When is an e-bike not a bike? (article)

Solarcabin

Well-Known Member
Region
USA

This story was first published on Next City, a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities through journalism and events around the world. Read the original article at Next City.

VanMoof, a venture-capital funded, super-cool company (essentially, the "Apple of bikes") recently unveiled a so-called "hyperbike" in an effort to compete more closely with cars. This e-bike, the company says, is a "true car replacement" that can get people moving through cities in a far more sustainable way.

As an urbanist who promotes a broader understanding of new vehicles and services at the New Urban Mobility Alliance (NUMO), I should be thrilled with a product that promises to help people finally ditch their cars. So why am I, and many other urbanists, not entirely happy?

The problem is, as I see it, that the VanMoof "hyperbike" is not actually a bike.

It used to be simple. For some 100 years, a bicycle was a vehicle with two wheels, usually of the same size, propelled by its rider’s own effort via pedals. We’ve all been to bike shops and have been able to identify a bicycle by looking at it. The bicycles we rode when we were young are essentially the same as the bicycles we were buying some 10 years ago, give or take some nicer brakes and more gears.

However, in recent years the question of how to define "a bicycle" has become a contested topic. When entering a bike shop, you may be struck by the wide array of bicycles that you can get. Some have electric motors — some throttle-activated and some pedal-activated.

Among that wide variety of e-bikes, there is something close to the perfect vehicle: the pedal-assist e-bike, a bicycle that is propelled by pedals but "helped" by an electric motor. These e-bikes have a top speed of around 20 miles per hour. They not only go at a safe speed, but they are also lightweight, occupy little space in the right of way, are extremely low-emission, don’t pose a risk to others on the bikeway or street, and are absolutely loved by those who start using them. This kind of e-bike, such as the rest of the VanMoof fleet sold today and that many other bicycle brands are selling by the thousands, is probably the best thing to happen to the transport sector since … well, since the good old bicycle some 200 years ago.

Enter VanMoof’s V "hyperbike." The company’s argument seems to be that, by being faster than a typical e-bike, they can compete much better with cars and people will be more motivated to buy and use them, generating in turn improvements to city life and sustainability. While that may ring true, there are several reasons for which we should be careful with this approach. Allowing any two-wheeled vehicle to go on the bikeway just because it has pedals is not a great idea. Anyone who does the math can see why higher speeds in vehicles generate greater risk to others, and why we don’t want to welcome a high-speed e-bike into a bikeway that has been designed for the safety of vulnerable users, including children and the elderly.

Making fast e-bikes part of the existing categories for e-bikes (which enjoy loose regulation; unlike motorcycles, riders of e-bikes don’t necessarily need to wear helmets or get a drivers’ license) can make speed-controlled, pedal-assist e-bikes seem part of a more dangerous category of vehicles, and overall reduce the likelihood of cities allowing them on bikeways and other infrastructure for vulnerable users because they will all seem too dangerous. A painful and recent example is when delivery gig workers in New York were heavily fined for their use of small e-bikes to do their jobs.

By all means, hyperbikes can thrive in the market and should be promoted as a vehicle that will replace cars, but they are closer to mopeds and motorbikes and should be regulated as such. That means riders should be licensed, bikes should have plates and they should not be allowed in bike lanes because they are beyond a threshold of risk that needs more strict regulations to be applied to them. The two-wheeler industry may not like this idea because it reduces the likelihood of them being purchased, but it’s the responsible way to go.

Allowing any two-wheeled vehicle to go on the bikeway just because it has pedals is not a great idea.
We can’t shy away from this discussion. Just as e-scooters, automated vehicles and other new types of vehicles that disrupt the existing definitions of car, scooter, bike, etc., are trying to claim space in the existing right of way, hyperbikes will do the same if we don’t use this opportunity well.

But there are more ways forward. Since it has taken decades for pedestrians and cyclists to finally get a slim section of the right of way for their safe riding and walking, we shouldn’t invade that space with these hyperbikes, but rather fight for more space from cars.

As several others have said in recent years, we could promote a middle ground in an effort to generate a greater adoption of smaller, lighter, cleaner vehicles that replace cars. A vast network of "light lanes" would provide space for a large group of vehicles with a broader range of speeds, weights and dimensions; not just "hyperbikes" but mopeds, e-scooters, tricycles, cargo bikes and other vehicles to come that fall into the category of "micromobility" because they are lightweight with slow speeds and minimal-to-no-emissions. Let’s move forward in getting cities to adopt a new category of light vehicle lanes (that some have called "slow lanes") where only smaller, lighter, cleaner, non-car vehicles are allowed.

As we’ve learned in our work with NUMO, these disruptions of the right of way and the definitions of vehicles are happening more frequently, and have in turn disrupted regulations, pricing, data requirements and basically everything we knew to be true about transportation policy and even street design. These difficult but crucial distinctions will help us pave the way for safe walking, riding and sleeping on our way to work and home while also preserving the right of way of more vulnerable users.
 

Bicyclista

Active Member
First of all, I don't agree that Van Moof is a super-cool company, "the Apple of bikes." For one thing, their designs are ugly, starting with the top tube. I don't get that instant desire to own one as I got, back in 1984, when the first Macintosh was announced. I am a retired architect (now a photographer), so I know something about design.

But I agree with you, @Solarcabin. Ebikes that do not conform to the three classes we have in the U.S., or to the European regulations, should be regulated as scooters and motorcycles with required licensing and insurance, and excluded from bike paths. (By "scooters" I mean things like a Vespa. And Vespa is a cool brand, unlike Van Moof.) Regulations should be clarified to exclude ebikes that only have pedals as an excuse to be classified as bicycles.

As it is, ebikes are acquiring a bad reputation from nukleheads going too fast and crashing into people, bikes, cars, and trees. If you want something faster than a legal ebike, get a motorcycle, period.

Thank you for being involved in urban advocacy, @Solarcabin. We need more people like you so we can get more and better bike infrastructure in the U.S.
 
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JRA

Well-Known Member
I have no problem with calling a spade a spade in that bikes as the proposed Van Moof and the BMW imodel are marketed, sold and registered according to global MoPed, a class of vehicle that is well established and closest to what is going on with these I feel.

However MoPeds no longer come under the auspices of the CPSC that is in charge of eBikes as outlined by the Federal speed/wattage limits in place for years of 20mph/750w. NHTSA with DOT oversight that requires stuff like full light kit/rims and tires/rear view mirror. Also a VIN # is part of that package to aid in registration/insurance.

So I totally agree that efforts as mentioned have no place in the "eBike" world. But I also feel like the small wheeled high power little "mini" bike styles that are becoming popular don't fit in legally and should also be considered scooters, which have separate regulations in most states or MoPeds.

The VanMoof does not have nearly enough battery on board to achieve their distance goals at the speeds they predict so it really is a moot point IMNSHO. The BMW is a bit better but the best effort I have seen in this direction is the short lived Bultaco Brinko of a few years ago. It died on the vine due to lack of legality I think.

But......that being said I would love to have a Brinko, which has the gearing to pedal effectively at speed due to the Schlumpf High Speed drive, or similar with a set of dual sport tires on it to rip around on the logging roads by my house. Registering and insurance wouldn't be a problem and I have a moto tag on my license ready to go.
 

BEC111

Well-Known Member
I’m confused, a bit. Disregard the slightly misstated ebike class descriptions - class 1, 20mph assist pedal only; class 2, 20 mph assist plus throttle; class 3, 28 mph assist pedal only. I thought Vanmoof’s idea was for a faster bike for street riding, that would be reprogrammed to class one or three for bike path use.

Almost all of my riding is on MUP rail trails, where my average speeds on my class 3 bike are about 14 mph. Most analog hybrid riders, young and old, ride at between 8 and 14 mph. Most other ebike riders are in the same rang, perhaps a mile or two faster. Then there are the analog road bikers who typically ride at 20-25 mph. These speeds are averages. Ascents are slower, descents faster.

All of this on a trail with walkers, dog walkers, folks with strollers, horseback riders, kids walking home from school (the trail is adjacent to several schools and is a more direct route to some surrounding developments) and so forth.

When the trail is crowded on a nice summer weekend or when school lets out, everyone but the idiots who speed on their bikes are always there. I’m sure the idiots are the folks who also drive at 50 on a 35 mph limited street.

Oh well, rational rule making is not a strong point for our species.
 

Doggyman1202

Active Member
I was on the mixed-use path in downtown Burlington (Vermont) a few months ago by the busy waterfront area. A guy on a fat tire Class 2 bike was ripping down the path full-bore throttle scattering pedestrians (dog walkers, moms with strollers, joggers, etc) off the path in different directions. This entitled individual was probably over 60 years old, so certainly old enough to know better. Unfortunately, responsible e-bike riders are, metaphorically speaking, being painted with the same brush as the aforementioned jackass.

I'm in general agreement with the author of the article. Thanks for posting, SC.

(As an aside, the Class 3 designation needs clarification. Perhaps there should be a Class 3T designation to include throttles).
 

Nutella

Active Member
More increasingly subtle class definitions only serve to muddy the waters even more, no non-ebike riding citizen has a clue about what to call any two wheeled vehicle with an electric motor and pedals other then an ebike. Cops aren't much better, if at all. There should be three types electric bikes: 1) Electric bikes - 20mph limit PAS/throttles, 2) Scooters/mopeds - 30mph limit, and 3) Motorcycles. EBikes on bike paths, Mopeds can use bike lanes, but not bike paths. Motorcycles on the road.

I feel like the sh!t is going to hit the fan soon with all of them being lumped together, more incidents like these and the regulation hammer will come down.


 

scottsdalecommuter

Active Member
Region
USA
Following this topic closely, agree with some of the others that this may become an issue sooner than later with how fast and crazy some folks ride, it seems some are quite respectful in crowded Spaces and some want to go as fast as possible no matter what. The scooters were very
Popular here a couple years ago and we had the same issue and now they are gone. Ebikes are here to stay since they are owned by an individual and the scooters were spec companies. Makes me think we will have to get everyone being safe on the bike paths and in crowded pedestrian areas (like walk your bike in this heavy walker area) which is always a good idea!
 

Doggyman1202

Active Member
Both articles that Nutella linked to above both conflate E-bikes with motorcycles, using the terms as if they're interchangeable. (I don't know what a Surron is myself). That's a problem for all of us that make an effort to ride our bikes courteously, responsibly, and safely, which is not hard to do.

There should be three types electric bikes: 1) Electric bikes - 20mph limit PAS/throttles, 2) Scooters/mopeds - 30mph limit, and 3) Motorcycles. EBikes on bike paths, Mopeds can use bike lanes, but not bike paths. Motorcycles on the road.
I feel like the sh!t is going to hit the fan soon with all of them being lumped together, more incidents like these and the regulation hammer will come down.
I'm in agreement with those basic guidelines.
 
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EMGX

Well-Known Member
True "ebikes" are being painted with a wide brush that includes misdeeds of those riding e-scooters/motorcycles. There was a recent thread on EBR about increasing incidence and severity of "ebike" battery fires. None of the linked images were of ebikes, instead they were all scooters. Motorbikes (including super-73 and 30+mph Bafang mid drives on steroids) should be regulated as mopeds with insurance/registration requirements and not allowed on trails, bike lanes and MUPs. Problem is that many see no distinction between a real bicycle with assist and electric motorbikes.
 

Ken M

Well-Known Member

This story was first published on Next City, a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities through journalism and events around the world. Read the original article at Next City.

VanMoof, a venture-capital funded, super-cool company (essentially, the "Apple of bikes") recently unveiled a so-called "hyperbike" in an effort to compete more closely with cars. This e-bike, the company says, is a "true car replacement" that can get people moving through cities in a far more sustainable way.

As an urbanist who promotes a broader understanding of new vehicles and services at the New Urban Mobility Alliance (NUMO), I should be thrilled with a product that promises to help people finally ditch their cars. So why am I, and many other urbanists, not entirely happy?

The problem is, as I see it, that the VanMoof "hyperbike" is not actually a bike.

It used to be simple. For some 100 years, a bicycle was a vehicle with two wheels, usually of the same size, propelled by its rider’s own effort via pedals. We’ve all been to bike shops and have been able to identify a bicycle by looking at it. The bicycles we rode when we were young are essentially the same as the bicycles we were buying some 10 years ago, give or take some nicer brakes and more gears.

However, in recent years the question of how to define "a bicycle" has become a contested topic. When entering a bike shop, you may be struck by the wide array of bicycles that you can get. Some have electric motors — some throttle-activated and some pedal-activated.

Among that wide variety of e-bikes, there is something close to the perfect vehicle: the pedal-assist e-bike, a bicycle that is propelled by pedals but "helped" by an electric motor. These e-bikes have a top speed of around 20 miles per hour. They not only go at a safe speed, but they are also lightweight, occupy little space in the right of way, are extremely low-emission, don’t pose a risk to others on the bikeway or street, and are absolutely loved by those who start using them. This kind of e-bike, such as the rest of the VanMoof fleet sold today and that many other bicycle brands are selling by the thousands, is probably the best thing to happen to the transport sector since … well, since the good old bicycle some 200 years ago.

Enter VanMoof’s V "hyperbike." The company’s argument seems to be that, by being faster than a typical e-bike, they can compete much better with cars and people will be more motivated to buy and use them, generating in turn improvements to city life and sustainability. While that may ring true, there are several reasons for which we should be careful with this approach. Allowing any two-wheeled vehicle to go on the bikeway just because it has pedals is not a great idea. Anyone who does the math can see why higher speeds in vehicles generate greater risk to others, and why we don’t want to welcome a high-speed e-bike into a bikeway that has been designed for the safety of vulnerable users, including children and the elderly.

Making fast e-bikes part of the existing categories for e-bikes (which enjoy loose regulation; unlike motorcycles, riders of e-bikes don’t necessarily need to wear helmets or get a drivers’ license) can make speed-controlled, pedal-assist e-bikes seem part of a more dangerous category of vehicles, and overall reduce the likelihood of cities allowing them on bikeways and other infrastructure for vulnerable users because they will all seem too dangerous. A painful and recent example is when delivery gig workers in New York were heavily fined for their use of small e-bikes to do their jobs.

By all means, hyperbikes can thrive in the market and should be promoted as a vehicle that will replace cars, but they are closer to mopeds and motorbikes and should be regulated as such. That means riders should be licensed, bikes should have plates and they should not be allowed in bike lanes because they are beyond a threshold of risk that needs more strict regulations to be applied to them. The two-wheeler industry may not like this idea because it reduces the likelihood of them being purchased, but it’s the responsible way to go.


We can’t shy away from this discussion. Just as e-scooters, automated vehicles and other new types of vehicles that disrupt the existing definitions of car, scooter, bike, etc., are trying to claim space in the existing right of way, hyperbikes will do the same if we don’t use this opportunity well.

But there are more ways forward. Since it has taken decades for pedestrians and cyclists to finally get a slim section of the right of way for their safe riding and walking, we shouldn’t invade that space with these hyperbikes, but rather fight for more space from cars.

As several others have said in recent years, we could promote a middle ground in an effort to generate a greater adoption of smaller, lighter, cleaner vehicles that replace cars. A vast network of "light lanes" would provide space for a large group of vehicles with a broader range of speeds, weights and dimensions; not just "hyperbikes" but mopeds, e-scooters, tricycles, cargo bikes and other vehicles to come that fall into the category of "micromobility" because they are lightweight with slow speeds and minimal-to-no-emissions. Let’s move forward in getting cities to adopt a new category of light vehicle lanes (that some have called "slow lanes") where only smaller, lighter, cleaner, non-car vehicles are allowed.

As we’ve learned in our work with NUMO, these disruptions of the right of way and the definitions of vehicles are happening more frequently, and have in turn disrupted regulations, pricing, data requirements and basically everything we knew to be true about transportation policy and even street design. These difficult but crucial distinctions will help us pave the way for safe walking, riding and sleeping on our way to work and home while also preserving the right of way of more vulnerable users.tem
I don't want to be harsh but there are some errors in your logic but I do agree that ebikes must remain in the speed range of typical bikes to be considered a bike. It's obviously ebikes will provide a faster average speed simply because they will be faster going uphill. There is data that does show that cumulative top speeds of both tradition bikes and ebikes for 95%+ of riders is in the 28-32mph range. This matters because this the typical top speeds most riders feel comfortable going down hills. A 2% slope results in over 20mph without any pedaling and a 6% slope results in over 30mph without pedaling and this is a common range for hills in many cities so compliant LSEBs will not result in faster top speeds.

I also do not think parsing ebikes by whether they are pedal-assist or throttle-assist has any logical basis. There are many cadence-assist ebikes (these are consider pedal-assist drive systems) that are literally just on/off switches for full assist power and it would be easy to design a ?pedal-assist" drive system that requires pedaling for throttle control of the assist. Regardless of the assist tech utilized if they are compliant LSEBs the performance results will be identicle so who cares if throttle-assist or pedal-assist based (that bias is based on the assumption that a throttle makes an ebike more motorcycle-like which is simply not logical). One of the dumbest things about the state 3-class system is that class 3 ebikes (that are not allowed to be throttle-assist based) are required to be only ridden on streets or road side bike lanes - i.e. they are required to share the infrastructure that all the other vehicles have throttles or gas pedals which make no sense whatsoever but hey the people at People for Bikes thought it made great sense when they were being handed the auto industry lobby money to push 3-class nonsense to the states).

The definition in HR727 clearly has a "power limit" above 20mph but few are able to comprehend what the 170lb on level surface constraints actually mean. Power is what limits the speed of all bikes ridden without assist so it makes sense to limit the top speed of ebikes via the same parameter and not have brainless assist cut-offs.

It is very challenging to engage in a debate on ebike performance because the emotions are already out of control. Most tend to forget the impact of riding down hills on non-ebikes and that the average speed of ebikes is higher mostly because they are faster climbing hills where almost NO accidents occur. To ignore these facts is simply allowing the auto and oil industries to push their non-sense to nurture ebikes so they are not compelling to get more people out of cars.

The vast majority of bike riders are respectful and not going full blast down crowded sidewalks so we can't allow the behavior of a few idiots ruin what can be a transformational product that can get many more people out of cars. The benefits towards mental and physical health should not be ignored either (look how many people are going nuts in road rage incidents and you will not hear the auto or oil industries mention that while they rage against ebikes going faster than 20mph).

Keep in mind I agree with the premise that ebikes should remain in the speed range of non-ebikes but far too much attention is paid to average speed when that is not where the safety problems exist.
 

m@Robertson

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
I personally feel the Van Moof bike was a stunt that they have zero intention of bringing to market. What did it accomplish? A whole lot of search-engine-indexed content now has the term "Van Moof" in it. So SEO benefits for your web site rankings out the wazoo. Plus you have zillions of actual brains contemplating the brand and at least asking themselves why some seem to regard it positively.

Anyone who knows anything about building bikes immediately dismissed it as a fantasy. The battery capacity alone made it obvious the thing could not be build and be usable as advertised.
 

tomjasz

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Minnesnowta
There was a recent thread on EBR about increasing incidence and severity of "ebike" battery fires.
No way indicative of the reality. Coincidental at best. Sure some like the NY fire by the Apple computer repair guy are silly fools pushing beyond sensible limits. 72v 3000w through a BBSHD 1000w motor. But I’m aware of more with cheap China builds using sub par components.
 

mschwett

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
Anyone who knows anything about building bikes immediately dismissed it as a fantasy. The battery capacity alone made it obvious the thing could not be build and be usable as advertised.
why do you say that?

i would personally never want one, but plenty of currently sold and popular class 3 bikes have batteries smaller than 700wh. yes, 31 is more than 28. at 31mph it would have a pretty short range - 20-30 miles - but that’s more than the median round trip commute in the united states.

the silliness is the extra 3mph kicking it into moped territory.
 

tomjasz

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Minnesnowta
What a silly company. It smacks of the failed Trek Lime and Shimsnos failed generator drivel 3 speed auto shift fail. Too gimmicky to be more than a toy. The new design is more blather than future from my view.
 

rudym

Active Member
Personally I'd like an e-bike that goes sooooo fast i can stay in front of the car crawling up my back on my morning commute. I'd also like to be able to change the motor/battery on that same e-bike to allow me to pedal leisurely down a rails to trails bike system. Oh well... can't have it all..... YET!
 

m@Robertson

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
why do you say that?

i would personally never want one, but plenty of currently sold and popular class 3 bikes have batteries smaller than 700wh. yes, 31 is more than 28. at 31mph it would have a pretty short range - 20-30 miles - but that’s more than the median round trip commute in the united states.

the silliness is the extra 3mph kicking it into moped territory.
First of all, I see Van Moof walked back their original claim of 37 mph for this bike and now its 31 mph. My 'this is a joke' reaction was based on 37 mph / 700wh. As speed increases, drag increases until a bike is either drag-limited or it uses enormous power - which the Van Moof V does not have with twin hub motors never mind the battery.

But the big deal in terms of do-ability is its a 2wd bike.

Could they have hit 37 mph with smaller twin hubs? Not with current geared hub motor tech. They figured this out I assume when the bike went from its original CAD-only phase to an actual prototype somewhere, hence the speed reduction. Can you do their now-claimed 31 mph on twin hubs? Yup. Geared hubs in the current marketplace, with speed-oriented internal windings (which means they give up on torque in favor of higher rpms) max out at around 34 mph - assuming a 26" wheel with a 29" outside diameter. Motors wound for torque die off at a much lower speed so they must be giving up the off-the-line power - some of which they will get back from the miracle of 2wd performance making standing starts effortless.

But you asked about battery size. Having built these over multiple generations of refinement, I can say I know better from experience at Ye Olde School of Hard Knocks. Van Moof walked back their performance claims to match reality. Thats half the battle. The next step - after I am sure some learning experience in real world testing vs. just thinking on it - is to deal with workability. Expect battery capacity to increase next. If Sondors can stuff 21ah into a down tube, thats Van Moof's target. That or more. I just upped my titanium 2fat up to 32ah from 25ah as it didn't have enough to make the long beach run I like to do. My Bullitt was built with 31ah - I could have gone bigger but I didn't want to overdo the weight which was substantial for that 21700 pack - and my twin hub commuter's last triangle pack upgrade was to 31 ah to remove the last of my range anxiety for my 30-mile round trip commute.

Speaking of what you learn from experience, even if they build the small pack they claim... its got to power two motors. Thats double the amp draw that a normal battery has to put up with. With amp draw comes voltage sag. Voltage sag from a small pack getting beaten like a stepchild by two motors will be enormous. That right there is enough to kill the deal as the pack will sag below low voltage cutoff one hell of a lot more easily than anything running a single motor. All of my 2wd bikes have BMS' that allow current draws that are continuous in the 70a+ range, depending on the bike. Lets say VanM keeps the power down to a piener-wiener 25a per wheel... that means you need a BMS that is 55-60a continuous. *and* have the pack take that kind of beating? Forget it.

It does now look as if they are trying to make this bike. Expect the specs to continue to evolve as they learn what doesn't work. 2wd done right is not easy and pretty much every commercial example so far is a V1.0 kind of product.