Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Do e-bikes ease traffic congestion? With a little help ...

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  • Eediot,

    Despite my reluctance to support a sponsored post I did click the link but got a 401

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 51 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Eediot,

    Despite my reluctance to support a sponsored post I did click the link but got a 401

    Fixed now. The page moved.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    When I had a hole in my leg the eBike was great (cars are not at all convenient when you only need one for a month but don't already own one). I was hoping that my partner would take the opportunity to ride to work on it, but sadly her laziness triumphed yet again.

    What we're getting more of in Sydney is mostly off-road bike paths that are actually joined up. If you're willing to put up with occasional meanders you can cover quite significant distances without more than crossing roads. Assuming you're going where the paths go :) My commute is ~1/3 along a nice "river"-side path (said river being a concrete ditch, but the linear park is nice). More of that is good, as long as a little attention is paid to sight-lines and making the path wide enough to actually work as a shared path.

    One things that helps a lot in Sydney is lifts at railway stations. They put them in officially for wheelchair accessibility, but they work well for bikes that are too heavy to carry up stairs. It makes mixed-mode travel much more practical, if it's raining, or late at night, you just jump on the train.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1201 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Moz,

    One things that helps a lot in Sydney is lifts at railway stations. They put them in officially for wheelchair accessibility, but they work well for bikes that are too heavy to carry up stairs. It makes mixed-mode travel much more practical, if it’s raining, or late at night, you just jump on the train.

    Ah, that does sound handy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Gregor Ronald,

    I bought a SmartMotion eCity two years ago when I found my 13km commute across Christchurch was becoming a bit tough, especially on the return leg against the inevitable NE wind. I did 6500km on it over the last two years at work before I retired.

    Now I don't ride it so much, because I usually need to use the car for errands and shopping, trips to Bunnings, etc. But if I need to go into the CBD I wouldn't think of taking the car, the bike is far more versatile. I have kept my hybrid commuter bike for fitness riding in the weekends, but it doesn't get much use.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Hugh Wilson,

    I would think there is potential for e-bikes to ease congestion, but some serious scale is needed for that to occur – that said, and I don’t live in Auckland, Auckland’s traffic does have a terrible reputation and is certainly at the stage where a number of options need to be pursued (rail, bike lanes and the key one, road pricing)

    E-bikes seem to growing in popularity here, and seem like a great option for people with longer commutes, hills and/or limited appetite for arriving at their destination super sweaty. Like all things their design, weight and performance seem to have improved quite a lot in recent years

    Culturally there is quite a bit to be learnt from Japan – its not uncommon there to see bike parks ~ equal in size to 30 ‘carparks’, and they are totally full. Many Japanese bikes have a commuter style build making them more accessible for females, basket on the front and they have a built in lock on the rear wheel (along with stands) so theres none of that perpetual search for a pole, repositioning and then repositioning again because the bike slips, and then finally locking which happens here. Within cities like Osaka you can see entrances to bike parks on main thoroughfares, much like carparks here. And on entering train stations, there are gentler gradients to the stairwells with ramps than people can ride/wheel their bikes down – on the way up you can use a little travelator specially for your bike

    Melbourne • Since Feb 2013 • 164 posts Report Reply

  • Allan MacLachlan,

    An e-bike also influences my riding behaviour – I’m less likely to want to duck and dive, more likely to want my own lane.

    I'm curious as to why an e-bike changes your behaviour - is that because the bike is heavier than a non-ebike, or something inherent in the fact that you have power, so don't feel the need to duck and dive?

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • Zach Bagnall,

    What's the interaction like between e-bikes and traditional bikes in the lanes?

    When I was cycling in London last year you'd see the odd one, maybe once a week so no big deal, but they had a trial period with motorbikes allowed in the bus lanes along with bicycles which was pretty contentious due to the speed differential.

    Colorado • Since Nov 2006 • 120 posts Report Reply

  • Allan MacLachlan, in reply to Zach Bagnall,

    Only ego deflation on the part of those of us on unpowered bikes - I recall after a gruelling training ride over Scenic Drive catching up to an e-bike at an intersection on the NorthWest Cycleway. I couldn't keep up to this guy on his "sit-up-and-beg" e-bike into a biting wind. Probably consoled myself with the last muesli biscuit bar on the final push home.
    The speed differential is not that great, if at all as, aren't e-bikes speed limited in some way?
    My own attitude is that I'm very happy to see other cyclists out and about, and I don't care what bike you've got, or what they look like.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Zach Bagnall,

    What’s the interaction like between e-bikes and traditional bikes in the lanes?

    In Wellington, when I cycle round the bays I pass maybe 70% of commuter bikes, and get passed by a lot of the roadies, so e-bikes aren't that exceptional as far as speed goes. Although the bike lane (when it's there) is really only one bike wide, when I'm passing someone I usually can do so without having to compete with cars at the same time. I bought a mirror so I can check who's behind me before I try to pass.

    (Quite frequently, when there's a headwind, I'll get a roady tuck in behind me to slipstream, occasionally encouraging me "Go faster!")

    The most irritating thing is that it's quite difficult to consistently travel at much lower than my standard cruise speed, so when there's congestion I'm continually going pedal-coast-pedal-coast until it's safe to pass, which gets me out of my rhythm.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Allan MacLachlan,

    The speed differential is not that great, if at all as, aren’t e-bikes speed limited in some way?

    My understanding is that they're limited in the power output before Land Transport call them a motorbike.
    Mine isn't speed limited, but if I want to go faster I have to pedal harder, and the gearing doesn't really support going much more than 5kmh faster than my cruising speed.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Stephen R,

    Sounds like a great reason for their being open source and software controlled.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Crossing the street here today in Shenzhen I dodged more ebikes in 2 minutes than I see in NZ in a month .....

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2609 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Sounds like a great reason for their being open source and software controlled.

    Might that lead to an extra layer of complexity? While I'm not up with the exotic $3000+ "lifestyle" bikes, the controller circuitry of your standard Chinese ebike, of which the SmartMotion appears to be typical, amounts to only a few dollars worth of electronics.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Sounds like a great reason for their being open source and software controlled.

    There is the Copenhagen wheel which is controlled from your smartphone (but isn't open source.)
    It basically turns your bike into a pedal assist e-bike for around US$1000, but isn't in commercial production yet (I think it's been delivered to some of the kickstarter backers, and the company spun off to commercialise it has sued some patent infringement lawsuits against competitors)

    I'm not sure why my bike is particular evidence for the failings of commercial versions, since the way it works is a bunch of compromises between how long the battery lasts, how much peddling you want to do, and how fast you want to go. I have reasonable control over those things now, by varying how much battery assist I want (I usually pick 4 out of 5), and how much I pedal.

    I'm not sure how changing the software will change those choices.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I was jesting - having an open source software bike would let you change MAX_SPEED=20 to something more exciting...

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Allan MacLachlan,

    I’m curious as to why an e-bike changes your behaviour – is that because the bike is heavier than a non-ebike, or something inherent in the fact that you have power, so don’t feel the need to duck and dive?

    It's way heavier than my nippy little standard bike. And feels more like a vehicle that warrants its own lane. I'm less inclined to nip through gaps etc.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I was jesting – having an open source software bike would let you change MAX_SPEED=20 to something more exciting…

    At present, there's no limit on speed like there is in Europe. Thus, imported European e-bikes are all limited to 25km/h (at which point the assist drops out), but not local models.

    But there is an official limit of 300W of power output.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Attachment

    This might have something to do with the popularity of e-bikes in certain European countries.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22761 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    But there is an official limit of 300W of power output.

    I'm not aware of any actual testing regime for that, though.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    My gut feeling is that e-bikes create a form of user, rather than converting one. By making it possible to make more discretionary bike trips for more people, that is likely to be the main outcome. If the trip was something they'd have done in a car, there is probably a reason for that, and a bike is unlikely to displace that. But people might actually enjoy e-biking and do it more.

    Possibly in the longer run it could displace some part of car usage, probably just for commuters, in a way that an ordinary push bike doesn't already do. But I'd think the main barriers to a larger flood of people using it is the lack of cycling infrastructure - an e-bike rider who was not already a confident pushbike rider is likely to be very fearful of the dangers in traffic (and rightly so). More proper separated cycleways would go a long way to alleviating this.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to BenWilson,

    But there is an official limit of 300W of power output.

    I'm not aware of any actual testing regime for that, though.

    As far as I'm aware there's no requirement for dealers to gain approval for a specific model of bike before offering it for sale. There are claims that many bikes are effectively "underclocked" power-wise, and can be significantly boosted simply by swapping the inexpensive controller. Naturally it would help to know what you're doing.

    One importer, an electrical engineer who's since sold his operation, discovered that, while the innards of the direct drive motor from the folding bike he was importing were different from his standard models, they bolted straight in, resulting in a 500w+ bike. While he never advertised such a beast he did share the info for the edification of his customers.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    There are claims that many bikes are effectively “underclocked” power-wise, and can be significantly boosted simply by swapping the inexpensive controller. Naturally it would help to know what you’re doing.

    Yup, and there's a whole enthusiasts industry in rewinding your engine. You can make an electric engine more powerful just by rewinding the armatures to have more coils. This is, however, a very tedious and tricky business.

    There is significant danger in this, of course. A push bike is not designed to be powered like a scooter. Every aspect of it's design specification is being pushed. The closer it gets to a motorbike, the more it should be regulated as if it actually is a motorbike. A 500W motor is capable of pushing you along at a steady 50km/h. You really should be wearing a better helmet, and getting your bike very regularly checked for basic safety. Probably a vehicle like that should have indicators.

    I had an electric bike like that once. I got it road certified by VTNZ as a Moped, which is pretty much what it was. I was meant to wear a real motorbike helmet, but actually I just wore a skiing helmet (which was very similar anyway, but without certification). That was a mere 300W and it pushed me along at 30km/h easily on the flat.

    It was not my favourite electric bike. Because essentially it was not a bike. It was a very crappy moped. If I'm going to wear a motorbike helmet, and ride something that's a bitch to pedal if it loses power, it might as well be something that can actually do the speed limit and has unlimited range (and yet still a tiny, tiny gas bill).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to BenWilson,

    There is significant danger in this, of course.

    The consequences can be tragic.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to BenWilson,

    My gut feeling is that e-bikes create a form of user, rather than converting one.

    Speaking for myself and my wife, I hadn't ridden a bicycle for 10 years before I got the e-bike (pretty much since I left Christchurch and moved to Wellington). My wife had bought a manual bike a couple of years beforehand intending to commute on it, but the hill at the end of the trip home meant she never did it more than a couple of times.

    Since I got it, when the weather's nice and we don't have plans after work that require travelling somewhere else, I'll bike. So in summer that's about 2-4 times a week in Wellington :) That's enough that half way through summer I'm fit enough that I'd ride a manual bike if I had one, but I'm not quite keen enough to go buy one on the strength of that.

    If I'm not biking, it's still cheaper (and way more convenient) to take the car in and pay parking than catch the bus for two people.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

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