September 11, 2013
Electric Bikes Can Really Haul
In the United States, bicycles aren’t used nearly as much for commuting as in other parts of the world. In America bikes are enjoyed by children, ridden a bit on college campuses and urban types, or by cycling enthusiasts. Head to European, notably cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen and the picture is very different.
Fewer people have cars and the bicycle isn’t just an alternative method of transportation to get to work on a nice day – it is the way people do their shopping, take their kids to school and even buy fairly large items. For those who need to move a lot of stuff there is even a category known as “cargo bikes,” and this genre of bicycle is starting to appear in America.
However, even with adequate gearing and lighter frames there is only so much the leg might be able to move comfortably and for long distances. This is where the cargo bike could merge with another developing trend – namely the electric bike – or e-bike.
A number of companies have jumped on the e-bike band wagon in recent years, and these are not – as the name would suggest – fully motorized bikes. Instead this technology provide a motorized assist, so users pedal but get assistance to go the distance or climb a hill.
CNN reported this week that NTS Works is looking to combine the functionality of a cargo bike with just such an electric assist. The new 2×4 cargo bike can reportedly haul up to 100 pounds of goods and travel up to 20 miles an hour.
The bike was created by designer Neal Saiki, who hopes that it could catch on as a second vehicle for running errands and that it might be used by companies that look to deliver small packages – such as pizzas, flowers and things like fruit boxes. It could certainly benefit the bicycle messengers, except that it might cost more than most delivery people make in a month.
The bike has a price tag of $4,800, which is actually around the price of a consumer level road bike – the sort of racing bikes used in the Tour de France. In other words it might be the kind of bike you’d want to leave chained up for long periods of times.
And here is where Saiki is missing the point. In cities like New York and Chicago bike messengers use stripped down bikes – often fixed gears with no brakes (they stop by gradually easing back on the pedaling). This is because bike messengers and delivery people need a bike that has little that can break down and less that makes it a target for thieves.
So an urban bike this might not be, at least not until the theft and security issue can be addressed. Even locking the bike won’t solve all the problems because the parts – notably the battery – might still be a desirable target to thieves.
The bike could have uses in small towns and the suburbs where shops could deliver goods to one’s home. It could also benefit those who commute and have a secure place on both ends. For those who need to carry more than just a light bag the ability to carry up to 100 pounds could come in quite handy. This means a heavy laptop, files or samples from work can make a trip without feeling like a brick on the back.
CNN also noted that these bikes are not exactly for the lazy. So don’t expect this electric bike – or most for that matter – to do the work for you. There is no throttle but instead a sensor is there that detects when you are pedaling and offers assistance as you need it.
“It requires you to put some power into it and it’s the perfect workout, but you’re not exhausted,” Saiki told CNN. “I figure if you really don’t want to pedal, you should just buy an electric motorcycle.”