Jim Turner sees the world through bicycle-shaped lenses.
He’s a two-time Motorcross National Champion who left an engineering job at Ford Motor Company to found the Boulder, Colorado-based company Optibike (which designs and manufactures electric bikes), and he’s the author of a book — The Electric Bike Book — which is about bikes (naturally).
So it’s not really a surprise that in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy struck the East Cost, Turner began thinking about how electric bikes might be useful for recovery efforts.
Inspiration kicked into high gear (pun intended!) when the Colorado floods of September 2013 stranded Turner and his family. The roads to his community were washed out, and the only way to get out or bring supplies in was on foot or by bike. (Or by unicycle, as one goofy video demonstrated.)
Turner decided to turn his early ideas into a learning experience for the industrial design students at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. (David Klein, a friend of Turner’s, is a professor there.) Turner challenged students in Klein’s class to design prototypes for a Bicycle Emergency Response Trailer (or BERT). The contest had a few parameters: The trailer had to be light enough that an Optibike could pull it, it needed to run on solar power, and it had to be narrow enough to fit on a small trail.
Students came up with designs that included solar panels for charging cellphones when a community’s power is out, emergency lights, water filters, fold-out tents, and drawers for medical supplies. One team’s BERT folded out into a table that emergency crews could use for a staging area, while another doubled as a stretcher.
Turner told Jason Blevins of the Denver Post, “It reminds me of the beginning of Optibike. This is something that hasn’t been done before. There’s so much room to be creative.” He said of the student designs, “Every one of them, I see something I like.”
So in a few years, when disaster-stranded people are in need of rescue, don’t be surprised if a fleet of electric bicycles and emergency trailers are their saviors.
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