Picking Up Speed for Bike Share

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:01

    Jeff Guida has launched a Kickstarter campaign to develop a product that makes Citi Bikes easier to operate

    Citi Bike pedaled its way into New York last spring with great success, racking up 96,000 annual memberships and thousands of rides since its 2013 debut.

    Even with its overall approval ratings high, however, the Citi Bikes have generated some grievances, one being that the clunky-bulky frames make them heavier than a standard bike and thus more difficult to operate.

    An entrepreneur and bike aficionado hit the repair garage as soon as the Citi Bikes made their debut to ameliorate some of these concerns. Jeff Guida has invented a device he calls ShareRoller, made to fit on bike share cycles.

    "It's the first portable, detachable, friction-drive system that will work on bike share programs around the world," said Guida of the ShareRoller, a suitcase-like device that attaches to the front of Citi Bikes and propels them without much human interaction.

    In short, it would turn a manual bike into an electric one.

    At the moment, there is a blurry line between the legality of an electrically assisted bicycle and a motorized vehicle in New York State.

    The Department of Transportation of New York states on their website, "New York State Department of Motor Vehicles does not register electric bicycles, therefore their operation is prohibited in New York City."

    The DMV website clarifies what counts as a motor-assisted bicycle, which cannot be registered: "A bicycle to which a small motor is attached. A motor-assisted bicycle doesn't qualify for a registration as a motorcycle, moped or ATV and doesn't have the same equipment."

    The DMV also has restrictions on other motorized devices prohibited such as scooters, mini-bikes, dirt-bikes and go-carts.

    But the question is whether a Citi Bike with an added electric motor constitutes an electric bike.

    "From my reading of the law," said Guida, "they make it clear, that the motorized scooter definition says, that it is capable of propelling the device without human power."

    The ShareRoller is designed to only be started with initial human force, after a mile or two of pedaling.

    "The way the law was written it sorts of puts in the opportunity for bikes that require human effort, electric assists with human efforts, to be exempt from the law," said Guida.

    There is currently a bill in the New York Assembly, introduced in January 201,3 to specifically define an electric assisted bicycle as "a bicycle with two or three wheels, which as a saddle and fully operative pedals for human propulsion and also has an electric motor," along with having a power output of 750 watts and maximum speed of 20 miles per hour.

    Some worry that streamlining the Citi Bikes to allow effortless mobility could create safety issues. The bulky frames of the bikes are cited for allowing a low center of gravity and thus a more stable ride.

    Guida states that he believes increased differentials in speed during traffic are a main cause of accidents. With Citi Bikes matching regular bikes speed wise, potential accidents would decrease, not increase, he said.

    "I see people all the time that have to go around Citi Bikes and frequently having to veer into the lanes of traffic to get around a slow moving Citi Bike," said Guida.

    The price points for the planned mass release of ShareRoller in the end of the summer are $1,195 for the 12-mile standard range and $1,495 for the 20-mile extended. The price is $995 for Kickstarter backers.

    But it does have the potential to pay for itself. If a biker were to forgo his $112 MetroCard and switch to a ShareRoller operated bike, it would take a little over 8 months to break even, said Guida.

    Die-hard manual bicyclists have been critical of this invention, accusing users of laziness. But Guida points out that his design is geared toward making commuting faster and easier.

    "We certainly don't look at people who take the subway or ride the taxi to the office as being lazy," said Guida. "We don't lambast them for not working out on the subway in the way into the city."

    As of press time, the Kickstarter campaign for the ShareRoller has made $33,191 of its $100,000 goal from 61 backers, with 20 days left to go.