If you've ever ridden a Barclays 'Boris' Bike (or Citibike, or any similar bike-share bicycle) you know: those suckers are heavy. And, if you've ever ridden up anything near an incline, you know that heavy bikes absolutely suck on hills. Wouldn't it be great to just push a button instead?
Jeff Guida thinks so. This banker-turned-inventor has launched a Kickstarter project for a novel and wonderfully simplistic product. It's a little briefcase-like box that can turn the Boris bike – among other bike-share bicycle designs from the US and Canada – into an electric scooter. Guida calls it the ShareRoller. I call it awesome.
I met up with Guida in the cold on Thursday to try it out, and was pleasantly surprised in few different ways. First of all, the ShareRoller is smaller than it looks in photos. When you hear "briefcase-like box," you probably actually think of a briefcase. I did, anyway.
In reality, it's about the size of a 500-sheet pack of paper and weighs just over three kilos. The vast majority of that space is for the battery which gives you a 12- to 20-mile range, depending on which model you buy.
The next thing that surprised me was the speed. First, there's the installation. I watched in awe as Guida converted a regular old Citibike into an electric bike in approximately four seconds. By the fifth second, my ass was in the saddle. Then came the real fun. For legal reasons, the ShareRoller won't engage when you're at a standstill, so I had to pedal a couple of times before I could engage the 1.0 horsepower motor with a handlebar-mounted throttle. But, when I pushed the button, it felt like I'd been given superpowers. In a matter of moments, I was going 18 miles per hour while barely pedalling. I seriously laughed out loud at the sensation.
Riding an electric Citibike is a blast, but the biggest surprise was learning more about Guida's path to becoming an inventor. After studying electrical engineering in college, he took a job in management consulting and then finance. At a certain point, that life simply wasn't fulfilling enough. Guida wanted to make something. So he quit his job, bought a 3D printer, taught himself how to use AutoCAD, and started, well, making stuff.
Guida's first invention also involved bikes. It was a pedal attachment for the Brompton folding bike, and it became popular enough to inspire Guida to aim higher. While he was considering building an electric bike kit for a Brompton, he started to get curious about the possibilities of friction drive motors.
"I looked at the Citibike and thought, 'Aha! This thing is perfectly set up for a friction drive system, and the mounting triangle that is used to dock the bike is a perfect place to mount a motor,'" Guida told me. "So I just started designing something."
After only two weeks—and who knows how many hours in AutoCAD—Guida had built a working prototype. Sure, his experience in electrical engineering came in handy, but pretty much everything else, including the coding it took to build the software for the microprocessor, was pretty ad hoc. Nevertheless, it all happened very quickly.
"Years ago, I would've needed a giant engineering company and several million dollars in development research and it still would've taken two years or more," Guida said. But 3D printing has changed all that. In the coming months, Guida hopes to design a universal bracket so that the ShareRoller can be used on any bike. He has some competition there, as there are a few companies that make wheels that convert regular bikes into electric bikes, but he says the ShareRoller is more convenient.
The ShareRoller Kickstarter launches today. Guida hopes to raise $100,000 (£59,000) so that he can start mass manufacturing the device. Early birds can secure a ShareRoller for $995 (£590). Otherwise, it's $1,195 (£713) for the standard model and $1,495 (£892) for the extended range model.
I'll be the first to say it: that is very expensive for a bike accessory. If it'll get you to start using public bicycles instead of taking the underground, however, it'll pay for itself in about a year.
I'll also be the first to say: riding an electric Citibike is much more fun than taking the underground. [Kickstarter]
Images by Eric Rydin / ShareRoller