Ideo's prize-winning utility bike debuts via Kickstarter

The Faraday Porteur won a design competition last fall that CNET followed. Now its designer hopes to bring the bike to the masses by crowdsourcing the funding.

The Faraday Porteur Faraday

A clever electric bike, which won a design competition last fall for creating the best urban utility bike, is coming to market via Kickstarter today.

The Faraday, designed by the Palo Alto, Calif., design consultancy Ideo and Santa Cruz, Calif., bike-maker Rock Lobster Custom Cycles, took home top honors in the Oregon Manifest creative collaboration challenge , which CNET followed. The competition paired global design firms with small, handcrafted bike builders to create a bike for city living.

That success generated enough interest that Adam Vollmer, who led the design efforts for Ideo, left the firm to launch a company to make the bikes commercially. The first production run of the bike, renamed the Faraday Porteur, will be presold on Kickstarter starting today.

"This is a project inspired by the reaction people had to it," Vollmer said.

The Ideo-Rock Lobster team won as much for its boldness as its style. The bike included a motor to help power the pedals when riders need a bit of help climbing hills. While electric bikes have their niche, they're largely dismissed by cycling cognoscenti as ugly mopedlike rigs with no aesthetic.

But the Ideo-Rock Lobster bike, which stashed the lithium-ion batteries cleverly in twin top tubes, was a stunner. It featured steam-bent wood fenders and a classic leather saddle. It included a clever modular rack system that lets riders swap out a cargo box for a basket or any other accessory. And the motor was not so powerful that riders could stop pedaling. Instead, with a nudge of the thumb-controlled toggle on the left-handlebar grip, they get just a bit of boost.

Vollmer has set an ambitious goal of raising $100,000 on Kickstarter in 25 days. Backers who want to buy a bike, made by a contract manufacturer in the United States, need to pony up $3,500. If they spend $10,000, they can get a "collector's edition" bike that is an authentic replica of the design that won the Oregon Manifest competition, hand-built by Rock Lobster's Paul Sadoff. Lesser contributions receive everything from a T-shirt to a set of the steam-bent wood fenders.

The company has taken the name Faraday, an homage to 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, whose inventions are the foundation of electric motors. Vollmer is working with six others to bring the bike and the company to life. And the company has already received some cash from Ideo, which has taken a minority stake in Faraday.

If the company raises enough money to proceed, Vollmer is already thinking about the next model. He'd like to create a step-through bike, one without a top tube.

"We have huge plans," Vollmer said. "The Porteur will be the bike that gets us up on our feet."

About the author

Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).

 

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