25 March 2010

How Uninspiring - E-bike Race

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you:

The most uninspiring cycling promotional video of all time

It was Todd from Green Idea Factory who dubbed it thus, and I wholeheartedly agree. A group of MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] and EU Commissioners took part in an "E-bike race".

E-bikes have already been dubbed "Lazy Bikes" and associating themselves with MEPs and EU Comms in a 'race' is probably not the ideal way to sell their product.

I would how many people threw their bicycles into the nearest canal and headed for a car dealership after viewing this? :-) Are the modern Lazy Bikes the New Segways?

There was a craze in Denmark and other European countries after the Second World War involving putting small motors on bicycles. They were promptly called "røvskubbere" or "ass pushers". I've already heard this phrase applied to e-bikes.

Having cycled in a host of cities around the world with varying topography, including the topographically overrated San Francisco last October, I personally can't see the point, unless you're elderly. But that's just me.

Has anyone calculated the environment impact of an explosion in the number of batteries on these bikes? It's optimistic to think that every single one will be disposed of in a responsible manner, just as it's optimistic to think that none will end up in canals, lakes or landfills.

However, if you feel the need to acquire one, at least get one that has some style and elegance and that is free of 'dorkness' or 'geekacity':

Velorbis' new Elechic, for example.


James D. Schwartz said...

hah, I'm not surprised to see a commercial for Infiniti preceding this very uninspiring e-bike "race"...

I think e-bikes have a purpose, but I don't think e-bikes are the silver bullet that will get drivers out of their cars en masse.

Andy in Germany said...

We have very steep hills all around here, and e-bikes are helping to get more people cycling.

I would have loved to see one of those commisioners refuse to wear a helmet: What would the organisers have said?

Cait said...

I agree with Andy here - be a little more tolerant! Just because *you* don't need one, that doesn't mean that a large percentage of people could really benefit from owning one. not just the elderly, but also for example people who suffer from asthma who can't over-exert themselves - suddenly they can go up hills. Or indeed, the obese, whgo would look on any bike with total alarm - just getting them on a 2 wheeled vehicle would be a start - even if they only ever pedalled on the flats, they'd start to feel better - start to feel like maybe they didn't need a motor.

I must say when I've been off the bike for a couple of weeks, there's a hill close to my house on the way home that fills me with misery for the first few days!

Kevin Love said...

I view the primary purpose of a bicycle as a transportation appliance, not an exercise machine.

Places that have a similar view, such as The Netherlands, are experiencing a boom in electric bicycle sales.

I refer you to the article "E-Bikes Outstrip City Bike Sales in The Netherlands."

"The city bike has always been the largest market segment in the Dutch market. But that leading position has come to an end with the continuing sale rise of e-Bikes."


Erik Sandblom said...

Kevin, that article refers to monthly turn-over and states that the average e-bike costs 3 times as much as a "city bike". So they're still selling more "city bikes" than e-bikes. Also that article refers to May 2009, almost a year ago.

I think e-bikes can help get more people biking, especially those carrying loads such as children etc. On the other hand, I find many new bikes are over-geared, which makes people over-estimate the difficulty of hills.

dr2chase said...

Agree with the above commenters. Most people don't think long-term, else they would already be on bicycles. An e-bike has all the short-term advantages of a regular bicycle, plus it addresses (or pretends to address) the perceived disadvantages of slow and sweaty.

Exercise is more of a long-term advantage, so it is discounted.

Where this gets a little peculiar is when you get to an e-cargo-bike. It makes a bit more sense to have an assist there, but it also adds that much more weight and expense to an already heavy and expensive bicycle.

What about theft?

I would say, go with it. People on e-bikes are at just as much risk (if not more, from the speed) as people on regular bikes, they will want the same sort of infrastructure as we do. At least in the US they are assist-limited to 20mph (i.e., you can go faster, but the motor can't) in enough states that it is the de facto limit, so they can probably share paths with us.

Søren said...

The point should not be how much polution the e-cycles are creating compared to regular cycles, but rather how much polution they are saving the environment compared to the cars people would otherwise take.

Charge them at night - or other off peak hours - and they are essentially environmentally 'free'.

Erik Sandblom said...

Søren, they are not essentially environmentally 'free' because of the batteries. Batteries are hazardous waste and need to be disposed of properly... and I don't trust that they will be properly taken care of. Do you know what happens to your computer and mobile phone after you dispose of it?

Søren said...

I should have said CO2 free..

And no I do not know what happens to the batteries when they are disposed of - I can only hope that the recycling programs work and that governments around the world are taking the issue seriously.

However the point remains: Compared to cars, motorcycles, mopeds etc. the e-cycle is still the better choice.

DanT said...

That video makes me want to go out and buy a car!

Lasse said...

how completely ridicules! One can just see how NOT used to biking they are.

On the positive side of e-biking it makes people here in DK ride longer on there bikes then they normally would - and it´s WAY better then those 45 km/t mopeds. In Odense they are doing a study at the moment with 100 e-bikes given to car drivers to see if that can make them change there transport habits. Have a look here - in danish - but you have google translate to help you!


Peter said...

I see ebikes as midway between bicycles and scooters, Well designed ebikes still handle like a bicycle, are totally quiet and give a lot of the enjoyment ( and exercise - I know, we aren't suppose to talk about that in this context) of a bicycle. But they are more expensive and more complex than a scooter.

So the ebike gives a little more speed and range than a bicycle, but not the range and speed of a scooter. They do not do well cost-wise, compared to scooters. You could probably get a good used gas scooter for the price of some of these ebikes.

Love the Elechic - haven't seen that one before. It looks near perfect for an ebike, except for cost (2,250 euros!).

The lithium batteries most of the better ebikes use are pretty environmentally friendly.

Peter said...

In the above, I meant more expensive and complex than a BICYCLE ( of course)

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

Mikael, in this instance of the e-bike, I totally agree with you

l' homme au velo said...

They look entirely Stupid with those Helmets,it reminds me of Insect Heads.

E Bikes have their place for Elderly People and those with Health problems,and if it gets Motorists out of their Cars then it is good.

I met a Dutch Man one Day out near Skerries Nth County Dublin and he was living in Ireland for Years. He was around 70 Years Old and Riding around on His Betavus Electric Bike. He said he used to be a Great Bike Rider years ago and would compete in Races. But nowadays he would be lost without his Electric Bike. He had several Batteries at Home that he kept charged up. I picked up the Bike to see what Weight it was with both Hands,it was fairly Heavy but Liftable. He did not wear any Helmet.
On another occasion I was talking to a Cyclist who said his Father had Heart Trouble and the both of them went off Cycle Touring in Switzerland. He on his Favourite Bike and his Father on an E bike to help him with the Hills.
So they do have relevance it helps People to keep Cycling when otherwise they would not be able.

Green Idea Factory said...

Indeed, what is up with this event with ECers and MEPs decked out in helmets and jackets branded by Energie Steiermark (HQ in Graz) which - as far as I can tell from that BBC link or their website - has NO real business in two-wheelers, BUT actually lots of interest in promoting electric private urban automobiles!! http://www.e-steiermark.com/en/news/archiv2010/pa_20100115.htm

So that means this demonstration is being used as kind of a "marketing trojan horse" for private electric urban automobilisation! (To be clear, I think electric carshare is great in the appropriate framework.)

I agree with many of the other comments that pedelecs (PEDal-assisted ELECtric bikeS)are somewhat more useful than Mikael describes. Clearly Velorbis does too - if we can assume they don't want junk polluting their brand - or they would have not introduced this new option... actually a couple thousand euro PLUS the price of the bodelecs (BODy ELECtricity bikeS).

kfg said...

"I should have said CO2 free.."

Illustrating the damage that has been done to the environmental movement by seizing on CO2 (the stuff of life as we know it) as the one, big ultimate bad guy.

We put far worse stuff into the air, ground and water - stuff that's actually toxic to life as we know it.

And you should see how much CO2 (and much nastier stuff) is released into the environment by the CREATION of those batteries in the first place.

There is no magic source of energy/energy storage. If it looks like you've found one (solar panels, for instance), you have neglected to look behind the curtain where it came from.

Glenn said...

Hmm, I'm a carpenter, currently using a small (Ford Ranger) pick up truck. Most of my jobs are within 5 miles, but the terrain has a lot of small, but steep, hills. An e-bike with a trailer for my tools sounds really nice. Of course, they cost more than the "trade - in" value of my truck.
First I guess I better convert the Burley (TM) kid carrier trailer for tools and give it a try with my regular bike.

Marrowstone Island
Washington State,

Nate in SLC said...

Hey Mikael:

Speaking as one who is elderly, I find an "assisted" bicycle to be extremely useful - and a great alternative to a car in an area that has steep "ups and downs".

I understand your intellectual argument. But part of your emotional argument is that bicycling should be linked to PAIN.

As far as bicycle marketing is concerned, I thought we had established that honey draws more flies than vinegar.

And I also think that getting people out of their cars is Job #1. After that battle is won, perhaps we can debate later about what their best non-car option might be.

... Nate (SLC)

kfg said...

"But part of your emotional argument is that bicycling should be linked to PAIN."

Nonesense; cycling is no more linked to pain than walking. In many cases rather less so.

My mother cycled 4 miles (and 4 miles back) to the market this morning. As she lives at the bottom of a river valley between two mountain ranges the trip out was uphill nearly all the way.

She rides a one speed bike and has no issues with pain. She's also nearly 80 years old and nothing like an "avid" cyclist.

How does she accomplish this? As Eric noted, I made certain that her bike was properly geared so she could have easy riding. If your bike is so hard to pedal it's painful, it's simply geared too high.

Taliesin said...

The video isn't a good promotion.

But I think e-bikes can have a niche beyond the elderly. A few hills on a few km ride can be dealt with without too much trouble. Try riding 18km each way over rolling terrain. That is the cycle commute I had for a while. In the end, I decided the bus was preferable the hassle of taking a shower at the office, even though the actual time spent riding was significantly quicker than the bus. If I was in the same situation again, I'd take a look at buying an e-bike so I could ride in my office clothes.

Anonymous said...

I'm 36 and very fit and I have an e-bike (Gazelle Innergy) and I love it.

Where I live in southeast Queensland, Australia it is very hilly - small, regular slopes of 30 degrees or more are everywhere. In the summer it is oppressively hot (35C+) and humid (>80%). So much so that even walking between the hours of 9am-3pm will leave you drenched in sweat and sunburnt.

I bought my bike as a means of transport and I've all but ceased driving my car. In 2 months I've put 1300km on my e-bike. I think I'm ahead significantly environmentally, thanks.

While I would love to go slowly to use as much energy as walking it would mean that a trip to the city for me (only 6km) would take three times as long if I went very slowly. The other issue is sun exposure - I like to keep that to a minimum thanks very much. If I do want a workout then I can just switch off my assistance.

The latitude of where I live is 27 degrees south. From a sun angle perspective compared to your location (56 north) it would be the equivalent of you going down to cycle in the middle of Libya! Where I used to live was 16 degrees South - it's even worse there in summer. You can spot the tourists - they're all red.

56 degrees south equates to a spot in the ocean between New Zealand and Antarctica!

Regarding Batteries:
- can be disposed of properly here for dismantling and recycling, casings are reused.
- energy cost is extremely low if you do the maths (www.withouthotair.com) and very efficient, provided you stay below the point where wind resistance becomes significant (ie. 20km/h)
- I'd rather see a push for e-bikes rather than e-cars any day.

There is a guy currently travelling around the world on an e-bike and he's young and fit and a keen cyclist:

He's getting positive feedback from all sorts of people - not just old people.

Less division as to what makes a cyclist might be constructive, Mikael (that has been mentioned as an argument to another problem - helmets - where we shouldn't differentiate a type of bicycle)...

Mikael, if you'd like to join me for a bike ride in January, here in Brisbane, I'd be happy to take you for a ride. Bring plenty of water, and take your cargo bike :)


Dr Paul Martin
Brisbane, Australia

Anonymous said...

Um, guys, cars have batteries too, which are bigger and nastier than those on electric bicycles. No matter how you cut it, an electric bike is less awful environmentally than a car is.

I have to admit that I'm interested in an electric bike. I have creaky knees (looking at a total knee some time soon) and all the places I want to go seem to be at the tops of hills. I'd use mine - if I had one.

Kelly D. Talcott said...

The video looks like something that was produced by TV-Pyongyang.

Though technically not legal in NY, E-bikes are hugely popular among NYC delivery people. I can't say I blame them when many are working 12-hour shifts and trundling all over town.

Kevin Love said...

Here in Toronto, there is somewhat of an e-bike boom going on. This is due to several factors:

1. The Provincial government legalized e-bikes in October 2006. There is a lovely photo of the Minister of Transportation riding one after Her Majesty enacted the legalization.

2. Here electric bicycles follow North American standards of 32 km/hr cut-off for assisted speed (versus only 25 in the EU) and 500 watts (versus only 250 in the EU). Having twice the power really helps get up hills.

3. For multi-modal transportation, electric bicycles can be taken free of charge on the subway, regional rail (GO) trains, bus bike racks and anywhere else a bicycle may be taken.

On a personal note, after I had major pelvic surgery in 2007, I installed a Nine Continents assist onto my Pashley Roadster Sovereign bicycle. It was great at keeping me riding when I otherwise would have been forced onto public transit.

As I got better, I found that I was riding for many more trips for much farther distances. Trips that I used to take on public transit were now taken by bicycle.

Eventually, I was only taking the bicycle on to the subway or GO trains for very long trips. Everything else was 100% by bike.

Although I use my bicycle purely as a transportation appliance, getting exercise has health benefits that cannot be ignored. Today, I believe that I am getting more exercise than before my surgery, since I use the bicycle for many more trips and for much further distances. Trips and distance that were taken by public transit are now taken by bicycle.

This experience is not unique to me, as I have seen survey data which shows that electric bicycles are used more often, and for longer distances, than conventional bicycles.

sheffield cycle chic said...

Ironically, I had a test ride on an e-bike today - a Yuba Mundo. It was a lovely bike to ride and when you turned on the electric assist it was great fun too! It also seemed much safer pulling out of junctions where sometimes it takes me so long to get out cars are bearing down on top of me before I've had chance to make the manoeuvre. With the electric assist I could zoom straight out and then ease off the throttle. I also tried out a Bakfiets and a Madson. I hated the Madson, the ride position is way too aggressive for me, but the Bakfiets was fun too and there is now an electric assist version available. Although the gearing is pretty low on the standard model, without some kind of assistance, I think loaded up I would struggle in Sheffield. Now the combined weight of my girls is about 5 stone (more than half my weight) I am beginning to struggle on my mamafiets as it is, so the option of electric assist on a Cargobike would enable me to make journeys that I would otherwise have to do by car.

My father(nearly 70) tried out the Mundo too. He's been debating whether to replace his ultra light 1970's racer with a modern tourer or get an e-bike. After trying the e-bike I think he was convinced that was the way to go (although probably not that model). When he got off he grinned and said "I could get used to that!"

As for e-bikes looking geeky, Mikael, you should do a bit more research - the Gazelle and Batavus models are perfectly normal and the battery integration is far better thought out and integrated than the Velorbis one which looks like an afterthought.

If e-bikes can entice a few people out of their cars, enable people to keep riding when they would otherwise give up and enable people to run errands when other wise they would resort to a car then that is surely a good thing. As kfg points out reducing environmental arguements to CO2 is a very narrow view, but replacing 4 wheels with 2 benefits everyone's quality of life and any true measure of sustainability should acknowledge this.

Green Idea Factory said...

Regarding Bodelecs: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Leaves_of_Grass/Book_IV#I_Sing_the_Body_Electric

Matt said...

I prefer my e-Bike to my normal bike. I think people who diss them have never ridden one. I go further and faster on my pedelec. I still pedal my guts out, and am a sweaty mess at the end of a ride. And we too want better infrastructure to ride on. Normal sit up bikes are just too slow to go 20 or 30km, unless I'm wearing lycra and on a skinny tyre road bike. On my e-bike I get to sit up, wear my normal clothes (I'm a t-shirt and shorts man year round anyway).

Mikael you live in the inner city, and probably don't ride more than 15km in a day. If you lived 20 or 30km from your place of work, you'd see the advantages of an e-bike.

And I reckon the lithium in my batteries would be eminently recyclable.

If e-bikes are the new Segway, then that's because they are what the Segway never actually became; widespread, city changing, electric commuting for the masses.

Aaron... said...

Surely an electric assist motor on a Danish Christiania Trike can't be geeky! I have put one on my trike as when fully loaded it sometimes got annoying to pedal in my super low gears at walking pace to get up hills! Now I can get up them quite quickly and it has made the trike a lot more versatile.

GregHere said...

I agree with a lot of the posters that it's more complicated than Mikael puts it.

Alan Durning of Seattle's Sightline recently put together a nice set of posts about e-bikes and how they might work (or not) here in the Pacific NW:


Worth a look.

philippe said...

Count me in the pro pedelec side. I'm in my 40's and reasonably fit but I frequently use my E Bike for my 12 kms (one way) commute. It has a pretty steep hill at the very end and the E bike is the only way to ride it without breaking a sweat, which is not an option with my kind of work. I still ride a lot my normal bike, but not for my commute.

And the Velorbis is not only a poorly executed after thought, it's also a total rip-off : 2200€ for the electric conversion alone ? Please, tell me it's a joke.

ZA said...

My general sentiment is that "E-Bikes" shouldn't be put in competition with bicycles. They should instead conform to a moped design, and become established as a counterweight to motorbikes and motorcars.

As for San Francisco, most places people go don't really need a motor, but there are some locations, like Eureka and Twin Peaks, that are just nasty for a moderate cyclist with a load of groceries.

Green Idea Factory said...

ZA: The terminology is not really standardized but I would say that "pedelecs" - as I mentioned - is the preferred term on this side of the Pond, and is I suppose a sub-category of "e-bikes".

Not to be a language nazi but it gets confusing when an electric (ally-assisted) two-wheeler has so many different legal definitions.

So, there are many e-bikes which are simply motor scooters or mopeds and not defined legally as bicycles (in Europe).

I am not really sure what you mean.

Green Idea Factory said...

OK, the near consensus is that Mikael was trying to provoke us all into offering a wise and pithy collection of sober support statements for pedelecs.

Our homework therefore is to find out as much as we can about:
* Pedelecs increasing modal share of cycling for transport.
* Technical problems, e.g. how many of these bikes are going back to the shop.
* Concrete into on post-use battery problems.
* Clear info about health and happiness benefits.

William said...

I want an ass-pusher!

Like this fine model

Look at the specs at the bottom of the page - 100km / 1,4L. Engine-weight 6 kg and 1,4HP (which would accelerate it to.. what.. 60km/t?)
Can E-bikes compare at all?

Matt said...

ZA wants electric bikes to conform to a moped design.

Urrrrgh!!! With all due respect that is demented.

Electric bicycles should look like a bicycle. How do you pedal a moped?

And sure there are hills in SF where you don't need a motor, but who's to say that I shouldn't have one if I want one? e-Bikes aren't cheating. Cars are cheating.

sexify said...

For the elderly, but also for parents trafficking their little ones and the shoppping (see here), for longer rides (eg. most Americans have further to cycle due to decades of poor urban planning) and, yes, for hilly areas.

Personally I think e-bikes just need marketing to the right crowd, not healthy-ish MPs in a safe cycling area.


dr2chase said...

Ahoy, Glenn, if you are still reading, have a look at Aaron's Bicycle Repair in Seattle. You sound like a candidate for a cargo bike, and they've got them, and they've got electronic assists for them, too. The StokeMonkey fitted to a cargo bike has the advantage that you can run it through your bike's gears, which means it can haul an impressive load up a hill.

Low gears help, too.

tensaimon said...

gotta say I'm on the fence - ebikes mean batteries, which need to be carefully handled regarding potential environmental harm, and extra expense and complexity(and stealability). But some extra pushing power would make the difference in extending my range and capacity - I'm fit and like to work out, but nevertheless hills, headwinds, heat and humidity, cargo, distance and time can conspire to make me take the car rather than the mundo - electric help would even some of those odds and make it easier to take the bike on more journeys. I can't see me giving up the car completely without e-assist.

But for now I'm going to stick with the ricemotor....

R said...

Woohoo, I expect nearly all bicycle bloggers to snicker at ebikes, but I love the support I'm seeing for them in the comments. Here I see a bunch of regular folks not interested in racing, or proving how fit they are. They just want a way to ditch their cars and maybe have a little fun. I love, love, love ebikes! Yes they are heavier and expensive, but they make up for it by being extremely practical and fun. And by fun I mean REALLY FUN!! You'll never have a more enjoyable commute to work, ride through the park, or trip to the local store. You will give serious thought to ditching your car forever when you ride one, that's the truth. They help the elderly, and out of shape folks, and regular folks looking to save on gas. Regular bikes are great, but they can't replace a car. Ebikes will make you want to toss your car into a canal. :-)

Lasse said...

I think the environmental impact of the bicycle batteries is overrated - all the Ebikes I´ve seen it´s very easy to separate the battery from the bike. Secondly this battery is being used in a "good sensible way" since it is being put to good use. As opposed to all the toys produced for kids today - nearly all have batteries - since it generates an extra income for the toy stores. I recently found a toy hammer WITH batteries - how Ironic is that. I mean the hammer is kind of supposed to make a hammering sound by it self when you hammer it against something.... but no no!, it needs a speaker and batteries to make that sound now.

Karen said...

On the edge of buying an e-bike for my family - a Bakfiets Cargo bike; am a little disappointed by Matt's statement about how e-bikes can enable us to cycle farther to work; I think we all should be, if we can, moving closer to work and shops and building our local communities; not using these bikes as a way to still live unsustainably far from work; using out of town shops etc. Cars have influenced road planning and affected our norms for how far we think we should travel in crazy destructive ways. So many villages are dying here in the UK. Perhaps I should be pushing my two children up the hills.....Mmmmm? What else do I have to do in the day other than getting to and fro to work, taking my children to groups and clubs, shopping, talking and playing with my children rather than being on the road.....

Peter said...

Karen - don't regular bikes and their supporting road infrastructure allow us to travel further/faster than we could by walking? So why are bikes OK? Some have argued that the safety bicycle, along with omnibuses, helped to contribute to urban sprawl in the 1890-1900 period.

Also, in dense urban areas, people still need to go further than "village distances" on a regular basis and have done so since at least the early 19th century. Now they use mass transit to travel further than they can quickly travel by regular bikes. An electric assist bike allows some of this travel to be done by bike instead, in perhaps a more convenient way and with a lower carbon footprint than the mass transit.

Pedeleconline.de said...

Well, I think there will be space for E-Bikes in future beside the usage with elderly.

Just take the bike concept of MIT which is named after your City: the Copenhagen Wheel http://senseable.mit.edu/copenhagenwheel/

The real value add of ebikes is: it makes bikes more comfortable. And as a result it will increase the usage of bikes.
Just because the most obviouse use of electric bikes is the market of elderly people, they will not stick to this niche in future.

The market is already taking significant steps to the younger generation in terms of new products which are more attractive to this group of users.
A2B http://www.pedeleconline.de/pedelecnews/a2b-hybrid-mit-dem-pedelec-ins-buro/
Gocycle http://www.pedeleconline.de/pedelecnews/gocycle-leicht-stylisch-faltbar/
or JD's Eagle http://www.bike-eu.com/products/3446/jd-s-eagle-to-target-young-e-bike-riders.html are just some to the new generation of E-Bikes.

Btw in Stuttgart / Germany they will roll out a Pedelec Rental service next year. Since Stuttgart is pretty hilly, simmilar to San Francisco it makes absolutelly sense I am really looking foreward to the results of this project