When I talk about electric or hybrid-electric vehicles, I don’t generally get to talk about electric bicycles much. I have written about them in the past, of course, but to be honest about it, I’m not much of a fan of e-bikes. Once in a while, though, something pretty damn cool comes along and I have to read up on it anyway. Normally, I ignore anything from the cavemen at Treehugger who seem to think that the only good car is a recycled one that’s been made into a bicycle. Even they, though, sometimes come up with something that I have to check out. Like this new iZip.
Currie Technologies makes electric bicycles, scooters and so forth of all manner and description. Their iZip line of bikes are probably the most well-known of the e-bikes available now. This latest, the iZip Express, is something different, though. The bike itself isn’t all that cool to look at, but the technology under that black liver-shaped box in the center of the frame?
It’s got some cool stuff going on in its guts.
Currie calls it Evo-Drive (tm and all that). It’s a dual planetary drive system that combines the motor with the pedaling power in such a way that not only does the rider not feel the motor as they pedal, but the electronics that control the motor sense pedal pressure and other things to decide how much motor assist is required. Normally, an electric bike will make pedaling easier, and the rider can’t help but feel the motor propelling the bike along, even while pedal-assisting. The idea behind Ev-Drive is to eliminate that for a smoother feel.
Think of it as the synchromesh in a transmission: rather than requiring the driver to time the shifting to match the RPMs of the motor, it synchs them automatically so that shifting from one gear to the next is smooth. Without synchromesh, automatic transmissions could never have happened and without Evo-Drive, smooth hybrid-electric riding on a bicycle can’t happen either.
Other than the Evo-Drive thing, there isn’t much that’s all that special about the Express, really. At least, not from my perspective. But I feel a couple of explanations of my thoughts on e-bikes and such are in order. If only because I know that you all love to hear me type, so I may as well keep spouting my opinions at you.
First, “hybrid” when applied to bicycles and (most) scooters and such means hybrid “human-electric” drive, not like in a car where it’s an engine of some kind and electrics. So you pedaling the bike is the power source outside of the electric motor. On a bicycle, by the way, those motors are usually about 750W (10hp).
Now for my expert opinion on why electric bicycles are such a limited, lame-ass market and technology. You don’t have to agree with me, of course. My friend Gary Ares doesn’t and has been working hard on a great series of economic considerations for the e-bike industry. Go read it on his blog at Velo Rep.
My opinion on electric bicycles is almost entirely based on practicality. Here’s some points to consider about them:
- They are single occupancy vehicles (ha)
- Their range is very limited and doesn’t (realistically) meet the average person’s commute daily (23 miles)
- They are open to the weather
- They are usually marketed and purchased by city dwellers
- They are easily stolen and don’t carry the theft penalties that, say, a car does
- They cost too damn much to be a friggin bicycle
Sure, some people might find e-bikes to be the perfect fit for their lifestyle. A very few people. They might even have a way to not only ride it to work and back safely, but have a safe place to put it and even plug it in while they’re at work. That, in my view, is a very narrow margin of people.
Considering the price tag of the Express, for instance, at $3,500 bucks, I have a question: would you spend that kind of money and then risk it downtown? Me either. Just saying..
Regardless of your view on e-bikes, though, the innovation behind the Evo-Drive is pretty cool.