Electric bikes start to come of age

Less geeky looking, more attractive and sleek

A rash of recent electric bike launches have seen new technology leading to smaller motors and batteries, longer battery ranges – and lighter, sleeker bikes that are starting to look much more like non-electric bikes.     

Perhaps the least obviously electric bike is the Cytronex, powered by a 2kg battery housed in a ‘water bottle’ mounted in the frame bottle cage. It claims to be both the world’s lightest electric bike (17kg) and have the fastest recharge time of any E-bike (90 minutes). The unobtrusive front hub motor is fitted to standard Trek bikes and the battery also powers high quality Busch & Muller lights and a backlit bike computer, making it truly practical for night-time riding. You can ride it like a normal bike until you decide you need power, which is activated by pressing a button in the bar end. As long as you keep the power on by not braking, it will accelerate you up to the legal maximum of 15mph. There are both women’s and men’s options – based around the Trek 7.3FX (£995) and Trek 7300 (£1,045) respectively. Cytronex say the bike is aimed at younger professional users who want a truly practical alternative to commuting by car – a target market not previously associated with the UK electric bike scene. Test rides are available at the company’s base in Winchester.  

Whilst the battery used by Cytronex is a relatively small NiMH battery Kalkhoff bikes, new in the UK for 2008, use a Panasonic motor and battery system, the battery being lithium manganese and guaranteed for two years – this is especially important as previous bikes with lithium-based batteries had shown reliability problems and their capacity had deteriorated relatively quickly. Kalkhoff’s use a similar pedelec system to the highly regarded but no longer produced Giant Lafree, but with more energy-dense batteries.     

Powacycle have also recently launched exciting new technology to effectively extend the range of batteries by making them ‘stackable’. The Infineum electric bike allows lithium polymer batteries to be stack on top of each other – ad infinitum – on the rear rack. With a claimed ranger of 25 miles per battery this gives a huge potential range.  

Not to be left out of the act, Powabyke, traditionally makers of relatively heavy and cumbersome machines, have launched their lithium powered X-byke.

Over in pancake-flat Netherlands the electric bike market has truly exploded over the last couple of years. In 2007 sales doubled and there also looks to be a big sales increase on the cards again in 2008, with their most popular E-bike, the high-tech, high quality Sparta Ion, selling out early in the season.

“Again we are having a double digit growth in sales this year,” says Sparta MD Huub Snellen, “and it is expected to continue in 2009.” Snellen says the number of pedelecs sold in the Netherlands is currently growing so fast that it is undermining the sale of ‘normal’ bikes, so that the overall sale of bikes is slowing down. However, as pedelecs are sold at much higher prices than standard bikes dealer turnover is increasing to the tune of double digit percentages.

According to the latest estimates, 250,000 electric bikes were sold in Europe in 2007 of which 100,000 were sold in the Netherlands. Some industry experts believe E-bikes have the potential to occupy 25 to 30 percent of the bicycle market share in the Netherlands within the next 5 years.

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