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Ideo's electric bike wins design competition

An electric bike, created by global design consultancy Ideo and Santa Cruz, Calif., bike maker Rock Lobster Custom Cycles, wins the Oregon Manifest competition to build the ultimate utility bike.

An electric bike, created by the Palo Alto, Calif., design consultancy Ideo and Santa Cruz, Calif., bike maker Rock Lobster Custom Cycles, has won the competition for creating the best urban utility bike in the Oregon Manifest creative collaboration challenge.

The bike, which combines classic styling with an electric motor, beat out the creations of the pairing of Portland, Ore., design firm Ziba with bike builder Signal Cycles, and the tandem of San Francisco design consultancy Fuseproject with Santa Rosa, Calif., SyCip Designs.

On its Web site, Oregon Manifest posted reviews of each bike from four independent critics. Then, it let people vote for their favorite. The group declined to break down the voting, but said the Ideo-Rock Lobster creation won more of the 319 votes than the other bikes.

CNET has followed the competition--pairing global design firms with small, handcrafted bike builders--since July, reporting on the initial efforts of the teams to create the ultimate ride for hauling stuff around town. And we rode the three bikes during the field test last month, noting that the Ideo-Rock Lobster creation, dubbed the Faraday, was the most daring.

The Faraday, an electronic bike designed by Ideo and Rock Lobster Custom Cycles for the Oregon Manifest bike building competition. Ideo

That's because it used a motor to help power the pedals when cyclists need a bit of boost, up hills, for example. To cycling purists, that's anathema. But getting more people on bikes is a central goal to the Oregon Manifest competition. And that tiny motor, which only helps a bit, and even then only works when a cyclist is doing some pedaling, seemed to catch voters' fancy.

"The IDEO/Rock Lobster bike in particular has created a new benchmark for ebikes: one that melds true, and familiar, beauty of form with clever innovations and the sort of new technologies that soon become indispensable," said Oregon Manifest board director Shannon Holt, who organized the competition.

The bike, which cost about $5,000 in parts to make, features a 24-volt, 250-watt motor. To boost power, riders can push a thumb-controlled toggle on the left-handlebar grip to switch on the pedal-assist. Cleverly, the lithium-ion batteries are stashed inside twin top tubes, allowing the bike to retain classic looks, rather than taking on the appearance of a moped.

The reviewers universally loved the Faraday, named after 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, whose inventions are the foundation of electric motors. One, Jeremy Spencer, a former senior editor at Outside magazine who still reviews bikes for the publication, said he wrestled with his "Puritanical belief that a bicycle's engine is by definition its human."

"Otherwise, it's a motorcycle, right?" Spencer wrote. "Well, dammit, this isn't a motorcycle. It's a brilliant update of the French porteur with a little lightning up its butt, and I love it."

Ideo's Adam Vollmer said he and Rock Lobster's Paul Sadoff have received a few queries about ordering the bike.

"It's great to see that people loved the bike," Vollmer said.

But it's not a production model. And it's not clear that it ever will be one. The idea was to create a utility bike that would inspire others in the industry to rethink their approach to urban cycling.

The bike, along with the other design collaboration creations and the winners of the main Oregon Manifest competition among independent bike builders, is on display through October 29 at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland.