Where is it going...?

George S.

Well-Known Member
I was looking at the write-up on the Visiobike over on another ebike website. It's interesting because it combines two things that seemed like they would emerge in the next season or two. Those things are mid-drive and an 'automatic' transmission. My take on the Visiobike is that it too expensive.

I've been recovering from a catastrophic illness. I was really pleased a couple of weeks ago when someone flipped a switch and my lungs started working again. After a couple of months of real disability. So I have been studying a lot of stuff in the medical sphere, mind and body, rehab, exercise in general. I've read a lot on mobility scooters over the past two months. A lot of people get a lot of their lives back with a little electric cart they can sit in. I've used them a lot, to shop. Now it looks like I won't have to buy one, but I appreciate that ebikes are too small a field of vision. And the Visiobike narrows that vision to a tiny point.

Don't get me wrong. In three years every bike may have a mid-drive and a belt and self-shifting gearing. Will it really affect what I did (briefly) with my electric bike? Nope. Ideally, this technology could allow the motor to work efficiently most of the time. Of course, if battery technology evolves, you could just strap a bigger battery onto your bike. And there has to be a calibration of when a bike is too motorized to be a bike.

There is a 'push the envelope to infinity' attitude about fitness, probably about a lot of ebikes. Everyone needs a hobby. There is more to basic electric transportation (mobility) than advanced technology. It's curious how much innovation there is concerning ebikes. It's all innovation. On the other hand, the mobility scooter industry has been slow to adopt even lithium batteries. The 'best' scooter may be one with a 4 pound lithium battery and a folding system that make it very easy to transport. But most scooters have 30 pounds of batteries. Most powered wheel chairs are difficult without a van and ramp system. It is the interface between autos and mobility scooter/powered wheelchairs, that is tough.

Again, to me, it is curious that there is so much technology in ebikes, often pushing things to where they aren't really bikes. Pushing things to where it's almost a luxury item, a small and upscale market. And there is so little innovation in the mobility scooter arena, where people suddenly get their lives back, if the product works. Two different planets, far apart...Given the vast legions of boutique ebike makers, I think one or two should try to design a mobility scooter that just uses the technology people are applying to bikes. Might be more opportunity.

Finishing on fitness: One of my doctors says his personal trainer has him do 15 minutes at a heart rate of 180. I asked if that might be unhealthy, and he wasn't sure. Ohhh kay. I'm sure there is more to health than pushing simplistic things like heart rate. A hot item right now is the 'fitness monitor', Apps or wearable tech. Some of the information, like heart rate or calories burned, can be useful. But it seems like people can get hung up on the data stream, lose track of what is happening to them as they exercise. The Mayo Clinic says the best way to measure exercise intensity is how you feel. Sweating? Breathing hard? Uncomfortable? Too uncomfortable? How much attention should you pay to the read-out of heart rate or whatever? When you start the info gives you a calibration. I may be xx% fit with certain numbers. After that?
 
Interesting... glad to hear you found these ways to cope with (geting older) I figure if your geting those feet moving (with the assistance of an ebike) on a scenic route you will eventually start to sweat. And sweat + heart rate boost from moving those legs = healthier gorge than previous.
 

Court

Administrator
Staff member
Again, to me, it is curious that there is so much technology in ebikes, often pushing things to where they aren't really bikes. Pushing things to where it's almost a luxury item, a small and upscale market. And there is so little innovation in the mobility scooter arena, where people suddenly get their lives back, if the product works.
Appreciate your thoughts here George, wanted to call out the E-Trike Kit from E-BikeKit that's designed to be affordable, simple to install and compatible with most tricycle style bikes out there. For people who might be struggling with balance but need something that's less expensive (or lighter weight) than a full electric scooter like a Rascal powered chair or scooter this could be a win. I like the scooters I tried with the kit also had baskets for storing stuff. You could use this to get to the grocery store and it actually moves your feet (if you want) but has the same twist throttle design and reverse just like a Rascal.
 

MarcD

Active Member
George - here is my theory on why you see comparatively less innovation on mobility products: insurance (public or private, I am not getting into that debate) is always going to push the majority of the market into the lowest cost option. If an insurer can save $500 per insured event by only covering mobility products with SLA batteries, then that is what they are going to spec. Since the vast majority of the market is paying with some sort of private or public insurance, the manufacturers have little incentive for feature innovation and massive incentive for cost control.
  1. Assume a standard, SLA powered, heavy scooter is $2,500 (I have no idea what the actual price is, but a google search suggests that's in the middle).
  2. A few of the scooters I looked at had between 1500 and 2000 watt-hours of 24 volt battery weighing about 50-60lbs
  3. Equivalent cost of Li batteries would be in the $2,400 to $3,000 range retail, so let's say cost is 50% or $1,200 to $1,500
  4. This would add like 33% to the price of the scooter and would immediately be removed from the eligibility list by most, if not all, insurers.
E-bikes, on the other hand, are electively purchased items, where innovation and competition is focused on features and performance, since consumers buy them directly. In an immature market, innovation is also accelerated as available technologies are sorted down to the best available. You could even look at the hub vs. mid drive as the VHS/Betamax (or DVD-HD vs. BluRay for the Gen Y'ers) of this segment. Eventually one technology will win out as dominant, but until then there is a mad scramble to differentiate.

From a social policy standpoint, this may not be ideal, but these are the economic forces at work.
 

George S.

Well-Known Member
I've continued to study this market, off and on, but a lot of the market is pretty impenetrable. I think these guys are making the most innovative product:

http://www.luggie-scooters.com/

Because it folds and the design is amenable to getting it into a car, it solves some basic problems. This is a lithium system. The real problem with the SLA scooters is that the battery is so heavy that even if you break the scooter down for transport, there is one very awkward piece.

I do think the insurance companies drive one segment of the market. On the Luggie they don't really emphasize that aspect, and it isn't all that expensive, assuming it holds up. I'm not sure how the assessments for a mobility device work. All too often, with insurance, there are relationships with suppliers that are opaque to the customers.

I came to the conclusion you can be pretty disabled and still get around a Walmart with a scooter, and they provide decent scooters. They are SLA based and they do quit in the middle of the store, which is fun. Walmart is a big store, so it and Costco are probably the best test cases. Costco supplies scooters where I live, as well. But for a store, the SLA is manageable, since they don't transport the scooters.

There are some performance scooters that provide a lot of speed. Some are geared to the high capacity, high weight market, as well. But there is a dividing line where you can make the scooter fairly easy to move to a car versus having to use something much more cumbersome, lifts and portable ramps. Too much performance would make the scooter potentially undesirable inside a store. With a couple of models I could probably transit the full size Walmart in a minute or two, at least at top speed.

It would probably be harder than I thought to redefine the mobility market. There are reasonable choices, mostly clustered around the 'value' idea. Most of the designs are uninspired. The huge market seems to be selling to retailers, and they are locked in to hefty designs with big baskets. They are not looking for much but durability, apparently. They don't really want to make it too attractive. But there's no insurance in that market. A scooter that is attractive to Kroger really has no appeal to an individual.

Insurance can be a real complication. If people are recovering and need certain devices, insurance should cover it. But deciding when something is permanent is tough. People can get locked in to having devices, rather than fully recovering. I think most insurance companies do understand that a full recovery is the low cost way for them, over the long haul. The dividing line for medical devices is tough, between necessary and discretionary. The level of medical care spending in the US forces me to side with the view insurance companies must contain costs.

That said, I think a lot of people would gain a lot of mobility with a really well designed mobility scooter that could be transported as easily as possible. The basic concept is incredibly useful. The cost is probably low enough that you could focus sales away from Medicare. You definitely need Lithium batteries, and here the technology is driving costs very much in the right direction.

Maybe it is just 'micro-transport'. My gripe with bikes is that they are for 'outside'. How do you motorize and make it small, stable, and comfortable, inside and out? Can you make something they would allow inside a Costco, but would also get you to Costco? Not sure.
 

MarcD

Active Member
Some interesting ideas, George. If I were to take a really long view, I think biomechanics / exoskeleton ability enhancements are where we end up, short of regenerating tissue itself.

In the short run, it is am interesting problem. There are enough technologies available now you could expect convergence, but it hasn't happened. There are ebikes, Segways and scooters. If you had the scooter human interface (easy to get on, upright) with the outdoor durability of a Segway with a couple of speeds it seems like something should be available. I had seen custom scooters with huge tires for the beach (it had a lift suspension, too). So I think some people are innovating but we haven't seen that convergence of tech yet.