There are interesting electric bikes popping up nearly every day, but arguably the most interesting are the ones that provide electric power without looking like two-wheeled battery packs or design student projects. We're thinking light, unassuming bikes like the Freygeist or Maxwell EP0. The all-new Italian-designed, Swiss-built e-bike from Velocipede Fogliaverde takes the idea of a classically styled e-bike even further, featuring a low-profile design dressed up with leather, wood and even rust.
"Velocipede Fogliaverde" (Italian for "green leaf velocipede") has to be one of the most fun company names we've seen in years - it just rolls off the tongue, though we may very well be mispronouncing it terribly. Its bikes also look pretty fun to ride, especially if you're the type that likes to attract a little attention, which the VF (that name isn't as fun to write) models do instantly with their classic, carefully accessorized looks.
As he explains it on Kickstarter, founder Peter Grünblatt sort of stumbled into the e-bike business with a journey that started about two years ago. In looking for a stylish, classy city bike to ride with his daughter, Grünblatt found the modern market lacking. Unimpressed by what he qualifies as pedal bikes without the right accessories and heavy, clunky e-bikes, Grünblatt turned to a quarter-century old racing bike he found in his in-laws' basement.
He stripped that old bike down and sunk money into building it back up to his own spec. After getting all kinds of positive feedback, Grünblatt decided to pursue a commercial version, complete with electric assist. He teamed with an Italian designer and Swiss mechanic to make the bike a reality.
"Inspired by the elegant, high quality cult bicycles of earlier days," VF's single-speed bike design includes a 22-in (56-cm) steel frame with double-butted tubes. It relies on the lightweight, streamlined electric power of the Zehus Bike+ rear hub drive to keep the design looking natural and not as "electric" as typical e-bikes with their big battery frame tube or water cage battery pack. The all-in-one Bike+ unit has an integrated battery, sensors and electronics, so everything's in the hub.
The 250W Bike+ e-drive provides assistance for speeds up to 15.5 mph (25 km/h). What's really interesting about the Bike+, in addition to its compact, integrated design, is that it offers a hybrid mode that provides electric assistance when it's needed, such as when climbing hills and accelerating, then recharges with kinetic energy recovery during braking, cruising and descending, eliminating battery drain and the need to plug in.
And if you don't like how the hybrid mode rides, the Bike+ drive has a total of seven modes, so you can always opt for more traditional pedal-assist operation that entails external recharge. VF estimates a two-hour charging time for the 160Wh lithium-ion battery.
Instead of a built-in computer, VF relies on the Zehus app to connect the rider with the electric drive. The iOS/Android app provides mode selection, trip data and a locking function, with the app relying on a Bluetooth connection with the Bike+.
The Bike+ hub drive is pretty inconspicuous on its own, and VF outfits its bike with some attractive components, drawing the eye in other directions. Examples include the spring leather saddle, leather handlebars, wood-platformed pedals and bamboo fenders. There are also anti-puncture tires and front and rear lights powered by a compact, lightweight Shutter Precision hub dynamo.
That basic setup weighs 33 lb (15 kg), which VF suggests makes it "the probably lightest e-bikes on the market." We know VF bikes are not the very lightest because of sub-30-lb (sub-13.6-kg) models like the aforementioned Freygeist and EP0, but 33 lb definitely puts it on the lighter, sleeker end of the e-bike market, especially when you factor in components like the fenders, dynamo and lights.
VF already has a damn stylish, elegant e-bike in that basic configuration, but it doesn't stop there ... not even close, in fact. It accessorizes the bike with front and rear racks, a wooden chain guard, a leather saddle bag with tools, a folding lock in leather case and a leather carry handle connecting the seat tube and down tube. There's also a kickstand, bell and reflectors. So right out of the gate, VF's bike is ready to carry gear on its racks, ride day or night, take care of mechanical issues and look pretty great doing it all. The listed weight jumps to 41 lb (18.7 kg) with all those added accessories.
VF offers two styles of bikes, and both models feature the same build and accessories, the difference being in the styling. The Piacevole Corsa base model comes in a variety of two-layer, pearl-effect color options, including midnight blue, cream, light blue, maroon and green apple.
The La Specialita Ruggine skips the paint and wears actual rust. VF explains that the frame undergoes a controlled rusting process before getting sealed with a transparent coating that suspends the rusting in a superficial state, giving each bike a one-of-a-kind rusty look without any actual frame degradation. Rust isn't typically something we think of as aesthetic, but it looks pretty good in the photos.
Velocipede Fogliaverde is hosting a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funding it needs to move from prototype to series production. It intends to perform safety testing, build up its team, finalize its production processes and put together distribution.
The Piacevole Corsa is available for pledge levels starting at CHF3,200 (approx. US$3,275), which is a 20 percent discount on the intended retail price. The La Specialita Ruggine is available at a CHF3,900 (US$3,990) pledge level, a 10 percent discount. Shipping is not included and varies by country. There are also a variety of lower-priced pledges, including a non-refundable CHF500 (US$510) reservation that secures 10 percent discounted pricing on bikes purchased within a year. Estimated delivery is April 2017, but the Kickstarter doesn't look like it's bound for success just yet, given that it's only raised about 1 percent of its CHF300,000 (US$307,000) goal with 25 days left to run.
While we love the look and component selection on the Velocipede Fogliaverde bikes, and understand that offering a fully outfitted bike is part of the company's vision, it seems like the company would be well-served to offer a stripped down base model in addition to the fully equipped versions. It could cut out a lot of price and weight by making both the accessories and certain components within the 33-lb "essentials" version, such as the lights, dynamo and fenders, optional. Perhaps it will do that in the future to lower prices and appeal to more people.
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