This newsletter is devoted to showing our pick of the seven best electric bicycles available. These were judged on their technology, price, practicality, performance and style. For previous newsletters please scroll to the links at the bottom of this page.
The Hydrogen Electric Bike gets our number 1 vote due to high levels of technological development in a sustainable and futuristic direction. The bike is the product of work from two Chinese companies;SHANGHAI PEARL HYDROGEN and CELIMO. The bicycle works by having hydrogen, stored in the cylinders, run through a fuel cell stack located under the rear carrier rack to generate electricity. The electricity is used to run a hub motor located in the rear rim. It's been difficult to get precise information about the specs of this bike but from what we can gather it has a a speed of approximately 25 - 30 km/hr and a range of about 60 km, extendable to over 100 km by having higher compression. The size and style of this bike make it ideal for nearly any commuter. However, at between $5000 - $8000, the price puts it out of practical use for all but the crazy and rich.
Hydrogen will be a key fuel of the future. The simplicity of the reaction of turning water into hydrogen and oxygen and thereby using and creating electricity ensures that it will serve as a dominant fuel. The risk of injury from using hydrogen as a fuel is considered by many experts to be minor compared to using using fossil fuels, largely due to its rapid and harmless dispersal into the atmosphere upon system leakage. Hydrogen can actually be purchased (in Australia anyway) from gas companies like BOC but there is serious potential to develop a small scale solar system that can electrolyse water to produce hydrogen and use small pumps to compress and store the gas generated in metal hydride systems suitable for use on a bicycle - all this could be done in your own backyard. The main draw-back to this bicycle becoming a reality for a few years is the cost of fuel cells. This bike costs upwards of $5000 - $8000 and most of this is due to the cost of fuel cells. When this technology is developed further and a cheap and efficient method of converting hydrogen into electricity for forward motion is developed then these bikes will likely become very popular. The main advantage of using hydrogen and fuel cells is that it eliminates the need for a battery - the most environmentally unfriendly and expensive component of an electric bicycle.
From engineer Carl Morgan comes surely what is one of the most fantastic electric bicycles ever to be seen! This is a tandem electric bicycle powered by “Joules”, the robotic pedalling pillion. A mix of art, engineering and craftsmanship, this is truly an amazing and beautiful piece of work. Click here to see a video clip of Joules – an absolute must see. Clicking here will take you to Carl’s website, where you can see some more information on the progression of its construction.
From Melbourne, Australia you have to check these ones out. Stealth Electric Bikes have got the most kick-arse electric bicycle you could ever want to possess. This beast boasts a 3kW motor and can move at 70km/h. This is truly a blend of bicycle, motorcross and electric power. Fun, dangerous, healthy, illegal for road use (though you may be able to get it registered if you tarnish its image with lights and blinkers), this is one of the baddest electric bicycles available to date. Thankfully, the deisgners have also opted to use the best in lithium ion batteries available. The Bomber hosts a 1.5Kwh LiFePO4 pack.
This electric bikes uses a unique 9 speed sequential gearbox which makes pedalling and freewheeling exactly the same as any bicycle. When you hit the throttle the direct drive brushless DC hub motor kicks in and the fun starts. The gearbox eliminates the need for cumbersome and easily damaged deraileurs, chain clusters and chain guides. It also eliminates noisy chain slap from jumps and the chain can never jump off. This bike is quieter than your average non-electric bike with 10 times the fun.
We just have to include our electric bicycle conversion kits (or kits from other suppliers) in this list for two important reaons. The first one - you'll get an electric bike that performs far better than any production line electric bicycle. Being able to choose the motor size, the battery chemistry and use of either the throttle or PAS control system allows you to customise your bicycle to exactly your performance desires. You'll also be able to use your existing bike for added savings. The second important reason why you should get a conversion kit is cost - it'll be about $800 - $1500 (AUS) for a kit with a high-end lithium ion battery. A lot cheaper than most production line electric bikes and in our opinion a better bike. Maybe it won't look as flash but it'll be personalised and perform better. Anyone who's kitted out one of their bikes knows exactly what I'm talking about.
The Dutch have always been well known for their “green” inclinations but here we see another variation of the theme. The Dutch bicycle company SPARTA have released a range of electrical bikes this year and they are selling like hot baked bread in the Netherlands, where the bike crazy nation is embracing the merging of old and new technologies. Pictured above is their model, the ION XTS, a pleasant electrical bicycle that has well designed features and components; it sells for approximately $4000 (AUD). Another key feature that we like is the placement of the battery system, it is located within the diagonal part of the frame. Unfortunately, like the Gocycle and the Cytronex, the manufacturers have also opted to use inferior battery chemistry (NiMH). Obviously they will improve upon this in future as their competitors spread news of better power options through the haze of their coffee shops and this bicycle will push both performance and comfort levels in the near future
Even though it doesn't look that much, in all honesty this is the type of electric bicycle that I'd choose to ride. A real reason why this bike has a definite future is its perfect urban style. One of the great advantages of the electric situp is that the small deficits such as more wind resistance, more weight and slower speed, are all taken care of by the motor. So, you should really think of going for the bike on which you'll be super comfortable, be able to carry loads, be safer because you'll have a better visual advantage and be seen better, and above all becuse you'll be flying a friendly flag every time you ride one. People will look at you are be reminded that there's more to biking than lycra and the beetle hunch. So fly that flag, the one that says "come ride with me" or if you prefer "getting about, not working out."
The “Cytronex Powered Cannondale Super Six”. This is the ultimate in electrically assisted racing bicycles. The complete bicycle weighs just 12.9 kg and is a slick speed machine. This bicycle has a very small front hub motor called the “Cytronex freewheel motor hub”, its small size creates less drag than the typical larger hub motors. The smaller size of course will mean less power but with such an efficient bicycle the extra power is really not needed. The main feature of this bicycle that we like is the positioning of the battery. See that thing that looks like a drink-bottle, well look again - it’s actually the battery. We are slightly perturbed at the capacity and chemistry of the battery – said to be only 4ah and NiMh. Why they haven’t used long lasting LiFePO4 chemistry and increased the capacity even slightly to 6ah or 8ah for a great range we do not know, perhaps for aftermarket sales? Whatever their reason, this is a great machine. Fast, neat and well designed with the bicycle provided by the highly reputable company “Cannondale”. With a seat like that though comfort may be an issue. Unfortunately, the price tag means this will only be ridden by the privileged or serious electric bicycle enthusiasts – costing approximately $8000 (AUD). However, there are a range of bicycles more suited to the working class. Check them out at www.cytronex.com
China really is the capital of the world for electric bicycles and getting a generic Chinese electric bike is not a bad option at all. The cost is relatively low and the quality can be very good. Approximately 90% of global electric bicycle sales are within China. They have the need, the people and the ability to mass produce these items. Most shops and brands all over the world that are selling electric bicycles all have their origins in Chinese factories; perhaps they modify or engineer something special but deep down they have been designed and fabricated in China. There is a huge range in quality it seems but it is possible to get high quality electric bicycles with advanced lithium ion battery options at a low cost. Good quality electric bikes with lithium ion batteries such as the ones pictured above cost between $350 - $650 (AUD) for large orders direct from the factory in China. Shipping, tax and marketing of these bicycle drives the cost up to anywhere between $1300 - $2300 (AUD) if you are to buy one direct from a shop or other retailer.
We hope that you've enjoyed reading through some of our picks of the current leaders in electric bicycles. We've included a few extras below that didn't quite make our list.
Matthew Timmins, April 2010
Rivaling the Cytronex electric bikes comes a range from BH Bikes of Spain, the E-motion series . They have a range of electric bikes costing approximately $2,500 to $3500 (AUD). Our favourite of their bunch, which is pictured above, is the “Sport Deluxe”. The manufacturers claim that in “eco” mode this bicycle has a range of 105 km. We’re not sure exactly how much pedalling that entails and whether you’d feel like travelling that far daily on a bicycle with a seat like that but it would eliminate the worry of running out of battery on that final home run up the hill or against the wind.
The main difference between the E-motion range of bicycles and other electric bicycles is the positioning of the motor. These bicycles have what is known as a crank motor, as opposed to a hub motor. The crank motor has the benefit of running through the gears, benefiting from the bicycle suspension, if any, and a better centre of gravity and balanced position. The downfalls are that energy is lost through the transmission system, the bike shape and dynamics are modified by elongating the distance between the two wheels and it is less pleasing and more noticeable to the eye. Having ridden both hub motors and crank motors there is definitely a feeling of “smoothness” that you get with the crank motor that is lacking with a hub motor. However, for the same rated motor wattage, I find that the hub motors have better power, torque and top speed. The benefits of using the gears are lost by inefficiencies of the gear system itself and electric motors on bicycles have no real need of gears, they're quite well electrically speed controlled. The future I believe will always come down to the most efficient use of energy and efficiently designed bicycle, which will be the hub motor – hopefully one day put in both wheels. The E-motion bicycles use Panasonic hybrid technology that actuates at the bottom bracket, There is a torque sensor that detects the force applied on the pedal and activates the motor, returning 50%, 100% or 130% of power depending on the mode. All together this is a very impressive electric bicycle and I’m sure riders would thoroughly enjoy it.
The Gocycle is like the Macintosh of small scale electric bicycles. The bike is Super well designed but only moderately practical. The bike is the creation of UK based company "Karbon Kinetics" in London. The frame set and wheels are injection moulded in magnesium using a process known as "thixomoulding". For a good look at this bicycle click here. This will take you to their website, it's a funky website that shows you some animations of many of the bikes vital parts. This bike is only available in European countries at the moment but may make its way to Australia soon. It sells for just over $3000(AUD).
This bike's key features are it's great design and the location of the battery within the cross bar frame where it is out of view and balances the weight well. The bicycle's main flaw in our view is the use of an inferior battery. They have opted for a 9 ah nickel metal hydride battery. These have increased weight and decreased life expectancy when compared to the better lithium ion batteries on the market. I have to imagine that an aftermarket lithium ion battery pack must come out for this electric bike in the future. They have 250 watt motors and using this battery is it only possible to get about an 8km range without pedalling, clearly not enough for many people - though this range can be extended to 20km by hard pedalling.
A review I found on the web said had this to say about them:
"The assist motor is engaged by pressing the red hutton to the left of the handlebars: the motor then kicks in after four turns of the pedals. I must admit I found this strange - it's those first four turns where you need assistance the most when accelerating off traffic lights, for example. I also noticed that the motor doesn't have a lot of torque at low speed - so if on a hill start you're still moving slowly, it will struggle to accelerate you. On the same hill, get up a bit of speed first and it will boost you up powerfully. It's also good to speed you up for longer stretches in traffic. The motor is quite noisy, but not so much as to be an embarrassment. It does have a loudish whine: other cyclists or pedestrians you overtake will definitely know you've engaged the motor and many looked round to see what it was."
Another electrical bicycle that we loved is Marr’s “Electrical Bicycle Beach Cruiser”. These are handmade in Southern California and simply look super cool and relaxing. We couldn’t get specs on the motor wattage and gearing but you can see a video of them in action by clicking here. One of the things that we like about this bike is that is leads the way for enthusiasts to convert their motor cycles or scooters into electric machines and possibly find a loop-hole in Australian law where they can pull out the existing combustion engines and replace them with electrical systems – while keeping them registered the whole time. You’d probably be looking at needing a motor in the 3000 - 5000 watt range and a decent battery system to power it for your daily commute. Another interesting idea would be to leave the combustion system in place and develop a hybrid motor cycle, front electrical hub engine and rear petrol power!
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