MWC 2015 Ford is looking at electric bicycles as part of an intelligent, integrated future for mobility.
The company told El Reg that it had to look at mobility in the round, be it public transport, shared cars, walking or cycling, and not just focus on traditional driving.
Ford is not the first car company to look at building bicycles; Peugeot has a long and successful record in the space and the Mercedes brand Smart has a well-established electric bicycles business.
The US giant's bicycles project grew out of an internal company competition to generate intellectual property and the division which won was in the UK. Two designs – MoDe:Me (below left) and MoDe:Me Pro (below right) – have been progressed to prototype, a 20kg pro version, and a 15kg consumer one.
The idea is that both will live in a Ford vehicle where they can be charged and then unpacked to be used. The consumer bike is married to the Ford Focus, but will fold and it’s envisaged it'll be used by commuters.
The pro version is designed to fold into a Transit van with the wheels removed.
The usage model Ford gives is: a company which has deliveries to make, can drive to an area, two people unpack goods from the van onto the bikes, and then cycle round making the deliveries, with the van moving to a rendezvous point where the bikes can catch up with it, be loaded and recharge before going on to the next distribution point.
Batteries are removable – with the consumer bike having them as part of the seat post – so the Focus or Transit could have a spare on charge while the bike is out doing its thing. The initial prototypes have been built at Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre near Basildon, Essex and reflect a number of technologies.
A good proportion of the design was produced on 3D printers using a variety of techniques including sintering and forced deposition modelling.
A toothed belt (seen below) is used in preference to a chain because the wheels have to be removed to get the bike into the back of the van and a chain would be messy.
A toothed belt is quieter than a chain but there is no derailleur (the variable-ratio transmission system commonly used on bicycles) so the prototypes are fixies.
Drive is from a motor attached to the pedals, but chief design engineer Tom Thompson told El Reg that he’s excited by the options afforded by a new generation of combined motors and gearboxes which fit into the hub.
Like the Vanmoof the Ford bikes eschew regenerative charging but again this might be revisited if Ford does decide that bicycles are something it wants to build.