The upright bicycle riding position offered by the familiar diamond-shape frame has been completely abandoned by designer Nick Foley in favor of a semi-recumbent driving pose. His Etta 3-speed prototype is claimed to offer users a more comfortable, natural ride whilst also providing better all-round visibility and a built-in storage compartment. Gizmag's Paul Ridden takes a closer look.
Foley says that he was recovering from a (non-Etta-related) cycling accident when he began thinking about tackling bike design last year. As well as addressing the riding position, Foley also included some storage space – perhaps not quite as much as the Bullitt cargo-bike, but at 16 x 12 x 10 inches the waterproofed, laminated hardwood rear storage area should comfortably house a large grocery bag.
Foley chose a manageable 7005 aluminum alloy for Etta's main frame, but will be looking towards the more corrosion-resistant 6061 alloy for future production models. The frame includes "cutting-edge, ultra efficient warm-white LED" lighting to the front and rear with a low power draw - so low, in fact, that although the Etta prototype uses three AA sized batteries, production versions will utilize a dynamo hub to recharge onboard batteries.
The current prototype uses a Sturmey Archer 3-speed internally geared hub, which leans towards usage in a fairly flat, urban environment. An 8-speed internal hub or a 27-speed hybrid internal/cassette hub (like that offered by SRAM) would likely be offered as a production model option. Foley plans to add a more complete chain guard for any production model but told us that "the external chain, though not aesthetically ideal, has not proven to be problematic in practice. The Idler (the pulley wheel located near the center of the frame which bends the chain downwards) is very effective at keeping the chain inline and under tension, and as it is made from an acetal-teflon copolymer, it is incredibly durable and nearly frictionless."
The designer may also consider an electric hub motor enhancement to a future version of Etta but "doing away with the pedal power entirely is not something I find particularly advantageous. I'm no proponent of sloth."
Despite feeling some outside pressure to use disc or tri-spoke wheels for Etta, Foley instead chose a more lightweight and "realistic, production ready design" that would not price itself out of the market by including the more expensive designer wheels. The prototype has a 16 inch diameter aluminum rim and steel spoke wheel to the front and a 20 inch version at the rear.
The unusual seat has a thin foam padding atop its fiberglass shell which is said to be comfortable. Foley told us that "due to extensive testing during development to accommodate for anatomical differences and the natural flex of the fiberglass shell, everyone who has ridden it has been astonished at how comfortable it is to ride, even for long periods of time."
Etta's semi-recumbent riding position has been likened to that of a car, "with almost identical hand, foot, and seating positions." The designer says that such a position offers the rider "advantages over a traditional riding position in that they recruit larger muscle groups to turn the pedals and propel the bicycle, as well as decrease the amount of stress and chafing on the lower thighs due to the pedals being in front of the seat instead of underneath it."
It's similar to the flat foot technology incorporated into the Electra range, but with a slightly raised (adjustable) seat and with the pedals placed even further forward. Foley claims that the result is a more natural, comfortable riding position which is easy to start off from, explaining "because the pedals are in front of you, and because you can place your feet firmly on the ground while remaining seated, you simply need to lift one leg and begin pedaling." The design also caters for user heights of anywhere from 5 feet to 6 feet 6 inches, according to its creator.
There hasn't yet been the opportunity to run it through independent safety testing, but user testing has been very positive and Etta does benefit from keeping riders high enough off of the ground to provide a good field of view and ensure that they can be seen in urban traffic.
Since completing the Etta prototype for his senior thesis at the Pratt Institute, Foley has been displaying his creation at various galleries and design shows. It's currently on display at The Center for Architecture in Manhattan, in a show about the future of urban transportation.
If you fancy a test drive and live in the US, Foley is planning on bringing the Etta to this year's InterBike show in September, and would welcome the opportunity to show off his creation. In the meantime, he is currently in pre-production negotiations with several manufacturers and urges readers to keep an eye on his website for news and updates.
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