August 22, 2007 Cycling devotees with huge thighs and shiny, rippling calves keep telling us that the pushbike is a fantastic way to get around town – but heaving and puffing up hills and into headwinds can be a discouraging proposition for those of us who aren’t such gods of physical perfection. Enter the iZip Express from Currie Technologies – a hybrid electric bicycle that uses a small motor to amplify your puny pedalling efforts into an output Lance Armstrong would be proud of. It’s a great idea - clean, green, and you still get some exercise out of riding it, but for a given amount of effort you go further and faster than on a normal bicycle.

Electric hybrid bicycles might seem a strange step sideways for a former Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering who spearheaded projects like stealth aircraft, cruise missiles and satellite navigation in the U.S. Gulf War effort – but Dr. Malcolm Currie has long believed that simple electric vehicles will become an increasingly important part of the urban transport mix due to economic and environmental pressures that show no sign of easing in the near future.

Currie’s Electro-Drive and Pro-Drive electric motors have been simple and successful, providing the powerplants for dozens of innovative electric bicycle and scooter products that have driven Currie’s start-up business from a two-man show to a growing business with 40 employees, over 50,000 unit sales a year and over US$10 million in annual revenue.

The innovative product line includes both a bicycle and a scooter featuring the NuVinci Continuously Variable Planetary transmission we recently wrote about. Most of the bikes are throttle-driven, but the latest addition to the range, the iZip Express, does away with the motorcycle-style twist-grip to act as a bionic pedal assist engine.

The system works simply and without requiring any attention. The harder you pedal, the harder the electric engine works to assist you, effectively amplifying your efforts as if you’re packing the powerful pins of a professional cyclist. Top speeds of 25mph (40kmh) are within easy reach.

The lithium-ion battery is rechargeable and, on high-power turbo mode, good for up to 31 miles (50km) between charges. Standard and economy mode can also be selected through a bar-mounted switch for less frantic cruising, the latter delivering up to 56 miles (120km) of ride assistance – making the iZip Express a very quick and viable commuter bike. Naturally if the batteries run out, you’re no worse off than if you were riding an ordinary bicycle.

Beyond the electric motor, the Express is well specified, with disc brakes, a 27-speed Shimano drive-train and RockShox forks. It’s also not half bad-looking as a cruising-style roadbike.

No retail pricing has yet been released, and we’re still working on arranging a test ride to tell you how the iZip Express runs – but with the company’s broad range of experience with electric bicycles and scooters, we’re very excited about the new model’s prospects.