Bubble-bike: US$750 Electric three-wheeler
The Bubble Bike might look like the love child of a scooter and a Messerschmitt Kabinenroller, but it’s an ingenious response to the needs of Northern China and some of the more northern Asian countries where temperatures drop well below zero in winter and the roads get a liberal coating of snow and ice, making them not nearly as suitable for scooters and motorcycles as they are in summer. The recipient of a 2009 Red Star Design Award (China’s equivalent of the red dot awards), the three-wheel Bubble Bike sells in China for RMB 5000 (around US$730).
Low cost transport is imperative in many developing countries, and the Bubble Bike's price-tag makes it the only game in town if you want more than two wheels, or want to carry three people or a lot of luggage and keep them/it dry and warm.
Most importantly, the Bubble Bike is electric, meaning it recharges from a power point for a negligible cost and has oodles of grunt for getting up to its 45 km/h top speed. Now we understand that's not so fast by the standards of the big cities with lots of space that we're accustomed to, but it's plenty fast for urban running in the highly congested streets of China's megacities.
The Bubble Bike has a range of 100 km and takes between six and eight hours to charge from a standard household power outlet in its current configuration. The manufacturers are currently trialling alternative batteries which decrease the charging time to three hours and increase the range of the vehicle to 200 km, plus the cost of the Bubble Bike by several hundred dollars. I'm presuming those batteries are lithium ion but translation between the designer’s Shandong dialect and English was an issue, so I can’t be sure.
The biggest benefit of the bike is apparently roadholding. Bubble Bike's representative said that because the bike is very light and has three wheels and a low center of gravity, it really hangs onto the road. Given that its specifications and geometry are very similar to the Spira that I tried in Thailand last year I imagine that the handling would be similar (i.e. sensational).
In many ways, it's a scooter with a bit of protection, and there was some discussion amongst those of us looking at the machine whether there was adequate crash protection in comparison with a Western motor vehicle. One of those present contributed, "I'm sure it crash tests better than the scooter it will replace though."
Export inquiries on the Bubble Bike can be directed to the web site.