It’s a car, it’s a bike—it’s the Rahtmobile


Hannah Jones/Winonan

Rich Kronfeld loves riding his bike to work.

The only problem: work is about 14 miles away.

In the warmer months, this marathon ride to the office is, at the very least, time consuming, and in Minneapolis’s winter months, it’s impossible. Kronfeld strove to find a way to conquer these two roadblocks—time and inclement weather—and invent a way to bike to work with the same safety, speed, and comfort as driving a car. The solution:

Meet the Rahtmobile.

On the outside, it looks a little like the love child of a go-kart and a sports car. Its sleek, black torpedo of a body makes an imposing impression, the windshield and side windows wrapping seamlessly around the body as everything comes to a smooth, shark-tail point at the back.

The vehicle has two wagon-like wheels in the front and one in the rear, a sort of wheelbarrow setup. This, however, is no wheelbarrow, and no go-kart, for that matter. The Rahtmobile is a biker’s dream: a highway pedal bike that keeps out the cold and can run at 70 to 80 miles per hour.

Dressed in a t-shirt, sweatpants, and a friendly smile, Kronfeld showed off his invention to a few curious passersby while he was setting up his exhibit in the Science Lab Center at Winona State University.

The name, Rahtmobile, is in part a highly specific scientific-sounding acronym, Recumbent Automotive Human Transport, and in part an homage to one of Kronfeld’s children’s favorite Claymation movies, “Flushed Away.”

This breakneck bicycle gets its power from the biker’s pedaling. The pedals are hooked up to a generator, which provides the electric power that gives the car its zip.

Onlookers needn’t be fooled by its wheelbarrow or go-kart features. Inside, the Rahtmobile shines with the electric glow of two monitors on the rider’s front and side. On one of them is a fuel gage, keeping track of the rider’s remaining power as he or she speeds along, and on the other, a workout profile.

Frankly, if Batman wanted to curb his fuel emissions or lose a few pounds, he might have chosen a similar setup. A consumer interested in buying a Rahtmobile wouldn’t need a Bruce Wayne-sized budget, however.

According to Kronfeld, the faster range of electric vehicles already out there on the market can cost up to $80,000. The Rahtmobile would sell at a much more affordable $14,000. This model, the first prototype of its kind, is not too efficient yet.

However, he hopes that with the help of investors, a federal grant and some more hard work, this pedal-powered bullet with go full term as a product on the market, fully available for passionate cyclists everywhere to enjoy. While outlining his plans for the future, Kronfeld never loses sight of one fact: the Rahtmobile is almost entirely a product of Winona.

Kronfeld began work on his creation with a state grant in 2011. Although the electrical work was done in the cities, virtually every other aspect of the Rahtmobile was born right here in Winona.

Credit for that bullet body design goes to Lyon Smith, a local Winonan, and the body itself was fabricated in the We No Nah Canoe Shop. Winona State also played a key role in the manufacture of the vehicle. Now a fully functional prototype, the Rahtmobile was on display this year at the Frozen River Film Festival in the Science Lab Center, drawing onlookers while sitting under banners bearing the names of the local business and institutions that helped bring this incredible invention to life.

Besides the exercise and economic benefits behind the design for the Rahtmobile, Kronfeld readily admits to one other source of inspiration.

“I despise oil companies,” he said, matter-of-factly. “They knew global warming was coming back in the 1970s, and they purposely misled people.”

Kronfeld confesses that the Rahtmobile would definitely be a part of a niche market of cycling enthusiasts, but this revolutionary product could mean the start of a new push for environmental protection, as well as answering the calls of America’s worsening exercise habits and weakened economy. However looked at, the Rahtmobile is breaking fresh ground as part of a kinder, gentler commute.

Contact Hannah at [email protected]