Twike - human-powered hybrid

An early incarnation of the Twike first went on display at the 1986 World Expo in Vancouver, but the vehicle has undergone numerous changes since then, in both design and ownership.

photo courtesy Neiman Marcus

by Ross Bonander

Specs:

  • Type: Three-wheeled human-electric hybrid
  • Class: Motorcycle
  • Manufacturer: Fine Mobile
  • Propulsion system: 336V, 3kW, asynchronous motor
  • Top Speed: 55 mph
  • Zero-to-60: NA
  • Vehicle range: 100 miles
  • Fuel(s): Electricity
  • Battery system: Lithium-ion manganese (353 V, 4 Ah load capacity per battery pack; 5 packs possible)
  • Gas-per-Gallon Equivalent (GGE): 250-500 mpg
  • Tailpipe emissions: No
  • Price: $35,000
  • Availability: SOLD OUT until June 2009

The manufacturer says

“The TWIKE is a human-electric hybrid vehicle, designed to carry two passengers comfortably through any weather with speed and style, and without harmful emissions of any kind.”

Overview

Built from an aluminum alloy space frame with a thermoplastic body measuring 9’ by 4’ by 4’, the German-made Twike is a clever bit of inspiration that relies on a joystick for control and combines human energy in the form of peddles with plug-in electric power in the form of a lithium ion manganese battery. It won’t appeal to everyone, but the 800-1000 current Twike owners (who apparently prefer the term ‘Twike pilots’), sprinkled largely throughout Europe with a few in the US, are an enthusiastic bunch intent on spreading the good word.

An early incarnation of the Twike first went on display at the 1986 World Expo in Vancouver (I actually went to this Expo as a 15 year old attending a Canadian hockey camp), but the vehicle has undergone numerous changes since then, in both design and ownership.

What we like

The joystick. Says Twike, “With the joystick you have complete fingertip control of steering, acceleration, turn signals, and brakes, all in one hand.” Just like you did playing Asteroids on the Atari 2600. Laser firing button not optional.

The pedals: Well, I like them now. I won’t when I have to play Fred Flintstone and actually use them.

The class: Rated as a motorcycle, the Twike is road-ready. And weighing in at a lean maximum of 990 pounds, it’s just as dangerous.

The copy: This dazzling bit of copywriting genius does the improbable—it romanticizes the Twike: “The side by side recumbent bicycle seating allows for easy conversation, whether on a morning commute or cross-country trek.” Freakin’ brilliant.

The convertible top: This is like those summer jobs in construction that seemed so appealing as a teenager: you get ripped and tan, and get paid for it! Although they never were as good as they seemed …

What we don’t

The design: They want to tell us it’s pleasing to the eye. Pleasing is in the eye of the beholder, and this eye says it looks like an emergency escape pod … with a wimpy set of wheels.

The price: On the good side, the whopping $35,000 price tag might make it eligible for tax credits in the current stimulus package. On the bad side, that’s a lot of damn money for what you’re getting; so much in fact that without doing the math it’s safe to say the Twike is cost-prohibitive with regard to money spent on gas and maintenance for a traditional car, all things considered.

The name: Despite its European origins, I have little choice but to believe they got the name from a 5 year old American boy who had not yet mastered his R’s.

Conclusions

I remember the exact moment I realized that people of my generation had begun to influence commerce: during Super Bowl XXXIII, a commercial for the Mitsubishi Montero Sport employed Ozzy’s “Crazy Train”.

I’ve had plenty of reminders since, perhaps none as glaring or poignant as the Twike. There is little doubt that the people who developed the Twike are the same people who could pass an hour at my local arcade playing Defender on a single quarter.

Earning 25 cents from a consumer who spends an hour at your establishment is bad, bad business. Perhaps it’s no wonder the arcade as I knew it is gone. But if these are those same guys, they are damn good at getting the most from the least—a concept at the heart of alternative vehicles, and one that certainly applies to the Twike.

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