Electric Boost for Bicyclists

SUBHEAD: Electric bikes open up cycling to a whole slew of people who would otherwise be driving a car. Image above: “It’s miraculous — it takes the hills out of riding,” said Roger Phillips, 78, who rides an electric bike around Manhattan. By David Goodman on 31 January 2010 in the New York Times - (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/business/global/01ebike.html) Jiang Ruming, a marketing manager, owns a van, but for many errands, he hops on a futuristic-looking contraption that lets him weave rapidly through Shanghai’s messy traffic. He rides an electric bicycle. Half a world away, in San Francisco, the president of that city’s board of supervisors, David Chiu, uses an electric bike to get to meetings without sweating through his suit.

And in the Netherlands, Jessy Wijzenbeek-Voet recently rode an electric bicycle on a long trip that, at 71, she would not have been able to make on a standard bike.

Detroit may be introducing electric car designs and China may be pushing forward with a big expansion of its highways and trains. But people like Mr. Jiang, Ms. Wijzenbeek-Voet and Mr. Chiu — as well as delivery workers in New York, postal employees in Germany and commuters from Canada to Japan — are among the millions taking part in a more accidental transportation upheaval.

It began in China, where an estimated 120 million electric bicycles now hum along the roads, up from a few thousand in the 1990s. They are replacing traditional bikes and motorcycles at a rapid clip and, in many cases, allowing people to put off the switch to cars.

In turn, the booming Chinese electric-bike industry is spurring worldwide interest and impressive sales in India, Europe and the United States. China is exporting many bikes, and Western manufacturers are also copying the Chinese trend to produce models of their own. From virtually nothing a decade ago, electric bikes have become an $11 billion global industry.

“It’s miraculous — it takes the hills out of riding,” said Roger Phillips, 78, who rides an electric bike around Manhattan. The sensation is akin to a moving walkway at the airport, he said.

Electric bikes have been a “gift from God” for bike makers, said Edward Benjamin, an independent industry consultant, not only because they cost more — typically $1,500 to $3,000 — but also because they include more components like batteries that need regular replacement.

In the Netherlands, a third of the money spent on bicycles last year went to electric-powered models. Industry experts predict similar growth elsewhere in Europe, especially in Germany, France and Italy, as rising interest in cycling coincides with an aging population. India had virtually no sales until two years ago, but its nascent market is fast expanding and could eclipse Europe’s in the next year.

“The growth has been tremendous in the last two years,” said Naveen Munjal, managing director of Hero Electric, a division of India’s largest bicycle and motorcycle maker. He expects sales at Hero to increase to 250,000 electric bikes in 2012, from 100,000 in 2009.

While the American market has been modest — about 200,000 bikes sold last year, by some estimates — interest is rising, said Jay Townley, a bicycle industry consultant. Best Buy began selling electric bicycles in June at 19 stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. Trek, a manufacturer based in Wisconsin, recently began selling a bike created by Gary Fisher, a prominent bicycle designer.

“Electric-assisted bicycles will change how people think about bikes in urban areas,” predicted Mr. Chiu of San Francisco, who has been riding a prototype of the Trek bike since the summer.

Improvements in technology are resulting in lighter designs that appeal to older cyclists. “Now you’ve got a product you can present to a baby boomer,” Mr. Townley said.

New York City’s largest electric bike store, NYCeWheels, opened in 2001, and in the last few years, business has been growing, said Bert Cebular, the owner. In Chinatown, electric bikes are showing up on nearly every corner and several shops have recently appeared, selling bikes imported from Chinese factories.

As the global market develops, two types of electric bikes are emerging. One is similar to a standard bicycle with pedals, but it has an electric motor that engages on command or when the cyclist pedals. These are the most popular type in the United States and Europe, with many people using the electric motor mainly for help in wind or on steep hills.

By contrast, in China, electric bicycles have evolved into bigger machines that resemble Vespa scooters. They have small, wide-set pedals that most cyclists do not use as they travel entirely on battery power. The bikes move at up to 30 miles an hour, with a range of 50 miles on a fully charged battery.

Gaining a Toehold for the E-Bike

Image above: Sanyo has introduced its Eneloop Hybrid bike, priced at $2,300, in the United States.

By Brad Stone on 16 January 2010 in the New York Times - (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/business/17ping.html)

Technology has eliminated many of life’s milder physical demands, like getting off the couch to change the channel, or going to the store to buy a book.

The latest exertion to be conquered: biking uphill.

Electric bicycles — a regular pedal-driven bike with a motor for steeper slopes and an optional extra boost — is an idea that has been around for more than a century. But while e-bikes have caught on in certain parts of the world, particularly China, where tens of millions are sold each year, they have never quite captured the imagination of auto-obsessed Americans.

That may be about to change. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, Sanyo, the Japanese electronics maker and a major producer of car batteries, showed off a sleek, lightweight e-bike called the Eneloop Hybrid Bicycle.

The Eneloop, priced at $2,300, came to stores in the United States late last year. It operates like any normal bike and, save for the black lithium-ion battery strapped to the frame beneath the seat, looks exactly like one as well. But when you press a button on the left handlebar, a 250-watt motor gently kicks in, providing about twice the power as your own pedaling — and making you feel like Lance Armstrong on even the steepest slopes.

“The average auto trip in the U.S. is five miles or less,” said David Cabanban, bicycle business manager at Sanyo North America. “At the end of the day, how do you lower pollution and get people healthy? We’ve got to get people back to riding bikes.”

For years, e-bike proponents have argued that these machines can get people to abandon their cars and cut down on pollution, all without working up the unsightly sweat acquired when biking to work. But early e-bikes were never very good.

In the 1990s, people like Lee Iacocca and Malcolm Currie, the former chief executive of Hughes Aircraft, got into the e-bike business. Their bikes had heavy steel frames and the same lead acid batteries used in automobiles, which themselves could weigh 80 pounds. The entire Eneloop weights about 50 pounds.

Those older e-bikes (many were more like electric mopeds) often needed repairs and service. And their regulatory status was ambiguous — were they motorcycles? bikes? — so many retailers were afraid to sell them. The federal government resolved the legal obstacle with legislation in 2002, classifying any two-wheel, pedal-driven bike with a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour as a bike, which does not need turn signals or licensed riders.

New technology has addressed the other obstacles. Lead acid batteries have given way to efficient and lighter lithium-ion batteries.

The earliest e-bikes of the 1990s got about 15 miles on a single charge. The Eneloop’s battery can power the bike about 46 miles before it needs to be plugged into an outlet and recharged for around three hours; it also partially recharges when the rider brakes or coasts downhill.

Other e-bike makers brag about similar performance.

“If it wasn’t for the lithium battery I wouldn’t be in this business. It’s made this category possible,” said Marcus Hays, founder of Pi Mobility, a company in Sausalito, Calif., whose red, angular bikes cost $2,500 and can operate as a bike, a moped or both at the same time.

E-bike makers in the United States saw something of a mini-boom in 2008, when gasoline prices spiked and people started looking for eco-friendly alternatives to the automobile.

Some basic e-bike models, like the Ezip Trailz by Currie Technologies, now sell for as low as $500. Trek and Schwinn, traditional bike makers, both began selling e-bikes last year, the latter in conjunction with Toshiba.

E-bike makers say that some of the stigma surrounding the bikes — critics see them as a tool to avoid actual exercise — has faded.

“Four years ago, we encountered many people saying, ‘Oh wow, we are so lazy, we need motors on our bikes’ ” said Scott Shaw, president of EcoBike USA, an e-bike maker in Southern California. “Now people are understanding and saying, this is more a utilitarian vehicle for commuting and getting outside on two wheels rather than four.”

RETAILERS have also sensed the growing opportunity. Big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Sears and Costco have dabbled in the category for about a decade. Last year, Best Buy started selling e-bikes experimentally in three test markets: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

E-bikes, like regular bikes, still face plenty of challenges. In many parts of the world, biking is an important form of transportation; in the United States it is seen primarily as recreation. Many major cities still do not have bike lanes, and the most important sales channel in the industry — independent bike shops — has been shrinking for more than a decade.

But there may be a greater challenge for companies like Sanyo and other e-bike makers. People tend to think of their transportation, like their clothes or cellphones, as an expression of their identity.

In China, riding an electric bike conveys professional achievement, even a certain degree of wealth. People in the United States, said Ed Benjamin, an independent consultant in the bike business, don’t quite know whether these bikes are fashionable. The e-bike is “an ambiguous statement,” Mr. Benjamin said.

The next few years, he said, could bring higher prices for gasoline and airline tickets. “We have to make some fundamental changes, and e-bikes can be a part of that,” he said.

Electric Biker

The machine waits, eager and enticing, as I pull on helmet, goggles and gloves and zip my armored jacket to the chin. The charger's pulsing green light says, “Go!”

By William Thomas on 18 November 2009 in Hope Dance - (http://www.hopedance.org/home/transportation-news/1596--electric-biker-) Stepping outside my island hideout, I hoist the bamboo-stiffened tarp like a gaff-rigged mainsail and cleat it off to the side of the shed. In the soft interior light, the bike's clear plastic fairing throws off reflections with the promise of motorized adventure only two wheels can offer. The machine waits, eager and enticing, as I pull on helmet, goggles and gloves and zip my armored jacket to the chin. The charger's pulsing green light says, “Go!” Unplugging the BikeE, I wheel it out under last winter's ravaged apple tree, swing my leg over its low-slanting frame, and settle back in the semi-reclining seat with a sigh of coming home. A quick brake check and final adjustment of the handlebar mirror gives me a moment to focus and quiet the adrenaline surging through me like the voltage I'm about to feed my pony. Reaching down, I punch the big red button on the heavy duty controller bolted to the side of the bike's box frame. A red glow reflecting on my glove is the only indication that we have ignition. I touch the thumb throttle and any doubt disappears in a surge of torque. As Honda Chairman Takeo Fukui reminds us, "Even the best internal-combustion engines still waste more than 80% of the energy created by burning gasoline." But electric hub motors can deliver full power directly to the wheel. And if that rotating motivator happens to be just 16-inches in diameter and connected to the front of a low-slung bicycle, you'd better be ready to brace for the kind of acceleration that brings big grins to the faces of all those who believe that fast is good. And faster is better. Shouting, “Power to the people!” I tuck my feet into the Power Grip straps as the bike moves forward under its own power and each pedal rotates into position. Making for the cove's paved two-lane road, I swing out of the gravel driveway that earlier last summer judo-flipped me into a 10-week aching meditation on paying attention. (Nothing broken and not a scratch on the bike - and no bruises if I'd been wearing the padded mountain bike jacket I always wear now.) Downshifting the internal rear hub transmission, I keep peddling in laid-back comfort for the long climb out of the “gravity well” leading up the relentlessly steep and scenic hill from Ford Cove. Passing Olson's farm, the grade inclines. Tilting back in the seat like a light plane pilot on a long climb-out, I keep peddling easily while gradually coming in with full power. Despite the drastically steepening grade, speed continues to hover around 22 kph as the numbers denoting amperage draw tick over quickly on the Cycle Analyst meter: 8, 10, 14, 20… 29 amps! Don't try this on a hot summer day without at least a 36-volt motor/battery combo, heavy-duty fuse clip and overbuilt power controller! But this classic, power-assisted BikeE handles the load without strain. Even at full power, the whine of the motor is much quieter than the bird cries and soft wash of distant surf . Lulled by the hum of the bike's spinning tires, I lay back in my lawn chair and admire the ocean view as the hill that used to necessitate three panting stops to recharge my “premie” lungs tops out in trees, sunshine and smiles. Starting down the backside, I firm my grip on the handlebars as the bike tips straight down in one long burn of all this “heightened” energy. Weighing over 225 pounds with rider, battery, controller and motor onboard, the BikeE sucks up gravity like rocket juice, accelerating like a Saturn IV leaving the pad. In seconds, the speedo whisks past 40 k. Whack! A bug bounces off my newly acquired ski-goggles. Good purchase! Even with power all the way off, at 45 kilometers-per-hour, “organic” regen kicks in as the spinning front hub motor maxes out and begins pumping juice back into the battery. Our descending rush does not slow as 13 amps momentarily surge back into the 36-volt sausage of wired-together Nickel-Metal Hydride laptop batteries cinched to the bike's boxbeam frame in front of the seat. Nearly supersonic, I “think” the bike's little front wheel past a jagged pothole. Even though you can't fly over the handlebars in a recumbent crash, a front tire blow-out at 57 k would not be fun. Which is why that Kenda Qwest high-pressure tire is new, internally protected with slime and a Kevlar puncture barrier - and regularly replaced. Speed slackens gradually as the BikeE levels out, but it's still another few moments before peddling again takes effect. Downshifting once, twice, three-times on the seven-speed rear sprocket, I thumb the power back in to keep grunt work off the pedals as the next hill looms. One more swooping roller-coaster is followed by a long pleasant flat stretch that finds me lightly blipping the throttle in a “pulse and glide” technique that extends range while keeping peddling speed near a brisk 30 k. Onboard a conventional bike, I'd be staring down at the pavement, back bent, with my weight on my aching wrists. But unlike full recumbents, which put riders almost on their backs, the BikeE's more upright seating gives me good eye contact with the astonished driver of a passing car - as well as fine views of unscrolling woods, sky and farms. I once passed Hogan trotting his horse along this stretch, proving conclusively the “one horsepower-plus” rating of my 480-watt Crystallite e-motor. Then comes another long delightful downhill run past a fine sweep of ocean rolling into Little Tribune Bay. Even leveling off, this descent carries me in a rush all the way to the Co-Op bike rack. Who says a grocery run has to be boring? Or must burn carbon? The bike's big wire basket, Spiderman totepack, and extra-long frame allow me to carry more than 30 pounds of cargo with ease. (I've even hauled logs lashed to the frame.) A trailer would turn this bike into a pickup truck, while carrying an extra battery for nearly 100 km range! So far, so good. The reliability of this rig is nearly 100% after I learned to obsessively tape, wire-tie and check every looping strand of wire clear of spinning sprockets and pedals. Over less than a year, the 1,800 or so kilometers I've covered on my electrified BikeE translate into roughly 40 gallons of gasoline saved - or more than 800 pounds of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere forever. Except for my own exhalations of course. Which I tend to do anyway. Mental and physical health benefits are incalculable. Not to mention the additional personal liberation of saving a fortune on the car I no longer support. Given all that's coming down, at 59, on my electrified BikeE, life is good! No one ever told me the end of the world (as we've known it) would be so much fun. .

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