The Twike may sound like a three-wheeled contraption that Jonathan Ross has bought, but this two-seater electric car is a serious proposition.
Unlike the infamous Sinclair C5, which pretty much discredited the idea of electric transport for two decades, this one is properly engineered and even has a roof. There is only one snag: the price. For most potential buyers, the initial outlay of £15,000 will stretch the bounds of eco-friendship to the very limit. Yes, you can indeed buy a Mazda MX-5, say, or a Mini Cooper convertible for that sort of money, or two of its nearest competitor the Indian-built Reva G-Wiz electric car, but the Twike is a different eco-proposition.
Low ownership costs do defray at least some of the high price You don't pay road tax, congestion charges in London, or for parking in some places. When you consider that parking can cost £40 a day in central London, this is quite a factor, says Andreas Schroeer, the man responsible for importing these quirky little German vehicles into the UK. Throw fuel into the equation and the commuter averaging 50 miles a day will save around £5,000 a year in a Twike. It costs about 20p to "fill up" a Twike, by plugging it into the mains.
It bears up surprisingly well in practical terms. Clambering in and out of the oyster-shell-like pod is perhaps not the most dignified of exercises, but once you're in you feel perfectly secure. The glass roof (hinged at the rear) affords full weather protection and gives an unhampered view of the road.
"Driving along in the sunshine in a Twike with the roof down and the music playing is one of the best feelings in the world" says Dr Schroeer. A rainy day on the Isle of Dogs is a litle different, but our brief test showed that you do get used to electric power - and a joystick instead of a steering wheel and accelerator.
Reassuringly, there's an additional brake pedal exactly where you'd expect it to be on the floor. And that's about as complicated as it gets. A huge misconception is that these cars aren't up to much in terms of range. Their top speed of 53mph discounts motorway trips but they can go a distance. The largest-capacity NiMH batteries, which allow up to 90 miles of travel, are fully charged in three hours whereas the quick-charge NiCd versions, allowing up to 40mph, take only an hour and a half. You can always part-charge them, the on-board computer making it easy to do this by displaying energy levels, allowing you to make a quick getaway when they're high enough. With their standard three-pin plugs, finding an electricity isn't a problem. And there is always the Twike Active version with bicycle wheels for both driver and passenger, allowing you to go without the wait (and get some exercise too).
Twikes are certainly getting out in force on the continent, where 700 have been let loose since they started production in Switzerland in 1996, moving in 1998 to Germany. Dr Schroeer is confident that they have a future in the UK too. "The interest of people is really huge," he says. He might have to do something about that name, though...
Basic Twike (without pedal gear) £11,990; Twike active, £12,390. Batteries extra (£3,180 to £6,980).Twikes available from Cambridge Bike Hire (01223 247410; www.cambridgebikehire.com) - more details from Dr Andreas Schroeer (07707 237070; www.twike.co.uk)Reuse content