Step inside the Raht Racer, a three-wheeled vehicle that looks a little like a simplified version of the Batmobile, and you’ll start to pedal like you’re riding a bicycle. But as you feed power to the electric motor inside, the bike also senses how hard you’re pushing. Pedal hard–or flip on an automatic mode, if you don’t want a workout–and the bike will travel up to 100 miles an hour on the highway.
“Like on a bike, your pedals are your accelerator,” says Rich Kronfeld, CEO of Rahtmobile. “You pedal and you go faster. Except the computer is sensing and multiplying the torque, much like a guitar amplifier might do for a guitar. It increases the volume, basically.”
The result, says Kronfeld, is a bike that goes as fast as a sports car, that gives you the sensation of superstrength.
To be clear, it is only a sensation. Most of the power comes from the electric motor and battery, not from your legs. But because it’s possible to pedal as you ride, it’s a way to get the same exercise that you would on a regular bicycle–with some crazy speed as extra motivation. The bike automatically adjusts resistance as you pedal over hills, so it feels like it would on a normal ride. If you want more of a workout, you can program in a different profile and ride, say, the hills of San Francisco when you’re in Manhattan.
The vehicle is designed to tempt commuters out of cars by solving the typical challenges of a bike commute. When Kronfeld started working on the project, he was commuting 13 miles to work by bike. “It was three hours out of my day round trip,” he says. “Then there’s weather. And in the fall and spring, you have to leave work really early, or you get stuck in the dark, and that’s too dangerous.”
Inspired by velomobiles, which enclose a recumbent bike inside a fiberglass shell, Kronfeld decided to go a step further and make his design highway-ready. Because it has three wheels, it’s classified as a motorcycle, and it doesn’t have to go through the extensive safety testing of a car. But unlike a bike or motorcycle, it has a body, a roll cage, seatbelts, and an airbag. “People ask me if it’s safe, and my response is it’s not a sedan, but it’s much safer than a motorcycle,” he says.
It’s also fun to ride. “This all kind of sprang from the logic of ‘Okay, I want to go fast, I want to be protected from the weather and the road, I want to be able to carry some stuff,'” Kronfeld says. “Then once I was more into it, it dawned on me this is also going to be really fun. It’s going to solve the practical issues, but it’s also going to be this fun thing.”
It won’t be a cheap thing, however. The first model will cost around $35,000 to $40,000. “Because it’s going to be expensive to begin with, I see it as a new kind of powersport product–a new recreational thing,” he says. “What I’m hoping is that I can get my foot in the door with that, and then we can get to the point where we can bring the price down. And then regular people like me can afford to get one and use it for bike commuting.”
The startup is raising funds for a next-generation prototype on Kickstarter.