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Peddling E-Bikes

By Bill Moore

Electric bicycles aren't just a 'gateway drug' to electric cars, they are a viable alternative to them, and gas cars too, at least 40% of the time as our publisher discovers riding the Haibike Xduro Trekking.

Now before you jump my backside about the difference between peddle - as in to sell sometime - and pedal - as in pedaling a bicycle, you should understand that I do know the difference and the title is correct, as you'll shortly see.

If you've been following me on Facebook or Twitter or even ePEDALER.com, you'll likely know that I am launching a spin-off of EV World, one whose mission is to -- and I quote:

Get more of us off our car seats more often and onto bicycle saddles for -- and here's the tag line - 'Fun, Fitness, and Financial Gain' ...

… or savings or reward… take your pick. The point is by cycling more and driving less, you're going to benefit all the way around. Okay, that may sound a bit heretical coming from a guy who's spent the last 16-plus years of his life promoting the cause of electric vehicles, in general, and electric cars, in particular.

While I love electric cars, I personally think we spend too much time in cars, regardless of their power plants, be they pure electric, electric hybrid, plug-in hybrids,hybrids, micro-hybrids… or all ICE-powered: be it diesel, CNG, propane, or petrol. Cars have their place and it's pretty hard to get around in the world we've built without them…

BUT… they are rapidly eroding our lives, cluttering up our cities, polluting our air, while consuming vast, vast quantities of resources: all to move a few stone worth of human flesh and bone, usually in a car that seats four, but is occupied by one person most of the time. Worse, they are a capital investment that sits idle 95% of the time and depreciates the instant you drive it off the dealer's lot. Still, we just can't seem to live without them, be it out of necessity, ego, or bit of both.

Bicycles, on the other hand, make imminently more sense for at least 40 percent of all the trips most of us make, which are typically under three miles, according to now somewhat dated U.S. government research.

It's that 40% I want to focus on.

With the obvious exception of countries like the Netherlands or cities like Copenhagen, the world over the last 100 years has molded itself around the automobile. We created suburbia because of the automobile. Freeways and interstates because of the automobile. In the USA alone, there are more than 121,000 of gasoline filing stations, along with a costly distribution and refining network to support them. Gigantic ships ply the seas and thousands of miles of pipeline transport the crude stuff that powers them, occasionally wrecking or rupturing, and in the process, fouling beaches, polluting rivers, and killing marine life.

A bicycle, on the other hand, requires a fraction of the materials and energy that goes into your average automobile: specifically 30 pounds versus 4,079 pounds. That's 0.0075 percent. It also takes a fraction of the energy to move that bike and its rider versus the car and its driver. Where we measure horsepower in the hundreds for the typical car or kilowatts for an EV, the bicycle takes less than a half a horsepower. In the case of a standard manual bicycle, that's supplied entirely by the rider. It's carbohydrate-powered, instead of hydrocarbon-powered.

In the case of the Haibike Xduro Trekking pictured above, and which is mainly what I want to tell you about, it's 250 Watts, one-third horsepower plus whatever the rider contributes. In effect, it is a hybrid-electric vehicle: some of the power comes from the rider, some of it from the Bosch mid-motor.

Currie Technologies loaned me the Xduro for well over a month, during which time I not only rode it to run local errands, but also demonstrated it to various groups and individuals as part of a personal lobbying effort to enlist their support for the passage of an electric bicycle bill here in Nebraska. The first attempt this year was LB 756, but a shortened legislative session prevented it from coming to the floor for a vote, even though it was unanimously voted out of committee without dissent.

Haibike is a German firm, so the first thing you need to know about this e-bike - besides its $4000US price tag - is that it is engineered to European electric bicycle standards. Specifically, the motor is limited to 250W. In order to receive any mechanical assistance from the motor, you have to pedal the bike. Embedded sensors monitor the amount of effort being exerted by the rider and their pedal cadence. When the system sees the level of effort increasing and the pace of cadence slowing, it applies just enough electric torque to keep the rider moving along. Stop pedaling and the motor stops helping. Go faster than 20 mph and the motor ceases to assist. (In Europe, the top speed cut-off is 25 km/h or 15 mph).

The bike controller, which mounts on the handlebar and is removable for security purposes, provides four levels of assistance. Turn the bike on and you start in the 'Off' mode, which provides no assistance. You pedal the bike like any other bicycle. In the case of the Xduro, there is no noticeable motor drag like I experience with my much older TidalForce M750 electric bicycle prototype that's now approaching 15 years of age. You don't want to try to pedal it without the electric motor. It can be done, but you'll very quickly wish you could switch to a nice, light, multi-gear road bike. The Xduro in the 'Off' mode feels just like a regular bike, other than its extra 21 lbs of weight: it weighs some 50.9 pounds (23.1 kg) total. That makes it considerably lighter than my 60+ lbs. M750.

As for the power modes, they are Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo. Each level provides a bit more assistance. Riding around Papillion, I found that I could remain most of the time in Tour mode. You switch between modes with a easy-to-reach thumb switch mounted near the left brake lever. + moves up the power setting. - moves down.

In addition to the 36V Bosch motor and 400 Wh lithium battery, the drive system includes a silky smooth, 27-gear Sram Dual Drive. Shifting gears is via dual click levers mounted on the right handle bar. As with my M750, I found that I seldom had to use more than three or four gears in my rides around town, which has a couple modest hills, at most. The Bosch motor isn't quite a quiet as the 750 Watt Wavecrest Lab hub motor on my bike, which is virtually silent, but it's only noticeable if you're listen for it.

The Haibike is my first extended encounter with disc brakes and I have to say I love them. The only real negative about the bike had to do with the size Currie sent me. It's available in three frame sizes for men and women; and I think they sent me the tallest they had. I was finally able to master mounting it, but a number of people that I demo'd it for had trouble getting on and a couple women just outright refused to try. I found that because of the slight bend in the seat post down tube, I couldn't lower the seat as much I as I would have liked. Key lesson here: as with any bicycle, make sure you get fitted for the right frame size.

Overall, I loved the bike. Prior to riding it, I wasn't sure how I'd like a 250W motor compared to the 750W one my personal bike, but I found that it provided all the torque I needed. It's attractive and has great functionality. I never tested its battery range, which is usually the first question I get asked. The answer all depends on terrain, rider weight and physical effort expended. Probably 30 miles is easily doable and likely more, much more.

The one other drawback I should mention is if you to stop, which you will for stop lights, etc., you need to position the peddles so you can get the bike rolling, especially on facing up hill. With my M750, I can just flick the thumb throttle briefly and get the bike moving. Starting the Xduro up hill from a stop, takes a bit of practice, I discovered. In this respect, I would prefer it had a switch like other Currie products that allows me to shift between the European mode and American throttle-controlled mode. But for all other riding situations, I prefer the Euro setup because it requires me to pedal and isn't that the point of riding a bicycle?

While cycling enthusiasts and purists tend to denigrate electric bicycles, I see them as the technology bridge or 'gateway' - to quote Don DiContanza - to getting more of us riding. Globally, the population of the planet is aging. There are now more of us over 40 than there are under that age. And our over-reliance on the automobile has had a detrimental impact on our physiological wellbeing. You simply have to compare the obesity levels of western populations where nearly all travel is by private car, even for the shortest distances, compared to countries like Denmark and Holland, to see that burning hydrocarbons instead of carbohydrates has left us overweight, increasingly prone to diabetes, and just plain out of shape.

There could be few things better for us to do, especially in America, than to park the car and ride a bike, manual or pedal-assisted, both will do all of us a world of good.

In a future installment, I'll explain how EV World's ePEDALER start-up plans to help make that happen by taking both e-bike's higher cost and lack of availability out of the equation in a unique and, hopefully, profitable way.

Times Article Viewed: 8036
Originally published: 13 Jun 2014

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