Electric bicycles are disrupting the motorized two-wheeler market and urban streets. They are eating away at the bottom of major motorcycle firms such as Harley-Davidson, they are making electric motorcycle startups such as Alta and Zero more challenging to launch, they are challenging urban planners, and they are inspiring designers.
CleanTechnica will be publishing a report in the coming months on this disruption and where the motorized two-wheeler market is heading. It will be useful to urban planners, traffic safety organizations, entrepreneurs, and existing players in the transportation industry.
This entrant into the series of articles leading up to the report is focused on extremes. Range, speed, weight, narrowness of purpose, portability, and the like will all be explored with examples of the limits of what is currently possible with electric bicycles.
The embedded video above is one of those extremes. Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it a bicycle or a motorcycle? At 50 kg / 110 lbs, the Sur Ron MX Electric is at the heavy end of electric bikes and doesn’t have bicycle pedals as shipped, but you can add them so it can be pedaled. At US$3,890, it’s in the ebike range, its sole North American distributor is Luna Cycles in California which sells bicycles and ebikes, and it’s rocking tires and the like that wouldn’t look out of place on a mountain bike. Its top speed is 80 kph / 50 mph, its range is 80 km / 50 miles, and as can be seen, it’s competitive up to 80 kph with Zero’s FX, which is well over twice the weight, and well over twice the price, but can hit highway speeds. The Sur Ron is not street legal as an electric bicycle in any jurisdiction that regulates them; it’s too fast and doesn’t have a governor to make it street legal.
Okay, you say, that’s not really an electric bicycle even though you can buy pedals and make it one. It doesn’t really count. So how about this bad boy?
This very definitely a bicycle. It comes with pedals and all of the components are familiar to mountain bikers except the motor and battery. Well, surely it can’t be as extreme as the Sur Ron if it’s actually a bicycle out of the box, can it? Well, actually it has the same top speed, range, weighs 4 kg / 9 lbs more, and costs an eye-watering US$12,000, at least outside of Australia where it’s made.
So we have speed and weight. What about range? How does 367 km / 228 mi sound? Yes, that’s right, more than the range of most electric cars sold today. For a bicycle. With a battery.
That’s the Delfast Prime, and it’s actually in the Guinness Book of World Records as of August of 2018 for the adjudicated and observed feat of going on a single charge for longer than most people can go without a bathroom break. It’s a Kickstarter project by a small team out of Delaware, but they certainly know how to get attention, so while they are still in the pre-order stage, it’s likely that they’ll ship.
So that’s the heavy, fast and long-range end. What about the lightweight end of things?
That sleek-looking, carbon-fiber mountain bike is the Montanara Volta. It only weighs 8.6 kg / 19 lbs, and that includes the battery and motor. It’s custom built by its owner, Jean-Pierre Schiltknecht of Switzerland, who spent about $15,000 on the project, but it shows the limits of what is currently possible.
Okay, so aside from a custom-built bike by the owner, what about a commercially available bike? How about the Vivax Veloce, the sleek white road bike pictured? It’s a svelte 9.8 kg / 21.5 lbs. But looking at the picture, the question arises: “Is this actually an electric bike?” Yes. The motor is hidden in the seat tube and assists with pedaling through the crank. It’s completely hidden and internal to the frame. Ditto the battery. The solution is actually available as a retrofit to a normal bike too, so for those who ride regularly with friends and have some money to burn on messing with their minds, this is an interesting way to change your performance radically between rides. As a hint, it is a bit noisier than most electric bike motors, so your secret won’t be kept for long.
Hmmm… of the above, only the ultralights seem that portable, and you won’t be taking them on airplanes or subways that often. Is there a more portable option?
Okay, once again, this is an exercise in head-scratching. Is this actually a bicycle? It’s tiny, it has two wheels and you sit on it, but it has no pedals. However, it fits in a backpack when folded and weighs a measly 7 kg / 15 lbs. An Indiegogo campaign netted over $500K USD, over 9 times what they were hoping for. The company is promising to ship in December of 2018.
So, no pedals, no actual deliveries. What’s purchasable today at the extremes of portability?
Yes, that’s an electric bike as well, and yet again it’s difficult to tell that it is one unless you spot the oversized rear hub. With an assisted top speed of 25 kph / 15.5 mph, a range of 40 km / 25 miles, and a weight of 10.3 kg / 23 lbs, this isn’t a heavy beast to lug around when folded up. It comes with Bluetooth connectivity to a smart phone app and another steep price tag, US$5,540.
What’s next? From skinny, why don’t we check out fat?
Hmmm… a bit of an aesthetic letdown in this one, at least according to many standards. But this ugly beast is a trendsetter in one particular destination: fat tires. They add plushness to the ride, and with electric power you don’t have to care about rolling resistance. While not sporting the fattest mountain bike tires in existence, the Vee Snow Shoe 2XL, you could probably shoehorn a pair of those pontoons onto this frame. It weighs in at 32 kg / 70 lbs, has a top speed of 32 kph / 20 mph, and a range of 60 km / 40 miles.
Speed, range, weight. What about passengers, or at least more than one person?
Unsurprisingly, tandem bikes have received the electric treatment as well, with Pedego out of California providing a two-up bike in its range of electric options. But that’s not the only family unity Pedego offers.
Pedego also offers electric stretch cargo bikes with multiple child seats. Baby bus anyone? Neither of Pedego’s offerings are going to win beauty contests, but in terms of helping couples and families have fun in the outdoors, get around towns and run errands, they are hard to beat.
This has just been a quick tour of the outskirts of the electric bicycle world. It’s pushing hard into the dirt bike world, the small motorcycle world, the mountain biking world, the cycle touring world, and the realm of the family sedan. In countries around the world, electric bikes are displacing other forms of transportation, and as the examples above show, often it’s impossible to tell that the bikes are electric. They come in all shapes and sizes, they come in all colors, they come in every aesthetic palette, and they come in all price ranges.
If you haven’t seen an electric bicycle yet, it’s likely that you just didn’t notice the several that have passed you by recently. And if an electric bike hasn’t breezed by you uphill or down, or just on the flats, you likely just aren’t on the streets or trails at all.
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