Electric Bicycles - The Wave of the Future?

Dale Campbell, Co-Editor

And the fuel costs elsewhere in the world are even higher. Comparing on the basis of gallon units and US dollars, folks in Norway pay over $9.25 a gallon, with the price in many other European countries above $8.00 a gallon (reference a Daily Finance article from 29 March 2011).

Unfortunately, in the present market in the US, the current stable of electric bikes are a bit expensive, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000. There's even one built here in the US that sells for almost $12,000. Called the "Ferrari of electric bikes," the Optibike 850R (http://www.optibike.com/Optibike-850R.html) has a 22ah lithium ion battery and Fox Racing Suspension. While many of have more than one bike, adding another bike in the $1,500 to $12,000 price range would generally not even be considered. So, clearly price is a current obstacle to broader acceptance. This sounds familiar to the introduction of many other new technologies. Remember when flat screen TVs were unaffordable?!

Electric bikes are making some inroads in the San Francisco Bay area. The city hopes that by 2020, 20% of the population will be riding electric bikes. At the present time, that penetration into the market is only about 6%. In San Francisco, many think e-biking will make sense. Consider one owner interviewed for an article in the August 2011 edition of Outside Magazine. The rider indicated "I live in San Francisco. The last half-mile home for me is entirely up a ginormous hill. With the electric-assist motor in the back wheel, I've replaced a third of my car trips with carbon-free biking...." Based on this description, it seems that electric bikes would also make sense here in Colorado Springs.

Acceptance elsewhere in the world seems to be ahead of the current conditions here in the US. For example, Hertz in London is renting e-bikes, right alongside of cars such as Audis and Mercedes. And, speaking of Mercedes, the Wall Street Journal article previously referenced indicates that Daimler AG's Smart division in China has plans to sell an electric bike model in 2012. Apparently, BMW, Toyota and Volkswagen are also showing interest in electric bicycles. These three car manufacturers have displayed concept models of electric bikes and electric motorcycles at some recent auto shows.

For those of us that enjoy cycling, I'm sure there have been a time or two when you wished there was some sort of power assist to get you up one of those pesky little hills we have here in Colorado. Well, that's just how the current models of e-bikes operate. You have to pedal for the motor to kick in. The motor is generally integrated into the front or rear hub of the bike. Most high quality e-bikes are typically powered by Lithium-ion batteries. These batteries can provide enough power to enable a 25 to 30 mile commute. Recharging occurs during braking, downhill runs or by a 20 minute plug in recharge.

How long will we have to wait for these power assist bikes to become affordable? The technology is there today. And the market demand is anticipated to continue growing. So, maybe the opportunity to purchase and enjoy an e-bike isn't so far away. Only time will tell.

Photo from the Wall Street Journal Article "Daimler Plans Electric Bike" 18 July 2011

BFC April 2011 Issue - Vol 4 Issue 4, 1 August 2011

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