YikeBike is very much a product of human ingenuity, or so creator Grant Ryan claims, but that doesn't stop it from giving us a riding experience that is nothing short of other-worldly. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily equate to a entirely perfect experience.
A penny-farthing for these times
Yeah, we're not particularly keen on the name "YikeBike" either; it sounds like a Ferengi gambling term or an epithet hurled in some harsh foreign language. Over the course of our testing we were asked many times "What is that thing?" Each time we responded with "YikeBike" the follow-up question was "What?" Perhaps this is proof that the name doesn't exactly stick, but it is certainly odd enough to describe this very odd cycle.
It's something like a modern interpretation to the penny-farthing style bicycle. You know, the old timey ride with a giant wheel up front, tiny one out back, bowler hat wearing gentleman perched precariously up top, high enough to make one wonder how he got there in the first place.
The YikeBike is thankfully much smaller, its front tire having a diameter of just 20-inches. This is a little bigger than that purple or blue (or both) Huffy you had as a kid, with a rear wheel just 8-inches inches across. It's a strange looking bird, but it isn't odd for the sake of turning heads. That little rear wheel collapses and tucks inside the front, which is almost entirely enclosed by an all carbon fiber shroud containing the battery pack, motor, and probably some kryptonite too.
Likewise the handlebars fold down, the seat tucks away, and the whole thing turns into a puck that, with the addition of a padded shoulder strap, becomes a 23lb back appendage that is, unfortunately, rather larger than George Jetson's briefcase and a bit too large to carry on to a flight. However, it's plenty small enough to work on a subway or other means of public transportation where it could fill the gap between the closest stop and your destination. It's also light enough to carry up some stairs, but we wouldn't recommend lugging it for too long. We think your chiropractor would agree.
However, one simple thing that really is missing is some form of kick stand. There's simply no way to keep the thing from falling over except for leaning it against something. When folded it's basically round and decidedly top-heavy, so even propping it up can be a challenge. Some sort of little fold-down center stand is really needed.
On the back is an array of decidedly conspicuous LEDs that act as brake and turn signals -- yes, there are little buttons on the handlebars that let you indicate a turning direction. Just in front of those buttons are a pair of even brighter LEDs that act as makeshift headlights. No, they won't deliver sweet comeuppance to those xenon blinders in their luxury cars, but they will at least let you see far enough to get home safely after yet another late-night production deployment.
Learning to ride
Five wobbly feet into our first ride on the YikeBike it became painfully clear that motorcycle and bicycle experience isn't going to help much here. The YikeBike is steered by handlebars that sit at your sides, on stalks that extend from behind the seat. Turning the bars turns the front wheel, feet either side on pegs that fold down from that swoopy carbon cowling. Meanwhile the seat is really attached to the rear wheel.
It's a bit odd, to have your feet and the front wheel turn while your body keeps looking straight. If you want to experience it, hop on the handlebars of a friend's bike and have him let you steer, just be aware that if you fall over and break something we will not be held liable.
Thankfully on the YikeBike you're much lower, so falling over is a lot harder. Squeeze the throttle too hard (a trigger on the right grip) and you might just lose your balance, but you can always just put a foot down. Alternately if you hit the brake too hard (a trigger on the left grip) the bike does an immediate endo, bucking you out of the seat. This may sound dangerous, but it actually feels quite natural: you just stand up.
Regardless of how cool such a dismount may look the idea is naturally to ride in control, and YikeBike the company recommends 30 minutes in an open area of slow-speed riding to get used to things before you get too crazy. There's even something of a grenade pin that fits in the throttle (which is cheekily shaped like the bike itself), preventing newbies from inadvertently quick getaways.
It took us about 15 minutes before we felt comfortable pulling the pin. Rebels, we know. Like snowboarding or riding a motorcycle it actually got easier the faster you went, so once we got over our early wobbles we felt comfortable giving it a bit more stick -- with restraint. An itchy trigger finger can still send you into a wee tank-slapper, and the touchy regenerative brakes do take some practice. But, we didn't fall once and didn't scrape a single knee, which is more than we can say for learning to ride a bike as a kid. All this without training wheels!
On a bicycle some amount of your mass is supported by the handlebars and some by the pedals. Here, though, with your feet out front and your hands down at your sides most of your weight is on your kiester and, well, after a little while things start to get a little sore. We're thinking frequent cyclists won't mind so much, but if your cheeks haven't embraced a bike seat in awhile prepare for an acclimatization period.
Try as we might we alas weren't able to get up to that 15mph top speed, at least not according to GPS, not even with a slight downhill run. Our best was about 13.5mph, though perhaps with a little more breaking in than our virgin steed had experienced things would roll more smoothly. Also, due to a series of blizzards we haven't been able to get as much road time as we'd have wanted, but battery life thus far has given us little reason to doubt the six mile range estimate from the company.
It's abundantly clear that this is not an all-terrain machine, though: the tire is a slick and the only suspension is provided by whatever cushioning nature gave you. YikeBike assured us the machine is fully waterproof, and indeed we bisected some puddles without getting electrocuted or a skunk stripe up our backs, but it seemed like a shame to get something this lovely all covered in excessive road grime.
When depleted you'll need to break out a generously sized charging brick, which has an annoying little fan that spins away to presumably keep the aluminum box from combusting. A charge takes about 45 minutes, which is quite acceptable, but having to use that charging brick is a bit of a bother. If you're looking to charge on the go it means you'll either need to take it with you or cough up another $100 for a second one. Given the weight of the brick and the total cost of the bike we'd say the extra $100 isn't so bad.
One thing we wouldn't spring for is the paint. This is actually the first painted YikeBike in the world -- initial shipping models are available in any color you like so long as it's carbon fiber. That early status shows, with a few paint flaws jumping out at us as soon as the bike sprang from its container and a couple scratches seemingly self-manifesting through the course of our testing. The company will soon offer a range of colors for those with a bit of patience, but we'd stick with the raw carbon.
If all the import tuners can flaunt their carbon wings and other meaningless add-ons to their cars, why can't you show off the weave of your bike that's entirely made of the stuff?
And that niche will be expanding a bit soon, with extra battery packs that will extend the bike's range and turn it into more of a practical commuter. Even then the YikeBike won't fit into the lives of an awful lot of people, and we can't help feeling intense jealously toward those for whom it does.