Commuters in College Park, MD can ride their bikes to the subway station, lock them up, and take a train into DC for the day. They take the train back to their waiting bikes in the evening. This same scenario is repeated in large urban centers across the country. Still, it might not be the best way to do things.
The future of bikes as urban transportation may rest in new designs that make bikes more compact, easily foldable, and lighter. Commuters are demanding bikes they can take with them rather than locking them up and leaving them behind. Composite materials may hold the key.
Rock West Composites, a company that sells composite materials to fabricators and manufacturers, explains that bike makers have been using carbon fiber tubing for quite some time now. But there is a push on to do better. Rather than just utilizing carbon fiber tubing for lighter, stronger bikes used by athletes and outdoor enthusiasts, the goal is to make the modern bike as conducive to intermodal travel as possible.
URBAN MARKET NEEDS
It has come to the attention of bike makers that the urban market for lightweight bikes is more extensive than the market for sport bikes. They are realizing that urban dwellers in America are beginning to adopt the same mindset their European counterparts have had for decades, a mindset that says there is no need to drive a car – much less own one – if you live in a large metropolitan area.
The problem urban dwellers are facing is the fact that bikes cannot go everywhere. For example, you can’t take a bike on a public bus unless that bus has a bike rack mounted on the front. If the rack is full, you are out of luck until the next bus comes by.
You also cannot take bikes onto the subway very easily. You can’t take them inside the office without causing a ruckus among your coworkers. And if you live in a small third-floor apartment in the middle of the city, good luck finding space to store your bike in your own flat. You have to store it in a public place and hope no one walks away with it.
In short, the broader urban market is demanding something better. They are demanding bikes that are lighter and more compact. They want bikes they can fold up and carry with them like a briefcase. It looks like they may get what they want thanks to a new UK startup that claims to have made the world’s lightest folding bike, weighing in at just 15 pounds.
MAKING URBAN BIKING EASIER
Hummingbird Bike Company was started by an architectural model maker whose girlfriend struggled with getting her bike up to her third-floor apartment. The lighter, more compact bike Petre Craciun came up with was an instant hit with a number of investors.
Craciun’s design relies heavily on composite materials. The frame is a carbon fiber tube, as are the front fork, handlebars, and seat tube. Aluminum alloys are used to manufacture the drive assembly, wheels, and swing arm.
The key to the bike’s design is its compact size and three-point folding system. This folding system allows for two configurations: compact and more compact. A rider can go from fully functional bike to the more compact fold in about a minute. The collapsed bike is small enough to be ‘suitcase friendly’. It is a bike that can easily be taken into the office, up to a second or third floor flat, or onto the subway or bus.