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The 'Prius of bicycles' switches gears by reading your mind

The Prius X Parlee bicycle combines light-weight design with brain-control gear shifting.

By Chloe StepneyContributor / November 1, 2011

The PXP concept bike is a joint product of Toyota and Parlee Cycles, in Beverly, Mass. It has a carbon-fiber frame and built-in smart-phone dock.

John Watson/Toyota

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Parlee Cycles's new bike looks ordinary enough, but the helmet gives it away. Plastic tentacles reach down from the headgear, pressing metal sensors against the cyclist's scalp.

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This snug but comfortable helmet has a secret power. It reads minds.

Its array of neurotransmitters sends signals to a smart phone attached to the bicycle's handlebars, which then connects to the gear system. With a little training, a cyclist can change gears with a thought. One kind of brain wave commands the bike to downshift; another causes it to shift up.

"Sounds kind of crazy, right?" says Patrick Miller, senior creative engineer at Deeplocal, the company responsible for the digital end of this Prius X Parlee bicycle (PXP). "We underestimated how magical it would feel to shift with your mind."

PXP is a joint venture of Deeplocal; Parlee Cycles, a bike manufacturer that handcrafts carbon-fiber bikes; and Toyota, maker of the Prius hybrid car.

The team set out to create the Prius of bicycles.

Biking is already pretty energy-efficient, so aiming for a greener two-wheeler would do little good. Instead, the crew focused on another aspect of the Prius brand: getting to better understand the engine. The car's dashboard comes with a computer display that shows how energy flows through the car.

Thanks to the mounted smart phone, the Parlee design can do the same thing. A special iPhone app monitors the rider's heart rate, pace, speed, brain waves, and even habits. If a cyclist changes gears before riding up a hill, the phone will remember the location and automatically downshift next time the bike approaches the incline.

Toyota – which fully funded the project – chose Parlee for its reputation of using cutting-edge technology to revolutionize the age-old bicycle, says Colin Morisako, advertising manager for the Japanese automaker. "We really wanted to leave it up to the experts," he says.

Bob Parlee, founder of Parlee Cycles in Beverly, Mass., led the development from simple sketches in March to today's prototype. He started with the company's aerodynamic road-bike frame. The basic design "already exists. We just wanted to be innovative with it," Mr. Parlee says. "Carbon fiber gives you a better performance and greater comfort."

When Parlee first started manufacturing bikes, he handcrafted each carbon-fiber tube and shaped every metal joint. Everything was custom-built in his shop, he says. Now, his business has grown: The tubes are manufactured in Utah, the metal bits are made in California, and a team of craftsmen assembles each bicycle to the specific measurements of the rider.

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