The need for BPVs – “barely-powered vehicles”

I have been spending a lot of time doing research into various types of vehicles lately, all centered around transportation for one or two people, making the least impact possible. The vehicles simply don’t exist.

I’ve looked at cars, bicycles, motorcycles, trikes, electric versions of all of these, hybrid versions, people powered versions, and they all have one or the other of two failings, from an American consumer viewpoint: they are trying to deliver too much, or they are trying to be too pure.

Here’s what I set out to find. I had a very very limited budget, but I wanted some wheels. How many? Well at first I was thinking four. I looked at vehicles like the Smart ForTwo, a really tidy little car that is still growing in popularity, and relatively inexpensive. But it’s not quite, not quite what I was after. It’s hard to say why. It’s not nearly as efficient as it should be, for one thing. I look at that car and I see what should be a 90 mpg vehicle, and instead it gets 38. 38 miles per gallon, that’s it. That just doesn’t work for me. It’s a tiny, little, two-seater car, as basic a vehicle as you could want, and it only gets 38 mpg. That’s really just kind of unacceptable.

Next in the four wheel class was the Renault Twizy. What a great little idea. It’s electric, it handles two people, it’s fun to drive. But it’s not available anywhere yet, and there’s no indication that it’ll be available here at all. That’s a bit of a problem. Too bad, as this vehicle really is heading in the direction of what I’m after.

Then I spent a lot of time looking at three wheels. Some with two in front, some with two in back. Some of these were in the motorcycle/scooter class, others were in the almost-car class. In the former arena (in both of the two-class dichotomies above) I looked at the Piaggio MP3. Great scooter. Two wheels in front, and it leans. So it offers the better road-grabbing power of three wheels on the road, and it handles well. It’s a lightweight vehicle, gets reasonable gas mileage, and again fun to drive. But… it’s not at all enclosed. In a part of the world like New York City, this significantly limits its usefulness. Bummer.

In the latter group of 3-wheelers, I found very interesting ones like the Auto Moto. Here’s a vehicle that can carry two people (in tandem; front and back), is semi-enclosed, and can run along at pace with other traffic, within reasonable limits. The downside? It’s gas-powered. Not a major downer, considering its overall efficiency, but still, not quite what I was looking for. And as I said, it’s “semi-enclosed.” Not enclosed. That is to say, it’s nice if the rain is coming down, but not if it’s blowing. It just doesn’t really protect you. And I can’t take my dog in it very easily. Woops! I just added another criterion there!

While I was looking at these, however, I found the two-wheel vehicles. Well actually, I should say that I started out looking at two-wheelers. I had already driven myself crazy looking at bicycles of all sorts. Electric bikes, folding bikes, porteur bikes, fixie bikes, internal hub bikes, utility bikes, recumbent bikes (& trikes). What I realized I was really looking for was an electric folding porteur bike with an internal hub. Capable of carrying two people. In the rain. Hmmm. Rain, wind, snow, makes biking a bit more of a hard-core enthusiast’s choice rather than a way to go to work or to go to meet someone for dinner uptown. Just not going to happen. Even bikes as wonderfully interesting as the PiCycle, the wonderful folding Tern Eclipse, and the electric AND folding Dahon Briza and the Prodeco Phantom.

Also particularly interesting were the electric bicycle/motorcycle crossovers, such as the Stealth Electric and the Brammo Enertia. These are capable of decent road speeds, are basically equivalent to other motorcycles and scooters, but are much quieter. But… no enclosure, no dog.

So where is it leading? What’s left? Well, here’s one that might be the beginning of a whole new trend, if it actually makes it to production. The Lit Motors C-1. Here’s basically what I’ve been looking for. Two wheels. Electric. Fully enclosed. Economical. Fun (theoretically). But the designer/inventor claims he’s shooting for a vehicle that can do 200 miles per charge, and 120 miles per hour, and it’ll sell for around $24,000.

My question is: why? Why must we think in terms of 120 mph? To me, it’s just an outsized ego thing. Why not a vehicle like this that can do, say, 70 mph. Or 60. Basically travel all the regular roads, though perhaps not the interstate. Isn’t that where most people drive? For those who need more, make a version that’ll do 90 for those who need it.

What’s up with our need for speed? We all want to get there, but in most cases can’t go faster than 60 or so. So what’s wrong with designing a vehicle that can carry one or two people in moderate comfort for a drive lasting up to an hour each way on a single charge for the round trip? And do it all at a cost of under $10,000? Regardless of whether it has two or three or four wheels, such a vehicle should be designed to offer basic protection from the environment, from theft, and from each other.

We have to change our minds on what we need. We have to get vehicles that are just what we need, instead of everything that we can possibly imagine ever needing. At least we have to give ourselves the option of having this. Everything doesn’t need to be a Yukon Denali or a BMW. There is an utter void of vehicles in the space between the motorcycle and the car, and this crossover space really needs to be explored in this early part of the 21st Century if we’re going to make it to the latter part of the 21st Century. I don’t want to give up independent transportation entirely, and that’s the direction that things seem to be heading. I want to go my own way. I don’t want to have automated systems that guide us around so we can go as fast as imaginable and not have to interact at all with where we’re going. I want to be involved. I want to drive.

The only way that’s going to continue to happen is if we completely change our perspective, from vehicles with power everything, to barely-powered vehicles, that are just above the capabilities of a person. Something that provides a little bit of boost. Something that can protect and get us there safely and swiftly, easy to park, easy to maintain, without being overbearing. We have the ability to develop these today. But we don’t do it. This video on convergence of car and motorcycle captures a lot of the reasons for it. It’s a very good video by Gizmag on Youtube.

Let’s look at things a different way. It’s time to shake things up.

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One thought on “The need for BPVs – “barely-powered vehicles”

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