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Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Life in the TWIKE lane
I met Paul a while back. You know the term "an American original"? Well, Paul's a Netherlands original.
After a dinner of fish and homemade fries at the flat he shares with his fiancée in Amsterdam, he presented my gal-pal Marie and I with a crystal candy dish filled with dried worms. They came in two flavors "original" and "nacho" and looked like the meal worms I used to feed the pet turtle I had back in high school. The nacho ones weren't half bad.
After chatting for a bit, Paul asked me if I wanted to take a spin around the city in his TWIKE. These two-person "human-electric hybrid vehicles" are relatively rare but have a devoted following. A mere 850 have been sold since the TWIKE 1 debuted at the 1986 World EXPO, mostly in Germany and Switzerland.
Paul has had his for a few years now and has retrofitted it with a few interesting modifications. Blue neon lights line the inside and the cargo area is set up for a small refrigerator. Paul used it to transport fresh herring from the Netherlands during a road trip to Scandinavia. His TWIKE also has a custom paint-job. At first glance, I thought Paul was shooting for the Delorean from Back to the Future. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the TWIKE was all done up like a jet from Top Gun, complete with a pair of faux-afterburners on the back.
I jumped in the passenger seat and we set off into the night. On electric backup, the average TWIKE can run for a few hours and is capable of carrying travelers between 45 and 90 miles depending on the type of battery installed. If the driver and/or passenger are willing to pedal, however, the vehicle can journey much further. In Amsterdam, they're also street legal. Paul manuvered the TWIKE onto a busy boulevard and we buzzed through the Jordaan as pedestrians looked and pointed. At almost every intersection, someone broke out a cellphone or a camera to snap a photo. As we waited for a tram to pass, a kid on a sidewalk geeked out as if he had just spotted Santa Claus in the flesh.
Paul swung onto a quiet street and turned off the battery. I had asked him how tough it was to fuel the vehicle on pedal-power alone. We gave it a shot and it was like trying to haul a mountain bike up a San Fransisco hill. After the test, Paul flipped a switch on the dashboard. "Are you ready to take this puppy onto the freeway," he asked.
The next thing I knew, we were blasting alongside semi-trucks and SUVs. The top speed of Paul's TWIKE was 55 MPH but it can go faster at a full gallop. I figured we'd get blown off the pavement but the vehicle's aero-dynamic curves made for a smooth ride even at a fast clip.
The limited mileage on the average TWIKE renders them impractical as anything but a commuter vehicle. Even the newer models require two hours to charge on a dead battery. They also cost a pretty penny. A new model will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 US. That said, they're a hell of a lot of fun.