The Ford Motor Company is known for many innovations and vehicles; the assembly line, the Mustang, the F-150, and now… the bicycle? That’s right the same company that is bringing us the Ford GT Super Car is also working on a new E-bike. In this enterprise, Ford is operating more like a Silicon Valley startup company than a multibillion dollar car manufacturer.
The whole process began when Ford’s head of global technologies Bill Coughlin, and other top executives were sitting in a conference room thinking up a solution to a problem as old as the automobile; traffic congestion, especially in large cities. Eventually their brainstorming kept coming back to the idea of bicycles; an invention even older than the car, and just as readily available. There was only one problem, these were car guys not bike guys.
The fortunate thing was Ford already had 200,000 employees including engineers, designers, and technicians to submit ideas, and that is exactly who they called upon to build a better bicycle. A monetary prize was offered, and over 130 different designs were submitted. A year later, and three prototypes immerged as winners.
The model that is really drawing attention is an e-bike designed by Bruce Williams, one of Ford’s designers. Williams is best known for being the lead designer of the F-150 Raptor. Williams devoted his free time becoming the project’s lead engineer, designer, planner, and programmer. Williams himself compared it to being a CEO of his own startup company; “I was basically my own company,” he told Buzzfeed news. But all his hard work paid off and he created an impressive bicycle: The Mode Flex (the bikes current name).
The Mode Flex was designed with a two key problems in mind: What is keeping more people from using bikes, and what ways can bikes be used in conjunction with your vehicle (after all, Ford is still a car company).
One key problem that Williams saw, is that a large portion of the population is either older or not in shape enough to ride a bicycle over a long distance. The most readily available solution was to add an electric motor powered by a portable battery, to the bicycle. How the bike works, is the user can input their age or weight, and the bicycle will pick up some of the slack by assisting the rider. This feature can be turned on or off, so you can pedal with your full force, and if you get tired, engage the electric motor to assist you on the rest of your journey. This is a welcome aid to an inexperienced rider, and a welcome option for even an avid cyclist.
To make the Mode Flex more integrated with cars, Williams began by solving a major problem every bike enthusiast has had; storing your bicycle. The Mode Flex is able to be completely disassembled and will fit in the back of even Ford’s most compact model the Fiesta, with ease. This serves two purposes: first the storage problem is solved, and second Williams was allowed to do some very cool things with the car’s technology in conjunction with the Bike.
Williams created an app that allows the car’s data to automatically sync with your bicycle. So how can this help you? Imagine a scenario where parking in one area is considerably cheaper or even free, but it is too far to walk to your destination. Williams’ app would allow you to park at the cheaper garage, get out of your car get on your bike (which would pick up where your car’s GPS left off) and ride the rest of the way. And this is just one scenario. Imagine parking your car and being able to take a shortcut through a park mapped out by the combined GPS available to your car/bike. And who can say in what ways it will be able to work with Ford’s new SYNC 3? The Mode Flex is still in development, so the possibilities are seemingly endless.
Ford seems to be taking the leap into E-Bikes very seriously, and the good news is this is only one of 25 potentially new projects including phone apps, that are designed to help alleviate congestion and traffic problems in cities. But is this too far of a leap for a company whose primary focus has been cars for 112 years? As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. There is no disgrace in honest failure; there is disgrace in fearing to fail.”
See this official video from Ford for more information!
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