Anyone who has traversed up the bulbous convexity of a steep hill has made the sweaty decision that bicycles should come equipped with an alternative power source that does not involve leg muscles. Luckily the recent development of the e-bike, an electric bicycle that comes with a rechargeable battery-powered motor, has addressed this serious transportation concern. According to a 2014 report in The New York Times, e-bike sales are “surging” in Europe, with “250,000 e-bikes on the road in Switzerland and bike sales rising by over 9 percent in Netherlands”. Numerous start-ups in the Cambridge and Boston areas are looking to emulate the success of e-bike sales abroad, by engineering products that significantly reduce the physical exertion of riders while enabling an easy crossover from standard bikes to electric.
Superpedestrian, a Cambridge-based enterprise, creates a novel design for the e-bike called the Copenhagen Wheel. This technology involves no necessary hardware to install other than the wheel itself, and therefore fits on most standard bicycles. The wheel’s motor is operated by a lithium battery which manipulates the torque on the bike’s back wheel to propel the vehicle 20 mph via power assist. And the best part? The speed settings for the Copenhagen Wheel can be controlled by a smartphone app. Superpedestrian, born from a collaboration between MIT’s SENSEable City Lab and the City of Copenhagen, plans to release its first consumer models by the end of the year.
Evelo, another Cambridge-based company, was established a few years ago and advertises the “electrifying power” of its bicycles. Evelo bikes are equipped with Intelligent Pedal Assistance, which provides 3 options of riding with a mid-drive motor system. Further e-bike expansion is around the corner – Craigslist posts shared by the Boston Cyclists Union have hinted that another electric bike venue will be coming soon to Boston.
Undoubtedly, these e-bike businesses are looking to capitalize on the relatively strong biker culture that already exists in Cambridge, a demographic that spans college students maniacally racing to class, leisurely weekend cyclists, and daily commuters pedaling to offices. Thus far, e-bikes have garnered attention in the US as a transportation option for the elderly and people with limited mobility. However, The New York Times states that e-bikes still represent a “niche” in the US. For e-bikes to experience commercial success in Cambridge and elsewhere in the US, these start-ups need to reach a broad target market and encourage standard bike users to transition to the electric version.
The state of Massachusetts also has specific restrictions on motorized bicycles, that limit the speed of e-bikes to 25 mph and prohibit their usage on major highways or roadways where standard bicycles are not allowed. Another “speedbump” to e-bike sales might be price; the Copenhagen Wheel is priced at 799 dollars, and various Evelo models land at 2000 dollars. Certainly, there is fairness behind the upmarket price tag on e-bikes (remember the smartphone app?), but it is up to electric bike companies to market this rationale appealingly to consumers.
Regardless, for those cyclists who find pedaling to be tiresome and an exercise in redundancy…you now have your solution!