Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Trek Unveils its Effortless Lime Bike:

March 7, 2007--Special to the Press at Tavern on the Green

Trek Bikes Inc. unveiled its newest no-hands bicycle in Manhattan last Thursday to a small group of regional press representatives. The new bike, entitled “Lime” combines the X-generation preference for pop-in plastic colors originally pioneered by Apple’s iPods with Shimano technology that renders all the mental work involved in riding a bike irrelevant.

Retailing for between $490 and $520, the Lime bike appears to be targeted at the non-cycling bike user who couldn’t be bothered with all the responsibilities inherent in the sport including changing gears while riding, cleaning the chain or oiling the bike parts once off the bike.

But perhaps reflecting the essential superficiality of our culture and obsession with looks, the Lime offers the option of changing the bike’s color scheme by snapping plastic parts off the handlebar ends, the chain cover, the front and back wheel hubs and other decorative parts.

The colors offered in an accessories package closely resemble the color schemes marketed by a Pottery Barn for Kids catalog and range from a Lime green of its namesake to a soft pink and a periwinkle blue. According to Derek Deubel, Trek’s branding chief, the Lime bike is the answer to a mass audience of 160 million Americans: that’s about one half of the United States.

Yet, the target market would seem not only to be the X-generation who couldn’t care less for the rigors of changing gears and taking care of a bike, but also those in their 50’s and 60’s –and perhaps even 70’s who would like to use a bike to ride down to the local store, or take a spin in the park. And although the younger, more insouciant generation in their early 20’s who think exercise isn’t cool but wouldn’t mind using a bike to get around might choke at the price point.

I couldn’t really picture today’s rat pat them picking out a Lime instead of a mountain bike that they could use out of town, or even the Soho that was targeted last year to the cool, non-cyclist urban commuter.

I could be wrong, because after I rode the bike I realized its effortlessness could well be the start of a bike revolution. But I can also easily picture my stepmother who I have tried endlessly to get on a bike, picking this one up and enjoying it. Made of aluminum, it’s light and easy to handle, and it changes gears effortlessly thanks to the Shimano electric signaling system which is triggered by a sensor in the front hub when the bike starts moving, and changes gears according to the speed you are going: 5 mph will get you to second gear, and 8 mph will get you to third, and the final gear.

What’s more, I tested the bike outside Tavern on the Green on this wintry day when temperatures hovered at 15 degrees (Fahrenheit, not Celsius) and purposefully I wore the heaviest, longest coat I owned, looking more like a circus bear on a bike than a human being.

To my surprise the bike was easily maneuverable, and not once did the coat, or my flapping pants and high heels cause a problem. What’s more, I was deliciously warm.

Still, it took a little while to get used to the fact that the brakes were “old school”—feet powered, and I executed a couple of unanticipated skids in the process. But it was harmless because you really can’t go too fast on the bike. It changed gears sweetly on the uphill to the lowest gears, and when I wanted to speed up, it went to the highest gear fairly quickly, coming down again when I stopped accelerating.

Talking Technology
I spoke to Manubu Tatekawa who represented Shimano who said the bike’s gears were part of Shimano’s Coasting project that they had launched in the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France.

The technology behind the automated gears is based on a computer chip with flash memory and a shift table program situated in the front hub, which is connected by wires to the gears in the back of the bike. The electricity generated in the front sends 14 electric pulses over 360 degrees—that is for every rotation, and the speed of the rotation instructs the back gears to change. Although Tatekawa would not reveal the budget for developing this technology the guessing hovered somewhere between $15 and $30 million—“huge for the bike industry,” he noted.

Tatekawa also said that the number of automated gears in the Shimano system is greater in other countries like the Netherlands where they have eight (compared to our three here). The different market approaches were the result of two full years of testing the gear systems, and street surveys. He also noted that the success of cycling there is given a huge boost by government tax relief incentives for bike ownership—another huge difference with the U.S.

Coming later this week: video of Jen and others on the Lime Bike outside Tavern on the Green in the freezing cold—and I was WARM!!!!!! So there, cars! Who says you can’t commute in the winter!