Although I don’t get much chance to socialize with adults given that we have two little kids, I try to meet my sister every once in a while. The last time, she suggested we meet in Hayes Valley, near Civic Center. I hadn’t been to Hayes Valley in a long time, and it turns out it’s a nice ride over. The entire neighborhood has been shifting in character from a seedy strip off the freeway to a shopping and dining destination. Part of that transition involved closing off a major street to car traffic, and building a park where the cars used to be. It was filled with families, even though Hayes Valley itself is more of a hipster neighborhood, packed with expensive housewares stores, wine shops, and expensive restaurants. It is a fantastic place to hang out, and I was not the only person who thought to ride my bike there: the racks and parking meters were packed. It was one of the rare summer days in San Francisco that was not foggy and cold, and I pitied the drivers stuck in their cars, fuming as they searched for parking. That used to be me.
I met my sister at Propellor, which is kind of a hyper-local version of Design Within Reach. Propellor was an odd location to find a bicycle, other than the one I’d locked up outside, but a bicycle there was. It was, in fact, an electric bicycle, the Faraday Porteur, a creation of IDEO/Rock Lobster that was the Oregon Manifest People’s Choice winner. Oregon Manifest was a 2011 competition intended to encourage designers to create the ultimate utility bike. Given that hauling kids was not even a criterion in the Oregon Manifest, it was hard for me to take much of an interest. But although the Faraday reflects the goals of the Manifest rather than of many actual utility cyclists, it is an interesting bike nonetheless.
There are some issues that arise when attempting to market a bike in a modern housewares store. The main one is that the people staffing the store clearly had no idea what they had in their window, other than that it was an electric bike, and then only because it said so on the sign. I had a lot of questions, and they didn’t have a lot of answers. Eventually they found a brochure, and that helped. They are planning to sell the Faraday, which is actually going into production. With luck they’ll have someone in the store who can explain what it actually does by then. I’m interested to see how the whole sales process goes. They’re clearly reaching a market of people who would not normally spend a lot of time in bike stores. What will happen after one of them actually buys a bike is something of a mystery.
The Faraday Porteur is clearly an effort to make utility bikes seem cool. I recognized from the front hub that it was an electric bicycle even without seeing the sign, but couldn’t spot the batteries. The brochure revealed that they were packed into the double top tube. Although I think packing the batteries in the frame is a fantastic idea, I wonder about the choice to put them in a double top tube. You can forget about adding a rear child seat given that frame; you’d roundhouse your kid every time you got on the bike. Putting that much weight in the top tube seems like it would make the bike harder to balance, and my brother-in-law wondered what happened when someone needed to replace the battery. And the whole bike seemed designed for a sporty ride; there’s no way to ride upright on that frame. Maybe it’s meant to appeal to people who would otherwise ride fixies?
Those quibbles aside, there is a lot the Faraday gets right. The frame-mounted front rack comes off and on with one hand, and it is large enough to haul serious cargo. The mount for that rack has two headlights built into it, and the rear of the bike has an integrated taillight. They were very, very sweet. The electric assist (which is a pedal assist, but I got that from the website, not from the confused staff at the store) is beautifully integrated into the bike, looking exactly like a left-hand shifter. It’s not a particularly powerful assist, but for this kind of bike, I doubt it needs to be. And there is no question: this is a very pretty bike.
The Faraday got a lot of attention while we were there, from people who didn’t have my kinds of questions. Theirs were more along the lines of, “When will you have them in stock?” and, “How much will they cost?” The store couldn’t answer those questions either.
In a neighborhood like Hayes Valley, a bike built to carry a case of beer easily, rather than a kid, is right on target. The Faraday, which takes the brutality out of climbing the city’s hills and makes it possible to haul everything a single person could need, was clearly making riding a bike seem practical to people who would never consider it otherwise. I hope they sell thousands of them, and that the next time I’m in Hayes Valley, I see them everywhere.