Evolving E-bike designs and technology changing the face of urban commuting

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These look cool and slick, but we grabbed a damn reasonable one from a shop in Chinatown, the same that sells to the delivery people. It’s a little tough, still, to find people who want to work on them for tune-ups and repairs, but It’s a sweet, smooth commute.

You can use the bike lane, but prepare for disain / downright hostility from the full-peddlers…at least for now, and at least in Brooklyn, the e-bike is persona non grata…


Census Bureau Reports 0.8 percent of Workers Commute by Bike in New York City
May 12, 2014
Release Number: CB14-R.06

Bicycling to Work
Download Bicycling to Work [PDF - <1.0 MB]

New York City had 0.8 percent of commuters bike to work, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today in a new brief focused on biking and walking to work. Nationally, 0.6 percent of workers commute by bike.

It’s a negligible portion of the commuting public. People seem to like public transport much better. And - everyone walks for their commute. Even if it’s just a small portion of it. Literally 17 times more people rely on walking alone than bikes.

Transportation Highlights for New York City

Among the 3,685,786 workers in New York, 55.6 percent took public transportation, 

0.8 percent biked, 10.3 percent walked, and 3.9 percent worked at home.

Much ado about a hobbyists option.


There’s no rack. What good is a commuter bike that can’t carry anything?

Actually, it does seem fairly slick, but as my own commute is only three miles across town, a motor isn’t really needed.


It’s a slick bike!

Still no good in the winter/rain/oppressive summer heat, though.

I live in Paris and bike everywhere. A bike that shiny is gonna get stole.

I have a friend with a piece-of-shit-looking bike that you have to look at very carefully before you notice the battery pack on the rear rack and the extra wiring running to the handlebars. If I was going to get an e-bike, it would be like that.


That’s the issue in Chicago as well.


But New York is not the only or even typical urban region - compare NYC’s 11.1% bike+walk to Amsterdam (48%), Copenhagen (65%) or even Ankara (22%).

(pg 61 [pagination] (pg 63 of the PDF), based on a 2009 survey)

eta: page 63 (pdf:65) is even better


the whole alternator/no mech drive from crank thing makes the crank seem extraneous.

if you can get 60km on a battery charge, then what’s the point of cranking? if the crank’s alternator can–with the energy from you pedaling one revolution–power the motor to where the rear wheel spins enough to ride, then that makes sense. or maybe a few revs to get things buffered. that would make it a motor-assisted bicycle, that is to say, if your battery dies, you can still ride it. i didn’t think those systems were efficient enough to do that, so i’m skeptical.

what the Mando seems like is an electric scooter with an optional exercise thing except now you get to use the bike lane. it seems like they’re marketing a scooter as a bike because bikes are more trendy now.


That looks nice and good range. While the Seattle wet weather doesn’t bother me I have to go across the ship canal and Lake Washington which make the route an even more of a hassle and honestly I get scared enough of the drivers not paying attention to OTHER CARS much less my 400cc twist and go I like to use whenever possible so commuting on that… nope.

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e-bikes struggled to gain widespread appeal, especially for the younger set. Boring, clunky designs, underperforming motors, and a general lack of coolness kept hipsters away.

I always assumed that it was because “e-bikes” were an unnecessary technology. And like any other, why does it need widespread appeal? If you struggle to get people to adopt it, isn’t it a likely reason that people simply don’t want or need the thing?

I have years of experience working as a cyclist, and also as a mechanic and (yuck) seller. What I find is that people often start by wanting a “comfortable” bike because they are out of shape. Most of them either:

  1. don’t use it once they have it.
  2. get in shape and find that their hybrid/upright bike isn’t comfortable anymore.

The reliability concerns are significant for me. Well-made bicycles are reliable precisely because they are simple, efficient machines. But over a couple hundred miles, they need maintenance to keep them running. And the further the extremes of weather and temperature are, the more maintenance they need. An e-bike might not be cost effective to maintain beyond use for very short trips, like urban commuting.

But such short trips would not result in lots of sweaty exertion on a regular bike! So what’s the benefit? The benefits would be tremendous for a person who had health issues which prevent them from pedalling a regular bicycle. But most others commute and yet struggle to even get sufficient exercise as things are. Avoiding sweat/effort isn’t going to help.

Also, a cyclist in good condition on a regular bicycle can be much faster than an e-bike, and use it in any weather.


Isn’t it different (in the U.S.) west of NYC where zoning decisions and investment in public transportation have created challenges for commuters who want to transition immediately from traditional cars without losing their jobs?

I love public transportation and also feel curious about electric bicycles which seem to align well with increasing support for transitioning to public transportation.

Open sourced “moddable” and retrofit kit options to convert existing bicycles … and also the emerging linux style support community are especially exciting.


I would really like to be able to use an e-bike but Mr. Newton is against it.

The distance to the nearest town centre is only one and a half miles, but this includes a long, steep hill. And a 250W e-bike is useless on hills.
The physics is simple. To be safe going up a hill one needs to be able to maintain around 10mph - about 5M/s in real units. The hill is 30M high. The 100kg of me + e-bike + what I went to get requires a total energy input of 30 kJ which at 5M/s requires a power output of 1kW. There is no legal UK e-bike that does anything like that. If I want to get to the far side of town, up a much steeper hill, I would need 1.5kW. You don’t really see any mopeds where we are because, although they are rated at around 2kW, the additional weight means that they can’t climb those hills at reasonable speed. To keep up safely with traffic, a proper commuter motorbike is really needed.
So, unless you happen to live on the flat bit and/or are under 40, e-bikes are useless (I have seen several people buy them and lose interest).
This doesn’t mean they are useless elsewhere, far from it, but explains why they are so popular in the Netherlands (where I once saw a hill sign for a bump 3M high), or flat parts of England like Cambridgeshire.


Can we start with a generic bike and upgrade the battery/controller/motor?

The motor would have to be replaced or at least rewound (thought: dual windings that can be connected in series or in parallel on demand, giving different motor characteristics). The battery may or may not give enough current as-is; may degrade faster when highly loaded, may be acceptable tradeoff, may require replacement. The controller’s brain is likely to work well but the output FET bank may need upgrade.

Start with a street-legal bike and nobody will be any wiser that it is converted to a higher power if such mod would make it illegal. (I saw a stealth e-bike design from somewhere in Canada where e-bikes weren’t legal, and all the batteries and motor were concealed in the saddlebags. Having certain models legal is already an advantage as the stealth doesn’t have to be perfect.)

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The first time you go up a hill around here you will get noticed. High population density.
And the sheer price of electric motorbikes makes them uneconomical.
Here in the UK government policy is to pretend to support alternative transport, but actually be as difficult and obstructive as possible to keep people buying cars. Even people who would benefit from the likes of Segways and electric mopeds - local police and post office workers, for instance - are not allowed to use them.

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The technology of footwear seems to have worked out these kinks. Bikes are fun - and I wouldn’t mind owning a good e-bike - but the price point and utility make them a hobby for me. After I win the lottery.


This bike costs $3,700 - that’s a lot of shoes and transit passes.


That’s the price of a lightly used vespa. Or two pairs of shoes for a dude like me that has vespa sized feet.


I’ll take a look at the e-car controllers and chargers and batteries I am consulting with now, and there may be some way to scale them down and make them cheaper and reuse something that started as expensive but got discarded.

There are even quite some BLDC motors that could be repurposed. Aircraft model people used to rewind the motors from CDROMs to get their birds to fly. I can see a motor from e.g. a less-obsolete fridge reused as an e-bike power plant.


Sometimes you have to take the risk. For that reason, it is good to keep the new electronics in the original housings and everything look like a stock, unmodded bike of an approved kind. Keep the mods hidden well enough that the thing can pass a cursory inspection; chance that a random cop is also an engineer, or even just not dumb enough to swallow a well-prepared story, is fairly low.

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