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Would you like to have a twike?

We've never spotted a twike in Australia, but we stumbled across a reference to it on the internet. Intrigued by the name, we sought more details Could you eat it, or did it bite, we wondered.

We quickly discovered that a twike is an electric-powered twin bike, hand-assembled in Switzerland, where several hundred have been sold.

The Twike is a light electric vehicle for two passengers , with an optional hybrid power train. "The combination of muscle power and electric motor, together with the joystick steering, imparts a completely new driving experience," say its Swiss manufacturers.

They claim the Twike is the most efficient motorised vehicle on the market, capable of covering 550 miles on a gallon of petrol. Now that's real economy!

"The contraption looks like an airplane cockpit crossed with a tricycle," Thomas Strohmeyer, a database analyst from St. Louis, Missouri, now living in Guam, wrote in his blog. "It features an electric motor capable of doing 85 km/h with a range of 130 km and optional bicycle pedals to extend that range.

"It... costs a bundle (around $20,000), and looks pretty cool - but that sure is a silly name. Get used to gizmos like this, I firmly believe this is the future of automobiles, at least for city driving. Will people in the US adopt such a funky looking thing willingly? Not as long as gasoline remains cheap. But once prices skyrocket, vehicles like this will become attractive alternatives to walking or riding a bike around in the rain."

That prediction was written three months ago. Since then, prices HAVE sky-rocketed. Petrol (gasoline) costs around $1.30 a litre in Australia these days, and many motorists are looking for cheaper transport.

Ron Manganiello and his wife Ellen, of Burlington, Vermont (US) are proud owners of what they claim was the fifth Twike in the US. They've "piloted" it thousands of miles in the US and Europe.

"The Twike is about 4 feet high, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long, with three wheels - two drive wheels in the rear and one front wheel," says Ron. "Its aluminum space frame is covered with a tough, lightweight plastic shell, and the windshield is made of Plexiglas (or safety glass with heating wires). The motor, transmission and batteries are all in the rear, creating excellent traction similar to the old Volkswagen bug."

In a magazine called Recumbent Cyclist News, Victor Muñoz wrote: "There is a vast gap between a 30 lb. bicycle and a 3,000+ lb. car. And balancing on two wheels at automotive speeds is a bit too much of a thrill for many non-motorcyclists.

"The Twike was developed precisely to help fill this void of options. It was designed by engineers and architects concerned to combine some of the extreme energy efficiency of a bicycle with many of the comforts, performance and safety characteristics of a car."

Six Twikes made a 17-day tour of eastern Europe in July 2005. The Twike.com website offers this account, translated from German by the literal-minded computer, Babelfish:

We are again at home. Stories and pictures to the return journey are to be found immediately on this side.

After 5 weeks and 5000 abenteurlichen kilometers on 14 August the TWIKE with its lucky pilots landed again in Switzerland.

Without large problems the vehicles mastered the fastidious distance. The message for a lasting and futurable mobility was carried about the TWIKE with the necessary sportyness to South-east Europe and understood without explaining words. With open arms, large interest and enthusiasm we became receiving and experienced a marvelous hospitality.

Twinkle, twinkle little twike
You're so much better than a bike.
With the rising cost of gasoline,
Many more twikes may soon be seen.
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Story first posted November 2005

Copyright © 2005

Eric Shackle

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