Eurobike 2011: Smart's e-bike ready for mass production

Plus electric bike round-up

A recent trend among car companies has been the 'launch' of electric bikes. These often just seem to be marketing tools to sell cars, with pictures of concept bikes appearing in the press but no rideable version ever emerging. So we didn't hold our breath when Smart unveiled their take on the e-bike last year.

However, at this year's Eurobike trade show in Friedrichshafen, Germany the Mercedes-Benz subsidiary announced they were going into mass production of their latest design in association with new German e-bike company Grace.

Don't expect to see Smart e-bikes in your local bike shop any time soon, though – interested dealers flocking around the company's stand were told it would be sold through Smart car dealerships only and that the show was being used "to gauge the (bike) industry’s reaction to the bike".

While Smart's machine was the biggest news at Eurobike, plenty of other manufacturers had their own take on the electric bicycle – and this differed radically from nation to nation. In Germany, the market is dominated by practical machines from the likes of Kalkhoff, often bought by older cyclists. However, there's also demand for big, brutal, status symbol bikes, epitomised by PG-Bikes' limited edition BlackTrail, for people wanting €59,500 worth of "the most exclusive e-bike in the world". With a top speed of 62mph/100km/h, an on-board computer with OLED display and LED head and taillights built in, you have to ask yourself- is this more of a motorbike than a bicycle?

PG-Bikes' BlackTrail costs a shade under €60,000

Dutch electric bikes mirror their non-motorised ones – sit-up-and-beg but also with a large contingent of kiddie carriers and cargo bikes. A new electric transport bike from Van Raam caught BikeRadar’s eye – with room for eight children, the GoCab is designed to be used as a taxi service for tots attending afterschool activities.

New Dutch company TDR might be more familiar to readers when they learn it stands for Theo de Rooij – a highly respected racer but also sports director of the Rabobank cycling team during the Rasmussen affair. Together with Dutch friend Joop Schuiling – and partly inspired by the Cancellara rumours, it would seem – he's designed a motor system driving directly onto the bike crank and a frame to go with it, launched as the TDR Flux electric bike.

A quick test ride gives a very favourable impression – it's steady, smooth, quiet and comfortable (though you wouldn’t be winning any of the mountain stages of the Tour de France on it, even if motors were allowed). It also boasts a system appearing on a large number of bikes at the show – the NuVinci continuously variable automatic rear hub gear from Fallbrook Technologies, which now boasts an automatic shifting version. These are ingenious devices but, at least in these early days of the technology, are heavier, more complex and less efficient than most manual gear systems.

Another approach to (supposedly) automatic shifting was launched at Eurobike – JD Corporation’s Auto Gear Shifting unit was fitted to several electric bikes on the test course. Pedal along and seemingly by magic your gears move up and down with only a slight clunk and a small delay. Certainly clever, but time will tell if there's really a demand for the ‘get on and pedal’ electric bike.   

Nevi's titanium-framed electric mountain bike prototype

Italians are synonymous with the world of bike racing and titanium frame manufacturers Nevi epitomise that so we were surprised to see a prototype titanium electric mountain bike on their stand. According to the technical brains behind the project, Franco Cimatti, this motor is Nevi’s own design and will have the dream spec of combining 1kg of weight with 450W of power and will be made in Italy. The finished bike is projected to weigh around 14kg including its lithium-ion battery. 

UK individualism and entrepeneurship were in evidence at Cytronex, with the singlespeed Capo being dubbed the world’s lightest production electric bike. We took it for a spin on the Eurobike test track and were very impressed. Cytronex bikes are based around high quality standard bikes from the likes of Cannondale but founder Mark Searles was at the show to announce their intention to launch a retro-fit kit in 2012 that will be sold through bike shops.

The kit uses the excellent Nano front hub motor but all control electronics and the water-bottle battery are designed by Cytronex and made in the UK. Mark told BikeRadar the retrofit kit would be sleek in appearance with a minimum of components, ultra lightweight, installable in around an hour and designed so the bike looks and handles like it did before the system was fitted – but with the addition of smooth, silent, highly efficient power assistance.

Cytronex's Mark Searles explains his new Bad Boy model to potential customers

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