A Bike with Electric Power

Posted on March 26th, 2010 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

For these two days, I have an electric bike on test. The ‘test’ is ostensibly for me alone; a local dealer of electric bikes was offering a no-strings electric bike for a two day loan (“just give us plenty of feedback”) and I eagerly took up their offer.

The AUD$1399 bike is a Chinese-manufactured, purpose-built electric machine with seven Shimano derailleur gears, a 250 watt rear hub brushless motor, and a removable lithium-ion battery. The bike has a real-world range of well over 50 kilometres, the battery weighs about 5kg and takes five hours to recharge, and the control system allows twist-grip power-on-demand or you can set three different levels of assistance that kicks in whenever you pedal.

The electric system is quite effective but the bike itself is not so good. The front suspension forks offer plenty of stiction; I’ve seen them move only when subjected to at least 1g bumps. The wheelbase is long, the castor quite great – but, oddly, on loose surfaces you can easily provoke steering shimmy. The mechanical disc brakes growl and screech and grate, and I found the riding position rather uncomfortable. On the other hand, the carrier is well designed (it will take panniers without modification) and there are effective mudguards.

So what is the electric bike like in performance?

Firstly, the effect of the 250 watts is uncanny – compared to old fashioned electric bikes, the power is much stronger. I assume that’s because the hub motor has no losses in transmitting the torque to the tyre, but it may be that the power is actually greater than the stated figure. Set on Low, the power is obvious. On Medium the power is sufficient to propel you at 20 km/h, and on High the speed on the flat and without a headwind is 30 km/h. This is all with gentle pedalling – but rather than use this control, you can choose to not pedal and instead use the hand throttle (although I found this curiously unfulfilling).

My initial ride was out on a long country road, one that is largely flat but pocketed with small, sharp hills. It’s no use comparing the electric bike with and without the motor running – at 25kg, the electric bike outweighs any non-electric equivalent and so the comparison isn’t valid. Instead, you need to consider what another bike is like on this route.

Compared with the two pedal machines I’ve often ridden on this road (a Brompton folding bike and a self-built recumbent suspension trike) the electric machine was 50 to 100 percent faster – averaging a speed of something like 28 km/h. That was with my normal pedalling effort – the scenery simply flew past.

And up those short, steep hills? The electric bike was an amazingly three times as fast as my other machines, just rocketing up the hills with “where’s that hill?” nonchalance.

But after riding the bike for a few days, I didn’t want it. I ride for recreation, and so the pedalling effort is part of the enjoyment I get. Take that away, and a bike isn’t really a bike. However, for elderly people, or for those who do a daily commute (perhaps including some steep hills), an electric bike could both make the trip faster and allow it to be much longer.

Now, I wonder what this electric system would be like on a really good bike, or even a recumbent trike?

Switched on Cycles

You Can Help AutoSpeed Grow!

Posted on March 3rd, 2010 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

AutoSpeed was launched way back in 1998 – a grand venture in what was then the near-new medium of the Web. 

Unlike many other contemporary modified car and car technology websites, AutoSpeed has always been a commercial enterprise – paying staff members to not only prepare editorial content (words and pics) but also for layout and web hosting.

Over the 12 years, we’ve used a variety of financial models: from generating income by advertising revenue alone, through to paid member subscriptions – and then back to advertising revenue.

And of course, over that time the Web has also changed enormously.

Once, the idea of paying for content was seen (by some) as ludicrous – in fact, wasn’t it the whole idea of the Web that things should be available free? But over time, the idea that quality content doesn’t cost anything to produce has come to be realised as the mirage it is. Someone has to pay… and the revenue generated by web advertising alone is very unlikely to be sufficient to generate good content.

So what’s this about a cost to generate content? If you want good writers and photographers to produce quality material over a long period, they need to be paid. To put this another way, if those people are competent professionals, they’ll be able to earn decent money elsewhere – so why would they do it for nothing?

In fact, taking an average over widely differing research costs, and word and pic counts, a typical new AutoSpeed article costs about AUD$500 to produce.

In recent times we’ve dropped new content from two new articles a week to one new article per fortnight. We’ve also been running more material from other published sources. The reason for this decrease in new content is simple – not enough revenue.

The corollary is also pretty straightforward – more revenue equals more new articles.

But let’s be clear. AutoSpeed is not about to disappear from your screens. Our advertising revenue pays for hosting costs, and our readership numbers remain very strong. This is no ‘save AutoSpeed’ campaign, where if you don’t make a donation we’re gone.

So what is this all about? Simple – if you chose to make a financial donation to AutoSpeed, we’ll be able to produce more new content. For example, we could return to the format of one new article per week – or even two new articles per week.

If you’ve enjoyed AutoSpeed for a long time, or even if you’ve more recently been attracted to reading our content, consider making a donation. The amount you donate is up to you – but you can be sure that money will go directly to producing new content.

Go here to contribute.