21st-Century Transport

by Nate Heasley for Digital Living Today

Back in the fabulous fifties, people had a grandiose vision of the future. They dreamed of cars that steered themselves, personal flying vehicles, crash-free highways, and the now clichi bubble-top car. Given such persistent and popular imaginings, how could it be that, here in the early 21st century, the biggest trend in personal transport is the push scooter?

While scooters are getting all of the attention (and sales), there are other cool 21st century transportation devices on the market (or just over the horizon).

At first glance, the FreeBord ($250), www.FreeBord.com, looks like an ordinary skateboard, but closer inspection proves this is not your grandpappy’s plank. Riding the FreeBord is like snowboarding on land. It has two extra wheels in the center mounted on casters. These wheels pivot (like on a shopping cart), allowing the FreeBord to spin 360 degrees while continuing to travel in a straight line. The four regular wheels are not load bearing, but instead, act like the edges of a snowboard, digging into the pavement to cut turns and slow you down.

You’ll never want to walk anywhere again once you’ve piloted the WheelMan ($1200 and up), www.wheelman.com.au, which can handle sand, cement, and mountain trails with equal ease. Powered by a small gas engine, it can travel as fast as 20 miles an hour and weave in and out of traffic like a New York City bike messenger. Straddling the Wheelman in a ballerina-like plii may seem uncomfortable at first, but after you get the hang of it, steering is remarkably intuitive. Control of the throttle is done through a control leash. Several models are available, from the quieter commuter model, the Cruiseman, to the high-powered Bush Pig.

Real bikers ride recumbents. The laid-back position on these bikes affords better back support and the efficiency of the drive mechanism allows for greater speed and range. The Go One (price unknown), www.kunststoff-beyss.de, which is technically a trike, adds the innovation of an aerodynamic shell to the traditional recumbent frame. It’s perfect for commuters who want to stay dry, or for hardcore bikers who want to avoid that windswept look when they arrive at their destination. The Go One has an all-important windshield wiper, and it looks like you can remove the upper part of the shell for sunny-day convertible cruising.

Looking for an eco-conscious passenger vehicle that can carry you and your groceries home from the strip mall? The electric power-assisted Twike (around 3,000 – 4,000 Swiss francs), www.Twike.com, seats two people, both of whom have the option of peddling to save battery juice. Though street-legal, top speeds are only about 45 mph, so it’s an around-town errand runner only, not a full-fledged auto replacement. Range is about 40 miles on a charge. Once that runs out, it’s up to you and the ol’ Fred Flintstones to get you home.

The Merlin ($17,500), from www.CorbinMotors.com, from Corbin Motors is a one-seat mini-car. It’s classified as a motorcycle for purposes of the HOV lane, licensing, and insurance, so it’s inexpensive to operate. It cruises at highway speeds, and gets great gas mileage with its custom designed two-stroke motorcycle engine. Merlin is perfect for weekend jaunts in the country or for turning heads at the local racetrack. The vehicle is expected to be available in 2002, and Corbin is planning on a range of models for postal carrier fleets, delivery services, and even a wheel-chair friendly personal transport.

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