Bicycles are the best 'short-range personal transportation devices' you can buy yet the
mainstream media still seems to think Segways are more sexy. Could electric bikes and ultralight electric motorbikes plug the gap? BikeBiz.co.uk talks to one of first Segway owners in the world.
Phillip Torrone is your archetypal early adopter (he had 'come and feel' parties when the first i-macs and PC phones came out) and loves his Segway, but he says
it's ease of transportation he's after, so could he be converted to an electric bike? Or how about a digitally-controlled Smover bike from Shimano?
Phillip Torrone is a techhead, not a fattie, and he says his daily commute to downtown Seattle on his Segway has enabled him to get rid of one of his two cars and the time it's freeing up in his daily life has enabled him to schedule a daily jogging session.
Torrone is director of product development for Fallon Worldwide, an advertising and design agency.
He was one of the winners of the Segway early adoptors competition ran with Amazon.com. Thirty Segway purchasers were chosen from the hundreds of consumers who pre-paid on Amazon.com for April delivery of the first Segways. The lucky 30 received their Segways
before Christmas. None were particularly obese. All were well-off (Segways cost $5000 apiece) and mostly college-educated and above.
Torrone was thrilled to have been picked. He believes the Segway is "one of the most interesting transportation innovations of our time. It's wearable, it's more than transportation, it's another nervous system, it's a thought constructed."
And just like Apple's Steve Jobs, who famously said cities of the future would be designed around Segways, Torrone believes the Segway isn't just a computer-controlled, gyroscopically-wonderful upright Hoover, it's a quantum leap for mankind:
Like most great inventions
"You get the immediate feeling that what you're part of isn't just another form of transportation but an evolution of our species."
And Torrone walks the talk: he's just ditched one of his cars.
"In 2003 my household will be a one-car household. All the places we need to go are well within the Segway HT's range (1 to 15 miles) that includes work, shopping, and entertainment. Having one car in 2003 will save the household a total of roughly $10,000 in
payments and insurance. When you add gas and maintenance, that's another $5,000 per year. Add parking, that's around $1,200 per year too. So, we'll save about $16,000."
The consumer Segway costs $5000.
"My commute by walking would be 62 minutes, it's less than 17 on the Segway HT. I could jog or run there, but that would be about 30-40 minutes and since I meet with clients, coming in sweaty, late and run down isn't really something that makes sense. I jog two
miles every morning now. Most great inventions kill the inefficient tasks, and give you time back.
"We simply cannot continue to live in a fossil-fuel dependent society. 43 percent of all pollution from cars is caused from sitting in traffic; the average speed of a car is 8mph in cities. I'm not a granola hippie or anything, I'm a business person.
"I use [my Segway] each day on the roads and sidewalks. The sidewalks are empty, most people are driving their cars (one person in one car) talking on their cell phones, drinking triple latte no-whip mochas and eating. I never noticed this as much until I started my daily 7-mile commute to and from work."
I want to ride my (electric) bicycle
While he's clearly in love with his Segway HT, he's also enough of an early adoptor to realise that if a better product came along, he'd buy that instead.
Bikebiz.co.uk wondered whether an upscale electric bike might be just as practical as a Segway, if not even more so?
"It certainly might be. If range is an issue, then based on individual needs I'd certainly recommend that. Each person's needs are a little different. For
my needs (so far) the Segway has really been a great way to get around and giving up a car has been liberating. In the USA that's very hard to do."
Torrone is about to test drive a Veloci, a US-made lightweight electric motorbike. "If it suits my travel needs better, I'll be using it, it's that simple."
The Segway has a top-speed of 12mph and a range of just 15 miles. The Veloci is light, has a top-speed of 30mph and a range of 50 miles. It's said to have four times the power of existing electric bikes. And the $2500 Veloci has been lauded as 'super-cool' by a variety of US tech and lifestyle magazines since its launch this time last year (most US magazines
still think Segways are dorky).
But just like the Segway, the Veloci isn't terribly easy to schlepp home if it runs out of power, so Torrone said he could be in the market for an electric bike that looked as good as the Veloci but can be pedalled too.
"The Segway has a very concise [user interface] that lets you know how much battery you have. In training they teach proper techniques to optimize your ride and not get stuck. I've been doing this for a bit now and I don't think I've ever gone below half full. The Segway is on wheels, you could push/pull it anywhere if needed."
Both the Veloci and the Segway are made in the US but they may not be commercially successful there. Both companies see scope for huge sales in Asia, where small motorbikes already rule the roost.
In Europe and the US, the race is on to grab market share in the transport concept known as 'the first mile'. Most journeys in the UK, like elsewhere in the world, are of five miles or less. With gridlocked cities, expensive parking, and pollution caused by idling engines, 'short-range personal transportation devices' can solve many problems. Of course, there's
an existing device that works just fine here: it's called the bicycle.
A folding bike is even more of a fit.
Yet as can be seen by the transportation choices made by Phillip Torrone, and more like him to follow, many people have negative perceptions of cycle-use and bicycles in general. Perhaps Shimano's Smover concept can help shift this perception?
Smover stands for 'smart way of moving' and integrates digitally-controlled gears, suspension and a user interface. Batteries? Who needs 'em, the Smover concept bikes are dynamo-powered.
And Smover is concept no longer: bike companies will soon be able to spec upscale bikes with Cyber Nexus and Nexave C810 groupsets. These feature computer-controlled, automatic-changing internal gear hubs; computer-controlled front and rear suspension and
the FlightDeck, "a man-machine interface that displays information about riding conditions and current Smover settings."
Shimano says Smover-equipped bikes will be "for those who want the best but who didn't know what to buy."
Will Phillip Torrone have a 'come feel the Smover' party next year? © BikeBiz.co.uk