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2011 replica of Ayrton and Perry electric tricycle built in 1881.
2011 replica of Ayrton and Perry electric tricycle built in 1881.

Aging Cities and Three-Wheeled Bikes

The demographics of today's cities is charging dramatically, and that poses both challenges and opportunities for city planners, administrators, and their aging residents. It also presents a host of opportunities starting with helping seniors maintain their autonomy as they age: one of them possibly being in the form of an invention dating back to 1881.

This past week I had the opportunity to sit in on an evening lecture by Joseph Hadzima, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Besides being an academician at one of the nation's most respected business schools, he's also an attorney and venture capitalist, which means he's reviewed countless business plans and sat through innumerable pitches.

In town, along with two colleagues, he shared "Lessons Learned" from advising, mentoring and sometimes investing in various startups. From an investor's point of view, he explained, he looks for convincing answers to three critical questions: Why this idea? Why now? and Why this particular team? Does the business idea show real promise? Why the opportunity to is ripe now for its introduction, and why is this particular set of individuals the ones who can successfully execute it?

After the talk, I introduced myself and gave him my business card, asking if I could follow up with him and tell him about Quikbyke, my electric bicycle rental startup. He kindly agreed and turned to some others wanting to chat with him. I then struck up a brief conversation with the two individuals who accompanied him from Cambridge (the one in Massachusetts, not England).

The gentleman, I didn't catch his name unfortunately, seemed to recognize EV World on my business card, then noted the reference to electric bicycle rentals, at which point, he said something to the effect, "I hope they'll include trikes," a reference to three-wheeled bicycles.

"Not initially," I replied, "but I am working on a proposal that would address that need."

We agreed that as we age, controlling our balance becomes more of a challenge. I see this in my 87-year-old father. Older bike riders are going to need the added stability offered by three-wheels.

Which brings me to a new book published by the OECD - the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development - entitled "Ageing in Cities". It addresses the growing shift in demographics in urban cities around the globe. In 1950, 7.7% of the population living in cities in the 34 OECD countries, North America and Europe, principally, were over 65 years of age. By 2010 this had increased to 17.8%. Estimates now see this increasing to one-in-four (25.1%) by the year 2050. That unprecedented shift in population presents both challenges and opportunities, the author's note, from changes in local revenue to affordable housing. Older citizens have less earning potential and require more social and health care.

Among the "opportunities" identified, the first one is "New innovation and technologies could be harnessed to maintain the autonomy of older people."

Permit me to introduce a welcome, but infrequent contributor to EV World's blogs. His name is Ron McCurdy and he lives in Toronto, Canada. A retired school teacher, he designs and sells trikes, some 650 of them at last count. He's in his 80's and is an example of someone who maintains his personal autonomy through the use of a simple, three-wheeled vehicle, a photo of which is on his blog.

The ironic aspect of this story is that, as it turns out, the very first electric car wasn't, in fact, a car at all. It was a high-wheeled tricycle built in 1881 by two Englishmen: William Edward Ayrton and John Perry. A replica was recreated by the Horst Shultz automotive history museum in Germany in 2011 and is pictured above. It was powered by a 370W electric motor at 20V. Its electric battery, called an accumulator, stored 1.5kWh of energy. Maximum range was up to 40 km and the stop speed was 15km/h, numbers not all that different from a modern electric-assist bicycle.

Is it possible that we may find ourselves coming full circle from Ayrton and Perry's electric tricycle through the age of the automobile and back to the e-trike as one way to solve the problem of aging in the city? That is certainly the direction industrial designer Johan Neerman thinks we're headed in the form of his electric trike, the Johanson3. It's a modern spin on Ayrton and Perry's design, one that is capable of carrying several people and/or cargo, just what today's cities need, not those in some far off future.

Posted By: Bill Moore [10-May-2015]

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