In 2013, architect Bill McDonough and his collaborator, chemist Michael Braumgart, published the sequel to Cradle to Cradle. With the forward by President Bill Clinton, the thesis behind The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability: Designing for Abundance is that the possibility exists to design materials and products so that — rather than ending in up in a landfill somewhere — discarded products can become the feedstock for new goods and services when their useful lives are complete.
In Upcycle, you “think of every component of your design as being borrowed. It will be returned one day to the biosphere or technosphere. It is your role to return it in as good a condition as you found it, as a good neighbor would.”
Finding an Electric Motor for Bicycles
That idea intrigued me and I carried it around in the back of my mind. Around the same time, I came across a small startup in Milan, Italy, that was developing an all-in-one electric motor for bicycles.
Unlike the more famous “Copenhagen” wheel, the ZeHus BIKE+ motor was amazingly compact, fitting the 250-watt electric motor and 160-watt-hour lithium battery, along with Bluetooth transceiver and a trio of sensors into a 3.2-kg package. I tracked down and chatted with one of the developers via Skype and started following their progress over the next year and a half.
Then last fall at Interbike, the annual bicycle trade show in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to try out the motor on a pair of demonstrator bikes. The test track was set up on the parking lot behind the Mandalay Bay hotel casino. It was as level as a blackjack table, so gauging the motorʼs hill-climbing ability wasnʼt really possible, but I was surprised by its torque and re-generative braking capability. I chatted with their representatives, who included the company CEO, and promised myself I would get a motor to test.
Finding a Bike Suitable for the Electric Motor
Of course, that also meant I needed to find a suitable bike on which to mount the motor. With a tip from an EV World reader, I came across Greenstarʼs EcoForce1 out of Minneapolis.
Assembled in China from native bamboo and recycled 6,160 aluminum tubing gussets, it seemed the perfect complement to the ZeHus motor. I arranged to buy both: the bike arriving two weeks before Christmas, the motor two days before the holiday.
With the help of Kelly Smith at the Bike Rack here in Omaha, I not only ended up with one of the most beautiful e-bikes Iʼve ever seen, but it also turned out to be one of the lightest. Kellyʼs scale said it weighted 32 lbs, while my wifeʼs digital bathroom scale indicated it was just 31.6. There are very few e-bike this light. I know of only two others in the world.
‘Kickstarting’ the K15 E-Bike
Every place I took the bike I kept being told, “Bill, you have to build more of them,” so I decided to do just that, offering an initial 150 bikes as part of a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
I call it the K15, because it weighs less than 15 kilograms. This is not the “cheapest electric bicycle” you can buy, but it will be among the lightest and certainly one of the loveliest. It also comes closest to fulfilling Upcyclesʼ goal of designing for abundance.
You can learn more about the quikbyke online. And click here to support the Quikbyke Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign — which begins on July 14th — as well as a form to reserve a future production version of the e-bike.
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