It's funny how certain words can make your skin crawl. And for me, one word I can't stand is "mobility." Automakers throw this term around like bead necklaces at Mardi Gras. In the 21st century, practically every car manufacturer fancies itself a mobility company, one providing sustainable, autonomous personal transportation to driving-averse millennials residing in ever-growing megacities. It's all very big-picture, and usually makes my eyes roll. But after a quick ride on General Motors' new Ariv, I've changed my tune. Mobility in the 21st century just got a whole lot more appealing.
Pragmatic, not playful
Currently available in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, this amped-up two-wheeler provides easy last-mile transportation and even makes trips to farther-flung destinations a breeze thanks to its integrated propulsion system. Unlike, say, a mountain bike, the Ariv is not built for recreation. It's purely for getting from A to B in densely packed city centers. But as an added bonus, it's also super fun to ride.
This product is part of the automaker's push toward a zero-emissions and zero-congestion future. "This entire bike was designed and engineered within General Motors," said Jonathan Williams, lead program engineering manager. "Everything from the drive unit to the battery to the bike frame was designed in-house."
The Ariv is offered in two models. The first version, called the Merge, folds into an easy-to-maneuver package that's scarcely larger than a piece of roll-aboard luggage. At the pull of a lever, its handlebars rotate rearward, the head tube drops, swiveling to one side, and the frame bends in half. Williams explained the design of these mechanisms was inspired by automotive door hinges, something GM has plenty of experience making. This model also features an eight-speed transmission for added riding flexibility.
The other version, called Meld, is a non-folding version of the Ariv. It's less complex and slightly more affordable, though it only has a single-ratio driveline. Ready for action, this Ariv weighs around 50 pounds.
Since the Ariv is an electrically assisted bicycle and not a self-propelled one -- an important distinction -- you can ride it anywhere you'd ride a normal bike. The electric motor only provides boost when you're pedaling. So, if your legs aren't pumping, electrons aren't flowing.
A small motor takes the strain out of cycling, delivering 635 Watts -- about 0.8 horsepower -- and 55 pound-feet of torque. Maxed out, this e-bike delivers a top speed of up to 20 mph, though it's limited to just 15 in Europe.
The Ariv's integrated lithium-ion battery delivers a riding range of up to 40 miles. It can be recharged in about 3.5 hours from a standard, 110-volt household outlet. Curiously, engineers decided against including a regenerative braking system, saying that since the Ariv is so efficient, it's not worth the added cost and complexity.
An Ariv app for your phone makes this e-bike even more useful. This bit of software includes a compass, battery monitor, GPS and even a cellular connection so you can keep tabs on your Ariv.
Illuminating the way is a small headlight, which also features a USB port. This allows you to keep your phone charged while riding. Curiously, the rear-facing lamp has to be charged separately because running a cable through the sliding seat post would have been too difficult. Fortunately, it can also be recharged from the USB port up front.
Rock and roll
So how does the Ariv Meld perform? In a word, it's entertaining. When starting from a standstill, it takes a couple revolutions of the pedals before the motor lends a hand, but once it's kicked in, the bike glides along with little effort. Four power levels are offered, with the lowest setting providing a minimal, though still noticeable, amount of assist. The top setting is the most fun, allowing the bike to rip at a speedy pace with little exertion on my behalf. All I have to do is keep my feet going in a circular motion to enjoy nearly effortless cycling.
While zinging along, it's easy to keep pedaling harder and faster, but at a certain speed, the electric assist cuts out because you've reached the limiter. Fortunately, this doesn't dampen the fun all that much.
Underway, this bike feels a bit awkward, like the pedal placement isn't quite right. Its ride is also stiff, even on smooth pavement. This is likely because of hard (overinflated) tires and small-diameter wheels. Minor gripes aside, the Ariv is an excellent transportation option for residents of large cities, one that's eminently practical and fun to ride, too.
It's unclear if the Ariv will be offered in markets beyond a few in Western Europe, but it sounds promising. Williams said, "By 2050, around 75% of people will live in cities and we know that a lot of cities are exploring alternative … transportation, which may not involve a personal vehicle."
As for pricing, Williams said the Meld model starts at about $2,499. The fancier Merge version is a little pricier, going for roughly $2,999. On the Ariv website, these bikes are listed as costing about 2,735 euros and 3,330 euros, respectively, in Germany.