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Etta commuter cycle carries cargo, too


July 26, 2010

The Etta semi-recumbent cargo bike designed by Nick Foley

The Etta semi-recumbent cargo bike designed by Nick Foley

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The upright bicycle riding position offered by the familiar diamond-shape frame has been completely abandoned by designer Nick Foley in favor of a semi-recumbent driving pose. His Etta 3-speed prototype is claimed to offer users a more comfortable, natural ride whilst also providing better all-round visibility and a built-in storage compartment. Gizmag's Paul Ridden takes a closer look.

Foley says that he was recovering from a (non-Etta-related) cycling accident when he began thinking about tackling bike design last year. As well as addressing the riding position, Foley also included some storage space – perhaps not quite as much as the Bullitt cargo-bike, but at 16 x 12 x 10 inches the waterproofed, laminated hardwood rear storage area should comfortably house a large grocery bag.

Foley chose a manageable 7005 aluminum alloy for Etta's main frame, but will be looking towards the more corrosion-resistant 6061 alloy for future production models. The frame includes "cutting-edge, ultra efficient warm-white LED" lighting to the front and rear with a low power draw - so low, in fact, that although the Etta prototype uses three AA sized batteries, production versions will utilize a dynamo hub to recharge onboard batteries.

The current prototype uses a Sturmey Archer 3-speed internally geared hub, which leans towards usage in a fairly flat, urban environment. An 8-speed internal hub or a 27-speed hybrid internal/cassette hub (like that offered by SRAM) would likely be offered as a production model option. Foley plans to add a more complete chain guard for any production model but told us that "the external chain, though not aesthetically ideal, has not proven to be problematic in practice. The Idler (the pulley wheel located near the center of the frame which bends the chain downwards) is very effective at keeping the chain inline and under tension, and as it is made from an acetal-teflon copolymer, it is incredibly durable and nearly frictionless."

The designer may also consider an electric hub motor enhancement to a future version of Etta but "doing away with the pedal power entirely is not something I find particularly advantageous. I'm no proponent of sloth."

Despite feeling some outside pressure to use disc or tri-spoke wheels for Etta, Foley instead chose a more lightweight and "realistic, production ready design" that would not price itself out of the market by including the more expensive designer wheels. The prototype has a 16 inch diameter aluminum rim and steel spoke wheel to the front and a 20 inch version at the rear.

The unusual seat has a thin foam padding atop its fiberglass shell which is said to be comfortable. Foley told us that "due to extensive testing during development to accommodate for anatomical differences and the natural flex of the fiberglass shell, everyone who has ridden it has been astonished at how comfortable it is to ride, even for long periods of time."

Etta's semi-recumbent riding position has been likened to that of a car, "with almost identical hand, foot, and seating positions." The designer says that such a position offers the rider "advantages over a traditional riding position in that they recruit larger muscle groups to turn the pedals and propel the bicycle, as well as decrease the amount of stress and chafing on the lower thighs due to the pedals being in front of the seat instead of underneath it."

It's similar to the flat foot technology incorporated into the Electra range, but with a slightly raised (adjustable) seat and with the pedals placed even further forward. Foley claims that the result is a more natural, comfortable riding position which is easy to start off from, explaining "because the pedals are in front of you, and because you can place your feet firmly on the ground while remaining seated, you simply need to lift one leg and begin pedaling." The design also caters for user heights of anywhere from 5 feet to 6 feet 6 inches, according to its creator.

There hasn't yet been the opportunity to run it through independent safety testing, but user testing has been very positive and Etta does benefit from keeping riders high enough off of the ground to provide a good field of view and ensure that they can be seen in urban traffic.

Since completing the Etta prototype for his senior thesis at the Pratt Institute, Foley has been displaying his creation at various galleries and design shows. It's currently on display at The Center for Architecture in Manhattan, in a show about the future of urban transportation.

If you fancy a test drive and live in the US, Foley is planning on bringing the Etta to this year's InterBike show in September, and would welcome the opportunity to show off his creation. In the meantime, he is currently in pre-production negotiations with several manufacturers and urges readers to keep an eye on his website for news and updates.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

Like I have read before about this design, how does it function when turning a corner ?? The design seems to have enough tire clearance..

Terry Hope

The riding position looks similar to that of a Compact Long-Wheelbase Recumbent (such as Giant Revive or HP Velotechnik Spirit) but with a very high seating position. Can those riders really get a foot on the floor easily?

It looks to me like this will have a few handling quirks and without the aerodynamic advantages that make recumbents so fast and so much fun.

Oh, and that\'s why recumbent also need a big gear range, ideally over 500% - you can\'t \"honk\" on the pedal uphill so need to spin in a low gear, but you blast downhill at 40mph-50mph so also need high gears.

Anyway, good luck to the guy, but I hope he tried riding 20-30 different recumbents (LWB, SWB, CLWB, trikes, everything!) before setting off the design his own.



Hey! Thanks for your interest in the design.

Terry - The tire clearance isn\'t totally perfected yet, but only is an issue at low speeds and sharp corners; as long as you coast through them, it is fine. A couple of tweaks are going to be made to future prototypes which will resolve the issue entirely, however. The clearance looks deceptively bad from a side view, but due to the small front wheel it\'s not actually that close, and is pleasurable to ride through the city.

Ian - Yeah, I rode quite a few recumbents while I was in the early design phases of this, thanks to George Bliss at Hudson Urban Bicycles who owns a number, and to all the customers who came into the shop and let me take their recumbents for a spin (Shelly of the Urban Mobility Project esp. http://urbanmobilityproject.blogspot.com/ )

As far as the handling goes, I based the geometry off of a fairly standard semi-recumbent design, and though there are a few minor issues to resolve, it handles pretty well. (For example, the fork used for the prototype is a modified 700c racing fork, and as a result I wasn\'t able to get quite as much rake as I would have liked)

With regards to aerodynamics, the upright riding position certainly suffers a little compared to a traditional recumbent, but for city riding, having a high viewpoint to see over traffic is essential. It is also a more familiar car-like or even sofa-like riding position, and my main priorities for this design were safety and accessibility to non-avid-cyclists.

Again, thanks for your comments! I hope to have this in production (in a more evolved form) in the near future.

Nick Foley

Hi Nick,

Long distance comfort is definitely one of the bigger problems in bicycle design so I\'m glad to see innovation in this area. Good work.

How is the braking though? Looks like applying the front hard could result in a flip. If it has back brake only that would prevent it from being road legal in the UK and presumably elsewhere.

Also, please consider swept back handlebars (omafiets style), they are far more relaxing and comfortable to hold IMHO.

Anyway - hope one of these turns up in the UK one day, would love to try it!


\"The designer may also consider an electric hub motor enhancement to a future version of Etta but \"doing away with the pedal power entirely is not something I find particularly advantageous. I\'m no proponent of sloth.\"\"

Sloth? How about people with chronic conditions who cannot ride a bike but would like to get around on one anyways? Far from sloth, some of us are not capable of pedaling around.

Farokh Monajem

Felix - I totally agree about the omafiets style bars... unfortunately I wasn\'t able to find a good looking bar in that style that had an oversized clamp. It currently has the most swept-back risers I could find, to approximate this.

Farokh - I mean no offense to the disabled/otherwise immobile- I was simply suggesting that if a vehicle is designed from inception to execution, to be powered by one method, it is an injustice to both the vehicle and the user to try to adapt it to an entirely different form of propulsion.

Etta was designed around being pedal powered- making it soley electric would make it a bad design; inadequate in many respects.

Those who need dedicated, fully-electric mobility deserve an appropriately dedicated solution.

Nick Foley

It\'s too tall which makes it harder to balance especially at low speed. Also the basket is not that needed as one can put far more either over the rear wheel or hung in eco bags from the handlebars as I do.

EV drive would make it far more useful especially in hot weather and going to work, school, ect with sweating, smelling. BTDT Now I can no longer pedal far so it\'s not optional anymore.

Better than being so tall and a basket would be folding, more compact so one can take on a train, bus. Easy to correct these by lowering the seat, folding hinges and E-drive, with or wirhout pedals

But not bad either.


The ETTA is definitely not a recumbent in my book & the seat being higher than a conventional means you would go over the handle-bars easier in an accident.

Statistics also show that you are safer in an accident riding a bent .

Thats my dollars worth. Kiwi

John M

Just to clarify -

The riding position on this bike isn\'t high; in fact, it is a couple cm lower than a traditional bike for a given rider height. Keeping the rider near the height of a traditional bike is essential because having good visibility when riding in a city is critical to rider safety.

Nonetheless, it is a little lower than a traditional position because this allows the rider to put their feet flat on the ground without leaving the seat while stopped.

Nick Foley

I have to agree with felix that the weight distribution looks very unfavorable. It looks like it\'s about 60/40 front to rear, exactly the opposite of a good road bike. With the small front wheel, there\'s a good chance an unexpected pothole of about 2-3\" depth will initiate a faceplant. I don\'t like spoked wheels because they demand so much attention. Maintenance-free molded ones like Skyway wheels are widely available and not that expensive.

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