Is the FRIKAR a car or bicycle?

by PODBIKE | July 29th

That’s a difficult question to answer. The FRIKAR certainly doesn’t look like a bicycle and it’s much smaller than a car. The driver  – or should we say rider, because that’s also a tough question to answer – pedals it in conjunction with a small battery pack instead of using an internal combustion engine. So, there are similarities to an electric car. But the FRIKAR is not motorized in the traditional sense.

On the flip side, we aren’t a traditional bicycle either because of the four wheels and enclosed cockpit. So, what kind of vehicle is the FRIKAR anyway? A car or a bicycle? The answer is, we are in the middle…or the ‘muddle’, if you like. 

This is both an opportunity and challenge, especially when it comes to EU laws.

Car or bicycle? What does Brussels think?

Right now, we are classified as a bike. This has a huge advantage, because this classification grants riders access to bike paths, which are often more scenic and less congested than roads. For instance, Podbike test pilot Christoph Kress rides to work every day in his FRIKAR along the shoreline of a Stavanger fjord. He only has to glimpse at the roadway beside him to see how unpleasant a traditional car commute would be. No cyclist enjoys the inherent danger of riding among trucks and cars, so it makes no sense for the FRIKAR to be registered as an S-Pedelec*.  *Jargon warning: The difference between a Pedelec (which is what the FRIKAR is classified as now) and an S-Pedelec will be explained below.

Car or bicycle? We LOVE being classified as a bike…but we also want more power for the FRIKAR

As front-riders of the micro-transportation movement, we at Podbike want the owners of FRIKARs to live and breathe amidst bicycles and nature, not cars and asphalt. Also, if the FRIKAR gets reclassified for the road, it will need to be registered and have standard vehicle insurance, both of which would add significant cost and inconvenience.

One of the biggest disincentives to cycling for many people (along with wind and getting wet) is being fit enough to get up hills. In addition, many people dislike getting sweaty on the way to work. To alleviate these problems, FRIKAR has a battery-powered motor to provide rider-assistance. But the amount of power available is limited by European Union laws. 

EU regulations cap electrically-assisted bikes at a maximum power output of 250 watts and a top speed of 25 kilometres an hour. This limitation is fine on the flat, but it is not adequate for the FRIKAR when going up hills.

That’s why we would like to see EU regulations changed. Because if the Podbike is to become a widely-adopted form of personal transportation, it needs to have enough power to easily climb (not crawl) up hills and mountains. This is especially important for Europe’s Alpine regions. We also think some extra torque would enhance the FRIKAR’s safety, allowing riders to accelerate out of harm’s way when something unexpected happens. For example, if a car fails to see you crossing an intersection, a little extra power could help you escape a potential collision.

Pedelec vs. S-Pedelec*: What’s the Difference? (*Jargon explained)

Right now, the FRIKAR is classified as a Pedelec, or pedal electric cycle. A Pedelec is legally equivalent to a bicycle. An S-Pedelec, which has a very similar name, is actually a much different vehicle. Its engine is more powerful and it can travel much faster.

An S-Pedelec’s motor output can go as high as 4,000 watts with a mandated top speed of 45 kph. S-Pedelecs are also classified as mopeds and not bicycles in the EU. Therefore, they must be registered; riders must also buy insurance and wear an appropriate motorized-vehicle safety helmet. This is why it makes NO sense to have the FRIKAR become an S-Pedelec. We don’t want that much speed because it would push us out of bike lanes and onto the road. And we don’t want to be riding (driving?) bumper to bumper with cars!

The Goldilocks Solution – the FRIKAR needs to be perfectly in-between a car and bike (as far as EU law is concerned)

We do need some extra engine power, though. Just not enough to classify us as a motorized vehicle that is legally required to travel on roads. So the question is not whether the FRIKAR is a car or bicycle, because the answer is neither. Instead, we want a Goldilocks solution: something in between. So what could that look like?

One thing we’ve considered is an EU speed and power exemption for Light Electric Vehicles (LEVs). 

Another option is creating a whole new classification of vehicle – something between a Pedelec and an S-Pedelec. This would accommodate micro transportation e-bikes like the FRIKAR which would not be too fast, and not too slow.

There is already a small groundswell of support advancing this Goldilocks agenda. In July 2020, according to the lobby group LEVA-EU, the European Commission began a process to revise EU rules for all forms of Light Electric Vehicles (LEVAs). We don’t know yet what this will translate to, but at least now we now have some policy wheels grinding in Europe’s halls of power. At a minimum, the Commission’s actions are evidence that the voices of Light Electric Vehicle manufacturers are being heard in Brussels. 

If and when progress is made on the changing of speed and power rules for LEVs in the EU, we will let you know in future newsletters. In the meantime, if you are wrestling with the idea of whether to travel by car or bicycle, choose the bike! It will de-stress your life, reduce pollution, and get you fit, all while you are out in the fresh air and enjoying nature. 

When put that way, the decision kind of makes itself. 🙂

These blog posts might also be interesting for you:

Against gravity: riding uphill with the FRIKAR ebike

Why vehicle weight and resources matter