The first time I saw an electric bicycle was in the late 1990's in Milan, Italy. I was visiting the EICMA motorcycle show and back behind the exotic, 150 hp superbikes that dominated that era were two anomalies: the Yamaha PAS and Aprilia Enjoy e-bicycles.
Electric vehicles at that time were weak, powered as they were by low density, heavy nickel-teal-hydride batteries that gave little range. As a result these pedal-assist e-bikes had low output and high weight, which, together with high costs made them extremely unattractive to European audiences. Yamaha had been a world leader together with Panasonic in the production of low output (>200 watt) electric-assist bicycles in Japan, but beyond that very narrow market there was nothing.
Then in the mid 2000's it all changed. China declared that the electric bicycle was to become a national priority in it's 2005 5 Year Plan, and together with the advent of lithium battery chemistry the e-bike got a massive shot in the arm. By 2010, the world was consuming 35 million e-bikes a year. Most of these vehicles were lead-acid battery-powered, repurposed motor scooters, and mostly in China, but it created the critical mass for low cost battery and electric power control equipment production.
Fast-forward to today, and even in highly developed nations the modern e-bike is a hit. Northern Europeans, with their long traditions of cycling as transportation and sport have gone crazy for them, for the first time buying more e-bikes than non powered ones in 2016. In the United States where bicycles have typically been regarded as either sporting goods or toys for children, the e-bike has seen prodigious growth. Many American e-bike brands have survived the initial trial of importing generic goods to having bespoke products contract manufactured for them. A win for all.
The Status Quo in 2017
As this year winds to a close, the most amazing trend in the e-bike world is the seemingly insatiable demand for ultra-high spec, high performance e-mountain bikes and boutique e-cruisers. Of course people are excited by the possibilities of power and performance, but it strikes a very counter-intuitive tone when a means of transportation touted for it's efficiency and democratizing of urban mobility start to average prices north of $5000.
The number of e-bike models from European and American brands that feature motors with 2000 or 5000 or even 10,000 watt outputs continues to multiply. Although beautifully made and marketed for "off-road use only", it is difficult to see how they won't get used illegally on the streets of towns and cities across America and Europe.
Already backlash exists among motorists and pedestrians even in cities with dedicated bike lanes or strong cycling cultures. Across Canada and the United States regular cyclists bemoan the "grey area" that high power e-bikes occupy on the roads. Of course they are not allowed there, but how to enforce the rules when they clearly are bicycles and legal when used appropriately?
It has been the philosophy of SURU from the very beginning to make vehicles that are not only completely road legal and compliant with US and Canadian federal laws concerning e-bikes, but to also make sure the design "tells no lie".
With our motorcycle design and engineering background, we at SURU are constantly dreaming of high performance electric two-wheelers, and will one day fulfill those ambitions again, following where the Amarok Racing project set out seven years ago. However, e-bikes with outputs above 500w should, in our view, look and feel like bicycles or mopeds, not motorcycles. When SURU does make a vehicle with a greater than 500 w output, we will definitely leave the pedals off and go clearly in the Low Speed Motorcycle (LSM) or fully DOT-approved motorcycle route.
In the meantime, SURU will continue to provide stylish, comfortable and accessible e-bike transportation for everyone, that is usable everywhere. With or without batteries.
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