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Our first two semi-official renters pose in front of venue for the 2016 Olympic swim trials in Omaha, NE.
Our first two semi-official renters pose in front of venue for the 2016 Olympic swim trials in Omaha, NE.

QUIKBYKE: EV World's Spin-Off

By Bill Moore

Our new electric-assist bicycle rental startup has a singular mission, getting more of us driving less and riding more for 'Fun, Fitness, and Fresh Air.'

I've probably told this story many, many times over the years when people ask what got me into electric vehicles?

The short answer is: an electric bicycle. I bought my first around 2002. It was a Currie folding bike, but I am getting ahead of the story.

It was the summer of 1997 when I was thumbing through a back issue of BusinessWeek and came across a two-page spread advertisement for the Warrior electric bicycle. A collaboration of Malcolm Currie, the former head of Hughes Electronics and serial entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin, it was one of the earliest forays into the merging of electric motors and batteries with bicycles. It was, by today's standards, a big, bulky, heavy, and crude affair; and the company ultimately went out of business. It as the classic case of being too early into the market with a product that wasn't quite ready for prime time.

That would change in just a few years time as advances in batteries and motors transformed the two Malcolm's Warrior idea into practical and fairly affordable electric-assist bicycles and mopeds. While largely invented in America and refined in Germany, it was Asia, China in particular, that jumped all over the technology since it afforded the squadrons of "Flying Pigeon" riders across China with a less physically tiring way to commute to and from work.

It was around this time that the little Currie came into the picture. It was an advance over the Warrior, for sure, but not much. It had a small electric motor mounted near the rear wheel on the left side, and it drove a secondary sprocket.

It was around this same time frame that two competing drive technologies really started to catch on: the PAS system invented by Yamaha and the Heinzman in-wheel hub motor developed in Germany. These would quickly replace all other other friction wheel and auxiliary chain drive approaches then prevalent. They would open the door to the era of the modern electric bike.

Less than two years after I bought the Currie - now iZip - eBike, I got a chance to ride an early prototype Wavecrest Lab TidalForce M750. It was transformative: powerful, dead silent it was clearly the harbinger of even better things to come. I would eventually barter advertising space on EV World for one of those prototypes. 750W rear hub motor and NiMH front hub battery integrated into a Montague folding mountain bike frame. It's a 60-pound beast, but built to last. I still have it.

Meanwhile in Asia the market was exploding with brands and factories by the scores and then hundreds jumping into a very hungry market. It is now is estimated that in China alone there are as many as 200 million electric bikes and mopeds, so many, in fact, that some of the larger Chinese cities are starting to restrict where they can be ridden.

It would be around 2008 as the "Great Recession" hit, that e-Bikes started to catch on in Europe. With petrol prices out-of-sight and economic uncertainty stalling car sales, people from England to Italy started investigating these "more-expensive-than-a-bike-less-expensive-than-a-car" alternatives. Sales across Europe have steadily climbed, year-over-year since then.

But for cultural reasons, as well as practical ones like perceived cost and a paucity of safe bike lanes, eBikes have been slow to catch on in America. That is starting to change, but most people on this continent have never heard of an electric bicycle, much less seen or ridden one: and herein I saw an opportunity.

Enter Quikbyke

I call it my "try-it, you'll-like-it" strategy. People continually ask me how much an electric bicycle costs and when I tell them anywhere from $500 to $3,500, they express surprise. "I can buy a 'good' used car for that," they reply. (And in fact, I bought a "pre-owned" 2003 Honda Odyssey with 174,000-mile for less).

But I also found that once people have ridden one, their attitude changes dramatically. They can't get over how nice it is to have that little boost of electric power when you need it or want it. It's clean, it's quiet and it makes riding a bike fun again for a lot of people.

The challenge is, however, how do you give people the opportunity to try out an eBike? At last count, something like only 20 percent the 4,500 independent bike shops in the United States carry them. Those shops that do, may or may not offer extended test rides. Some do offer rentals, but they tend to be geographically limited to their specific store location.

Personally, I wrestled with this question for three years, finally settling on an approach that has now evolved into Quikbyke, a solar-charged electric bicycle rental shop-in-a-box.

The 'box' is a somewhat non-standard, 20 feet-long ISO shipping container that not only has the traditional double doors on one end, but also has double bi-fold doors on one side, allowing full side-loading access to the interior. This allows us to fully display the bikes, eliminating the need to structurally modify it.

Because Quikbyke's business model revolves around the ability to seasonally move the 'shop' from the tropics in winter and north in the summer, we have to be able to ship it anywhere in the world by truck and/or train, even by cargo ship. But to do so, we can't do anything that might compromise its structural integrity or possibly damage adjoining containers. Any modifications, like chain loops or solar panel anchors, must stay within the boundaries of the container.

Using first paper and then cardboard scale models, I figured we might fit upwards to 20 bikes in the container. However, as the idea evolved, I needed space for the solar backup battery bank and control system, plus space to store things like tools and cleaning supplies, as well as a small work bench. We also needed a way to charge the bike batteries, and a point-of-sale stand. I also thought we'd want to be able to sell apparel items: branded tee shirts, caps, etc.

So, what evolved is what I call our Qiosk, photos of which are linked below on Pinterest and Flickr. Getting from the concept-to-the-material stage has been a month's-long job starting last October when the Nebraska Department of Economic Development awarded ePEDALER International, llc -- our EV World spin-off -- a one-to-one matching grant under their prototype development program. Our shipping container arrived just before Christmas and work began in earnest on it in March.

In its current form as a "minimally-viable product" (MVP), it sports 1.8kW of solar panels, charging a 400+ Ah deep-cycle battery bank (lead-acid). At the moment that energy is converted to 110V AC by a small inverter, while our six DC-to-DC "faster" chargers are being tested by the supplier in California. We have six ProdecoTech Stride 300 hybrid-style eBikes with step-through frames. The 300W hub motor powers the front wheel, supplied by current from the 10.4Ah Samsung SDI battery on the back-wheel rack. This arrangement offers a fairly balanced set-up. Charge time using the current 2Ah AC chargers that came with the bike is around 3-4 hours depending on depth of discharge.

We have room on the roof for another six panels and we think we can comfortably handle up to 12 bikes per Qiosk with several days of backup power available in the event of a succession of cloudy days.

Right now, the PV system is getting its first real test in 90+ degree (F) heat. While we didn't have all the systems running the way we wanted, we decided to move it to its summer location at 10th & Dodge in downtown Omaha for the opening of the NCAA Men's College World Series and the U.S. Olympic Swim Trails; the latter started today, literally just across the street. We had a lot of people checking us out as they walked from their hotels and restaurants to the CenturyLink Center.

We're still having some issues with our credit card processing systems as I write this, so we've not been able to get bikes out on revenue-generating rentals quite yet, but we've allowed several people, including an Omaha bike patrol police officer today, to ride them. They all come back raving about the ride. That's a reaction I want many, many more people to experience.

Quikbyke's mission is to get more of us driving less and riding more for "Fun, Fitness and Fresh Air." Our prototype "shop-in-a-box" is a small, but important start in accomplishing it. We plan to be at the downtown Omaha location through September and have begun looking at a possible location near St. Petersburg, Florida for the winter.

You can follow our progress online at Quikbyke.com, Omaha.Quikbyke.com, as well as on Twitter, Flickr and Pinterest. If you're interested in learning more, you can reach me at editor(at)evworld[dot]com or bill.moore(at)quikbyke[dot]com.

Times Article Viewed: 3984
Originally published: 26 Jun 2016

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