Stephen Killough with his SpyBike
Stephen Killough with his 60 lbs electrically-powered SpyBike, which has a top speed of 12 mph and range of 5 miles.

Commuting by SpyBike

It's electric. It fits in a briefcase. It's illegal

By Stephen Killough

In this day and age, everyone is talking about how much mass transit would help save energy, reduce traffic congestion, and reduce the need for low-tax-revenue-generating parking lots. Except for dense urban areas, mass transit has been a hard sell because in low-density areas, a substantial amount of commuting is still required to get from the commuter’s home to the transit station. The commuter may have to pay for parking at the transit station and may have a significant walk from the other transit station to the office.

Presented here is the SpyBike, which would be the ideal solution for many of these commuters. It is an electric scooter that can be folded up to fit inside a standard office briefcase.

The typical bus or train commuter would drive the SpyBike from their home to the transit station, put it in the briefcase, and board the bus or train. At the transit destination, the SpyBike is removed from the briefcase and driven to the office, where it can be put in the briefcase again if desired. Even if the commute is short and you are not taking mass transit, keeping the vehicle with you eliminates one of the biggest issues about cars in urban environments, and that’s parking! In fact, many destinations that have limited parking, such as universities, concerts, and sporting events, could make use of the SpyBike.

A good question to ask is why not use an ordinary bicycle. You certainly would not have to worry about the battery running down. Some commuter trains will allow bicycles, however the storage space for bicycles is limited. Also, bicycles still need to be parked; they are only better than cars in that their parking space is smaller.

The SpyBike has three other features that are very useful to the commuter. First, there is always the issue of what to do with the carrying case, and the SpyBike conveniently stores the briefcase on the front of the vehicle while driving. And second, the battery charger is included inside the briefcase and can charge the battery while the vehicle is stored inside. On the outside there is only a small power cord that plugs into the wall. Many commuter trains have power outlets that would allow you to recharge the battery during the commute. You could also recharge while at class or at a restaurant while grabbing a bite to eat on the way home. The third feature is that there is still room left in the briefcase for normal office papers, equivalent to a handful of magazines.

Why the name SpyBike? Of course the bike is like a spy gadget in that you have your secret getaway vehicle hidden on your person, and the concept is high-tech. But it is also a practical matter in that nearby persons may draw incorrect conclusions if they see you carrying a “vehicle”. The packed-up vehicle looks like an ordinary briefcase, because it IS in an ordinary briefcase. There would be much less theft risk, and occasionally you may sit next to someone on the bus that may want to take issue with vehicles being brought on board. When in your office or at a business meeting, no one would notice that you have your scooter with you, unless you want to show it off. And when it comes to charging the SpyBike, well, you really should ask the owner of the wall outlet first.

Besides commuting, the SpyBike can be used in any situation where you are traveling in one type of vehicle and upon arrival at your destination, you need to travel short distances on roads. Examples are boats, airplanes, and recreational vehicles arriving at docks, airports, and campgrounds respectively. The compact size of the SpyBike briefcase would be especially beneficial in airplanes.

At this time the SpyBike is a working prototype that I built myself. It does fit in the briefcase, tightly, and I have driven it to measure the overall performance. As a first prototype, it will need improvements. Presently the performance numbers for the SpyBike, assuming four battery packs, are:

Briefcase outside dimensions, including handle : 18 x 15 x 5.25 inches
Motor power : 300 watts
Top speed : 12 mph
Range : 5 miles
Weight with briefcase : 60 pounds
Cost : I can’t even guess

The main design improvements that the SpyBike will need before production are to improve the folding mechanisms and reduce the weight. Putting the bike in the briefcase involves a little too much disassembly as well as folding. The frame needs to be optimized for weight and the mild steel should be replaced with aluminum (I can’t afford one of those expensive aluminum welders).

So, given this wonderful idea for a new product, can we expect these to go into production in the near future? Actually, no. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE ILLEGAL!

Any avid reader of EVworld can recall conflicts that electric scooter and electric bicycle owners have had with the local police. The mentality in the U.S. is that any motor, no matter how small, gives the vehicle enough power to mow down pedestrians, therefore any contraption with a motor has to stay in the middle of the highway lane along with the 18 wheelers. Imagine that with a 12 mph vehicle. You and I may consider the SpyBike to be a good invention, however your local police chief will put it in the same category as new marijuana cultivation methods.

I understand that it would not be good for Harley-Davidsons to barrel down greenways. However I would like to suggest that we should be able to create a class of small motorized vehicle that would have the same rights as bicycles. After all, bicycles can go essentially anywhere except interstate highways. By what criteria would we consider a motorized vehicle bicycle-like? Perhaps a power (and thus speed) limit that would limit the vehicle to bicycle speeds. I am not athletic, yet on level ground I can easily maintain 12 mph on my bicycle. An athletic person can maintain 20 mph, and very athletic people can maintain 30 mph. Correspondingly, a scooter with a 300 watt motor could be considered a bicycle legally.

Some jurisdictions consider motorized bicycles legal if they still have pedals for manual pedaling. However, if the motor has enough power to attain motorcycle speeds, then the vehicle should be considered a motorcycle. Also, what would be the legal status of the vehicle if the owner removed the pedals and just used the vehicle like a motorcycle? Plus, the pedal requirement would exclude the many electric scooters already out there.

The most straightforward way to solve this issue is to legally create a new class of motor vehicle. There is already a subclass for motorcycles that are less than 5 horsepower called “Motor Driven Cycles”. These are for operators less that 16 years old, plus these vehicles cannot be driven on interstate highways. The new class could be called something like “Micro Powered Cycle” and have a 300 watt limit. They would have all the rights of bicycles but may still require licenses if they are driven on public roads or greenways.

You may be wondering about all the electric scooters your neighborhood kids are riding. These are considered kids toys for use on the family private driveway. Even operation on low-traffic dead end streets is not technically legal. The intention for the SpyBike is much different in that it is expected to be driven during rush hour to the nearest train or bus station, which will likely be on a busy street. The trip from the corresponding train station to the office will be even more harrowing since it will likely be downtown.

And now for my biggest pet peeve. I have personally experienced the ultimate bicyclist nightmare, the automobile-bicycle collision (yes, I was on the bicycle). I find it wonderful that my local city is slowly building a network of greenways to provide a safe and enjoyable path for pedestrians and bicycles. Here is where I insist that small vehicles like the SpyBike be able to also use greenways since it will greatly enhance safety. I dream of the day when the sign at the greenway entrance no longer says “No Motor Vehicles” but instead “Micro-Powered Vehicles Permitted”.

And beyond that, greenways should be considered more than just stretched out parks. The question is how do you get from point A to point B without having to trespass over someone’s private land. The concept of public roads has been around since biblical times, yet now roads are only for automobiles. Our infrastructure is set up such that scientists and engineers can come up with any transportation system imaginable, just as long as it’s another car. Other than boats and airplanes, greenways and dedicated bicycle lanes on streets are the only real alternative to roads, and it is important for this alternative to be everywhere and not just in isolated spots.

If you would like to follow the SpyBike saga, I have also set up a website at spybike.org. And for those of you that would like to see the SpyBike in person, it will be on display at the Earth Fest in Knoxville, TN on April 17, 2010. See you there!

Times Article Viewed: 6997
Published: 26-Mar-2010


blog comments powered by Disqus