Hydrofoil bikes could transform the daily commute to include pedalling through water

Manta5 provides a cycling experience on water. Picture courtesy of futuremovement.co.
Manta5 provides a cycling experience on water. Picture courtesy of futuremovement.co.

"Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum." Former prime minister Bob Hawke often lamented that he made lots of important and intelligent statements but his words on September 26, 1983 are his most famous.

Of course Australia had just broken the longest winning streak in sporting history when they beat the New York Yacht Club which had defended the America's Cup for 132 years. They did it all with a lot of hard work and an added piece of technology called a winged keel.

Jump forward to 2013 and the America's Cup rules had changed many times but in 2013 it was the first time that the America's Cup yachts rose out of the water and raced on hydrofoils.

They are magnificent to watch with the hydrofoil under the water acting much like the wing of an aircraft in producing lift as it flows through the water. It significantly reduces the drag as the hull is out of the water.

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The New York Yacht Club was beside itself with solicitors and rule books trying to knock out the winged keel. I can only imagine what would have happened if Australia II had actually risen out of the water.

As often happens, one innovation leads to another.

Combine sailing hydrofoils with modern e-bikes and what do you get? A hydrofoil bike of course. Now a bike in the water is not an entirely new concept.

I remember school excursions to Canberra where we would visit Lake Burley Griffin and ride a floating device with three wheels as large as tractor tyres. Coast along or pedal until you were at a point of exhaustion and the speed would be slow and steady at best.

That was a long time ago though.

A company in New Zealand has just released a new mode of transport when there is water between where you are and where you need to get to.

The Manta5 seating arrangement is like a normal bicycle. Sit on a seat with handlebars and pedals. Instead of wheels, you have two hydrofoils. Start pedalling and a 460-watt electric motor uses battery power and the energy from your legs to spin a propellor and lift the bike up and travel on the hydrofoils.

As we move towards greener transport methods and reducing carbon emissions around the world, don't be surprised to see hydrofoil bikes used for daily commutes.

With average effort, it will cruise at 12 km/h. Keen cyclists can hit speeds of up to 22 km/h. Stop pedalling and the 31 kilogram bike will drop down from its hydrofoils and float on its buoyancy unit.

The rear foil sits at two-metre wide with the front one at 1.2m so the bike is relatively stable in the water. I can hear some people having apoplexy at the idea of dropping a large battery and electric motor in water, but don't expect to zap all the fish (and yourself).

Not surprisingly, the designers had a think about that and created a redundancy in the storage of the battery away from water.

As we move towards greener transport methods and reducing carbon emissions around the world, don't be surprised to see hydrofoil bikes used for daily commutes.

They are stable and can handle small waves, but I am not sure if we will see the Manly Ferry vacated in favour of hydrofoil bikes from Manly to Circular Quay, but travelling up the Parramatta River on a hydrofoil bike sounds like a plausible and enjoyable way to commute.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.


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This story Cross sailing hydrofoils with e-bikes and what do you get? first appeared on The Canberra Times.