The future of community bike systems may not require much pedaling at all; Sanyo has just installed two "Solar Parking Lots" that serve as solar charging stations for 100 Eneloop electric hybrid bicycles in Setagaya, Tokyo.
The carbon-neutral bike shelter both charges the bikes and provides low-power LED lighting from solar energy collected by panels on the roof. Based on Sanyo's own Smart Energy Systems technologies, the panels charge both the lithium ion batteries installed directly on the bicycles as well as an array of lithium ion-based storage cells that reserve power for those rainy days when sunlight is scarce.
The storage arrays also include AC converters that can be used to power external devices, making the stations grid-independent sources of electricity in case of emergency.
Eneloop bikes, you'll remember, are electric hybrids that do most of the work for you -- you still pedal to make them go, but electric motors supply most of the energy needed to propel the bikes forward (for a refresher see the video below). The Eneloops provided at the Solar Parking Lots will be used as community bikes, though it's unclear if they will be offered free of charge or rely on some sort of payment system.
Green electricity, green travel and some good old-fashioned exercise amid the great outdoors; in the worst-case scenario, your battery dies and you actually have to provide some forward momentum yourself. There's a lot to like about Sanyo's scheme.
I wonder what sort of anti-theft system they'll have in place. Bicycle theft is a huge problem here in Japan, to the degree that my local bike shop has laminated statistics about thefts in the neighborhood as a means of selling locks.
As far as a payment method, people could use the smart cards which have become more or less ubiquitous here. Other than transportation, they can already be used for vending machines, supermarkets, convenience stores, and pay-lockers.
This is clearly a step in the right direction. But as "UncleArthur" says until the bike theft issue is resolved I'll be recharging my e-Bikes in the office. (ie one recharger at home and one in the office) At 800 bucks a battery it's just not worth the risk of getting stolen.
This is a great idea. It is similar idea of a google office in California that did the same thing, except they used electric cars instead of bikes. All the same, but lets hope that they don't charge people for the free electricity they are getting to recharge the bikes.(although, there was cost for installing the solar panels, lets hope that greed doesn't get the best of them).