Bicycles are a great way to get around busy, congested cities. They help reduce carbon emissions, improve air quality, and the health of the person riding them. But unless you’re a keen cyclist, the chances are getting on a bicycle isn’t on the top of your list, especially when you’re commuting to work in the morning.
Now Detroit automaker Ford thinks it may have found the solution: two new electrically-assisted pedal bicycles which fit in the trunk or load space of its vehicles, allowing drivers to park their cars on the edge of a busy city and travel into work without worrying about finding a parking space. Or better still, park their car at a local train station, take the train in, and then use their foldable electric bicycle to travel that final mile, using multi-modal transportation solutions to enable the cleanest, fastest, greenest commute possible.
Launched today under the Handle on Mobility name at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the project is centred around two specially-designed electric bicycles and a brand-new smartphone app which Ford
Called the Handle on Mobility experiment, Ford has designed two prototype electrically-assisted bicycles, along with a brand-new smartphone app called MoDe:Link and says the scheme will operate alongside its existing Info Cycle open-source research initiative designed to better understand how bicycles are used in different urban areas.
Each bicycle has been designed for a particular job. The first, the MoDe:Me e-bike, was designed primarily for urban commuters who need to keep moving through busy city centres. Folding into compact dimensions, it can be easily taken on public transport and unfolded for the final mile to work.
The second, called the MoDe:Pro e-bike, was built by Ford and is designed for urban commercial use by professionals such as courier firms and maintenance staff. Unlike the MoDe:Me, which is designed to fit in the trunk of a Ford car, the MoDe:Pro is designed to stow in a Ford’s range of commercial vehicles. While it also folds flat, it is not quite as compact and features a robust rear luggage rack.
Both feature a 200-watt electric motor — the largest allowed under European e-bike legislation — and a lithium-ion battery capable of providing electronic pedal assist for speeds up to 25 kilometres per hour (15 mph). Importantly too, both can be charged while stowed in a vehicle, allowing them to be used multiple times in a day without running flat. Sadly, Ford doesn’t quote range, but assuming its ‘9 amp-hour’ battery pack is rated at 36 volts — the norm for most e-bikes today — we’d guess its capacity is somewhere around 324 watt-hours, which we’d guess is around 35 kilometres (21 miles) in most situations with maximum battery assistance.
That would make both e-bikes fairly average in their performance and specification and if we’re honest, we’d guest most e-bike customers would choose a more capable model. But where the two Ford-designed bikes win is the integrated smartphone app.
Like similar multi-modal apps from similar projects demonstrated by BMW and Daimler, Ford’s multi-modal app allows customers to input their final destination into their car’s navigation system or smartphone and suggest the best route using all methods of transportation available.
Seamlessly integrated between in-car display and smartphone, it allows the user to drive from their home to a local train station for example, park up, take their bike with them on the train, and then cycle into work. Or perhaps catch a bus instead.
It also keeps track of cycling statistics and state of charge, so you won’t be left stranded on the e-bike without pedal assistance, and is aware of traffic conditions, parking fees, charging station availability and weather.
On the bike too, users can set their own speed and comfort, dialling back electric assist when they want a work-out or dialling it up when they don’t want to arrive at their destination all sweaty. There’s also built-in heart rate monitors on the bicycle handlebars, allowing users to set their ideal heart rate for cycling for maximum cardiovascular burn. In this mode, the bicycle automatically increases or decreases assistance as required.
To date, Ford’s foray into electric-only vehicles hasn’t been all that enthusiastic, with a far heavier emphasis put on its range of plug-in hybrid models such as the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid.
But if used correctly, the all-new MoDe:Link smartphone app and MoDe e-bikes could herald a future where plug-in hybrid owners could drive to the station in all-electric mode, take an efficient electric train to their chosen city, and then cycle the final mile to work without ever burning a drop of gasoline — even with a limited-range PHEV.
There’s only one question left: will Ford actually bring the prototypes to production — or will it remain a limited production showcase pilot project that we’ll never see elsewhere in the world.
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