This is an amazing piece by Kronfeld Motors, one of our 2017 Cleantech Open-Midwest teams! Read more about them below!
I can remember seeing photos and video of China way back in the 70’s and 80’s and what always stood out the most were the people on bikes. Thousands upon thousands – probably millions and the traffic jams they had were composed of bicycles, not cars. I can recall thinking in my condescending, American cultural zeitgeist – “Look at that – they’re so backward they don’t even have cars.” How time always turns the tables on us and our safely held opinions.
Fast forward to now and one of my top goals in life is to bike commute every day, just like all those Chinese people did and I did, in fact try.
I commuted to and from home and work, 13 ½ miles each way. I live in Minnesota and we are pretty spoiled with the excellent bike trail system that we have. On good days, it was wonderful – just me, the bike, the fresh air and the ability to commune with nature, but even on the good days, life’s simple, everyday tasks made it very challenging. Carrying a briefcase, lunchbox, disk drives, laptops, the dry cleaning, and the other paraphernalia of life and work is very difficult on a bike. Time is another factor – we take for granted that we can drive on a freeway at 75 mph, but when you’re on a bike, averaging 5-10 mph, your 20-minute commute by car is now nearly 2 hours by bike. The weather is either your best friend, or mortal enemy; there’s no in-between. And finally, safety. Try staying at work till 5:30 on a fall, or early spring day with an hour and ½ - 2 hour bike commute; you’ll be stuck in the dusk, or dark with a bicycle grade head light. Yes, the LED’s are better, but bicycle lights are still inadequate for safely riding at night, as is having zero protection for your body while on a bike.
I was looking for something that would work and a grant from the Minnesota Commerce Department and Minnesota State University at Mankato became available and was seeking requests for proposals. So, at the suggestion of and help with my wife, I wrote and won the grant to build the prototype of a new kind of vehicle; an electric assisted bicycle that would go as fast as a car, be fully weatherproof, have cargo/storage space, another seat for a passenger and most importantly, have safety features that you normally find in a car not a bicycle; a fiberglass body, roll cage, seat belts, air bag, automotive grade lighting and anti-lock brakes.
I found a small and effective group of people to design and build our first prototype. Lyon Smith, an artist and designer from Winona Minnesota was instrumental in designing and fabricating the body and frame. With no automotive design experience, he did a fantastic job of designing a beautiful new kind of vehicle. Stew Roberts, an electric vehicle maintenance specialist from Roseville, Minnesota designed and engineered the electrical system and 2 more people helped with the design of the bicycle generator system. And throughout the process, we were aided by local companies – Wenonah Canoe let us use one of their prototyping shops, Cytec donated a roll of carbon fiber for the body, and everyone worked at a reduced rate.
When it was almost finished, we named it the Raht Racer, Raht – an acronym for Recumbent Anthro Hybrid Transport. One of our engineers wanted to call it the Winona Rider, since it was built in Winona, but Raht Racer won. Once it was done, we began to take it out in public to state fairs, clean energy shows, maker fairs and sometimes just parked it in a busy park, with lots of foot traffic. What we began to see is that people responded positively to the practical aspects of the Raht Racer – the safety, the cargo space, all weather cycling, people thought it made sense. But once, rather than explain all the practical aspects, I first explained to a group simply, “this is a highway speed cycling vehicle – when you pedal it, you go as fast as a car.” This was the moment I realized we had discovered something totally incredible because the look on the faces of the group was either sheer love and amazement, or sheer horror. That strong of a reaction to any new idea, means that the new idea is potentially world changing.
That was 2014, since then we have received an enormous amount of press with no press budget, we’ve been finalists in the Clean Energy Trust Challenge in Chicago, the Minnesota Cup, the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel and even on international TV in Israel, Japan and Russia.
The Raht Racer will enable people to commute safely, get their workout while they drive and give them more time. Being that the Raht’s pedal generator puts power into the car as you drive it, it’s like pouring a little gas into your car as you drive it. The Raht may be the most efficient highway vehicle of all time. As well as being a totally new vehicle experience – highway speed cycling, giving a person the sense of having super human leg power, or as one of the articles written put it; “It’s as if Tony Stark Built Bicycles.”
By Steve Webster on in Midwest