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In New York, a bicycle built for Wi-Fi

On a two-wheeler outfitted with wireless equipment, Yury Gitman pedals around the city streets in a cloud of high-speed Internet access.

Call him the Johnny Appleseed of Wi-Fi.

Yury Gitman, a self-described "wireless and emerging-media artist" in New York, has outfitted his bicycle with an iBook laptop and Wi-Fi antennas so that everywhere he goes, a cloud of free, high-speed wireless Internet access follows him.

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"I'm interested in exploring the Internet physically, in motion," said Gitman, who calls his vehicle the Magicbike. "It's not on our radar screen, even though we're obsessed with mobility and wireless. But in the future, we're going to do that a lot."

Gitman's antennas tap open Wi-Fi networks whose signals are too weak for ordinary laptops to pick up. He essentially extends them through his Magicbike, and when those hot spots fade out, he relies on the cell phone network.

Demand for wireless Internet access in automobiles has been picking up, and plans are on the drawing board to offer it in airplanes.

Why a bicyclist would want Internet activity is a question Gitman called "a very fun proposition to think about." Navigation help and communication with other bicyclists--"bike-to-bike communication," in Magicbike parlance--are two possibilities, he said.

Gitman, who earned his master's degree at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, built a prototype for his Magicbike a year later and has been refining it since then. He'd like to see it mass-produced with solid-state components rather than with klunky and fragile laptop computer components, but he doesn't exactly see a mass market for Magicbike.

Curiously enough, networked bicycles are not a new idea--but they've only recently begun spreading Internet access.

Gitman keeps careful track of other instances and says his data show that the trend is picking up rapidly. According to his research, one networked bike was built in 1983, two in the mid-1990s, seven in 2003 and 12 in 2004.

The earliest example Gitman cited was known as the Behemoth, or the Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine, Only Too Heavy. More recently, networked (and pedaled) "tricycle taxis" in Denmark have organized under the Copenhagen Connected Cycle banner.

"Most of the people working on these today estimate more wireless bikes in the future--more than 30 by 2006," Gitman said. "We are all 'ahead of the curve,' so to speak."