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Twike (wikipedia.org)
275 points by legerdemain 9 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 195 comments





My father has had his Twike for seven years now. I wouldn't recommend it, the suspension is not up to snuff, even just for daily commute. Getting repairs done is a major difficulty as there are very little parts or mechanics readily available. He also had to sue the Twike company when they tried to defraud us w.r.t. warranty and insure documents. The legal issues have been on-going and they stalled the repair of the Twike for about a year.

My father now commutes by electric bicycle.


Simply the cost of it (25.000 euros debut price?) seems to defeat the purpose. The weight being closer by far to a small car than an electric bike doesn't help either. I suppose people who need specifically that much room in their vehicle and/or live somewhere very cold could see utility but given the maintenance issues you mention I'm not surprised it isn't a big seller.

I love this in principle, but the one thing I always wonder about recumbent bicycles is how visible they are to lorries / trucks. I've seen some with a tall aerial-like stem and a flag on top of it, but knowing how bicycles can be pretty invisible to cars even when wearing a reflective top at their eye height, I think I'd always be anxious about being crushed from behind. I suppose that says a lot about cycling infrastructure in the UK in terms of being forced to ride on the same road as massive lorries.

Edit: Actually, looking at the official site - https://twike.com/en/home/ - it's bigger than it seemed to me at first, so perhaps not as bad as recumbent bikes.

Edit 2: Blimey, they're expensive - "The new vehicle price for a TWIKE 5 shall be between 39.900 € and 49.900 € (sales price in Germany, incl. 19% VAT, depending on the battery equipment)."


Ah, so they just multiplied the ridiculous cost of bicycles by the ridiculous cost of electric cars. Brilliant.

That would have units of money^2 and wouldn't type-check. You'd have to do something like a geometric mean or choose a money-valued scale, like the price of a smug bumper sticker, to divide by.

divide it by 1€

Wow, that is expensive for such a simple design.

I live in the Netherlands and these are too fast for bicycle paths and too unsafe for regular roads. Love the idea, but we would need much cheaper mass production and a completely different road infrastructure.


I used to live in NL, so I know the paths you mean, and the same applies here in Switzerland. But in Switzerland they instead plate them as cars and drive them on regular roads, keeping up/competing with automobile traffic. These are not uncommon here despite their cost and moderate practicality, probably because their cost relative to salary is lower than elsewhere in Europe.

Wow. For that price, you can easily buy an electric car.

Well i would say with a speed of about 120km/h and the range of 150km in the most basic configuration (max with 190km/h and 500km range) the Twike more or less IS an electric car^^.

Yeah, but for less than 30k € you can already get a Renault Zoe with a speed of 145 km/h and a range of almost 400 km (52 kWh battery).

At the price of 50k €, you're in the Tesla Model 3 range.


Or ten used ICE's.

Or 50 good e-bikes.

Or 100 good regular bikes.

Or 500 cheap secondhand bikes.


Good ebikes for 1k? I think "good" starts at 2k.

For all practical purposes bicycles and motorcycles are invisible to drivers. FortNine has an amusing video on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x94PGgYKHQ0

My personal experience, after years as a courier on both upright, recumbent, and motorcycles is that I am more "visible" on a recumbent then the other options because I'm "weird" enough to make it into a drivers consciousness...

None of this is ofcourse scientifically relevant data.


It's strange that this is a meme, because my experience is the opposite: as a motorist, bicycles are the most visible things around. As a cyclist, I see cars react to me every time I'm close enough to them that it's relevant. They're clearly aware of me.

My theory is that cyclists become invisible in areas where the roads force them to mix with cars. Where I live, they rarely mix, so when they do, it's an unusual event that promotes itself to your attention.

Either way, it backs up the idea that weirdness counts for a lot.


In areas with separated bike lanes traffic mixing usually happens in slower speed areas. This greatly reduces the chance that a small vehicle like a bicycle gets lost in the saccades.

The twike is not much smaller than a small car, and perhaps even a bit bigger than a Smart ForTwo... so, no real problem here... and i can asure you: If there is one of those around, they HAVE the attention of any driver around them ;-)

The wheelbase might not be smaller than a small car, but it definitely looks like its height is much smaller. One could still imagine it being invisible to a person in an SUV staring at their phone.

The benefit for safety for this is that it is large enough fast enough to move with traffic on most city streets, so won't be getting sideswiped into the gutter by passing cars regularly.


40 thousand euro?

That's insane and offensive.

There is an actual car in India that retails for 1/8th the price.

For 20k you could pay someone to build you a custom of the same vehicle and have money left over.

It almost seems like a conspiracy to make eco friendly transportation seem expensive.


I've wondered how feasible it is to add an automated detection system to a bike that makes a loud noise/light show when it detects a vehicle is driving towards you.

Is radar enough? Would it take too much power?


Garmin's Varia product line does this.

https://www.garmin.com/en-US/c/sports-fitness/cycling-bike-c...

I do prefer a decent mirror though. Radar can't tell me what a car is doing, what it is, if a bicyclist is approaching, if my friend stopped to fix a flat, etc.


I was about to post that same link :)

> one thing I always wonder about recumbent bicycles is how visible they are to lorries / trucks

I'd be worried about any vehicle that isn't a Twike. These would not fair well in accident.


I had something similar, although simpler: it's called a velomobile (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velomobile). It's a bike but with some added aerodynamics. You can easily ride at 40km/hour (~24mi) only with your muscles.

It was very nice to drive: very stable and rather fast and i did 2x20km/day to work. However its bigger weight compared to a simple bicycle makes it not suitable to mountains


I would love to buy one and do some nice trips in the Italian back country. Problem is, it's very hard to understand which model(s) are well designed, and also hard to understand where to buy it to get the best price.

Is there any recommendation you could provide?


Almost all modern velomobiles are build by Velomobile World in Romania. There is a italian dealer for them: https://www.velomobileworld.com/dealers/

It is probably a good idea to do one or more test drives first, so you know what you are getting into and what is important to you.


There is a very good forum: velomobilforum.de

It's in German, but you can ask questions in English and they will usually be answered in English as well.

As for your question about which models are well designed, I'd say that if you're looking for speed, the fast ones are the Milan SL, the Alpha 7 and the upcoming Snoek, but those are not suitable for tall and/or wide riders. If you don't fit into those, your best options for speed would be the Milan GT, the DFXL or the upcoming Alpha 9.

If you're rather looking for something more practical, the Quattrovelo is the way to go; it has four wheels and therefore a bigger and more usable luggage space, which can even be used to transport a small child.


I had a rotovelo, which is the only one who is "plastic only". It's heavier than the NL ones (Quest, Strada, Mango) but it was a bit cheaper.

In EU (FR/CH/DE) there are specialized forums about them and I bought mine second hand. You'll love it !


Why don't you have it anymore?

I moved and lived closer to the city than before (where i had 14km of "Straight road").

I bought an electric bicycle instead :-)


Thanks! :-)

Reminds me of a Sinclar C5[0] (my grandfather worked for the company I believe, there are photos with him, my mum and a bunch of these C5's)

It was mired in troubles; low visibility, low range (lead-acid batteries being... low density compared to li-ion), quite easy to break and being easy to steal.

Still, I think the form factor is a wonderful idea and it's nice to see some alternative methods being explored for electric vehicles again..

I sometimes see little electric "Fatboys"[1] in operation around Malmo (a famously cycle friendly city); though sadly I think they're mainly used by drug dealers.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_C5

[1]: https://www.urbanscooters.com/products/mototec-fatboy-500w-e...


Those Fatboys look perfect for all sorts of local delivery, food, drugs, groceries in general.

Not sure why it's particularly sad that drug dealers have adopted a practical delivery vehicle though.


Drug dealers are not necessarily dumb, and can be quite creative when figuring out how to go about their criminal enterprising.

History is full of stigmatized industry leading change, especially porn. Porn legitimized VHS, the internet, streaming video on the internet, etc.


Because if they’re associated with criminal behaviour then they’re likely to be avoided by ordinary folks.

Here in Spain there are "fatboys" everywhere, Specially in rural areas as a substitute of mopeds.

These things are still a bit far outside the mainstream, but if anyone hasn't tried an ebike yet, I highly encourage it!

It really is magic mobility, with the free feeling of being on a bike, without the sweat or the necessary fitness to travel at 20 or even 25 mph.

I don't think Twikes (or other recumbent bikes / velomobiles) will gain popularity in the near term, but I'm very confident that ebikes will continue to grow.


In the UK they're limited to 15mph and only operate in assist mode (as opposed to full drive). Where are you that allows that kind of speed?

But who keep an eye on that? In Spain the speed limit of any bike is 45 km/h (around 28 mph), and when we are in the road with bigger limits to other vehicles, outside the city normally, we are faster than that (if we can) and nobody bothers. Even the police won't tell you anything unless you're doing something dangerous.

Might be an insurance issue, though.

Mandatory insurance to ride an e bike? How sad.

The limit is a bit annoying, but in practice cars in city traffic aren't moving much faster than this anyway[1]. During rush hours even a limited bike is faster than the cars.

[1] https://www.london.gov.uk/questions/2019/19767


No doubt, I just had misgivings about the speed. I can't find anything on how much safer 15mph is vs 28mph (sibling comment) but imagine the difference is considerable.

In the US they are limited to 20mph, unless you get the 'speed' version, in which case they are limited to 28mph and technically forbidden from most bike trails.

20mph is a pretty decent clip for a (manual) bicyclist, but 28mph is really moving!


I mean, you can absolutely go faster than 15mph on an electric bike in the UK, it's just that it has to stop providing any boost past that point.

I had friends who had 2 Twikes. They were really great, my friends used them every day to commute for more than 10 years. But they have two disadvantages:

* Savety if you share the road with 2000kg blobs of steel. * Price. Cheap once you have them, but they are not mass-manufactured and come with a heafty price for what they offer.


The problem with these kind of vehicles is that they exist somewhere between cars and bicycles, which means they won't be welcome on either bike paths or car roads. Hell, people even complain about people on race bicycles on bicycle paths. But then again, people wouldn't be people if they didn't complain (about traffic).

This thread is of course tragically incomplete without tagging the Sinclair C5:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_C5


> Pedaling warms the user, making electric heating in winter unnecessary

Well that's one way to spin a missing feature ;)


Too bad it doesn't really work. Winter biking is still cold as shit and breathing in -20°C air is not fun.

That hasn't been my experience. One the airstream is blocked you won't be cold for long.

Not in a Velomobile. Actually, you need a fan for forced ventilation.

Or to ride semi-naked. Now there's a sight for winter.

I think after all this falls under the super-category Velomobile [1] - there are plenty of other examples for two-seater, electric assisted Velomobiles.

Also, Velomobiles are way more popular. My unkle (used to?) drives one every day to work, in every weather, 40+ km one way (without electric assist, at least a few years ago). And no, he was never cold, he rather had problems with ventilation ;)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velomobile


There is a similar four wheeled HEHV being produced in Norway: https://www.podbike.com

Wow, the hoops you have to jump through to find a price!

5k or 5.5k, depending on variant.

Although to be practicable (not a hobby), you will have to add quite a few "extras".

But not that bad actually! Makes me wonder how it is built.


5k?! That's seriously low. Other velomobiles (going by velomobiel.nl) aren't even ebikes and still go for at least 8k (or 6.6k without VAT to be fair).

That's an exciting development, hopefully it's not vaporware.


It has a serial hybrid drivetrain: you charge the battery with your pedals. This is inefficient, naturally, but they claim it's far easier to make, which I tend to believe. But the idea of all of my hard-won watts getting wasted by the second law of thermodynamics is just too much to bear. If I'm dropping 5K on a bike it had better have a drivetrain that just sings when you step on it.

For me (on mobile) it said right on the homepage. And then after loading a few megabytes of data a cookie wall popped up so I guess they need consent for stuff I don't want...

> With +3100 pre-orders, expected delivery for new pre-orders is 2023.

Velomobiles are a fascinating example of a domain which keeps getting reinvented over and over! The 'glass ceiling' cab has been a feature that keeps showing up on independently developed velomobiles, despite the prior experiences of models like the Go-One and Twike. If the interior is reflective or a light color that doesn't absorb sunlight, it reflects back in the screen, creating glare. If the interior is dark enough not to cause glare, it becomes a solar oven. When it's cool and cloudy enough that the sunlight exposure isn't a problem, condensation sets in.

Just a layman, but it seems like you could solve the heat and condensation by adjusting ventilation.

A very modern version but for one adult:

https://www.podbike.com/


Not to mention 5,000 instead of 40,000 EUR...

It seems to me, that this thing combines disadvantages both from car and a bicycle. Also: only one wheel on the front? Imagine what will happen if you decide to apply brakes while cornering at a reasonable speed.

The german Wikipedia page has pictures of some more recent versions: https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twike

> Pedaling warms the user, making electric heating in winter unnecessary.

I don't know who edited this in the wiki, but this type of talking down to people is probably one of the top reasons the culture of biking in the US even in places like San Francisco never resonated with people. There are just too many condescending bike enthusiasts who think biking is the next best thing invented after sliced bread and everyone else is an idiot for not seeing the light.


I'm not sure how this is talking down to anybody. It's generally true that if you're cycling in the winter (I do it in the UK) you'll be perfectly warm even wearing minimal clothing. The first 5 minutes might be a bit chilly if you're just in shorts, but after that you'll warm right up.

If you find bike enthusiasts condescending that's a shame. It is a great way to travel - environmentally friendly, cost efficient, and actually often quicker than public transport (even cars) within major cities. Certainly more convenient, as you don't need to wait for a train or bus, and can generally lock it up just about anywhere.

From my experience in the US, the main issue isn't an image problem, just that the road infrastructure has been designed with no thought for cyclists; and the distances (outside of places like NYC and San Fran) are just huge.


I used to see these occasionally on the road in Switzerland and often would drive behind them, as they were naturally a lot slower on the open road than most cars.

There are still a few around in Zurich. They're quite expensive, though, so I guess that's why they didn't really take off. I might consider buying one for say... twice the price of a good electric bicycle.

I hope this link is from a clever would-be startup founder so they can show our positive responses as they pitch basically the same idea to YC.

More seriously, pedal power is great, better for the environment and better for its users. I expect obesity rates would drop dramatically if we had better cycle infrastructure (I'm in the UK, statement works in most places) and especially if we had family friendly power assisted cycles.


Yup, they are built roughly 5 km from where i live, and you can see one or two on a daily basis. They have this '80s eco design' charme and after a testdrive a few years ago i can say: If i had the money, i would buy one anytime.

So, how much are we talking?

Lets just say round about "half a tesla" ;-)

These are awesome, but they are too small (and too slow) for the road and too big for the bike path or sidewalk.

I ride a scooter to work everyday. (Inokim Ox). Its legal on the sidewalk where I live. I really think scooters are the future.


Thank god they swiftly banned scooters from the sidewalk in Austria. And enforced reasonable speed limits as well.

Right after Lyft, Lime and whatnot started to literally litter the sidewalks of Vienna with their (almost free) electric scooters (mind you, these sidewalks are almost always full of people), you were constantly almost run over by some Schmuck with headphones on and an arrogant look on their face, screaming "This is the future you peasants, now get out of my way..."


I'm going to get a monocle and a top hat and ride with my nose in the air to enhance my arrogant look!

Just checked the website - the Twike 5 (2021) with the largest battery should be able to do 190km/h and have a range of 500km. Those are optimistic numbers for sure, but not really "too slow", right?

In the UK, many of these solutions are held back by regulation - electric scooters aren't legal yet, despite a significant fraction of the population using them. Similarly for electric velomobiles and bicycles, limited to 15mph is limiting given that many cities have large 20mph zones.

Once the regulation has caught up, I can see the price dropping for many of these vehicles. There are gaps in the market for (weatherproof!) city transport for 1+1/luggage eg. for shopping, school runs, work commute, mobility etc.

As far as scooters go, with such small wheels, they put you at risk every pothole. Hire scooters should really be using 12" or larger to be safe. They're also not weatherproof so not ideal for many demographics and locations. Agreed that we need more innovative transportation though!


Agree, Twikes combine the disadvantages of both. Its more the expression of an identity instead of a rational decision.

Having such cars in the city would solve the traffic problem. But why are not selected from the car industry holders? Does the customer not prefer them? Is the marketing that is missing? A good example of transition in the car industry is the massive use of the electric cars which I think that it began with Tesla cars. Tesla cars did the break through for the electric cars from my point of view. There is a need for another break through for using such cars.. or an evolutionary part of the community to start using and search such solutions

I love biking in the summmer, and I've avoided a moped or motorcycle because it would basically overlap with my bike in terms of usefulness around the city. I haven't done a ton of resarch but I haven't seen a good complementary vehicle for running errands / getting around when it's rainy/snowy and I wouldn't want to bike. A recumbent bike like this would be very hard to see in the rain, and it doesn't seem capable of dealing with canadian winter weather.


Driving them feels like sitting in a space ship.

Source: I've driven one for a couple of minutes once a couple of years ago. In Switzerland they are kept alive and running by a number of enthusiasts.


The price of the Twikes is absolutely ridiculous. You have to be an idiot or an absolute enthusiast to buy one because with every other vehicle you get a lot more for the money.

I wonder how they got to that price. Obviously no economy of scale here but still, I can't create a business on the grounds that I will only sell like two vehicles per year, so I need to make them ridiculously expensive to make my company sustain.

Even if I totally manufacture that machine it will never be so costly.


Mostly because it's made in an highly develop country with strong labour law and high quality of life. Sure, you could built it in Turkey or U.S.A. and lower significantly the cost, but not as much as you think.

For comparison, the Renault Twizy starts at 7k Euro. Ok, that doesn't include the battery, and maybe it's assembled in Romania but still a much more reasonable price for a comparable product.

Nice swipe at the U.S. but less is manufactured here on a per capita basis than some European countries (namely Germany).

I mean, it's made in Germany. For the price, you could get _two_ VW e-ups (worst electric car name ever), also made in Germany, or a small herd of German-made e-bikes.

The Dutch manufacturer velomobiel.nl has developed a two person version of its popular Quest velomobile:

https://www.velomobiel.nl/duoquest/

Smaller English version: https://en.velomobiel.nl/duoquest/

Its lack of electric support makes it rather cheaper than the trike.


Nice bike/attempt but not many of them in circulation (too expensive, too exposed). Fwiw, pedaling does not provide a large fraction of the needed energy and I don't think the mechanical complication was worth it. Twike is the past imo.

Maybe Microlino, a wonderful, stylish, energy efficient vehicle, will be the future (certainly smarter than the crap suv tanks one sees driving around here (in the inner city)).


Isn't the reliant robin the ICE equivalent that was/is completely unstable around corners?

It makes a good space shuttle replacement though.


I actually seriously dream of starting some sort of company to build vehicles like this!

Other than the car designs themselves, my idea is to decentralize the ownership and selling to circumvent the laws about auto manufacturing. Like, "the sharing economy" but we're sharing being auto manufacturers in an independent, collective way. Each member will be able to sell so many "custom cars" as a private individual.

I want to see the USA with tiny little cars and empower people to be able to theoretically build/maintain their own, like a bicycle.

I'm extremely passionate about small vehicles and I think that they will be more popular in the future, when we are facing the more severe effects of climate change and fuel shortage.

I haven't even read the thread yet, and I've never brought this sort of thing up here before, but I'm slowly acquiring the knowledge and skills to make building one at least a personal reality some day.

Now, on to the thread!


I'm a sucker for these bicycles (or quadcycles) with roofs. There have been countless attempts to bring them to market but it seems they mostly end up being too expensive or not making it to production.

Reminds me of the reliant robin.[0]

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQh56geU0X8


I love the idea of velomobiles, but living in the American West, air conditioning is a necessity.

Are these like those things I've seen tourists riding around in San Francisco?

has the same problem as bicycles - if a pickup truck collides with you, you're going to be a grease stain on the road.

I want one of those!

Another example of how, if you had to design a vehicle for passenger city/suburban use, you would never ever ever come up with an ICE sedan, or to be honest even an electrical vehicle of "normal" proportions.

Pretty sure the car is the most harmful invention of the 20th century. The damage it has done to the environment, our health, and social fabric is hard to grok.

A couple edits for clarification:

- I'm talking about using cars to transport individuals to work, school, lunch, errands, etc

- Cars are very harmful to health. Most obviously, they kill a lot of people. There's over one million road deaths worldwide per year[0]. (Covid killed 4M). Less obviously, they are terrible for health. Living next to busy roadways is linked to increased dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. This has nothing to do with CO2--it's the rubber and metal and not addressed by Teslas or whatever.

- Cars make people dumber. Students who move to schools downwind of busy roads have lower test scores [1].

- Less obvious is the damage to social fabric. It's not just a distance thing: it's an estrangement thing. People in cars skip the places they move through as opposed to inhabiting them. Think about some busy thoroughfare at night near your home. Does it feel safe?

- Think about Houston. Think about Mumbai. Think about Lagos.

- Getting rid of cars does not mean everyone has to use public transport. In fact that was my point. You can design a vehicle that takes you quickly from a -> b that doesn't weigh 2 tons and uses 18m^2 at rest.

- Getting rid of cars does not mean getting rid of ambulances ffs.

But my main issue isn't how bad this all is: it's how unnecessary it is. As a species we are more than capable (as evidenced by the OP!) of building a variety of modes of transport that are better in most every way (utility, externalities, price) to cars.

[0]: https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/global-road-safety/index...

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-04/pollution...


For anyone who has trouble understanding this perspective because they've lived in car-dependent hell their entire lives, I recommend the Not Just Bikes channel. He does extremely detailed comparisons of US cities vs Netherlands and other places. Here is a recent one [1].

For me, I always felt that something was wrong about American cities / suburbs but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then, I spent a few months in Tokyo and something "clicked". It's an entirely different paradigm that forced me to reevaluate what I thought was possible.

When I returned to the US, on the ride from the airport my first thought was: Everyone in this traffic jam is going the same direction, and would fit in a handful of train cars. Why are we OK with this??

People say trains are expensive, but they don't realize how much money we spend on cars. Americans spent $1.1 TRILLION on personal vehicles in 2017 [2], not including the hundreds of billions spent yearly on road maintenance. Redirecting a fraction of that money would more than pay for high-speed rail.

Let's do a crude estimate. Using the chart here [3], we can expect to pay somewhere between $3-163 million USD per mile of high-speed rail. The distance from NY to LA is 2789.9 miles.

At $100M/mile, which is excessive, it would still only cost $279 billion. We could build THREE transcontinental high-speed rail lines every year with the money we spend on personal automobiles. If we're as cost-effective as Japan at $2.6 M / mile, we could afford to build 384,000 miles of high speed rail every YEAR.

Subway lines in a city are more expensive, around $200-400 M / mile, but of course there are fewer miles to cover, so the result is the same. New York pays an excessive $2.5 billion per mile, but my understanding is that is due more to corruption and red tape.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxykI30fS54

[2] https://www.itdp.org/2019/05/23/high-cost-transportation-uni...

[3] https://reason.org/wp-content/uploads/files/high_speed_rail_...


+1 on Not Just Bikes. I also like he also iterates that public transport actually is his preference above cycling, but Netherlands has such good bicycle infrastructure to make it work.

I lived in Brisbane, Australia for a year. The good state of public transport there (at least for my use, commuting to/from Uni (UQ) and the city from Toowong) made car use non-essential. The sidewalks are maintained and have enough space to the road to not be alarmed by cars. To get further/certain parts of Brisbane is still a chore as it's still a car-centric infrastructure, but comparing it to Jakarta, Indonesia/metro US, it's much better. Public transport in Jakarta is an option for most, but the last-mile experience with subpar sidewalks (especially the lack of shade) make it such a chore.

I felt much healthier to walk and take public transport for my daily commute, and not to mention the beautiful views on the way. The increase in my Quality of Life is very apparent. I really miss it, and looking to move to Brisbane or another city with similar/better commute/transport paradigm in the future.


Cities with well thought out public transportation sometimes feel like magic. As a country girl who once moved to a metropolis, the fact that I could walk into literally any subway station and go wherever I wanted in a matter of 30 minutes to an hour at most felt more liberating than I could think of. In a city bigger than some European countries, I had the option to go anywhere I wanted on the weekend for the low price of R$4 and an hour or so listening to music with no stress in my mind.

I hope one day people in the US can experience this feeling as well.


> go wherever I wanted in a matter of 30 minutes to an hour at most

This concept of traversal-by-foot as an inherent measure of scalability is also known as the Marchetti Constant.

This article has appeared on HN before:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-08-29/the-commu...


Speaking of subways: IMO vienna has THE best system overall. No turnstiles[1], clean subway trains/stations, quite frequent and cheap (1€ a day with the yearly ticket).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq-X25pH1XQ


Loved Vienna's subways. I don't read German so I could not figure out how to buy a ticket.

https://www.welcomepickups.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/DS... Pretty sure those have a english language option.

> Cities with well thought out public transportation sometimes feel like magic.

That reminds that one time where I borrowed a car after not using one for quite some time (moving on foot or by public transportation) and I remember a feeling of freedom, being able to go just about anywhere, not depending on unregular lines or taxis (which would have taken me where I went anyway, especially as I arrived late in the night). For going in the countryside, cars are unmatched, but I also appreciate efficient public transportation in cities


We could build THREE transcontinental high-speed rail lines every year with the money we spend on personal automobiles

Once you get to the western mountains, there are only four rail grades that are suitable for freight. The old Northern through Montana near Glacier National Park; the original Union/Central Pacific route along the Platte and over the Sierras around Donner Pass; the ATSF route across the Colorado Plateau south of the Grand Canyon at Flagstaff and over the Sierras at Tehechapi via the loop, and the all weather grade through the Gadsden Purchase along the Mexico border.

The reason there are so few routes is simply geography. North America's mountains run north-south and there is more than a thousand miles of them between Denver and the coast. And since the west is dry much of what is west of the first line of mountains is desert as well as mountains.

Those are the grades that work for freight to the west coast. Notably, none serve much population between the Mississippi River and the Pacific. West of the Mississippi the US population density is low. The densest state California has about 1/5 the density of the Netherlands. The second most dense, Arizona is 1/20 as dense.


How's the geology compared to regions of the world that have a dense rail network? I've always found it strange that the stereotype for great rail infrastructure was Switzerland, which would be last on my list of countries to equip.

French TGV climbs 3.5%, German ICE climbs 4%. That simplifies a lot of the route planning. Rail bridges are surprisingly simple and cheap (open area, known loads, no salt) and tunnels are easier the simpler the rock.

I'd say it's no harder than any of the other miracles that we're building on the regular.


Compared to the geography of Switzerland, it makes sense to talk of a trans-continental railroad in the US and is absurd in relation to Switzerland. You can put three Switzerland's (or one Portugal) in the Mojave desert.

To put it another way, Europeans haven't built high speed rail from London to Baku for similar reasons. The tree lined cloisters where political theory makes all nation states equal is not a good model of physical reality.Swiss rail hasn't connected Bern to Baghdad.


Europeans haven't built high speed rail from London to Baku mostly because they (we) can't agree that's in their best interest and then invest accordingly.

The Swiss did vote for and consequently built things like the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

The Chinese are also building a lot of rail infrastructure and are of a similar size to the US. But then they have higher population density. But it's probably more a question of political priorities than physical realities.


It is a question of economics. Because it is engineering and cost benefit analysis is part of engineering.

The US geography makes high speed rail at the Federal level economically infeasible. Air transport reaches everyone including Alaska and Hawaii and Puerto Rico.


It's actually more complicated than that I think. Chinese geography is also not without complications. Europe has its own share of mountains etc., but also a huge rail coverage (even though in need of updates to make it faster and with higher capacity for persons).

Now air transport can reach everyone, but is also especially climate unfriendly. Maybe in the future there will be electric or hydrogen airplanes, but if there is an option to use rail or plane mass transit, rail will always have lower energy demands. But historically the US has low energy (and fuel) taxes, and that will favor the planes. EU on the other hand is now talking about taxing aircraft fuels and if that happens and the taxes are sufficiently high, trains will be more attractive, even if currently travelling long distances by rail in the EU is a huge PITA.


Switzerland’s unusual geography, population distribution, and history have given them an unusual set of skills. :)

I’d venture that American rail could have looked similar if the North American continent was made up of dozens of countries instead of just one, forcing at least one of those countries to use the Rockies more comprehensively.


There could be some 'grass-is-greener' effect in play here as well though. Many that grew up having to use public transportation would see being able to use a private car as very appealing. I think everyone hates commutes regardless of whether they have to stand in a packed train car next to sweaty people, or sit in an air conditioned comfortable car listening to music but stuck in a traffic jam.

That's not to say that I like the American design of where you have to drive everywhere. I like living in a town where you can walk to shops and cafes. But I also like the freedom and the comfort and the fun of being able to get into a car and drive out.


As a person raised in a country where public transportation sucks and roads are scarce and full of potholes, I am in love of American highways as much as with European public transportation. In fact, I also love NY subway, the way you can move to any part of the city without knowing anything and following just google maps directions of which subte take.

The highways in America are super easy to navigate with carplay/gps and to be honest, and I have yet to see a jam where your car is completely stopped for more than 10 minutes. What I see is a dance of cars where every car travels to cruise speed.. another thing I’d mention is that I consider americans good drivers and very respectful of the laws compared to other countries.


What I like about a place like Tokyo is that you can choose the mode of transportation that is most suitable for your journey. If you're someone who likes cars, there's no shortage of roads and highways. It's a great way to travel into the mountains where the trains can't go.

Personally, I use my bike whenever possible, up to about a 30 minute journey. Farther than that, or when the weather is bad, I use the train. If I need to go somewhere remote, I can rent a car or call a taxi.

As for a commute, housing is cheaper here than you'd expect, partly because housing is not viewed as an investment. It's not difficult to live near where you work, if avoiding the trains is a priority for you.


The problem is that this freedom and comfort and fun of driving is only part of the deal. The rest is being stuck in traffic or looking for parking - and I suspect that accounts for most of the time driving, for most people, especially when driving to work (i.e. during rush hours).

There could be, but I can’t think of anyone I know who grew up with transit who talks about how much they love car centric suburbia. I do know people who like that their kids are in greener spaces, which is related.

Extremely minor nit, but it should be point out that Japan is cost efficient because they've mostly built out their "easy" terrain, especially for Tokaido line (the current Tokyo-Osaka line).

The Shin-Hakodate to Sapporo extension will cost them 1.24T yen for 131 km of many tunnels and bridges [0], or US $83M/mi. This cost is why it's taken Japan so long to build a complete Tokyo-Sapporo HSR line, even though the Tokyo-Sapporo air route has been one of the most popular air routes for a long time [1].

They're also working on the Chuo Line which is a new Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka line going through mountainous terrain that will facilitate 67-minute travel between Tokyo and Osaka. This line will cost 9T yen for 438km [2], which will be a whopping US $187M/mi.

Funnily enough, speaking of the Tokaido line, the president of Japanese National Railway and the chief engineer resigned before its completion due to cost overruns [3]. Japan makes it look easy, but the Shinkansen had a troubled start.

In comparison, for the CA HSR [4], the fairly flat Central California portion is costing $19.5B / 199 mi ($98M/mi) while the more challenging Palmdale-Burbank section is costing $16.8B / 41 mi ($382M/mi).

I know you use it as a figure of speech, but all of this means that a US intercontinental line going through the Rockies would be difficult. Still, I would love to see an intra-Texas, Midwest, or East Coast HSR in my lifetime.

[0] https://www.town.kutchan.hokkaido.jp/town_administration/shi...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_busiest_passenger_air_...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chūō_Shinkansen

[3] https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20140714-built-for-speed...

[4] https://hsr.ca.gov/about/high-speed-rail-business-plans/2020...


Another +1 on Not Just Bikes.

Something many people overlook about Netherlands is how reliant on public transport they aren't. City design enabling local amenities to actually be truly local (within walking distance) is an underestimated boon. That's enormously easier to do in practice without the burden of highways and carparks.

There's also a general myth about Europe being "forced" into smaller more localized city plans by having older cities with smaller streets (accidentally creating more "local" urban environments) but that's not really the case. Road-widening projects have been common in many old European cities for centuries; the cities that are human-friendly are the ones who've undertaken the gargantuan task of reversing a lot of these car-oriented urban plans[0]

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bic...


If you can read Dutch, recommend this book: https://decorrespondent.nl/hetrechtvandesnelste

Very good introduction on how the few people (~15%) who really benefit from driving cars dictate far more than their share of public space, cause 99% of traffic deaths etc.


> Pretty sure the car is the most harmful invention of the 20th century.

A bit of perspective: the automobile cleaned up cities, which used to have a huge infrastructure to manage animal waste. The automobile enabled freedoms: not just freedom to travel, which the manufacturers emphasize, but freedom of association, unlocked a wider freedom to work, in particular for women, and in general, ironically, enabled the growth of cities which are themselves not only environmentally more efficient but act as crucibles of growth.

This is not some pro-car screed -- I myself got rid of my cars four years ago and primarily get around on foot, bike, and train. I also recognize the malign influence of the automobile, both IC and electric. But there is an enormous literature on the sociology and economics of the automobile, and I think a blanket condemnation, especially the extreme you mention, is utterly unwarranted.


The automobile did not clean up the streets. The personal automobile was much too expensive for that.

Buses and trams and metros and transport trucks and railways and bicycles cleaned up the streets. The average person didn't own a car and use it daily until much after the streets "cleaned up".


Do you have some references for this bold statement? The development of busses, trams, metros etc increased urban traffic (much as widening highways increases traffic, and traffic jams) including animal-drawn traffic, at least in the cities where I have read up on the history of urban transportation (in particular London, Paris, and New York).

The GP mentioned Mumbai, which only recently banned animal traffic. It was packed before the automobile was developed.


The automobile simply did not do it.

Until the late 50s, most households in the US did not have a car : https://oldurbanist.blogspot.com/2013/02/was-rise-of-car-own...

Without a car, the only solution is public transport. And public transport in early 20th century America was the dominant source of the use of animals in personal transport.

The confounding factor here is transport, hence why I mentioned trucks. Go to for example Tiznit in Morocco and observe how animals are used. They're not used for personal transport - they're not efficient for that in city environment - their use is moving merchandise.


Are you two equivocating between different kinds of "clean?" Animal waste vs. exhaust, metal, and brake and tire particles?

Assuming that “equivocating” was a typo:

I’m not defending the automobile as some paragon. I’m pointing out the lack of historical perspective, without which it’s hard to evaluate both the impact/value of the automobile and the impact/value of alternatives. A post hoc ergo propter hoc argument rarely leads to insight, much less useful decision.

The animal waste was a huge public health and economic issue, one almost inconceivable today. The automobile unlocked huge human rights and economic values. So you can’t shift modes of transport (people have tried!) without addressing those as well.

And I recognize this even though I prefer a non-automobile lifestyle and have lived in cities with functioning public transport (Melbourne, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, NYC).


Definitely not a typo -- I understood "equivocating" to mean "switching between two meanings of a word." Do I have that wrong? Either way, I hear you on the historical argumentation here: a lot of the complaints people have today may have some validity, but are often wholly ahistorical: they are blind to just how much progress we have made in many areas, and how hard fought that progress is.

"Equivocate" does mean that a single speaker/writer/entity uses multiple meanings of a term, but the point is that use is to deceive or make a false argument.

Two people can't equivocate (unless they are working together). In this case sudosysgen and I are using the terms the same way and arguing a point.

And yes, I am arguing that even though I myself live the public/personal transport life being advocated in this thread, I am well aware of the institutional (car companies, traffic departments, etc), social (personal desires and habits) and structural (physical layout) barriers to transforming the transit system in that regard, even if we exclude the constraint "in the lifetime of anyone today". It's hard to make concrete, actionable decisions on the basis of utopianism.


Is it equivocation to call both a puddle and a downpour wet? No.

Same for clean here. These are not different definitions of the same word. They are different members of the same category.


Still, there's an important distinction between a fine mist of Alzheimer's inducing particles, and a puddle of horse piss.

You comment misses the point of the parent... They are saying that cars at the size they are are a bad design for our world and cities. We'd still have clean streets, but we don't need something with two easy chairs and a couch built into it and weighing 3000 pounds.

Add to this list: The estrangement that happens when people drive with their SUVs. A car built like a tank entails a certain behavioral or interaction with other people that is detrimental to social cohesion and empathy.

I love the freedom of bicycling, but I hate dealing with people driving cars. I sort of understand why the more militant bicyclists call them "cagers." As I remember angrily explaining to a motorist who thought nothing of fishtailing into my lane after barely passing me (I was biking in the shoulder between the white line and edge of the asphalt), "if I make a mistake, I get killed, if you make a mistake, I get killed."

100% this.

I live near a school and witnessing the quality of social interactions from Mums* , encapsulated by their SUV-tanks as if controlling a Gundam, is a sight to behold.

* Sorry, it mainly is Mums in this situation. And I'm fully cognizant of ejut Dads/Men driving madly in other situations.


I have heard in german-speaking countries they call those style of automobiles "hausfraupanzers". For me, it evokes a silly image of a militant soccer-mom in a tank. I love it.

In the UK, they get referred to as Chelsea tractor, or Chelsea tank. (Chelsea being a rich part of London where they first got popular)

>you would never ever ever come up with an ICE sedan

What's worse is that even sedans are losing popularity in favor of SUVs and full size trucks. In 2021 I find this staggering.

On electric cars: we've had politicians subtly suggest that EVs will be a magic solution to all our transportation problems, including traffic. EVs obviously won't fix city congestion.


> You can design a vehicle that takes you quickly from a -> b that doesn't weigh 2 tons and uses 18m^2 at rest.

The Smart Electric and the Fiat 500e are notable examples of practical errand vehicles that use space and energy efficiently.

However, they are not the answer that consumers want to hear in the transportation dystopia of US society, where every vehicle must be an armoured car that can take a family of consumers (with at least one dog) through a vast zombie-apocalypse wasteland to fill the pantry at $warehouse-sized-retailer.

What most people think they need for a vehicle is often a grotesque exaggeration of their likely needs and perhaps also a masochistic acceptance of absurd network congestion called "commuting".


> Living next to busy roadways is linked to increased dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. This has nothing to do with CO2--it's the rubber and metal and not addressed by Teslas or whatever.

I had thought that the pathological effects from highway pollution was at least partially caused by heavy metals and various unpleasant nitrates and sulfurs and the like produced by combustion engines, not only the small particulates released from tyres and roads. Obviously combustion-based pollution would be reduced if not eliminated by EVs.

See e.g. this study, which found NO2 and elemental carbon pollution to be most harmful amongst various highway pollutants: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24231417/


> Less obvious is the damage to social fabric. It's not just a distance thing: it's an estrangement thing.

Anecdotal data point: pre-pandemic I was insisting on going to work by subway instead of cycling despite the bike being almost twice as fast. Because on the subway, I see people, whereas on the bike I only see cars. The people on the subway I'd only ignore, hard, (being a somewhat unsociable person in a somewhat unsociable region of a somewhat unsociable country), but that's still a far more human interaction than coexisting with cars. There are people inside, but the only time you notice is when they are at being a particularly bad driver. All other times it feels more like being in a herd of large, sluggish steel beasts.


I hate owning a car. It's expensive, sits on my driveway 90% of the time doing nothing and takes up loads of space. However our society is built around car ownership, and the same problem, plus a few others, occurred when we all used horses.

I always liked the personal transport tubes in Futurama


It would be nice if I had other options, but for now ALL other options are more expensive when considering time or money. That is reality for too many people, so we are where we are.

I think this is a great point, and I've always been on board with the general damage done by cars. The solutions I read about are nearly always focused around the cities. Now, this makes sense, since most people live in cities, and so you can make the biggest impact there. But what about people who live in the country or rural areas? What solutions are there for those sorts of folks?

Even in the USA with it's massive sprawl, most (80%+) of the population is urbanized [0].

The ideal mobility framework is one of interconnected small towns/cities (ideally via rail) with non-vehicle traffic for intra town movements.

People that live out in a farm can drive in (although to be honest even distances of 10 miles can be very conveniently travelled in an ebike).

There's four things that prevent this sort of network from taking hold:

1. At least in the US, the inter-town rail networks have been disbanded or neuterd to a useless extent.

2. No investment for inter-town bus service. You can get to the big city by bus, but not between towns.

3. In most of the small towns in the USA, "main" street is actually a state highway routinely seeing traffic speeds of 50+mph. In other words, the town is divided right down the middle by a highway, with most commerce clustered around this area. This means that even for intra-small-town traffic biking (and sometimes even walking due to a lack of sidewalks!) is dangerous.

[0]: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/geography/guidance/g...


I've always fancied the German style of having dense clusters of houses/shops around a major train station / highway, with farmland in between. Look at satellite imagery [1] around Stuttgart, for instance. You can totally have walkable city centers in less crowded areas.

Of course Germany is not the United States. I don't know anything about agriculture, or to what extent the needs of German agriculture vs US agriculture would be met by such an arrangement. But this being HN, maybe someone knowledgeable can chime in!

[1] https://www.google.com/maps/place/Stuttgart,+Germany/@48.662...


Trains can still go into the countryside. They used to in much of the US and still do in a lot of Europe. Then there are buses too.

>> As a species we are more than capable (as evidenced by the OP!) of building a variety of modes of transport that are better in most every way (utility, externalities, price) to cars.

As a species, yes, but -and I know this sounds hokey- we are not in control of the automobile industry. Market forces are -and we don't control those, either. Like so many mythical creators, we have lost control of our creation and it's not destroying us.

What's worse, we have now raised multiple generations of humans who know no other way of being and for whom any alternative is unthinkable, or ridiculous. "What, I'll go around the city pedalling my little three-wheel bike? That's stupid!".

Alternatives will have to be a lot better than automobiles to be able to replace them: be much cheaper, much more comfortable, much more convenient. Is there anything like that on the horizon?


This is a completely ahistorical take. The roads didn't all come out of nowhere and the railways that used to go everywhere didn't just magically disappear. And market forces didn't make these transformations either. Regulation is what got us into this mess and regulation can get us out.

We have also regulated away many things that were favoured by markets but had negative consequences. And there are plenty examples of people who are happy to do the less convenient thing and even end up enjoying it. Including switching from cars to bikes, which has happened in a number of European countries.


> if you had to design a vehicle for passenger city/suburban use, you would never ever ever come up with an ICE sedan

I use a motorcycle 90% of the time in the city. But there's a lot of problems with any specialized transport like this:

- parking multiple vehicles per person

- learning to drive multiple type of vehicles

- bicycle/scooter/Twike can't be used for serious shopping

- safety. From the time electric scooters caught on I have numerous examples of people getting seriously hurt with permanent quality of life affecting injuries.

- taking passengers on anything other than a car is non trivial

- most alternative forms of transport require good physical health and skills

I'm sure I could think of more but these are enough to explain why having a do it all vehicle (even if poorly and costly) makes sense for the majority of people.


One more, hinted at but not explicit in your list:

The variation in task requirements for a vehicle is high, so it is economically efficient to buy a single vehicle suited for as many tasks as possible.

If you can acquire a limited vehicle for a much lower price (including parking, safety, and other externalities) it can be useful to do so -- but the limited vehicles are generally too expensive.


> - safety. From the time electric scooters caught on I have numerous examples of people getting seriously hurt with permanent quality of life affecting injuries.

Do you not know anyone who has had a life-affecting injury or was killed while in a car? Not saying scooters don't have their risks, but pretending cars are a paragon of safety seems to be the result of availability bias.


Couldn't agree more. I have come to really really hate cars. One of my short term goals is to find a job I don't need to commute to by car. This is shockingly difficult in the midwestern US.

I agree with many of your points. One not though, in the state where I live, we have awful drivers (I think) and covid deaths in 2020 were ~100x average yearly motor vehicle deaths.

This is a funny take as I live in a developing country and owning a car is seen as the mark of a successful person.

No more waiting for public transport. No more getting soaked walking or riding a bike in the rain.

Convenience, comfort, time efficient.

To say a sedan would be designed today is a ridiculous take. Nobody forced cars on people, they wanted them.


In germany, policies in the 60ies and 70ies were designed to increase car ownership. People didn’t want cars. They wanted transportation from A to B and public policies made cars the most attractive option.

I’m not against public transit. I lived in Taiwan for a while which has very good public transport. But what’s good for a single person doesn’t necessarily work for a family living outside the city. The benefits of owning a car are pretty clear there.

> The benefits of owning a car are pretty clear there.

Today they might be, but for example the village I grew up in had light rail until an autobahn was built and the rails torn out. Today, the only way to get around is a car - but this is a deliberate choice.


How is the situation in Germany today? Are cities car-dependant or not? Does an average middle class German own a car? Do they use their car for commute to work?

That depends. In the city of Berlin, less than 50% of all households own a car. Where I grew up, public transport has mostly been gutted. Nearly everyone owns a car.

Of course they are seen as the mark of a succesful person...because they are the mark of a successful person. Cars are expensive!

And yes, they are convenient, comfortable and can be time efficient, but with extraordinary negative externalities.

The issue isn't "cars are inconvenient"--the issue is "cars have enormous (and compounding) negative externalities that need to be regulated away, and investment needs to be made in alternative infrastructure because cars really suck for everyone else--and eventually, for car owners themselves."


That’s why I’m happy about the move to electric cars. Remove the externalities and democratize access to transportation. Why should just rich people have access to cars?

Spoken as someone who hasn't ever driven a person to a hospital, or had to travel to work by car, or had to be driven to school by a school bus etc etc etc

I've had to do all of those things, and still agree that towns and cities being designed with cars as the default mode of transport is insane

It's fine, the main problem is that 90% (imaginary data) of the cars in cities are not used.

If all "normal" people used car sharing services or taxis, then a lot of roads could have 1 more lane (where parking normally occurs), which would increase the throughput of the streets.

All the peak hour traffic circling around their destination struggling to find a parking spot would also disappear.

This would reduce the overall traffic noticeably, and everyone would get to their destination quicker and with less stress.

The problem with this is that so many people obbsess over vehicle ownership, that probably banning car ownership (with reasonable exceptions like modified cars for accomodating disabilities, oldtimers, cars with baby seats installed, etc..) in cities would be required to make this happen.

Speaking from an experience living in a big city, where I owned a car, but transitioned to using car sharing, even for long trips around the country.


One problem is that there's a long tail of car use cases that are served terribly by things like car-sharing. For example if you rent a car for a few hours of driving, two weeks of parking at some trailhead or remote resort and then driving back it's inevitably priced for the wear and tear that would happen if you spent the entire two weeks doing nothing but sleeping and driving. Rentals that aren't dead-set on the pattern "a few days of driving between arrival and departure" exist, but they have terrible discoverability and that implies that prices fell arbitrary ("is this close to the price I would get in a market with full visibility or are they just taking advantage of nonstandard needs?")

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's still plenty of room for innovation in the non-owned car market.


I think people underestimate the price of owning a car vs. renting one. I can rent a VW Golf in Berlin for <350 EUR per week, 1000km included. The ADAC (car owners association) puts the monthly price tag for owning such a car at > 500 EUR per month. (assuming you buy it new, own it for 5 years and drive 15000km/year) https://www.adac.de/_mmm/pdf/autokostenuebersicht_47085.pdf

That means I can rent that car for ~5 month and still come out ahead.


There must be a typo somewhere in your comment, I don't understand how 350/week for 5 months is better than 500/month.

I guess what GP meant is that you can rent only whenever you need it, as opposed to 500/month for _every_ month you own?

I actually meant “rent the car for X month”, but I made some mistakes here. First, I took the exact numbers for the calculation, but rounded them generously in favor of owning the car in the post. Second I made some sort of mistake, doing the math, so I’m still slightly off. The correct math:

The smallest golf on the list is 579 EUR/Month, that’s 6.948 EUR per year. Renting a Golf at starcar costs 1436 EUR for the month of August. That’s 4.84, just shy of 5.


"last mile" problems are real -- and frequently rather more than 1.6 Km.

> the main problem is that 90% (imaginary data) of the cars in cities are not used

Reality is even worse than your imagination.

https://encrypted.google.com/search?q=cars+are+parked+*+of+t...


I'm just curious if you grew up in a very large city and haven't been to other countries? Because public transport as a primary form of transportation simply isn't feasible in many places. And I was responding to the statement about cars being the worst invention of the 21st century...

Public transport is feasible in smaller cities and towns too. Freiburg im Breisgau is a great example. 230,000 people, pedestrianised centre, 5 tram lines, very low car usage. When I lived there, everyone I knew either walked, cycled or used the tram.

A great many European countries have proven it is practical. In fact in some cities it’s more beneficial not to drive (London and Amsterdam to give two examples of wildly different cities yet both favour public transport)

Yes, being suburban Londoners in early 2020 we were checking the car would start periodically and contemplating getting rid of it. But then Covid struck, and us being high risk, public transport suddenly looked really unattractive. We haven't used it since. It is such a shame. We still use the car sparingly and one day hopefully have that conversation about scrapping it again.

Cycling is way quicker in Berlin for all sub 7km journeys

It isn't feasible because it wasn't designed as main way of transportation.

It isn't feasible because it was designed around the idea that everyone would have cars.

Again, the cars are the reason it was made to be infeasible. Cars damaged our cities.


That's a reasonable point, but doesn't particularly address the issue.

The point was "the car is the most harmful invention of the 20th century".

This response comes across as really churlish. I would absolutely drive to work in one of these if I could, particularly if other people were in vehicles of similar size that didn't pollute the air. These are clearly personal vehicles, so the school bus is a completely different use case, driving a person to a hospital, if urgent, can be done with an ambulance or a taxi if non-urgent etc etc etc

I would argue that the car has provided incredible utility to humanity, and that calling it the worst invention of the century would be doing it a massive disservice.

Your comment came across very differently if that's what you were trying to say.

For real, I'm all for alternative modes of transportation, but some people seem to really do think that their groceries and the stuff they buy on a pedestrianized high-street appear there by magic.

The way this works in many places with pedestrianised centres, is that it is open for goods traffic from 05:00 - 07:30 for example. Or, there will be some loading bays for goods vehicles to park nearby, with cycle wagons to take the goods the last 100 metres or so to the actual storefront.

It's all about reducing the impact of motor vehicles. They do have benefits, nobody is arguing that all motor vehicles should cease to exist. But we should limit the pollution, noise, danger, space used up.


Oh I know. But the carrot works better than the stick in this case.

> nobody is arguing that all motor vehicles should cease to exist. But we should limit the pollution, noise, danger, space used up.

There is some antagonism, especially unhelpful antagonism. Because what works for a city-center dweller might not work for a rural area inhabitant.

Reminds me of the activists that pushed for nuclear power plants to close. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.


> Because what works for a city-center dweller might not work for a rural area inhabitant

Well, I don't think that anybody is proposing that we pedestrianise someone's farm, because we're also pedestrianising town centres. I'm not sure I understand the comparison here, really.


> I'm not sure I understand the comparison here, really.

Look up what motivated the (initial) Gillets Jaunes protests in France


Well, that's why I specified for "passenger" use.

Of course it makes sense for groceries to be transported in a truck.


This sort of electrical/pedalling hybrid is an interesting space, but one where legislation is often a real downer.

I’m currently planning to build a velomobile that I can live out of while cycling round Australia for a year. A trailer too, designed around a digital piano and some sort of fridge (either a production model or one constructed manually from a compressor).

It’ll end up heavy enough¹ that I’ll want to put a motor in it, so that for local journeys I can get from Point A to Point B more quickly and more confidently dispose of my car, and because otherwise when touring there will be some hills that I simply can’t climb, and that 200–250W² should make it possible (though probably still not easy).

So then I figured, how about a fully electrical drivetrain? Even with the best components, it’ll still be a bit less efficient than a well-maintained chain³, but getting the chain and front chainrings out of the way would be great, making the decision of how to facilitate sleep much easier: go quadricycle (rather than tadpole trike, which is two wheels at the front and one at the back), then to sleep tilt the seat back flat, and shift the pedals/generator a bit out of the way, and there’s no chain to worry about so you’re ready to sleep in the vehicle.⁴

Unfortunately, the legislation is drafted in such a way as to forbid such vehicles. Excerpt from Victoria’s Road Safety Road Rules 2017 <https://content.legislation.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2...>:

> bicycle means a vehicle with 2 or more wheels that is built to be propelled partly or wholly by human power through a belt, chain or gears (whether or not it has an auxiliary motor)

The way they keep talking about power assistance as the use of an auxiliary motor is troublesome, and this potentially doesn’t even allow things like hydraulic, shaft or electrical drives. But then, what is an electrical wire but a belt for electrons?

¹ Though nowhere near the the two-seater Twike’s unladen-save-batteries 246kg. I’m aiming for a this-is-my-home practical loaded long-term touring weight of 125kg, including things like 50kg of vehicle and trailer (including all vehicle electronics), 12kg of piano, 12kg of fridge, 12kg of battery and 5kg of solar panels.

² Broadly speaking, Australia currently has two classifications: 200W with no speed limit, and the pedelec 250W but limited to 25km/h. Finer details vary by state. Not sure if you could legally get away with producing 250W if pedalling and under 25km/h, or 200W if over 25km/h (and pedalling, in some states); “an auxiliary motor capable of generating a power output over 200 watts” hangs quite a bit on the interpretation of the word “capable”.

³ An electrical drivetrain could easily be better than a poorly-maintained chain.

⁴ The main alternatives I’m considering include making the vehicle expandable in a way vaguely reminiscent of a pop-top van, and a larger and/or expandable trailer and sleep in that. But I don’t want to be messing around with tents every day.


In all my research mechanical -> electrical -> mechanical double conversion is significantly less efficient than a direct mechanical drivetrain. It seems to come down to about 80% for the best electrical vs >95% for mechanical [1][2].

Also there is a weight issue the generator is at least as heavy as the motor and thats a big problem on bikes.

Trains do it because they need precise traction control and have little concern for the weight. They sacrifice running efficiency for it but everything else makes them very efficient at running (low rolling resistance and low aerodynamic drag).

Also the unsprung weight of hub motors causes various issues as well especially if you have suspension for ride comfort. Most electric bikes are moving to mid drives anyway which is going to have a chain or belt.

1. https://pages.jh.edu/news_info/news/home99/aug99/bike.html

2. http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2010/ph240/veltman2/


Your 80% figure seems rather spurious, coming I think from extrapolating a gross simplification of some 2009 figures for much bigger motors. My vague understanding is that smaller motors are hard to get as efficient. Some things I was looking at last year suggested things keep improving and that in excess of 90% was in theory quite attainable now for such motor sizes, though in practice you probably won’t find it on the market. But I did find components that should combine to something like 85–87%. (I don’t think I wrote my findings down, or if I did it was on a device I don’t have access to at present. But a quick search shows https://outriderusa.com/pages/electric-bike-efficiency claiming a motor efficiency of 93%, which if paired with a generator of similar efficiency would yield 86.5%, assuming no transmission loss which is of course unreasonable, and assuming the efficiency stays the same at lower power levels, which is likely screamingly wrong.)

>95% for chain systems assumes good components excellently-maintained. In practice chain drives are generally somewhat less efficient, commonly more like 85–90% is what I think I read, with poorly-maintained ones often more like 65–75%. This is where an electrical drivetrain could really shine: it’ll require roughly no maintenance while maintaining its not-best-in-class-but-still-pretty-good efficiency.

These figures are all rather nebulous, and get muddied a lot further once you’re putting a battery into the mix too, trying to take the power from your feet and augment it with another 200W of power from a battery (but preferably without feeding your foot-power through the battery). Then I go from being an amateur that knows just enough to be dangerous to a rank ignoramus.

For my purposes, an electric drivetrain would probably be markedly less efficient, but if it can be enough more convenient, it could be worthwhile anyway. I also have a pet scheme in mind where you simulate 100% efficiency by adding a little more power from the battery to compensate for known losses. I feel that could fit within the intent of legislation, if only that legislation allowed electric drivetrains in the first place.




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