The Man Behind Ford's MoDe:Flex E-Bike
By Bill Moore
EV World's Bill Moore talks with Senior Product Designer Bruce Williams about the creation of Ford Motor Company's newest electric-assist concept bike: the MoDe:Flex commuter.
In a way, Bruce Williams is the 'Ant Man' of Ford Motor Company. Over the last 10 months, he went from being one of the creative forces behind the design of Ford Motor Company's popular F150 pickup truck to the creator of its MoDe:Flex commuter electric concept bike. It was, admittedly, a big leap for him, down in scale and up in the challenges it posed.
Williams was one of some 120 Ford employees around the world who submitted designs for a company-run competition to develop a trio of electric bicycles that could, perhaps someday, integrate into the Ford's multi-modal mobility vision. Interestingly, when talking about that vision, he refers to Ford as a "transportation company," not as a carmaker. The Dearborn-based giant understands that the industry isn't static and neither can it be.
"It isn't what it was 10-15 years ago," Williams explains.
The e-bike competition serves two purposes: help the company learn internally about the nature of two-wheeled vehicles in the mobility mix and to test the market; see how consumers react to a car company designing bicycles.
Having his design be selected as the only US-based winner -- the other two bikes were designed and built by Ford in Dutton, England -- posed challenges for Williams.
"Be careful what you wish for," he joked. It's one thing to design a bike on paper and then in CAD form, it's quite another to actually turn it into a working prototype. The process took him a good 10 months during which he, effectively, became a 'company within the company.' What you might call the ultimate 'intrapreneur.'
"I was my own designer, chief engineer, inventor and project manager."
What he developed is different from the other two Ford prototype electric bikes. They fold, his comes apart in the middle. All of them store in the truck of a car, but the Flex is designed to be adaptable.
"The customer is the designer," Williams explains. They have the choice to make it a urban commuter-style, a mountain bike, a hybrid. In its current prototype iteration, it follows the European pedelec standard. The bevel-geared mid-motor, which is mounted below the crank, is 200 watts and offers assistance only when the rider pedals. Like EV World's own prototype K15, which is 250 watts, you control the level of assistance with a smart phone app. In Flex, you can also control the level of assistance with a heart-rate monitor.
There is still much to be done on the bike before it's ready for the real world, Williams acknowledges. For starters, it's way too heavy, coming in around a hefty 80 lbs., which he thinks he can cut in half by the types of materials he selects.
For now, he's back to designing trucks for Ford, but when asked about how he sees the experience, he says it was one of the "more, if not most fulfilling in my career."
You can listen to the entire 28-minute interview using the embedded MP3 player below or by downloading the file to your hard drive for playback on your personal MP3 device.
Originally published: 22 Jul 2015
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