It may sound far-fetched, until you see the Schiller X1 water bike, the latest entrant in a growing field of curious aquatic conveyances.
The X1 bears no relation to those clunky beach-rental units with the bright, lemon-yellow pontoons. Instead, the watercraft marries a sleek design with intuitive functionality, giving a rider-slash-yachtsman something akin to a sailboat ride, albeit one where the skipper is cantilevered over the water on a bicycle seat.
“There are something like a billion bikes worldwide on a planet that’s two-thirds water,” says Judah Schiller, the X1’s creator and founder of Schiller Bikes, based in Mill Valley, California, a hilly enclave north of San Francisco. “To me, this seems like an opportunity to pioneer something new, to reinvent the bicycle and create something purpose-built just for water.”
Schiller made waves last year when he rode across San Francisco Bay using a Shuttle Bike Kit, made by SBK-KIT in Italy. But the Shuttle Bike requires users to mount a conventional bike – generally unsuitable for water exposure – on a dual-pontoon-supported frame.
The X1, on the other hand, features stainless-steel parts and a hard-anodised, powder-coated aluminium frame for corrosion resistance; a proprietary pure-rotary drive train that weds Gates carbon-drive belts (ie, no metal chain) with a NuVinvi three-speed transmission; and two dual-chamber, puncture-resistant inflatable PVC pontoons.
A key feature: twin oscillating propellers that steer the craft and eliminate the need for a rudder. By pedalling, a rider turns the propellers via flexible, rotating drive shafts connected to the drivetrain.
“Rudders create drag and aren’t useful until you want to steer,” Schiller explains. “We wanted to create maximum transfer of human energy into propulsion. Both props turn at the same time, which provides dynamic steering capability. By turning the handlebars, riders can easily make turns in tight spaces. You can turn on a dime and even go in reverse.”
To minimise the possibility of propeller damage, the units are mounted on arms that flex, providing some give if a rider should encounter shallower water or a submerged obstacle, Schiller says.
A fit, experienced biker can travel at approximately eight knots, or roughly 9mph, on the X1, but a rider of average conditioning is more likely to see a v-max of five or six knots, Schiller says.
The X1 weighs 50lbs fully assembled, with each pontoon measuring 11ft long when inflated. Disassembled, the X1 can stow away in a mid-size sedan’s trunk or a closet. Assembly takes about 10 minutes or so, Schiller claims.
At $6,495, the X1 costs as much as a Tour de California-worthy road bike, but Schiller sees a strong market among wealthy fitness enthusiasts, luxury beachfront hotels and adventuresome (and again, wealthy) commuters – from San Francisco to Hong Kong – who might find pedalling across waterways more appealing than being mired in bridge, tunnel or bike-lane gridlock.
Schiller says he’s already booked orders from around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hawaii, New York and the UK. “We’re set up for mass production,” Schiller says. “We created a manufacturing process that allows us to scale vertically and quickly.”
Befitting a northern California entrepreneur, Schiller dreams big. “This is the dawn of a new sport,” he says. “I see a strong comparison to mountain biking. Initially, people laughed and scoffed at the idea. Now mountain bikes are one of the most formidable forces in biking.”
Obstacles to adoption may yet lie ahead for the X1, but one thing is certain: pothole-induced flats won’t be one of them.
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