A to B Magazine, U.K. Millennium Special Edition

In a world exclusive, we check out the very latest folding electric bike - The Ex-Bike

Get familiar with a subject - in this case electric bikes - and you pretty soon develop a wish-list. There’s no magic formula; electric bikes need to get lighter, they need to get smaller, they have to charge faster, and - like all bikes, in our humble opinion - they should fold away.

Then you find a company working its way through exactly the same wish-list, and they calmly state that the result is close to release. When you read that the claimed specification includes a range of 20 miles, all-up weight of 42lb (19kg), a top speed of 20 mph, and a recharge time of an hour, it becomes clear that the wish-list is largely satisfied. Furthermore, it’s a folder, the whole lot disappearing into a travel case in 30 seconds. On paper, at least, the spec for the new Ex-Bike beats everything else by a healthy margin and all at a perfectly acceptable price, we hear.

The heart of the system is the Electric Wheel - a new ultra-compact hub motor from the Rabbit Tool engineering company in the USA, of which more overleaf. Twin this uniquely efficient motor with computer control, the very latest battery technology and a Dahon folding bike, and you have the Ex-Bike.

The brainchild of OJ Birkestrand at Rabbit Tool, Illinois, the Ex-Bike is an attempt to rewrite the transportation textbooks - particularly so in the US, where the car plays what might be described as a pivotal role. Perhaps suprisingly, Birkestrand is talking much the same language as A to B - that the future lies in a folding electric bike small enough to carry aboard trains and buses.

The first practical machine of this kind will have enormous potential, because it’s going to play a role in eliminating those short-haul car journeys that plague our towns and cities - a problem that politicians are finding largely insoluble.

As Birkestrand points out, ‘citizens could live better if they could get where they need to go quickly and cheaply, without investing in a 4,000lb vehicle, that uses a gallon of gas to travel only 15 to 20 miles’.
Ex-Bike - a rocket-propelled Dahon Impulsive
An electric bike uses a fraction of the energy of a car and takes up a fraction of the road space (1/100th alnd 1/70th respectively, says Birkestrand), so it’s the logical route to follow. Bolt the technology to a folding machine and you bring all the folding bike virtues into play too - easy transportation by public transport and easy, safe storage at home or office. But 42lb is still a heavy bit of kit, so the plan is to market the bike with a semi-rigid wheeled travel case; the ‘T-bag’.

Birkestrand figures that most people are willing and/or able to cycle three to five times further and faster than they can walk. Thus, he argues that the Ex-Bike will allow them to ride five to ten times further, effectively filling the gaps between bus stops, or rapid transit stations. ‘Personal bicycles combined with mass public transportation can serve and empower both cities and citizens’.

Will it work?
Rabbit Tool had teamed up with Dahon initially, fitting their motor and batteries to the new 20-inch wheel Impulse, recently adopted by Dawes as the new Metropolis (see A to B 14). We weren’t terribly happy with the Metropolis, but our complaints were mainly with comonentry - as a relatively light, cheap platform for an electric bike built around Dahon’s aluminum Helios model might reduce the weight to 35lb (16 kg) overall, while a larger battery pack could extend the range to as much as 35 miles. Such a bike would be a spectacular advance over the 23 mile and 46-1/2lb (21kg) Zap/Brompton; the lightest electric bike we’ve seen to date.

The concept bike looks promising, but Birkestrand has gone a step further, setting up another company - Birkestrand Corporation - to manufacture and market kits for fitment to other machines. Perhaps the real excitement will come with the first Ex-Bike Micro or Ex-Bike Brompton, because that’s when weight and - more importantly - folded size, could really set new standards. If the machine performs anywhere near the specification, and the price is acceptable, it’s a concept that will begin to revolutionalise electric bikes, folding bikes and - perhaps - cycling itself.