There was a time when the Australians said that us Brits were only any good at sports that involved sitting down, which explained our Olympic success at both rowing and cycling. I wonder how we’d fare then if there was a competition for the Halfbike because, get this, it doesn’t have a saddle.
The Halfbike is an invention created by a pair of architects called Mihail Klenov and Martin Angelov, both passionate cyclists who shared “a vision about urban mobility and how it can be applied to the contemporary city.” They launched it on Kickstarter in 2015 and raised a million dollars in funding. Wow!
It’s made of a curved aluminium base frame connected to a plywood handlebar. It has one large front wheel and two smaller rear wheels which are attached to a springy axle. It has three gears in its Sturmey Archer hub. Clearly, with no saddle, you have to stand up while you’re pedaling and to steer you have to adjust your weight, leaning into the direction you want to go. The handlebars can be folded down so it can be stored away easily in a car or under a desk.
As someone who loves the aesthetics of the bike, I have to say that the Halfbike is a rather beautiful object in its own right. It has a graceful curve in its frame and I love the combination of aluminium and plywood. I thought the chunky Schwalbe tyres were an excellent choice. It’s a lovely thing to look at and, once I’d learned how to ride it, it got lots of attention, enquiries and admiring looks (for the Halfbike, not me).
Now, learning to ride it: be warned because you’ll need a good ten minutes to work out how to use the thing! It’s completely different to riding a bike. If you hold the handlebars too hard you’ll find yourself toppling over to the side, and putting pressure on the pedals is a tricky maneouvre to begin with as this will adjust your body weight too. But after a few minutes in the park and some rather bruised ankles which banged on the frame a few times, I found that I could do it. I’d say that the action is more akin to walking or running than bike riding.
We took it to our local skate park in Brighton, The Level, to see what the BMX guys and skaters would make of it. We soon had quite an inquisitive crowd who were desperate to have a go. Satisfyingly, they found it just as hard to master as I had on my first go. But that didn’t deter them taking it down a few ramps and attempting some bunny hops. They then had the gall to say it was a “death trap”! Probably not for the skate park, then.
Later, I took it along the cycle path on the Brighton seafront which was a perfect flat stretch to get in some practice and this is where it really came into its own. Once you’ve mastered how to control it and you pick up a bit of speed it’s a great feeling, more like gliding than riding a bike. Remember that first time you learnt how to ride without stabilizers? I had the same grin plastered on my face I’d had all those years ago. It’s not as fast as a bike so was a good handicap as I frantically pedaled to keep up with my 11 year old son on his road bike. After a couple of miles I found myself breathing harder and muscles I don’t usually use on the bike were starting to burn.
I really enjoyed my couple of weeks with this thing and was sad to see it go back in its box to be returned. I’m not sure if I’d use it on the open road with traffic as I never felt completely in control. But on a segregated bike path it’s enormous fun, and a hugely enjoyable way of getting some alternative exercise to riding. So, in terms of an “alternative transport system” I’m not sure it’s quite practical enough for a commute so doesn’t quite meet its aim. However, as an object it’s a thing of beauty, and, as an exercise tool, it’s a thrilling and effective work-out. Above all, it’s just brilliant unadulterated fun that made me feel like a kid again.
The Halfbike is available to buy for €529 including delivery. Order from their website quoting code RJTRGX for a 5% discount. If you'd like try one out, drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a test ride.