Nothing on the road is more prosaic than a vehicle designed for hauling loads. Unless, of course, the vehicle has been imagined by a leading industrial design firm working in partnership with an innovative American bicycle manufacturer. In which case you have Faraday, one of three utility bike prototypes to emerge out of a competition sponsored by the nonprofit Oregon Manifest, and the only model to earn not just the unanimous plaudits of a jury of hardcore bike nuts but also a People’s Choice Award.
Designed by the team of IDEO and Santa Cruz, California–based Rock Lobster Custom Cycles, Faraday is practical yet visually suave. Its front-positioned rack can be swapped out with other modular components for carting different kinds of loads. Lights are discreetly tucked into the tubing; sensors switch them on automatically at dusk. A leather saddle and grips, and ash-wood fenders add touches of non-utilitarian luxury. And when the rider gets weary of peddling, a hidden motor kicks in, having ascertained the exact amount of assistance required.
Ross Evans, the activist founder of the cargo bike company Xtracycle, who was part of the four-member jury, said that the jolt of juice in a utility bike was like the delectable addition of peanut butter to chocolate — “better when they work together. ... I believe that the only way that the masses will ever ride daily for transportation is with the ability to carry cargo and a simple, elegant electric boost.” Fellow juror Jeff Menown, a faculty member at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon, took this appreciation a step further by applauding “what’s missing … a big, ugly, heavy battery that seems to be on every other electric-assisted bike I’ve seen.”
Jeremy Spencer, a former senior editor at Outside magazine, who writes extensively about bicycles, conceded a prejudice against motor-assisted bikes, “otherwise, it’s a motorcycle, right?” But even he had a change of religion. “Well, dammit, this isn’t a motorcycle,” Spencer said of Faraday. “It’s a brilliant update of the French porteur with a little lightning up its butt, and I love it.”
In winning the challenge, Faraday edged out LOCAL, the prototype for a cheerful, orange-accented utility tricycle designed by Fuseproject with SyCip Design. It also beat Fremont, a bicycle with an attached, convertible sidecar built by Ziba Design with Signal Cycles. More on all three designs here.