Sunday, April 27, 2014

More on e-bikes

More thinking and reading time.  Joined a couple of on-line forums.  A few observations:

  • If my yellow Hyundai is called Buttercup, and the RV is called The Beast, the e-bike if I get one will be called Harley.
  • As I noted yesterday, for some people the e-bike phenomenon is something of a movement;  some of the people I'm reading clearly want to cash in on what they see as a growth opportunity.   And it is growing.  One chart I saw showed that bicycle sales are pretty much constant in the last decade or so, but that e-bike sales have a very steep growth curve.  This is on a global basis, and that's a key part of understanding this.
  • In a compact urban environment which is pretty flat, and trips are pretty short, these are ideal.  And a lot of the world's population lives in places like that.  It's no accident that one of the bikes I'm considering seems to be made in Indonesia.  
  • There's something distinctly un-American about these critters.  Or maybe "un-Amurrican" would be more apt.  They're small, quiet, and for the most part don't earn you macho points.  So motorcycle people look down on them.  But so does a big segment of the bicycle crowd: they're (gasp!) motorized.  They don't go really fast.  So, in the few days that I've thought about this at all, I'm wondering if popularizing these may not face the challenges akin to selling soccer to an audience accustomed to American football.   
  • A good parallel for these might be to hybrid cars.  The Prius is a gas/electric hybrid.  These things are for the most part muscle/electric hybrids.  Although some are bicycles in appearance only, using pedals simply as a way to get started and put your feet, most provide a range of electric assistance from none (which is where you can be involuntarily if the battery depletes) to full.  Some actually seem to require muscle power to get up significant hills. 
  • I'm beginning to see these as examples of what I'm calling sophisticated simplicity.  There's a lot of engineering goes into motors, batteries, control systems, frame fabrication, brakes, gearshifts, and so on.  But the result is a fairly transparent machine; in many ways like cars used to be.  An average person can, it seems to me, understand how to do basic and even more-than-basic maintenance on a bicycle.  And because in many parts of the world bikes are owned by people who can't afford cars, they often do maintenance themselves because they must, not because they enjoy it. And they can.  
Maybe more thoughts in a while.

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