Last week there was talk on the Internet of a new Tesla e-bike concept – a futuristic silhouette full of electronic steering, autopilot technology and a new chassis approach. The first thing you need to know is that it’s more moped than e-bike (it doesn’t have pedals). The second is that it’s not actually from Tesla. The designer Kendall Toerner doesn’t work for the company. He only used his name and logo to accompany the models. The third thing to know is that if it existed in real life, it wouldn’t work.
It’s not that we don’t have the technology for it yet. Toerner’s “Model B” is a fine example of industrial design and offers some thought-provoking ideas about dashboards and sensors Progress. But it is physically impossible to execute. That’s the mistake: when concepts don’t suggest plausible solutions to real problems, they’re just scribbles.
The central feature that people seem to be buzzing about is the steering. Steering has been a simple matter since the invention of the bicycle: the fork that holds the front wheel is located in a joint column attached to the handlebar. You point the front wheel in the direction you want to go and lean the bike and you’re gone. I may have missed something, but in over 30 years of riding I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know, let’s rethink this whole steering issue.”
Model B does that. The handlebars don’t move, but when you press on them sensors detect this force and instruct the fork (which, mind you, is still on a joint column) to turn in the desired direction. The drivers would have to relearn how to steer. There’s also a mention of the autopilot, which isn’t intuitive as balance is key to successful driving. If the rig suddenly changes direction without warning, your ass will be on the ground. Ask a rider.
This is ironic as cycling is an enduring symbol of things that become second nature once you learn them. As the saying goes, it’s like riding a bike. Except in this case it is not. This is the area of the Internet of Shit where a perfectly functioning piece of analog technology is ruined by the unnecessary addition of a silicon chip.
But most of the reactions I’ve seen are hypes of this steering function, or it praises the equally dubious idea of building the suspension into the wheels via struts between the hub and the rim without taking into account that neither of them work. (Assuming we found a material that would even allow this, a rim that deflects enough for the suspension wheel idea to work would never hold a tire securely.)
Completely unrealistic concept bikes are not uncommon. In the mid-1990s, Cannondale’s Alex Pong designed a now infamous carbon fiber creature that replaced the front wheel of a racing bike with an enclosed inline skate. The aim was to eliminate a major source of drag (the front wheel). I give Cannondale the honor of actually creating a functional prototype instead of just making a CAD drawing. But as anyone who tried to ride it found out, it was impossible to balance the little inline wheels. As a solution to a problem, it was a dead end.
(Photo: Courtesy Cannondale)
That is not to say that concept drafts have no value. Another of Pong’s imaginative creations in the mid-1990s was a mountain bike with a mono-leaf suspension fork, a concept that made Cannondale the Lefty not long after. At Specialized’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, California, there is a veritable gallery of one-of-a-kind motorcycles from longtime creative director Robert Egger. They’re all crazy in their own way, but you can see in many of them the lineage to actual products, like its Renegade FSR drop bar chassis that inspired the Future Shock System on the Diverge and Roubaix lines.
Model B has a number of advantages. I am fascinated by the idea of pothole detection or the technology to support stability. And the overall aesthetic is pretty chic. As Toerner stated in the presentation, far more people see cars as status symbols than bicycles. Beautiful urban e-bikes could help change that.
There are concepts that make us talk and think. Sometimes Egger uses his art to send a message, like the FUCI racing bike that contains every single technology banned by the Union Cycliste Internationale. And they should express ideas that the technology cannot yet realize because that is what drives the technology forward. What Egger gets, however, is that concepts work best when they focus on a meaningful goal that is tied to reality. Model B fails on both accounts.
Where does Model B go from here? Probably not to Tesla, although Elon Musk was considering building a bike two years ago. Maybe it’s going nowhere and just lingering on design blogs as the last fleeting obsession that for some reason the Model B concept re-emerged last month, despite being created in January. It got people talking, which is fun. But it would be better if the possible future could actually be achieved.
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Main Photo: Courtesy of Kendall Toerner