Like a Smart Car for the Bike Lane
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
You thought cars you could pedal were for kids.
By Simon Cohen
Consider the humble bicycle: two wheels, a pair of pedals, maybe some gears if you’re feeling fancy — in many ways, a perfect form of simple transportation. But when transportation needs aren’t simple, like bringing groceries home or taking a child to swimming lessons, people are often forced to abandon their bikes for a car, or maybe a taxi.
The cyclists at San Diego-based Virtue Bike might have a solution: The Pedalist is the closest thing to a car that can still be pedaled. It’s a reverse tricycle wrapped in an aerodynamic, gloss-black shell, making it look like the unholy offspring of a bike, a Smart car and a vintage baby carriage. But don’t let its unconventional styling fool you.
There’s also an electric-only mode — for those days when you don’t feel like hauling the three-wheeler up a hill.
William Mulyadi, Virtue Bike’s founder, sees the Pedalist as a natural extension of his company’s philosophy: Life is better when we incorporate cycling in our everyday routine. At 35 inches, it’s slightly wider than a regular bicycle, but can still fit inside bike lanes. It has a covered yet not fully enclosed design, can carry up to 500 pounds — say, two adults and a toddler — and includes an electric motor with a 50-mile-range battery offering three modes of operation: pure pedal, pedal assist, and throttle (electric) only, for those days when you don’t feel like hauling the three-wheeler up a hill. But when you do add your own pedal power, you get greater range; the battery does less of the work and you stay fit. Win-win. There are two models, with a starting price of $4,499: One favors torque for more compact, hilly places like San Francisco, and one is better-suited to locations like LA, which is mostly flat but geographically large. Both can be plugged into a standard power outlet to be recharged.
But what it’s not suited for: rain. There’s no built-in windshield wiper, so neither model will be a good choice on days with more than a drizzle — although Mulyadi claims that snowy streets would be no problem. The vehicle is also bound to raise a few hackles in the bike lane. Aaron Ball, an avid cyclist and advocate for better public transport and cycling infrastructure in Brisbane, Australia, thinks the Pedalist is likely to face a cool reception. Cyclists “won’t like sharing bike lanes with something that looks and acts so much like a car,” he says. He’s also critical of the design: “It’s not good enough to replace the car, and it’s too much like a car to work well in a non-car-centric environment.”
Still, there are going to be people not quite ready to give up their beloved cars, and the pollution-free Pedalist could be a good transition vehicle into greener travels. And hey, it’s even easier to park than a Prius.
You’ll no doubt attract your fair share of looks if you get behind the handlebars of a Pedalist. But as you haul your groceries home, whizzing past three lanes of stopped traffic, those looks will likely be envious.