Having your bike stolen. If it´s happened to you before, you know just how horrible a feeling it is.
Picture this: you´re just coming out of class, or just finishing up a shift at work, and you´re making your way towards the bike racks, fishing for the key to your bike lock in your pocket as you go. You arrive, and right away it strikes you that something is amiss.
“Wait a second” you say to yourself, and as you stare straight ahead at the now empty space where you are one hundred percent positive that you had locked up your bike hours before, it firmly sinks in: your bike´s been stolen. It´s gone. Goodbye. You hang your head dejectedly, and as if you needed a reminder, you see the “indestructible” U Lock you had secured your bike with splayed out in two now useless pieces on the ground, mocking you.
“Indestructible my ass!” you mutter to yourself, amongst other expletives, as you kick at the ground and begin walking home, or at least towards the nearest public transportation. To make matters worse, you´re carrying the bike seat that you had taken inside with you. “Why would anybody steal a bike without a bike seat?” you had assumed innocently enough. Silly you.
You were commuting by bike. You were doing the right thing both health wise and environment wise, and now you are hundreds—maybe even thousands—of dollars in the hole now that you bike has been pinched. You take a deep breath, and you try your best to push other thoughts through your mind—what to get to eat, whether or not to go out later—but it is no use.
One monolithic thought is seething through your brain, redoubled now with screaming air raid siren intensity: YOUR BIKE´S GONE! YOUR BIKE´S GONE! YOUR BIKE´S GONE! YOUR BIKE´S GONE!
Your livid inner monologue continues: “Fuck, fuck, fucking FUCK! Why can´t they design a bike that can´t be stolen?”
Well, as it turns out, “they” are a trio of young engineers and bicycle enthusiasts from Santiago, Chile who have come up with The Yerka, a bicycle that they claim is theft proof.
The Yerka, a bicycle that uses its own frame and seat post as a bike lock
The basic concept behind the Yerka really is brilliant. In a way, it´s so simple that it makes you step back and think “why hasn´t this been done before?” Then again, that obvious–in–retrospect aspect is often a hallmark of a great design concept.
The idea is that if breaking the lock means destroying the bicycle to the point where it can´t be ridden, then why even bother.
Here´s how it works: the lower bar of the bike´s frame separates into two halves, into two arms. These two arms fold out at an angle that is perpendicular to the bike. The rider then places the bike against a tree, a post, a street lamp, a bike rack, or any other fixture of the cityscape that´s suitable for locking up a bicycle. Next, the seat and the seat post is removed, and the metal bar (the seat post) is fitted through the two holes that both of the fold out segments of the frame´s lower bar have. The metal seat post is then secured with a locking mechanism.
Voila! The bike has been secured using its own frame and its own seat post. If any thief were to try and steal it, he´d have to saw through the seat post. What he´d end up with would be a bike where the frame´s lower cross bar has two swinging halves, each with half a metal bar attached to it at a right angle. In other words, a jangled mess of metal that is not at all easy to ride, and way too conspicuous to be seen with in public.
It´s the creation of Cristobal Cabello, Juan Jose Monsalve, and Andres Roi Eggers, three engineers who met at the engineering faculty of Adolfo Ibanez University in Santiago, Chile. They were inspired to come up with a bike that couldn´t be stolen in order to combat the alarming bike theft problem in the Chilean capital.
According to Cristobal Galban, one of the head researchers of the Center for Sustainability Research at Andres Bello University in Santiago, a 2013 study found that in a five year period, bicycling in the city had more than doubled. This was due to the creation of many new public bike lanes.
Nonetheless, this surge in urban bike use was paralleled by a boom in theft. In 2011, the popular Chilean TV channel Canal 13 produced a very popular expose. They left an expensive Trek mountain bike locked up in public, hoping to lure a thief and arrest him on camera. It worked (in Spanish), and they indeed captured a bike thief red handed. In the same piece, they claimed that in Santiago, a bicycle was stolen every five minutes.
Big Cities, Big City Problems
It´s wrong to have the impression that bicycle theft on such a large scale can only exist in chaotic South American cities, because that is not at all the case.
Take Vancouver, Canada for example—and forget what you think you might know about Canada because Michael Moore told you so. Canadians lock their doors. They lock up their bikes too. They have to, because in a city like Vancouver, bike theft is more frequent than auto theft. U locks are no good either, as urban artful dodgers have figured out how to use power tools to cut through these locks. They´re not afraid to do it in areas of high foot traffic or in broad daylight either.
Thus, the Yerka could very well be a concept that catches on all over the world.
What´s Next For The Yerka?
Cabello, Monsalve, and Eggers began their R&D two years ago. They initially began with PVC replicas. Their initial idea was to have the top cross bar of the bike frame separate into two, but this soon proved impractical. After experimenting with real bicycles and real bicycle parts, they rolled out their first working prototype to the public.
Sure, there are still the cynics out there. For example, when the Spanish language, Venezuelan based noticias24 recently posted a piece about the Yerka, the lead comment at the bottom was “here in Caracas, they´ll just steal the entire street post along with the bike!”
Also, does The Yerka offer a smooth, comfortable ride? Is it practical? Will it catch on?
The only way to answer these questions is by getting The Yerka out into the world. Through a partnership with their university, and through crowd funding, the three engineers hope to have 1000 models out on the streets by mid–year 2015.