The future on two wheels.

Bicycles will play a large role in shaping future urban mobility. New functions will transform the traditional bicycle into a smart, electric-powered i-Bike that offers maximum comfort.

In the cities of the future, people will want to be even more often on the move than they are today. Alongside public transport, cars, scooters and pedestrians, bicycles will greatly influence road traffic in cities.

But it will hardly be the bike as we currently know it. For starters, it will have a much more modern appearance, as the BMW Active Hybrid E-Bike, described by experts as “ground-breaking,” exemplifies. However, it is what’s on the inside of the bike that will truly transform the traditional pedal bicycle into a smart ride and companion of the future.

“Right now, the e-bike is in the process of evolving into a new form,” explains Evgueni Maslov, lead designer at BMW Group subsidiary Designworks. He likens these current developments to the history of the automobile, where the first designs looked similar to the horse-drawn carriages from which cars had evolved before the modern form of the automobile emerged. Although many aspects of the new bicycles are reminiscent of earlier bicycle models, new developments lie ahead. “We are still in a hybrid phase between the classic bicycle and the e-bike of the future,” Maslov adds.

One of the tasks for Designworks at its headquarters in California and studios in Europe and Asia is to provide impetus for sustainable mobility concepts for the BMW Group and other companies. Its designers and creative experts have no doubt that the bicycle will play an important role. The refined bike will become an integral part of the city of the future – a city that is not only intelligently networked, but also, above all, geared towards its inhabitants’ needs.

On the journey to the bicycle of the future, the e-bike – which only recently took the place of bicycles powered by human force alone – is merely an interim step. Soon, we will be able to ride our intelligent new “i-bike” to the office, school, meetings and events. Though Maslov jokes about it being a “digital horse,” this indeed captures the essence of future two-wheeled mobility alternatives. From using its navigation device to identify public transport connections to finding the route to the nearest car-sharing vehicle or parking space, the bicycle serves as an intelligent guide and companion. Using digital assistants similar to individual assistance systems in cars, it can provide the latest weather forecast, remember the owner’s usual routes and “think” ahead – both during and after the ride. As part of a smart home solution, it may even be able to perform safety functions, such as monitoring the entrance to the house with the aid of cameras and sensors.

Designworks also supports start-ups like Rydies in Munich, which is driving digitalisation and connectivity among mobility options for bicycles and the micro-mobility field in general. Here, concepts are implemented and experience is gathered for the “velo-city” of the future.

“The intelligent, ‘thinking’ bicycle is still a thing of the future, of course. But the bike will increasingly be part of connected mobility,” says Maslov, referring to Designworks. The focus of bicycle connectivity, however, will be different that of cars. While intelligent technology for car drivers enables greater comfort in areas unrelated to actual driving, i-bike development will focus on interactions between the cyclist and their ride. All functions will be geared strictly towards getting from A to B. Entertainment and other comfort features will not be found on bikes, simply because autonomous driving will remain limited to four-wheeled vehicles.   

Despite these differences, bicycle developers are joining forces with the automotive industry. “The bicycle is developing a whole new identity as a part of the overarching mobility ecosystem. When it comes to reliable and safe connectivity in particular, there is a lot the bicycle industry can learn from the experience gathered by the BMW Group and the entire automotive sector,” says Sonja Schiefer, director of Designworks’ Munich studio.

Although cars and bikes have often been “rivals” on the road in the past, both means of transportation will likely work closely together in the future. Thanks to connectivity technology and modern vehicle communications, cars could warn bicycles of obstacles, while bikes could report congestion as it develops. This would pave the way for a new kind of partnership between the two, creating a better “climate” in the city – in every sense of the word.