of maneuverability, vs. a nimble standard bicycle.
The last two places I've lived, Portland and the Bay Area, have bike lanes on many roads.
Common guys! These are brilliant and simple technologies, but the design sucks bigtime!
It can't be that difficult to turn such an electric tricycle into a nice cheap car for singles. (You can cut the price of it by half, easily).
Just use a better look. Like this one:
It can't be that difficult really!
We could really be much more creative.
Launch a small internetproject for an open source electric city tricycle. Add a design contest (there are hundreds of cool designers out there, willing to show off their skills). And you might come up with a great product.
(I just wanted to add the interior of the Peugeot finalist's trycicle, here:
It looks great, if you ask me. And it would sell much better than the shabby looking twike, I think.
I bike to work, most of the time. One plus of my trip to work is the ability to be on a bike path instead of city streets, which I consider to be a real risk to life and limb. Now, if I had to ride on city streets, I'd want to be able to get onto the sidewalk or to the curb so that I could bypass the traffic jam(s). That's what makes biking so sweet - you're moving, they're not. I seriously doubt that the twike would be allowed on the bike path, the curb lane, or even the sidewalk.
So, let's say it's only supposed to be used in one of the road lanes. In that case I'd have to agree with Ummpedaling. This car/bike wouldn't be the safest vehicle to be in on the road. There aren't any air bags and I doubt that the twike has the crash protection that most cars do.
I don't think I can agree with Jamais Cascio. The twike and things like it aren't the best of both worlds. You're giving up as much as you get.
Lorenzo, the Peugeot designs you link to are quite interesting, although I'm not sure how we'll they'd do in real life -- for one, they're awfully long. I do like the idea of a design competition, though, which might also help to answer some of Ummpedaling and Eric's critiques.
Eric, you're right that it's unlikely that the twike (or a similar enclosed hybrid-electric bike) would be able to go up on the sidewalk or curb to avoid traffic -- of course, that's not entirely legal (at least from what I remember of bike-related road use laws). There's no reason why a twike-type design couldn't have air bags, moreover, although structural protection features would either add significant weight or significant cost.
So I'll take back the "best of both worlds" observation, but I still think this is the closest we've seen yet to a vehicle that has much of the health and cleanliness advantages of biking but has the environmental & noise protection, along with the carrying capacity, of a small car.
As with many projects like, this we see that the actual body of the vehicle would perform better aerodynamically speaking if it were to be mounted on the frame backwards. The lack of a windshield in this position would be troublesome however. In a vehicle like this some attention paid to improved aerodynamics would be paid back in higher top end speeds and less energy needed to maintain speeds.
Don't get me wrong, I'd love if urban areas made a massive switchover to smaller vehicles. In fact that's the only thing that will lead to any substantial fuel efficiency gains, no matter how sweet your hybrid, electrics and hydrogen fuel cells are.
But in a city filled with terrible SUV drivers, there isn't anyway you'd catch me trying to play with the big boys on a light weight three-wheeler that couldn't dodge a simple pothole without putting the driver at risk.
A bicyle yes, a motorcycle maybe, but a three or four wheeler that might get smashed between two SUVS.
I'll stick to my nimble bicycle for city riding, whether in a lane, a bike lane or a bike path, as I have for over 5 years in SF and Chicago.
At least if I take a lane on a bike, I'm not kidding myself that I'm somehow safe with a 40lb plastic shell.
My safety relies on how smart and aware and skilled I am, and to an extent how acclimated the local drivers are to the idea that cyclists are legitimate traffic.
Funny the reason many like big cars is they have to drive with stoned tired 80 mph 18 wheeler drivers.
I know when we lived back at my old place you drove a tank style car or you planned to not survive any accident as the road was filled to the brim with 18 wheelers and the side of the road littered with bits of smaller cars.
Well, the twike is nice but i think it's out of business. I was in one once and it's fairly nice (know the guy who owns it, he works close to my work and is elctrician hence the interest in a payable electro car). In the precint in which we both live the community pais 50% of the initial cost of the hybrid or electro car plus 50 meters from my home there is a public free recharge station for electro cars. Well, it's a progressive comunity (my house's heating and warm water is provided by geothermic warm water which is fairly economic plus they construct a deep heat mining electric plant next year, then again we are europe's leading eco community :-) ).
Nice car to ride and good enough for almost all needs. larger transports you just get a rental truck thingy and farter voyages are either train or plain anyway (switzerland has excellent public transport).
Just my 2c
Does switzerland even have 18 wheelers? I know astralia has em and africa and south america but im fairly sure europe has no such titan transports or long haul trucking.
If you dont know what one is imagine your entire home was doing 120 kph down the road. Now realize your home weighs less then a fully loaded 18 wheeler. Now realize they also come in double length versions.. oh and that australia has triple length behemoths about 50 meters long.
They have triples in Oregon, too. Kind of cool. I always wonder where they come from, though, since it seems like it would be hard to justify using them for intra-strate trips only.
I'm glad someone's taking on the challenge of weather protection, but I too would still prefer two wheels and an upright position. I survive my daily use of my bike in San Francisco by evasion, not illusory crash protection. To evade I need to be hyper aware of where cars are, so being up high with perfect visibility is essential, something this design gives up. Since evasion maneuvers often include being forced into very narrow spaces, or yes, up onto the sidewalk or off to the side of the road if necessary, nimbleness is everything. (No crashes in 30 years of city riding, knock on wood :-)
But this would be great for replacing trips to the grocery store in areas without too much traffic, especially when it rains. Perhaps they can also try a lightweight shell over a standard upright lightweight electric-assist bike. That would indeed be the best of both worlds.
Back in the '80s I tried to develop a bicycle with lightweight high-speed flywheels enclosed in both wheels. The derailleur's inner gear would power the rear flywheel directly and electromagnets would suck the momentum of both electrically-linked flywheels for propulsion. I prepared a patent application and secured assistance from a technical college but, sadly, that all fell through and I had to drop it. I would like to collaborate with anyone working on something similar with updated electronics, however.
I'm curious about how the Twike compares with Myers Motors Sparrow: http://www.myersmotors.com/
I like the idea of being able to extend battery life by pedaling. I commute downhill in the morning, and uphill at night, which is what keeps me from commuting by bike... the Twike would let me bike in the morning, and battery home at night.
Clever and appealing, but seems way-out-of-line expensive for the functionality. More to the point, I share the safety concern -- the low height probably makes this invisible to cars, trucks, and FUVs. Yes, bikes and small cars are risky too (I drive both), but would this be more so?