Electric bikes – why would you? But apparently the market for power-boosted cycles is booming. A recent article in 'Business Week' reports that 23 million "e-bikes" were sold worldwide last year, a figure that is expected to double by 2012. In Britain, the guys at ElectricBikeSales.co.uk tell me that sales are up 60 per cent on last year as a younger clientele plumps for batteries over brawn.
I see more electric bikes in my inbox than on the road – I get a press release a month about some new ride promising to revolutionise urban travel – but it looks as if these hybrids are set to become more common. So I guess it's time to try one out. Enter the YikeBike, the extraordinary lovechild of a Segway and a penny farthing with dwarfism. This time, the press release was intriguing enough to make me actually pick up the phone.
The next day I met New Zealand inventor Grant Ryan, gearing up for the unveiling of his brainchild, and found out the YikeBike wasn't, strictly speaking, a bike at all. There are two wheels – a big one at the front and a diddy one at the back – but no pedals. That technicality aside, Ryan hopes his electric-only invention will compete with more conventional e-bikes. It certainly stands out. Beautifully crafted in carbon fibre, the futuristic machine is also lighter than most Bromptons and folds flat into a shoulder bag.
Time for a spin. The saddle is perched on the front wheel and lowering oneself on to it is a bit like sitting on a swivel chair without its base and then trying to stay balanced while lifting one's legs. And then, with a squeeze of my right hand, I'm off, whizzing (and wobbling) around the square behind my office like a drunk man on a very fast loo.
I look faintly ridiculous but the YikeBike is surprisingly nippy (15mph) and great fun. Drawbacks include run time (six miles between charges) and cost (more than £3,000). If e-bikes are set to make inroads in our cities, then I don't think this wallet-busting curiosity will lead the charge, but its revolutionary design is turning heads and generating column inches – which is what e-bikes need if they're going to make it big. Watch this space (and, on our blog, a video of me looking like an idiot on the YikeBike).