Human Generator – new e-bike trades the chain for an alternator


October 9, 2012

The Mando Footloose is a folding e-bike with a chainless drivetrain

The Mando Footloose is a folding e-bike with a chainless drivetrain

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A bicycle born out of auto industry technology, the Mando Footloose makes claim of using the world's first chainless series hybrid technology for an e-bike. Like other pedal-assisted electric bikes, the bike combines manual and electric power. Unlike other pedelecs, it eliminates the chain and transforms the cyclist's motion directly into electricity.

As integral as it is to the design of most bikes, the chain is arguably the most annoying component. It can dirty and rip your pant legs, requires a lot of maintenance, can make your life miserable should it rub against the derailleur or slip off the gears, and can break altogether, leaving you without a means of pedaling on flat or ascending terrain. It's a necessary evil, at best.

Korean auto suppliers Mando Corp. and Meister Inc. got together with British designer Mark Sanders and Dutch e-bike expert Han Goes to make a common evil a little less necessary. Like Polaris' new e-bikes, the Footloose combines a throttle drive with pedal-assisted technology. Cyclists can power the bike up to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) with the motor alone or pedal for more range.

What sets the bike apart from others is that pedal input is transformed directly into electricity via an alternator connected to the crank. The electricity is stored in a lithium-ion battery and used to power the motor. So instead of powering the rear wheel, the cyclist becomes a human generator powering the motor.

Similar to an automobile, the Footloose has an Electronic Control Unit (ECU), which works with sensors and an automatic gear changer to monitor terrain and adjust the motor's output as necessary. The ECU also monitors the system for problems, which it displays via a handlebar-mounted Human Machine Interface (HMI). The HMI also displays metrics like distance traveled, speed and amount of electricity produced. It is removable and the bike will not start when it is removed, creating an integrated anti-theft feature.

Between its chainless construction and frame-integrated electronics, the Footloose folds up neatly for transport. It was designed with smooth edges to prevent any injury or discomfort when traveling.

The design is interesting, but we'd like to see more information about its efficiency compared to a chain-driven bike before really buying in. As anyone that's cranked a flashlight or emergency radio knows, transforming muscle power into electricity can be tireless, thankless work.

Mando showed the Footloose at the ISPO Bike and Eurobike shows over the summer. It plans to launch it in European markets next year.

Source: Mando

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

I often commute to work (14 miles -50 to 70 min one way, and riding the bus takes longer). I am now working on building a recumbent (probably several by the time I get one right) and the chain line definitely affects the design.

A recumbent is not an easy sell to most diehard upright riders but this type of drive would be an easier sell to those already riding a recumbent. With this drive in a faired recumbent it would be a breeze commuting to work and a stop on the way home for groceries as well.

Recumbents are already more expensive than normal bikes (even matching for quality and components so the additional expense might fine a market here.

Over $5000 for an upright folding e-bike probably needs to be able to replace a car for most journeys for most people to justify buying one.

Lots of comments about efficiency. I wonder who knows the truth for this particular bike and for its intended use (not for century riding) does it really matter?


Chainless drive systems are nothing new. Besides the fact that the first bicycle was a chainless kick-powered ride, they've been on motorcycles and bicycles for AGES. My grandmother had a bicycle with a driveshaft and a differential.

This is nothing new.

Two Replies

EXCELLENT concept !

Lots of options for coordinating the pedal speed / force with current speed or lazily pedaling to charge the battery. Knowing what force is going to be applied back to the foot is a key input for keeping the bike upright. That's be a bit tricky to do.

Round trip efficiency from the pedals to the batteries to the motors doesn't really matter in this concept.

The Kid

Stupid gimmick. Small generators are notoriously inefficient. A chain or belt drive can transfer over 90% of a rider's pedal power to the rear wheel. This electric drivetrain would be lucky to break 40%, and that would be extremely optimistic.


Since the pedaling charges a battery rather than driving the motor directly (even more electrical losses), why hasn't it got a couple of drop-down props at the rear to hold the bike upright when stationary so it can be pedaled while sitting at the lights, recharging the battery? Or the rider can sit at home watching TV while pedaling for tomorrow's commute?

Very inefficient. 2 out of 10. Unoriginal.


This may well be a gimmick at this stage ( have to wait to see how good it works) but at least it is a step in the right direction. I can not understand why no one has thought of this before, it is the obvious thing to do to use the power generated by pedalling to charge the battery. If this works and it is developed to the point where you don't have to charge the battery by plugging it in ebikes might almost be a good idea, but I will stick to my normal human powered device for now.


A shroud placed around the chain would be a much cheaper and more efficient solution.

Yes chains wear out but so do generators.


I think its a brilliant concept and if it works I want one. Yes its less efficient than pedalling but on the flip side all those downhills do nothing to generate energy whereas presumably this will charge on a downhill so thats a win. I want one!

Adriaan Brink

As Pikeman suggests, a "shroud" is a much better and infinitely more simple solution for the chain -- millions and millions of old and new bikes have chaincases and many are on 8- and 11-speed bikes with wide gear ranges. There is not much "giz" in that, however, and somehow the author and designers think that all the tech in this bike will be less annoying that even an un-"shrouded" chain. Very odd.

Todd Edelman

At long last, just what we have been waiting for:

a beautifully designed exercise bike (that wastes almost half the energy needed to "power" it, and falls over when stationary).

All the rich kids that queue for iThings can be expected to queue for this baby too.


Already Having an ebike,when people are curious about it and ask,I find they often ASSUME it has a pedal driven generator!

Gerard Gallagher

I would like to see more articles about LFTR-powered bicycles ;-)


People have thought of this before, and it hasn't caught on because when you do see its efficiency compared to a chain-driven bike, you'll find it compares very poorly. Chain drive can be over 98% efficient:

It might make more sense for something that is basically a battery powered electric vehicle, but allows a bit of human input power:

(Two Replies - while a two-wheel drive bicycle with a differential is technically possible, I suspect you just mean bevel gears. )

Alan Braggins

I based my final year project on this concept in 2001. From experimentation the energy loss was too great. They idea of generating while stationary made it more feasible however as we all know bikes aren't stopped in traffic for long.

Mark Patterson

I am always amazed at the amount of pure bile that is spilled forth whenever something like this is shown. Not every product is the destination, some are simply a path along the way to something awesome in the future.

Interesting idea, compelling form and a nice step forward.

I don't want one, but i am glad it (and people who make things like this real) exist.

Uncle ned


the inefficiency is overwhelming, as well as the optimism or ignorance of who ever is trying to sell this thing

power is lost EVERYWHERE the generator the battery the motor

chains are 99% efficient, this thing would be lucky to beat 19%



wow. do you guys even know what an e-bike is? It has a motor that drives the wheel. easily up to 20 miles an hour. way faster than any chain or shaft drive. That motor runs on battery power. the pedals are used to charge the battery. This thing is brilliant.

Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer

It probably would work better as a tricycle so you could keep pedaling while waiting at stoplights. The efficiency would naturally be fairly poor, and regenerative braking would be less than ideal since the main generator would not be mechanically driven by the wheels.

Michael Crumpton

I agree with those who think like Gadgeteer. As cyclist for ages I can say that problems with chain are exaggerated, as an engineer &designer. I see overstatement advantages of the presented solution unless one conceive it as a good alternative to stationary bike for Downtown clerk.

Mike Akulov

The very best rare-earth magnet motors and alternators are above 95% efficiency, so it COULD work if they did that. If this adds regen braking it could help "level out" the hills somewhat.

Where this really could shine is on a streamlined velomobile. You could 'bank' some power while speeding along on the flats and use that for acceleration and hills.

William Volk

This is a step in the right direction and I had been thinking about it for ages. If it is combined with regenerative Braking, downhill energy production, energy producing shock absorbers, high tech alternators, generators and motors, a stand to recharge at stops, this can develop into something. The benefit is speed and futuristic smooth lines. With resistance /recharge and speed adjust. The only problem is having no means to move forward if all the energy is consumed and there is no charge point.

Dawar Saify

I'm no engineer by any means, but what crosses my mind is, wouldn't it be better to have a small chain or pulley from the rear wheel to the alternator? That way, when coasting downhill, or coming to a stop, the alternator would still be charging the battery...maybe there could be some sort of release to the alternator so you could just pedal normally (there would be a chain to the rear wheel).

Old J Hawthorne

"chain is arguably the most annoying component. It can dirty and rip your pant legs, requires a lot of maintenance, can make your life miserable should it rub against the derailleur or slip off the gears, and can break altogether, leaving you without a means of pedaling on flat or ascending terrain."

What a bullshit. I use bikes since I was 8. I used to commute with them to school when I was student. I used also to commute to work. The above mentioned issues have never happened. No derailing, no breakage, no gripping of my pants. Maintenance is not a complicated job, just needs some brush cleaning and lubricating sometimes. Anybody can do it within minutes.

Iván Imhof

The Footloose offers a transportation alternative to the majority of people that currently DO NOT ride because ...

"normal bikes are too complicated" "I don't want chain grease on my pants" "I don't have space to store a regular bike at___" "I'm not in shape to ride"

When folded, the BIKE is the kickstand. It can also be wheeled easily when folded through crowded, narrow corridors.

On battery power alone, the Footloose has a stated range of up to 28 miles at 15.5 mph. Pedaling further extends this range; however, if used for commuting, most people won't be keeping their butt in the saddle that long in a sitting anyway. According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 12 mi=avg commute in USA; average trip distances for many other purposes are under 10 mi (see

There is more info on the technology behind this on

From the designer: when I first rode a crude test rig, I discovered the real benefits of this chainless hybrid system. It is a very effective plug-in battery powered e-bike….Plus…. the addition of an alternator gives control and generates power. This feels completely intuitive and user friendly – you can use and generate as much ..or.. as little power as you choose.

Still sceptical ? …. Think of the system as chain driven…But… with an infinity long elastic chain, which can store pedalling energy, for release when you choose…. with control of of both: the elasticity, and the release of the stored energy. Add to this, regenerative braking which also ‘stretches the elastic’ when slowing – rather than loosing it ….. you get the idea….

From A Hybrid expert ... Motor running => current goes into motor Wheel and Motor standing => current goes into battery While riding: no battery losses for the generator current Generator – DC-circuit/Battery: Efficiency dependant on size, weight, cost of generator and on type of power electronics. Efficiency roughly 80 to 90+ percent Do you think this is low? Then measure efficiency of a multi speed internal hub or of a menchanical CVT and check your beliefs! (70+ to 90+ percent for internal gear hubs) DC-circuit/battery – motor: Like in an e-bike, e-moped or e-scooter: 80 to 90+ percent Since motor is a little bit bigger than on an e-bike, motor efficiency is higher than in e-bikes. In addition, since Efficiency = (1 – Power_Loss/Power_Transmitted), the efficiency of the motor is very high because the motor transmits BOTH current from the battery AND current from the generator. The ratio of Power_Loss/Power_Transmitted is lower, that is, motor efficiency is better than in standard e-bikes with hub motors. So efficiency of a series hybrid is not 0.80.8=0.64, it is better: (GeneratorPowerGeneratorEfficiency+BatteryPower)MotorEfficiency=(GeneratorPower+BatteryPower)Efficiency And then an other effect comes in: In e-bikes, electric power is assist_factor*human power. Since the assist factor is usually inbetween 1 and 2, the series hybrid e-bike will be among the more efficient e-bikes because for electricity, it has simply the most efficient drive train. Conclusion: The series hybrid might not be an ideal touring e-bike. But it might be very good in many other e-bike applications. Andreas Fuchs, Berne, Switzerland

Human Amplifier

Good discussion and William Volk is right about high performance possibilities.

The basic idea is as old as the electric bike and people have built both roadable , exercise and exercise only versions over the years. However in hub and lithium batteries certainly can transform the situation.

There is one problem (which can be solved at some loss of efficiency) and that is starting on the flats or up a grade with a depleted battery such that human power is all that is available. Very low rpm torque is not a property of the kind of alternator useful here (that is a few tens of RPM). A useful design will have to address this problem or the bike will be useless on steep terrain. There is two or three ways to overcome the problem depending on overall bike e-design- not to mention just getting off and walking the bike.


re; Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer

When I was in high School 20+ years ago the the bicyclists in Washington Park in Denver CO were getting tickets for going 30 to 35 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. It was all essentially level so chain drive bikes are capable of considerable more than 20 MPH.


William Volk,

That kind of efficiency is only for large motors. When you're getting below one horsepower, you're lucky if you get 50%. Likewise, small generators have huge losses.

Artisteroi Rlsh,

Yes, I do know what an electric bike is. I've owned several factory made ones and built my own, selecting hub motor, lithium batteries, motor controller, throttle, charger, etc. to do so. I happen to be quite familiar with the low efficiencies of small electrical systems.

Uncle ned,

The "bile" you rail against is nothing more than actual, real world knowledge. All the comments that say this is a "great" idea come from people who think this is something new and they're "surprised that it hasn't been thought of before." It's been thoroughly researched for decades by more than a few engineers and it's always been dismissed as inefficient. Ignorance won't make something work better.


I'm not sure even 50% efficiency will matter much. The bike has a 28 mile range, without additional input. The pedals are there to keep your feet from flailing, and give you some exercise, if you want it.

Pedaling up hill, or into the wind, or from a standstill, is not a lot of fun for new bike riders. A bike like this could be a blast to ride, for new-comers, and a lot of people who've ridden when younger, and wouldn't mind going into town to get a bagel, if it weren't for that pesky hill along the way.

Electric bikes are cool. Electric bikes without chains; very cool! Now if only they could get the price down well below a grand...

Goran Pocina

Yes, it is inefficient, but one thing that the concept could offer is a wide variety of form factors. Building a recumbent bike this system comes to mind. Many types of recumbent bikes require long and complicated chain arrangements and a chain-less recumbent would be great.

Other, more ergonomic arrangements could be created as there will be no need to accommodate a chain.

Edgar Walkowsky

For a bike with speed potential, look up the 1980's Hutch HPV. That was a BMX bike with a lengthened rear frame, a very large chainring, wheel discs and some plastic fairings. Supposedly easily hit 40 MPH on a flat road. I'd like to see one in a wind tunnel on a treadmill.

Not to be confused with the Hutch FZ-1 which was just a standard Hutch BMX bike with a plastic fairing on the front.

Gregg Eshelman

I think Andreas Fuchs has some good points but there are others. I have over a decade of data on my power production over time given a variety workout protocols. The difference in total power production over time between a steady cadence and resistance vs varied cadence and resistance can be as much as 15%. So, a generator tuned to my sweet spot is going to allow me to produce more total power, more comfortably in most non-dead-flat, non-dead-calm circumstances.

In addition, when this concept is used in a recumbent, shrouded trike form factor you can replace some of the faring with flexible, thin film PV cells to augment the power production while riding and parked.

The real key is that you are not bound to your point power production. For those who live in an area without hills these advantages are minimized but for those of us who live in Colorado, having the ability to put a couple hundred extra watts into the drive wheel(s) periodically is a huge win.

Paul Hinker

Easily 35 on a normal bike? I doubt that. It might be a quick burst of speed, but it cant be sustained for a long distance. IE a 12 mile commute to work. Over that distance a normal cyclist is going to average about 8-10 mph. Most people will get less. It's the reason we dont bike to work. Takes over an hour to there. In a car its generally 20-30 minutes. With a lot less effort. If you could put little effort into a bike and get a matching time-distance ratio, people would take bikes to work.

Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer

Acquainted with both Andreas Fuchs and Bill Volk I agree that this arrangement has both some advantages and disadvantages of which they are each quite aware. For the commuting purpose of a folding E-bike it is quite an elegant solution in that it can be stored easily and work fairly well with public transport options to improve overall commute speeds without breaking a sweat. The efficiencies of small motors and generators has improved considerably of late, but overall peak system efficiency will always be lower than the best peak efficiency of a properly geared bike. That said, the ability of the electronics to match the rider's power capability to the situation at hand can be better in some instances with this bike. It should be somewhat better than some hub geared, belt driven equivalent bikes, and it folds easier without having to shift the belt/or chain it replaces.

My own 12 mile bike commute was enhanced considerably by the use of a full fairing on a recumbent bicycle with well optimized gearing for the speed of the faired bike. I averaged better than 14mph with that setup, and unlike E-bikes with their government regulated top speeds, I could easily get to speeds of 20mph(32kph) or better on flat ground with the same power output needed for 15mph(24kph)on an upright. In addition, the bike would coast for very long distances, either when descending long shallow hills or the flats so that I spent less time pedaling overall. That is something an E-bike of that period that I tried on the commute just would not do. The fairing was warmer in February, and shaded me in July into the bargain.

Paul Gracey

I like the overall concept, but I would prefer a hybrid chain drive, with a bolt on generator that would use the motion of the crank and the eddy currents formed by the spinning wheel rims to recharge the batteries for the motor.


I think for the price of that bike (which will be quite steep) they should just add more batteries and remove the pedals.

bio-power jeff

Though I don't agree with the overemphasized pitfalls of a bike chain (to me it's just beautiful) I hope the Mando guys and their successors won't be discouraged. Just looking back at where, in terms of efficiency, a computer or light bulb were 30 years ago, one shouldn't object to an idea that can be improved over time, bit by bit, or percent by percent. keep going guys

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