Testing the Faraday electric bicycle on its stylish, but pricey, path
Few things on Earth have as bad a reputation as the electric bike. They’re ugly, clunky, and hard to repair. Quite simply, they often don’t work. They accelerate too fast, and brake incompetently. Most of the time, when someone begins a story, “I tried riding an electric bike,” that story usually ends with a variation of “...and then I had to go to the emergency room.”
Well, I tried riding an electric bike a few weeks ago, and I didn’t end up in the hospital. Mostly, I just had fun. I also came around a bit to the idea of the electric bike’s revolutionary potential.
This trip came courtesy of Faraday Bicycles, a San Francisco-based company that’s trying to rehabilitate the electric bike’s sorry reputation. Adam Vollmer, a product designer at a progressive firm called IDEO, put a team together for a contest to create a “modern utility bike.” Vollmer immediately thought of electric bikes; most electric bikes are “heavy and dorky and stupid looking,” he says, and after looking further, he decided “there was nothing sexy or appealing or even fun to ride.” A rare design opportunity opened up; few areas in the modern world don’t bear some stamp of beautiful design innovation. But electric bikes are one of them.
Within three months, Vollmer and his team had created a prototype, based around old-school French and Swedish “workhorse” bikes, used by shoe shine boys and postal workers after World War II, when fuel was rare and expensive. Vollmer admired the double tube-top design, as well as the notion that a bike could be something strong and vital. “It seemed like a cool metaphor for what we wanted bikes to be — an integral part of your life,” he says.
They went to Paul Sadoff, from Rock Lobster Cycles in Santa Cruz, Calif., to build the bike. Sadoff has 30 years of experience and, Vollmer says, has built “every kind of bike under the sun,” except for an electric one. But he makes a lot of one-off TIG-welded steel and aluminum road, cross, and mountain bike frames, so he was their guy.
Apparently, they chose right, because they won the competition and, less than a year later, have a full bike manufacturing shop in operation, funded in part, like the revolutionary films of Zach Braff, by Kickstarter donations. Vollmer already has more than 100 orders, and expects about 200 total by the time production starts.
When I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I got hold of the first pre-production model of the first Faraday bike, called the Porteur, a rare creature in the wild, all clean lines and class, creamy white metal with hints of avocado coloring, blond-wood accents, and a light-brown Italian-leather seat and handlebar wraps. It's the bike redesigned as boutique hotel.