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C10 Friday, September 6, 2013

TECHNOLOGY & DESIGN

POWER

TRIP The inventor of the famous Strida folding bike has now created a motorised model. But they are very different beasts, he tells James King

The Mando Footloose bike combines pedal power with electricity. Photos: May Tse

Y

ou know when Wile E. Coyote goes full pelt over the edge of a cliff in pursuit of the Road Runner, and then levitates for a moment, legs whirring, before being beaten yet again by gravity? In a Diamond Hill warehouse a similar phenomenon occurred recently (minus the “beep beep”) onboard the Mando Footloose folding bicycle. As if at the start of the Tour de France, I gave the pedals some oomph to begin the test ride – only to find the Footloose languidly rolling 15cm instead of zooming ahead. Obviously, because this was a bicycle, the reason was that I’d neglected to switch it on. Switch it on? Indeed. The Mando Footloose is a cyborg of the wheelers’ world. Regular bicycles are powered by muscle, but the Footloose combines that with the output from a rechargeable, 250-watt, dualwinding motor. The small computer monitor on the left side of the handlebars (imposingly named the humanmachine interface) must be activated, and the lever controlling the throttle on the right side shifted upwards to make the Mando move. Then, if you wish, you may begin pedalling to a top speed of 25km/h. And here’s the sweet deal for any potential bicycle newbies revolted by the idea of all that work: if you don’t want to pedal you don’t have to. As long as wherever you need to go is

His final-year project demanded an invention aesthetically gratifying and mechanically functional at a time when within 35 kilometres – a distance that varies with weight of rider, Sanders’ daily commute was an 80-kilometre round trip into road aspect and weather – the London. Car, bus, train, Footloose will take you there. motorcycle and bicycle were all The Footloose is not the road unsatisfactory for reasons of equivalent of the gym-bound congestion, inconvenience or spin bike. So what is the reason danger, and existing folding for it, if not general health? bikes were all unappealing. So Plenty of other folding bicycles Sanders reinvented the bicycle. exist, and are seen with “I was also motivated to do increasing frequency. something because my brother, “I’m into all forms of personal transport – anything to as a pillion passenger, had just been killed in a get people mobile,” says the stupid motorbike father of the Footloose, Mark accident,” he says. Sanders. “A folding bike is made “So it made me for everyone, not just mountain or road enthusiasts. focus on doing something worthwhile rather than The maximum range, in making another kilometres, of the bike’s toaster – another electric motor without ‘me too’ product.” pedalling In came the Strida – named by the young son of a director of the original manufacturing company – and out went clumsy fold-in-half bikes, and gunk on the trousers of thousands of fellow commuters. The Strida’s distinctive triangular frame has not survived the evolutionary process that has realised the equally chainless Footloose. “The Strida aims to be the simplest form of folding bike, although there is still a common theme in that, when folded, they can both be rolled instead of carried. But yes, they are The Mando Footloose folds neatly but its weight affects portability and makes it difficult to do wheelies. “My dream is for a bike to be a regular tool to get people from A to B, not a piece of sports equipment, because, basically, it makes sense. Bikes take up very little space and you’re not in a tin box, so you can communicate with other human beings. What’s not to like?” As if in riposte to Sanders’ sunny attitude, the local chapter of the Hells Angels roar past his house in Poole Harbour, Dorset, England, as we speak, prompting thoughts of Sanders’ start in the allegedly wacky world of inventing, and of his most famous creation. That creation was the Strida folding bicycle. Compact, simple to take apart and reassemble,

and fitted with a belt drive, making oily chains redundant, the Strida continues to earn international acclaim. Since its appearance in 1987, it may have mutated into gleaming mountain, road and track editions, but it owes its existence to an academic assignment. A mechanical engineer by trade, Sanders worked for a subsidiary of Rolls-Royce, and then designed vending machines for Mars before going back to school to study for the joint Imperial CollegeRoyal College of Art master’s degree in innovation design engineering.

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The only people moving in those gridlocked cities are the ones on bikes MARK SANDERS, INVENTOR

different animals.” Our test-ride machine was almost sensuously curved, although its generous proportions, while resulting in a reassuringly solid frame, came at the cost of considerable weight, partly, perhaps, because of the motor. Were it to be carted up MTR station steps, the Footloose’s 21.7kg would keep Hong Kong’s laundries in business. The weight also makes it difficult to do wheelies. Even the most bloated commuter should find traffic easy to navigate on the bike, which demonstrated exemplary manoeuvrability around the warehouse pillars and cramped lift lobby. But pushing or pulling the folded beast proved surprisingly tricky, because rather than remain side by side on parallel courses, one wheel quickly veered into its fellow. But the deconstruction and rebuilding figures were impressive: a collapsible-bike virgin, I had it in fold mode in 40 seconds and back to full size in 25, on the first attempt.

The bicycle’s name betrays its origins, and says much about the future of ecologically sound personal transport. It was created at the behest of car parts supplier Mando Corporation of Seoul, which designed the motor and electronics, with Sanders contributing the frame, and making the company’s “crude concept demonstrator … human”. The Footloose satisfies Mando’s craving for its first “own-name” product, while pointing to a possible solution to the growing clogging of cities by cars. Licence requirements governing motorised vehicles mean that the Footloose can’t be sold in Hong Kong yet, or used on a public highway. But Sanders hopes that more enlightened places might prove the real worth of folding bikes. “More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and many of those are gridlocked,” he says. “Once seen as something for poorer people, the bicycle has come full circle. The only people moving in those gridlocked cities are the ones on bikes.” life@scmp.com The Mando Footloose and several versions of the Strida will be on display until Oct 6 as part of Design Month at K11 art mall, Hanoi Rd, TST. Admission is free

MOTORING

Supercars join the charge ................................................ Jamie Carter life@scmp.com After a few decades on the list of “future” technologies, electric vehicles at last seem to be making headlines. The Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV “bubble car” have all been around a while – the latter even used by Hong Kong police – and now it’s the turn of e-supercars. It’s been reported that about 300 orders have been received from drivers in Hong Kong for Tesla’s four-door Model S (right, HK$530,000) due this winter. Another luxury attempt, the two-seater Tazzari Zero (HK$350,000), is also available. BMW’s i3 supermini (HK$400,000) will spark interest in electric vehicles when it appears before the end of 2013 – and so will its i8 e-supercar next year – while Audi recently showed-off its A1 e-tron and R8 e-tron supercar, too. In the US, the current poster child for “alternative” vehicles goes even further down the renewables road. The polycarbonate Organic Transit ELF bike-car (HK$38,740), is a tiny solar electric hybrid vehicle that can move on pedal power, solar power or from its precharged battery, can reach a top speed of 32km/h for 32 kilometres on a single charge. In Europe, fleets of similar “microcars” such as the PSA,

Lacoste, Renault Twizy, Nissan Townpod and Fiat Mio will soon be sold at competitive prices. So are we on the cusp of mass adoption of electric vehicles that will quickly clear Hong Kong’s smog? It’s not likely; at last count in April, just 443 (45 of which are BYD’s bright red electric taxis) of the 700,000 registered vehicles in Hong Kong were solely powered by electricity. It’s a picture that’s replicated around the world. “What we are trying to achieve here is the equivalent of performing a handbrake turn in the Titanic as it bears down on a particularly large iceberg,” says Jason Begley, research fellow at the Low Carbon Vehicles Grand Challenge Initiative (GCI), which is based at Coventry University in England. “Tens of thousands of electric vehicles sold certainly sounds impressive until you realise that China alone produced nearly 20 million vehicles in 2012.”

Only about 11,000 of those vehicles were electric. Pike Research predicts that 3.8 million electric vehicles – including hybrids – will be sold per year by 2020. Last year, 120,000 electric cars were sold worldwide, a figure that’s set to rise to about 150,000 this year. For now, hybrid vehicles – the most popular globally of which is the Toyota Prius – dominate the sector, because drivers have certain fears about purely electric vehicles. “Consumers have to be reassured that their vehicles will perform to their expectations, receive the necessary support in terms of refuelling and repairing … and have a clear resale value,” Begley says. The latest electric vehicles can go more than 320 kilometres on a single charge and take only an hour or so to completely recharge, though eight hours is more typical. There are more

than 1,000 charging stations in Hong Kong. If and when most drivers want an electric car, rather than a petrol-driven vehicle, the infrastructure of cities will have to change; drivers will need to charge their cars every few hours, which will require many more charging points in dedicated charging stations and car parks. For now, electric vehicles are refuelled using conventional cables, although the technology exists to create “magnet induction” wireless charging points. You park your car over a charging pad – most likely in a car parking space – and it recharges quickly with no cables. That would avoid the scenario of drivers pulling away from a charging point with a charging post attached. But for most drivers, the next faux pas will be investing in another petrol-driven car. The swap to electric vehicles is a journey that’s only just started.


Mando footloose, Strida and History