What happens when you take an actor, a passion for cycling, and a powerful electric motor, combine them in a three-wheeled, fully-enclosed motorcycle, and then add a kickstarter campaign?
Now we know what you’re thinking. It is April Fools’ day after all. But while we nearly brushed off the Raht Racer human-electric hybrid for an April 1 prank, a little digging has proven that this three-wheeled rocket and its lively CEO are in fact the real deal.
And to date, the unusual vehicle has raised more than $26,000 of its aimed $75,000 goal on Kickstarter, with more than three weeks remaining.
Vehicle first. A cross between a pedelec electric bicycle and a three-wheeled lightweight aerodynamic enclosed motorcycle, the Raht Racer is claimed to be the world’s first highway-capable human-powered vehicle. Like the ill-fated Aptera three-wheeler, the driver sits in a fully-enclosed, aerodynamically-designed carbon-fibre cabin just behind the front axle. Visibility is provided thanks to a sweeping glass roof, and upward hinging doors gain access to the interior of the vehicle.
Unlike the single rear wheel, which provides motive power to the Raht Racer and sits underneath its tapered boat tail rear, the front wheels are placed outboard of the vehicle, with suspension and steering mechanism clearly visible. As well as enabling the driver to sit centrally in the vehicle, this wide front track provides extra stability and improved steering characteristics.
You’ll note we mentioned that motive power comes from the single rear wheel, which incorporates a 20 kilowatt in-wheel electric motor. For the most part, power for that motor comes from a 9.2 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which can be recharged in a few hours from , but as you’ll also note, we called the Raht Racer a human-electric hybrid.
Here’s where it gets interesting. A little like the Twike human-electric hybrid popular in Europe a decade or so ago, the Raht Racer features a set of bicycle pedals attached to a small generator. Cycle as you would in an ordinary car, and the Raht Racer’s on-board power system automatically adds power from the battery pack that’s proportional to the power you’re putting into the system. Pedal harder and the vehicle goes faster. Pedal slower, and it travels more slowly, just like a pedelec bicycle.
What’s different is the speeds claimed of the Raht Racer. While most pedelec bicycles top out somewhere around 15 mph in Europe (faster where allowed by law) and the Twike topped out at around 50 mph, the Raht Racer is claimed to have a top speed at the moment of around 70 mph.
If its Kickstarter campaign is successful, the company says it’s confident of building a production model that can top 100 mph.
Like the Twike, cycling is also optional: if you want an evening workout, you can put as much power into the system as you want. If you’re too exhausted, just ride along and let the battery pack take the strain. But interestingly too, the Raht Racer’s creators say that it will come with a terrain-aware GPS system that will make it possible to provide a constant workout for riders, no matter what the terrain. Like those stationary exercise bicycles in the local gym, it will also be possible to program your own workout routine, so you can pick where in your commute you need to work the hardest.
As for the brains behind the Raht Racer? That’s Rich Kronfeld, a Minnesota local better known for his role as host on local comedy TV game show “Let’s Bowl” as well as appearances in various TV comedies and standup routines.
But while Kronfeld certainly has the charisma and drive to promote his creation online and even on Cable TV, we’re not sure that the Raht Racer — cool as it is — has what it takes to become a serial production vehicle just yet.
For a start, the prototype we’ve seen in various promotion videos and appearances is still a long way from being ready from mainstream production. Costing around $50,000 by the company’s own reckoning, this first production vehicle lacks many of the things that a production model would need, including the promised air bags and restraint systems needed to register it high-speed vehicle.
Second, the Kickstarter campaign isn’t to provide fans with a way of obtaining the first-run of a production-ready vehicle: it’s to help fund the building of a second prototype, including the reengineering of the chassis, drivetrain and safety systems as well as finalise the body design.
Finally, as a market goes, Americans aren’t known for their love of small, three-wheeled vehicles, regardless of how safe or fast they are. Look back in history, and there are plenty of three-wheeled electric vehicles, including the fun, funky Corbin Sparrow and the futuristic Aptera 2e, which failed to capture the imagination of the mainstream car buyer.
And with an estimated production price of somewhere between $35,000 and $40,000, that’s what the team behind the Raht Racer would need to do in order to become truly competitive, because even the most expensive lower-speed velomobiles — essentially enclosed bicycles with or without electric motor assist — can be purchased for under $10,000.
We want to believe and we’d love to own one as a fun runabout: but our many years of experience in the auto industry leaves us far from convinced.
What do you make of the Raht Racer? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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