Last year, Americans bought around half a million electric bikes—more than twice the number of electric cars that were sold over the same period, and more than twice the number of e-bikes that were sold in 2019. This year, when sales are tallied up, they likely will have doubled again.
Still, most e-bikes have a few challenges for someone trying to replace a car on a daily commute. They can be heavy and hard to store. One startup wants to convince more commuters to switch to e-bikes by focusing on size: The Jackrabbit eBike, which calls itself a “micro bike,” is small enough when folded up to fit behind the front seat of a car, and light enough, at 24 pounds, to carry up a flight of stairs or lift into an overhead storage compartment on a train.
“Full size bikes require a decent amount of storage,” says Jackrabbit CEO Jason Kenagy. “They’re not easy to bring on to subways or buses.” In places where high bike-theft rates mean that you need to bring your bike inside the office, size and weight can make that difficult. Other folding bikes exist but tend to use heavier materials like steel because the fold points require extra strength. The Jackrabbit designers found a way to simplify the structure so that it can be folded flat and can be made from lightweight aluminum.
In “flat mode,” the bike is only 7 inches wide; and for storage, it’s possible to shrink the folded bike further by taking the handlebars off and clipping them onto the front forks of the bike. The front wheel also rotates to save more inches, and the seat can be lowered.
While most electric bikes can be pedaled, with the electric motor offering “pedal assist,” the micro bike uses pegs instead of pedals, and the rider doesn’t do any work—which could be a drawback for those wanting to get in some exercise. In New York, the design means that it might be classified as a seated scooter, with a permitted top speed of 15 mph rather than the 20 that e-bikes are allowed. (The company is now working on optional removable pedals to address this.) By removing the pedals, though, the designers made the bike lighter, easier to fold, and cleaner because it also doesn’t need a chain.
The Jackrabbit has a smaller battery than some other e-bikes, though it’s the largest the FAA will allow to be taken on an airplane. The battery is also big enough to meet the everyday needs of most riders, providing a range of around 12 miles before the battery needs to be charged. “We focused a lot on research, and how far people really drive in their cars,” says Kenagy. “In the U.S., more than 50% of the car rides are less than 5 miles; more than 70% are less than 10 miles.”