Pimp My Bike: Car Companies Are Building Two-Wheeled Dream Machines

Why yearn for a gas-guzzling sports car when you can aspire to own an all-electric BMW scooter or a Prius-inspired bike you can shift with your mind?

This is my new dream car: an all-electric BMW scooter that plugs into a conventional household outlet.

This baby has all the hallmarks of a dream machine: it’s got status brand written all over it; it’s fast (enough); and if it even comes to market, I’m guessing it’ll be way out of my price range. It’s also a concept vehicle, which makes it that much more unattainable.

But note that it’s not actually a car. I’ve never owned a car, and given the expense, the environmental impact, and my preference for cities with great public transportation systems, I don’t know that I ever will. But even for someone like me, who’s not buying what car companies are selling—sorry, Detroit—auto makers are conjuring up products that kick those consumptive, aspirational instincts into gear. And although buying an electric BMW scooter might contribute more carbon emissions to the world’s total than taking public transportation, if consumers buy a tricked-out bike instead of a gas-guzzling sports car, that’s an improvement.

The BMW scooter has a few features to recommend it. Because it can be plugged into a regular outlet, it obviates the need for the charging infrastructure that makes electric cars a tricky proposition. BMW says the scooter can make it about 62 miles before it needs a recharge. That range is about half of an electric car’s, but it’s large enough to make the scooter a real option for an urban or suburban commuter. Its battery can make it from empty to full in three hours.

Car companies are also coming up with ideas to fancy up bicycles. When BMW came out with the M Bike last year, it followed Porsche and Ferrari, as well as less luxury-oriented companies like Peugeot, into the bike market. In 2010, Lexus trotted out a hybrid electric concept bike that an image-conscious person might want to be seen riding, unlike standard electric bikes, which look like normal bikes with a bucket of electronics strapped to the back. This past April, Audi came out with a line of bikes the wood frames of which were picked to complement the hardwood used in Audi interiors. These bikes cost thousands of dollars—the Porsche bikes topped $10,000 when they first came to market—and they’re more of an exercise in branding than in innovation.

But some companies have gone a step further. In connection with the tenth anniversary of the Prius, Toyota has commissioned a bike from the racing bike design shop Parlee Cycles. The Prius X Parlee (or PXP) bike is meant to reflect the aerodynamics and other design principles of Prius cars: One initial concept had lights integrated into the seat, for instance.

Aerodynamics are nice and all, but the team behind the PXP bike is pushing the machine one step further into fantasy land. The bike’s gear system will be connected to a system of electronics that lets the rider shift gears just by thinking. Using off-the-shelf components, the technology firm Deep Local designed a helmet, fitted with neurotransmitters, that responds to the rider’s command to shift up or down a gear. It might not be the most practical of features, but it gives bikes a certain caché. You can’t buy a car you can control with your mind.

Photo courtesy of BMW

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