Automakers do big business marketing their brands with products that relate to their rides. Look at almost any dealership’s service centre and its shelves are lined with model cars, pens, clothing, books, keychains and other personal accoutrements.

It’s not a new phenomenon, but increasingly car companies are also building bicycles.

As a mode of personal transport, you can’t get much greener than a bike which is, of course, a message the car makers love to push these days, but that’s not solely why they’re making pedal-powered creations a more common part of the product mix.

Still somewhat exclusive, the bikes serve as rolling platforms for product awareness, brand extension and a way of showing off engineering prowess. Along with the eco-message, the marketing guys would say it’s “win-win-win.”

Car company bikes on offer today run the range from serious racing designs to folding models that take up little space in the trunk or back seat.

Interesting stuff to be sure, but the car companies are also prepping bikes that will promote their Electric Vehicle technology. Think of it as a way of easing people into this new automotive era.

Here’s a primer on what’s here now and what’s coming:

BMW’s purely pedal powered machines aren’t posers, which isn’t something other automakers can claim (see the low-end bikes slapped with Jeep badges, for example). The M Bike Carbon Racer, at just 7.4 kg (16 pounds), is all about state-of-the-art technology with unique design. It wouldn’t be out of place on the Tour de France. The matte anthracite carbon-fibre frame aside, the M also gets top-drawer Shimano brand Ultegra components, featherweight rims and a badge right from the the automaker’s performance division for a truly unique appearance.

The M Bike is a special limited edition available through all BMW dealers and online for US$1,499 at www.bmw-shop.com. That said, there are other Bimmer bikes on sale in Canada too, at www.bmwshop.ca.

Mercedes-Benz offers a wide range of bikes – “the proverbial something for everyone,” says spokesman Arden Nerling – including a racing bike to compete with the BMW and kid-size conveyances.

Perhaps most unique though, is the collapsible model, which at about $3,000, and without the use of tools, folds in seconds to 78 × 78 × 28 centimetres, and fits into its own protective transport bag.

Made of aluminum, it’s lightweight and strong and features a full-suspension frame. Its leather saddle incorporates an innovative design for pressure-free seat comfort. More information can be found on the Mercedes-Benz corporate website: www.mercedes-benz.ca or via the Mercedes-Benz Collection rep at your local dealer.

Going forward…

Mercedes-Benz is working on a Smart-branded hybrid/electric bicycle that will give cyclists a boost via on-board motors powered by rechargeable batteries.

Mercedes’ Smart division announced last year a highly sophisticated pedal-powered prototype bicycle with electric assist, named Ebike, that employs regenerative braking technology and smartphone integration.

When the Ebike reaches 24 km/h, the hub motor automatically cuts out and the 22 kg (48.5 lbs.) bicycle is driven by legwork only.

The 250-watt direct current wheel hub motor activates as soon as the rider starts to pedal and provides four levels of electric support controlled by a button on the handlebar. Depending on the support level chosen and the legwork by the rider, Smart claims an effective range of between 30 and 90 kilometres per charge.

There’s even a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking function to help users locate a parked Ebike. As an anti-theft measure, removing the smartphone locks the drive. For more information, search “smart ebike” on Facebook.

Coming soon from Porsche is its recently-announced Hybrid RS mountain bike. After the Cayenne S Hybrid, the 911 GT3 R Hybrid racecar and the concept 918 Spyder supercar, the Hybrid RS bicycle is being billed as the fourth concept from Porsche in a year to demonstrate new drive technology. Weighing less than 16 kg (36 lbs.), it achieves a range of more than 48-plus kilometres per charge.

Oddly also called the ‘Premium Fully’ bike, it has a lightweight carbon-fibre frame and high-quality components including disc brakes, a leading-edge transmission system and iPhone-integration with Web-assisted navigation.

As soon as the rider steps on the pedals, they get helped along by additional torque from the drive motor in the rear wheel, energy for which is supplied by a compact pack of rechargeable lithium batteries attached to the main tube of the frame in the design of a drinking bottle.

Porsche plans to make the Hybrid RS commercially available through its dealerships, but hasn’t yet set a date. No price has been announced, but you can bet it won’t be cheap.

Lexus displayed its striking Hybrid Bicycle Concept last year in Tokyo. Drawing on the Lexus brand’s L-Finesse design philosophy, it offers an eight-speed transmission and carbon-fibre construction. There are no plans for the Hybrid Bicycle to become a production model, yet.

Either way, for car guys and gals, pedal power has never been more inviting; and for some car companies, it’s never made more sense. Of course, if all this isn’t enough for you, there are new scooters coming from the automakers too. But that’s another story…