As your brand new Porsche speeds down the street with the wind blowing in your hair, you think life can't get much better than this. But then you reach a huge hill and suddenly break into a sweat at the thought of riding over it.
This is because the Porsche in question is not the four-wheeled variety but a high-performance bicycle lacking any sort of engine. Although a fraction of the price, sports bikes come with much of the same precision engineering and materials of their more expensive cousins.
Racing bikes made by sports car manufacturers are now the must-have toy for the sporty man about town. Thankfully, he has plenty to choose from with all the well-known sports carmakers and premium car brands designing their own bikes.
Sticking with Porsche, it currently offers the RS (Racing Sport) and S (Sport) models. With a sleek style inspired by the iconic 911 sports car, the RS is the professional bike priced at $10,000. It is constructed with carbon fibre and weighing less than 9kg, it has a 20-speed Shimano gear system and custom pedals. The $5,700 S version is slightly heavier as it is framed in aluminium. It includes 11 gears. This bike also comes in three sizes. While looking stunning to the naked eye, they also come with a special toothed belt instead of a standard chain.
Like other sports car companies, Porsche doesn't actually make the bikes itself. They are built by German bike-maker ADP, but designed in a Porsche studio in Austria “to incorporate the Porsche genes of weight and styling”.
At Ferrari, it is Colnago, a maker of road-racing bikes in Cambiago, Italy, which the automaker has had a longstanding and successful association with. Some of the most expensive collaborations that Ferrari and Colnago have rolled out are the limited edition CF8 and CF9 bicycles. The models were exhibited at the EICA exhibition in Milan early last year and are now available for sale. Just 200 CF8 bikes were made, out of which only 10 were produced exclusively for Ferrari. The bike is a serious kit with all the advanced technologies attached to it, such as Shimano Dura Ace Di2 electronic gears. The frame of the cycle is handcrafted in carbon fibre — known for its strength and durability — and has a battery integrated into it. Despite all these hi-tech features, the bike weighs just 6.9kg.
For manufacturers, they get to cross-sell these beautiful bikes to their car-loving customers, who have already shown an appreciation of sporty designs and precision engineering. Carmakers also get to show their green and socially responsible side with these pollution-free machines.
While engineering is one way to demonstrate a carmaker's expertise in a bike, borrowing the vehicle's colours, logos and material textures is another way. In some cases, the sharing filters up from the bike manufacturers to the car engineers, rather than the other way round. For example, the very limited edition Aston Martin One-77 Cycle, created by bf1 Systems, featured technology that was later developed into electrical systems for Formula One racing cars. The One-77 (named because only 77 were made) has a touch-screen integrated into the handlebars, while sensors provide data on speed, power and cadence.
A spokesman for Aston Martin based in the UK said: “The One-77 Cycle represents a dynamic partnership between some of the country's finest designers, engineers and specialist manufacturers. The machines demonstrate a no-compromise approach and have truly bespoke designs that push materials technology to new limits in an attempt to attain the ultimate in performance.'' The Aston Martin One-77 Cycle retails for $50,000 and has a current lead time of four months.
The French company Peugeot actually started making bikes before it produced cars. In 1882, seven years before it built its first car, Armand Peugeot built a high-wheeler cycle called a penny-farthing. In the 1960s, Peugeot bikes were often used in international championship series and developed a strong following in the US due to their light weight and affordability.
McLaren has also dabbled in the world of sports bikes, having once had an arrangement with Specialized, the American bike-maker, for a limited production run.
In most cases, you won't find these two-wheeled dream machines in your local bike shop. They are normally sold as limited editions or through the carmakers' lifestyle boutique or accessory catalogues. Some are given away to very valued customers who may have been buying different versions of the same car for years.
For the high-end cyclist and driver, many have an appreciation of what some call “art in motion”. This refers to a psychological connection between cars and bikes, and performance. For the right buyers, the aesthetic details, such as the paint job or the leather on the saddle, gives them their beauty. If a motorist has a strong passion for Porsche or Ferrari, there's a good chance they will buy a bike made or designed by them as well.
The automakers that offer bikes say they are low-volume, niche products that contribute only marginal revenues. BMW says it has been refining its bikes for more than six decades, borrowing design engineering from the motorised side of its business. Its centrepiece is the $3,600 M Carbon Racer available in black and red. The “M” signifies BMW's Motorsport division, responsible for its high-performance vehicles. The bike weighs just 7.4kg and has a full-carbon frame, a Shimano Ultegra 20-speed derailleur system and comes in sizes of 21, 22 and 24 inches. BMW doesn't use any mass-produced elements in its fleet of bicycles, instead working only with frames it develops itself.
A common material linking these sporty bikes is carbon. BMW's developers said it was the number one choice, given that it is extremely light and stiff, absorbs shocks and is absolutely corrosion-free.
The Impec Lamborghini 50th Anniversary Edition, built by Swiss company BMC, is at the top-end of car-inspired sports bikes, costing about $40,000. Incredibly sleek, the bike is loaded with carbon fibre components and includes suede-covered handlebars and saddle. Although it wasn't physically made by Lamborghini, the racing bike contains similar technology. Lamborghini says both companies are faithful to the same basic principle of “form follows function”.
The original Swiss-made frame of the Impec (which is short for impeccable) is “handmade by machines” in an automated and controlled process. It features special airbrushing in the classic Argos Orange shade of the Aventador LP 700-4 with the Lamborghini logo on the front of the frame, tall carbon fibre rims and the DI2 electronic derailleur system, which shifts the gears effortlessly. Only 30 bicycles were made available from Lamborghini dealers and BMC boutiques around the world.
Audi has made a state-of-the-art sports machine in the form of the e-bike Wörthersee, which combines an electric motor and leg power. “When developing the Audi e-bike Wörthersee, we drew on motor-racing design principles for inspiration. The e-bike appears incredibly precise, highly emotional and strictly functional,” said Hendrik Schaefers, one of the designers at Audi's Concept Design Studio in Munich.
The e-bike contains a lithium-ion battery, which is incorporated into the frame and needs 2.5 hours to fully charge. The frame and the swinging arm that holds the back wheel are made of carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP). This same material is used in the new BMW i3 electric car and is likely to be incorporated across the motor industry. CRFP is also used for the e-bike's 26-inch wheels, which feature an innovative “Audi ultra blade” design with broad flat spokes for an optimised transmission of pedal power. “We were able to demonstrate with the choice of materials just how closely design goes hand in hand with expertise in ultra-lightweight construction,” Schaefers added.
Another German premium car brand, Mercedes-Benz, also makes its own bikes, which are developed and produced in collaboration with bike manufacturer ADP Rotwild. Its new Trekking Bike 29 features an exclusive Mercedes-Benz frame with 29-inch wheels, a high-quality 27-speed Deore gear-shifter and hydraulic disc brakes by Shimano. The machine weighs around 15kg and is priced at $2,400. In fitting with its position as the ultimate status symbol, the three-dimensional chromed Mercedes-Benz star is mounted on the front of the bike frame.
These sporty racing bikes might dent your wallet but none more than the most expensive bicycle ever made: The “Butterfly” Trek Madone, designed by controversial British artist Damien Hirst. The arty sports bike saw Lance Armstrong ride it during the 2009 Tour de France and later auctioned at Sotheby's, raising $1.7 million for the sportsman's Livestrong charity. The bike, which includes real butterfly wings, was sold for $640,000, which makes it the most expensive bike in the world.
With such impressive two-wheeled sports machines available, perhaps it's time to leave the car in the garage, pull on the lycra and head out to the cycle track in search of your next thrill.