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'Conscious Commuter' folding e-bike company launches in Portland

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 24th, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Prototype of the Conscious Commuter folding e-bike.
-Watch video below.-

According to a story by Sustainable Business Oregon, a new bike company, Conscious Commuter, plans to make folding e-bikes (out of recycled aluminum) in Portland:

By this time next year, Conscious Commuter Corp. plans to be building its folding electric bikes in Portland and marketing them around the world.

The Portland-based company...is the work of one experienced entrepreneur, Bob Vander Woude, and the idea that a fold-up, electric-assist bicycle could entice commuters out of their cars.

Vander Woude, who was running a small seed-stage investment fund in Portland when the economy turned sour, was toying with the idea of importing an electric bike from China when he happened upon some designs for a folding version by Gabriel Wartofsky, a graduate of the Art Center College of Design.

Wartofsky graduated from Art Center (in California) in 2009 with a degree in Transportation Design. In a video interview posted on the Art Center website, Wartofsky credits a three-week study trip to Shanghai as his inspiration. That trip led him to tackle urban mobility with a compact, portable, electric-assist, folding bicycle.

His Conscious Commuter concept earned him a semifinalist selection in the 2011 Cleantech Open Business Competition.

The bike itself is still in the prototype stages, and Wartofsky says a "first-phase" prototype will be presented this fall. For more about Conscious Commuter, check out this Art Center blog post, read the article in Sustainable Business Oregon, and watch a short video about the bike below:

Stay tuned for more coverage.

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  • dsaxena June 24, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    That looks pretty revolutionary, but could also end up being the next Segway...

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 24, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      I think this concept/company actually has some serious upside. I could see TriMet and Zipcar partnering with them (especially since (hopefully) they'll be made in Portland). TriMet is really wanting to push folding bikes to solve the bikes-on-board capacity issues they have and they could be a nice add-on for Zipcar... just pop a few in the trunk and it opens a lot of options for folks.

      All the ingredients are here... An entrepreneur, a very smart designer (Art Center is not for slouches), the Portland-made potential, the low-car trend, and so on.

      Really interested to see where this goes.

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      • Derek Fretheim June 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm

        Jonathan, Los Angeles already has plans for what you outlined. It's part of the Mobility Hub Movement that includes a transit/bike program, bike sharing, car sharing, jitney services and high capacity bike parking. Interestingly, Gabriel, the designer of this bike designed the bike sharing system being used in LA. I'm involved with the entire project if you want to learn more. Derek

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        • Paul Johnson June 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm

          Has California fixed their driver's license standards and testing issues yet? If not, then it's a moot act.

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  • Vladislav Davidzon June 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    This is awesome and precisely a great example of how we're going to rebuild the economy in this country.

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    • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      We decided from the word go that we are going to manufacture and build locally, as well as procure as much of the standard components from local/U.S.-based suppliers. 99.7% of the bikes in the U.S. are produced in China/Taiwan according to industry data. We want to help buck that trend, and Portland is the place to do it.

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  • -J. June 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Maybe I need to wait for the prototype, but from the animation I don't understand how you pedal this. There doesn't seem to be any drivetrain connection between the wheel and pedals. Is there some internal shaft-drive? Is it a scooter with an electric motor, or a electric-assist bike? Also, the straight seat post magically telescopes out of a curved seat tube, which probably is not physically possible. The folding mechanism does seem very compact though. Neat idea and I hope it goes somewhere.

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    • BURR June 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      Obviously it's still a concept that needs a lot of work...

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    • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      We are using a direct drive mechanism rather than chain. We played with various versions that we could have patented, but decided instead to go with a standard off the shelf direct drive for cost purposes.

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    • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Oh, forgot to answer that this is a pedal-assist, rather than throttle operated, as we wanted to qualify under the current laws of being a bicycle.

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  • Greg June 24, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    It needs a handle and wheel so it can be pulled like roller luggage when folded. The concept is way-cool, though.

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    • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      Good suggestion. We are playing around with a handle potentially; otherwise, will make sure that there is an easy to grip place where it is intuitive to grasp. Hopefully we are light enough that the user doesn't have to roll it in order to put on and off a bus or train, but we are considering providing the folding e-bike in a shippable container/rolling bag when you purchase it, eliminating the standard card board shipping box and providing you a shipping container for train or plane from the word go.

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  • 9watts June 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Maybe that is where the 'conscious' part of the name comes in? You pedal it with your consciousness. But seriously do they mean conscientious? Because at least for me conscious evokes it's opposite: unconscious. I like the bike and the idea; the name just sounds like its borrowed from hip-hop--which could be a good move for all I know.

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  • shannon June 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Gabriel's a very talented designer, and is also guest blogging for Oregon Manifest's Observation series. See his first posting here: http://bit.ly/m6jNmJ

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  • Bill Stites June 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Cool concept.

    It is a pretty big leap from video to ridable prototype - does one already exist? If not, I am surprised at plans to produce it ... hope they have a formidable R&D budget.
    Getting folding bikes stiff - especially w/ EA - is notoriously difficult.

    Good luck!

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    • -J. June 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      From their karinsbike blog on the bike dated June 14, it appears that they are just at the stage of making the non-folding prototype. I guess to test the geometry, which admittedly is an important step. But I agree - there is a huge leap from a fancy animated rendering to the "meatworld". The main selling point of the whole concept seems to be the compact foldability, but it doesn't seem like the details of those joints have been worked out.

      I wish them luck as well, and hope to see their prototype soon.

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  • Spiffy June 24, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    this actually seems pretty cool... hope we get to see a working prototype by next summer...

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  • Chris I June 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    This is very art-heavy and engineering-light. The final product will look very little like that, if they can make it work.

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    • john June 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      My thoughts also... But you always need a concept to start with.

      But then yes the devil is in the details. Hopefully they have a seasoned mechanical design engineer on their team, or soon will get one. And no this doesn't mean a kid 2 years out of engineering school :).

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      • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

        We have multiple, seasoned engineers /frame designers on this, one who has 50+ patents and has designed major bike frames for top bike manufacturers that are well known in the industry. Independently he came up with the same re-works for the second version of the bike as another of our Pasadena-based engineers. The second version aluminum folding prototype will be sent to Engineering Materials Lab in California, and we are going to test to EU standards, which are tougher than U.S. standards.

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  • middle of the road guy June 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I thought skateboards were already available.

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    • captainkarma June 24, 2011 at 10:36 pm

      Actually, I saw a thing going down Mt. Tabor that was technically a skateboard, but had wheels just like that bike.

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  • therethere June 24, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    We're very excited that this kind of innovation and design is happening in Portland. Which is why we love Portland's bike culture so much!

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    • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      Exactly why we located in Portland! It has the best bike ecosystem in the U.S., and now is gaining support through the recently passed bill and funding for Drive Oregon, which will further help EV vendors base and grow in Oregon.

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  • marshmallow June 24, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    That rear hinge reminds me of the bob trailer, which has a limit of 75 lbs. Folding bikes are limited by the durability and safety of their hinges.

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  • dwainedibbly June 24, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    I have some serious concerns about the design. Without triangulation, that "noodle" in the middle is going to be under a lot of stress. When aluminum fails, it can do so catastrophically and without much warning.

    I really want to see them succeed, but I think they have some major engineering work to do.

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    • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

      This is a video of the first version of the bike that Gabriel designed. We have re-worked some of the mechanical, but it is basically the same design/shape. We'll post a link to the new version for you to see. We will be working with our manufacturer on the required thickness in various places within the tube, and will be doing stress testing on the next phase prototype.

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  • captainkarma June 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I am totally not holding my breath. And if I had any money, this is not where I'd invest. The concept is good, but... Also I don't like the idea of public transit embracing folding bikes when they should be getting serious about real capacity for real bikes. Oh sure folding bikes work, so why isn't N Williams full of them during rush hour? Anyway, I think if trimet "endorses" or whatever, the folding bike, that will leave it open to them saying "You *need* to have a folding bike to get on board. We're not encouraging full-size bikes."

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    • middle of the road guy June 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      One work Benjamin. Plastics.

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      • middle of the road guy June 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm

        oops. word

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  • Sonny June 25, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Very nice concept. I would probably buy one of those. A good price point will also be a huge factor.

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  • GlowBoy June 27, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Where's the battery?

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  • Bob Vander Woude June 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    The battery will be in the frame, rather than outside, as in most e-bike designs. We are working with several battery companies that will develop a proprietary battery in conjunction with us.

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  • Paul Johnson June 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    This reminds me of IT (NSFW).

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