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Will this nickel-a-day scooter-bike end Toronto’s Car Wars?

Along Toronto’s College Street this morning, startup Revelo revealed its LIFEbike, a lightweight electric bike it hopes will fill an important gap for stressed commuters in the GTA and beyond.

Along Toronto’s College Street this morning, startup Revelo revealed its LIFEbike, a lightweight electric bike it hopes will fill an important gap for stressed commuters in the GTA and beyond.

At 33 lbs. including its battery, the bike-like scooter can reach speeds up to 25 km/hr. Revelo intends to announce an Indiegogo fundraising campaign for an initial production run of 20 bikes, priced at $1,800 each.

“In Toronto, 82 per cent of downtown dwellers commute less than 10 kilometres and only six per cent travel by bike. To encourage people to bike, we need a simple solution that offers the option to travel without breaking a sweat, and not worry about showering, changing, and parking – that’s where the LIFEbike comes in,” says founder and CEO Henry Chong.

Chong arrived at the press conference riding a LIFEbike.

Toronto will make a challenging case study in reconciling its ambition to claim “world-class city” status with first being able to describe itself as liveable, much less bikeable. It should be wonderful place to ride a bike, given that it’s as flat as a pancake. But the city’s actual effort to create space for cyclists, and thereby a healthy, conscious populace, consists so far of drawing lines on the side of the road that are meant to represent bike lanes.

This is analogous to Les Nessman, of WKRP fame, creating an office space in his mind by putting some masking tape down on the floor. Until Toronto establishes some actual bike lanes, I’m afraid it will remain a fairly dangerous place for cyclists. In the meantime, it can look to the examples of Vancouver or Montreal, or any northern European city, for instruction on how to foster a vibrant cycling culture.

“For less than five cents a day of electricity to operate, the LIFEbike presents an affordable form of transportation. The freedom from congestion and costly transportation options can be extremely empowering,” Chong says.

If LIFEbike takes off, it may well complement the city’s Bixi bike sharing program, imported from Montreal. While Bixi has struggled in Toronto being implemented in a tiny downtown area, it has thrived and been enthusiastically adopted in Montreal, where it originated and has since been exported to London, New York, Melbourne, Washington, D.C., Boston, and the BlackBerry campus. To contrast the mayor of London’s attitude towards cycling (who makes a point of being seen cycling to work and enthusiastically presided over his city’s Bixi roll-out, which have since been nicknamed “Boris-bikes”) with his Toronto counterpart’s (who has predictably described Bixi as a failure) is to contrast a conservatism of hope with a conservatism of annihilation.

By coincidence, New York’s delayed unveiling of their Bixi system is also set to open on Monday, with outgoing Mayor Bloomberg staking a final chunk of his political capital on its success.

Chong developed the LIFEbike prototype while a student in OCAD’s industrial design program. He then approached MaRS’ Entrepreneurship 101 program, and then won its 2012 Up-Start! Competition, carrying an award of $10,000.

MaRS Discovery District cleantech advisor Lisa Harun says the LIFEbike is like nothing else before it.

“Forget thinking outside the box,” she said. “Henry has drawn a new box, igniting a new paradigm; he’s created a new category within the Personal Electric Vehicles market that has international appeal. This is only the beginning for LIFEbike.”

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