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The Year of the E-Bicycle

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the daisy-daisy dept.

Transportation 494

theodp writes "Electric bicycles have been around for more than a century, but they have never quite captured the imagination of auto-obsessed Americans. That may be about to change. At CES this month, Sanyo showed off its sleek, lightweight Eneloop Hybrid Bicycle. Priced at $2,300, the e-bike sports a black lithium-ion battery strapped to the frame beneath the seat. Press a button on the left handlebar, and a 250-watt motor kicks in, providing about twice as much power as your own pedaling. Some basic e-bike models, like the Ezip Trailz can be had for as low as $500. Both Trek and Schwinn began selling e-bikes last year, and Best Buy is offering e-bikes in three test markets: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland, OR."

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494 comments

Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (5, Informative)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816860)

I love the idea of using one of these bikes for my daily commute to work and back, however they don't come anywhere close to solving the beer bottles from pickups aimed at cyclist problem, or the Houston has no safe way to ride a bike much of anywhere problem.

I love to ride my bike, but Houston is a city built by politicians with pockets lined from oil companies. The oil companies decided people in Houston should drive individual cars to get around and dammit, the politicians not only saw that it happened, they made sure the public transit system sucked as well. Sure there's a great bus to get downtown and back, but you still have to drive locally to the bus stop, even if it's only a mile or two away unless you want to become road pizza. Then it's only to downtown, not across town. You can go around your area, you can go downtown, but getting from one area of Houston to another isn't easy, and unlike Phoenix and certain other cities putting a bike on a bus is hit and miss. Some drivers forbid it if they don't have a bike rack and bike racks are rare.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816886)

It's actually surprising that big oil hasn't managed to ban bicycling yet. I suspect that something similar to the big media vs. file sharing situation will arise. As bicycles increase in popularity, auto and oil companies will begin buying laws that first restrict, then outright ban bicycle use.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (3, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816908)

Do you really have problems with people throwing beer bottles at you?

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (5, Informative)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816996)

Yes, and people sticking their hands out the window trying to smack you on a high speed drive by, and attempting to side swipe you. This is worse in the FM 1960 area where I used to live as opposed to the Clear Lake area where I now live. The Clear Lake area has a bit higher class of people around.

Neither is bike friendly as both areas are built by the same Houston. I saw a guy in an electric wheelchair get stranded off of FM 270 about a year and half ago do to lack of good ways to get around, I was in the process of making my way over to help him out when someone beat me to it. There are NO sidewalks in most areas. Bike lanes are a rarity and qualify more as a vehicle sprawl lane for our many commercial vehicles, a good percentage of which are driven by unlicensed illegal immigrants.

Just try to use one of these to get around random parts of Houston - not isolated to JUST the Montrose, downtown, or historical/old areas. I hear people argue they have no problem getting around a few areas of Houston, especially the older areas, but not everyone lives in these areas nor are they the destinations for everyone.

Show me someone willing to commit to using one of these to commute Houston without limiting their travel horizons for a year and I'll show you someone who wont be alive in a year to claim their prize.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1, Insightful)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817118)

Thanks -- you've reminded me of why I don't leave Austin unless the destination is out-of-state.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (4, Informative)

Animaether (411575) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817160)

Having been to Houston as a tourist, I find parents' notes to be absolutely true.

Not only do motorists freak out if there's somebody on a bicycle on their streets (and unless it's a highway/etc., that should be perfectly legal - share the road, dammit) and use any existing bicycle lanes as just more room for them to zigzag all over the place... ...there's almost no sidewalks! Okay, that's not true, there's plenty. But a lot of them just suddenly end with nowhere in particular to go next.
I couldn't legally walk from my hotel to The Galleria (just 1.6 miles) because the sidewalk just -ends- after the last commercial store (a garden center)'s plot it straddles. The -only- way to walk there via the 1.6 mile route was by crossing freeways, walking through an interstate (I-10) underpass, crossing a road on a bend (speeding car surprise special *every time*) then walking through a bunch of muddy (sprinkler over-use) grass (by a rug store), before finally there were businesses again and - surprise, surprise - sidewalks.
If I were to maximize actual sidewalk usage instead - ignoring the spots where there's no sidewalk - it's a 4.3 mile route. wtf.
( virtual cookies for whoever can identify the spot on google maps )

People thought I was nuts for even attempting to walk there... suggesting that I should go rent a car. "For 1.7 miles? really? holy crap.", I thought. Then I started looking more closely as I was driven around by friends and it became clear to me as well that Houston was practically built around the idea that everybody and-I-do-mean-EVERYBODY has a car. It's evident from the clear lack of respect for cyclists and pedestrians - both by the majority of the people and by the city itself, courtesy of its lack of proper infrastructure for these groups. I mentioned that there are plenty of sidewalks... well, of sorts anyway; they were all concrete abominations that were crooked, cracked, and grown through by weeds.. so those who do like to walk are probably discouraged from that as well as you're likely to eventually trip and faceplant.

For me, within a city, it is absolutely insane that it would be an easier and shorter trip for a motorist than for a pedestrian.

Now, Seattle on the other hand.. completely different story - and with the odd hill here and there, and longer treks to get around the sound/bay, I suspect the e-bike could come in quite handy and not be a death-magnet.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817272)

Isn't this problem part of the reason why all you Americans carry guns? Let em have it. Self-defence.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816910)

And even if you do survive the trip, there's no where safe to lock it up ... I'm waiting for the workable wheeled vehicle that I can fit in a backpack.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817022)

And even if you do survive the trip, there's no where safe to lock it up ... I'm waiting for the workable wheeled vehicle that I can fit in a backpack.

Try a razor-style scooter! It's so fast and efficient! Once you start scoo-muting you'll never turn back. I take mine into my office, restaurants, cinemas, on dates... all the while looking resplendent in my bright-green bike gloves. It's the way of the high-density urban future!

(posted anonymously to preserve the last remaining tatters of my dignity)

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (3, Informative)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817058)

Try Houston - a low-density urban sprawl city.

We have a huge city, with a few acres of land here and there with cattle roaming all over the place. Your Razor scooter wouldn't have enough power to get me past one of these mini-ranches, not to mention the fact there's no safe place to ride it. If I can't ride a bike safely just a couple of miles anywhere I need to go I certainly can't ride one of those.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817126)

That is almost workable - at, least, the human powered versions (I don't think the electric ones meet the backpack criteria).

It seems like the those scooters are really good for the niche that the Segway tried to hit.

Issues: you need really good roads (the wheels are kinda small), they're often banned on both the road and the sidewalk, and then there's that image problem you allude to :-)

Sounds like a nice place to live (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816916)

Here in Austin the frapping bikers are everywhere. It would be so much nicer if they'd stick to areas with bike lanes, parks, etc, rather than making their political point and stressing everybody out trying not to kill them. Get off the road!

Re:Sounds like a nice place to live (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816970)

Yeah, cause those bike lanes and parks connect to where folks need to go. How dare these people use public roads for transportation!

(I know, don't feed the immature trolls ...)

Re:Sounds like a nice place to live (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817030)

Bikes are for fun. Cars are for getting where you need to go. What century do you live in?

Re:Sounds like a nice place to live (1)

sfcat (872532) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817062)

Do you really have problems with people throwing beer bottles at you?

Does this comment answer your question?

Here in Austin the frapping bikers are everywhere. It would be so much nicer if they'd stick to areas with bike lanes, parks, etc, rather than making their political point and stressing everybody out trying not to kill them. Get off the road!

Drivers are very impatient when it comes to cyclists and don't care if there are no available bike lanes which push cyclists onto the roads with faster traffic. In my experience, most drivers are very impatient and don't even want to wait on cyclists when it won't effect their arrival time. I've seen it get downright nasty even here in San Francisco (to the point of violence in some cases). The truth is that bikes are only practical in certain places, usually very dense population centers. And even there, there is generally quite a lot of friction between drivers and cyclists. Because of the anger among the cyclists, Critical Mass [critical-mass.info] was started which generally only pisses off the drivers but also is a lot of fun.

And riding a bike in some locations does have a certain amount of cultural cashe (and yes, will even get you laid). The fact that an bike expert doesn't know this says more about the article's lack of research than anything.

Re:Sounds like a nice place to live (4, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817108)

Because of the anger among the cyclists, Critical Mass was started which generally only pisses off the drivers but also is a lot of fun.

And you wonder why so many drivers get pissed off to the point of violence? Golly gee, I can't imagine how that could happen.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816988)

Europe seems to be leading the way in bike paths. There's no less than a dozen cities that have dedicated bike paths going all around them. I don't know any of their names, but Europe keeps coming up in documentaries and articles about green city designs.

A quick trip to google for some proof... http://www.wired.com/autopia/2007/11/where-are-the-m/ [wired.com]

Documentary example: http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/Shows/The_Nature_of_Things/ID=1233750794 [www.cbc.ca] (may only work in Canada)

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817006)

For that Wired Article, I nominate Houston for the counter point of that article. Probably not #1, but it should be on that list.

Most of the cities I have in mind for being worse than Houston are affected more by bullets that civil design.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (2)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817094)

Leiden in Netherlands is a great example - even truck drivers on "right of way" roads will sometime yield to bicycles. As a side note, most of the kids come to school on bycicles (in a neighbouring village, 1 mile away though - I don't know about the city center).

      This is the level of "friendliness to bycicles" that is necessary for everyone to start thinking about using a bike - when you let your kid go to school on a bike.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817198)

This is the level of "friendliness to bycicles" that is necessary for everyone to start thinking about using a bike - when you let your kid go to school on a bike.

Most of us road our bikes to school by 4th grade here in San Diego.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817220)

even truck drivers on "right of way" roads will sometime yield to bicycles

I've had the rather intimidating experience of 'dragging' an 13(?)-meter truck behind me for about 4 miles of twisty, windy and rain covered roads in the local area. The road in question has about 30 cm of shoulder before becoming a rather steep hill ending in a lake, and at the time there was very heavy traffic in the oncoming direction.

I look over my shoulder an notice the truck about three seconds behind me and a driver who was very obvious in looking at me and the road. Not angry or annoyed, just very very attentive. When the traffic finally allowed him to overtake, he seemed to fall back further before pulling completely into the opposite lane in what seemed like an attempt to keep from knocking me over with the turbulence.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817262)

Assuming we're talking about twisty and windy road, the driver fell back to have some space to accelerate, and went into opposite lane not because its speed was so great, but fearing of your (not specifically yours, but you know what I mean) tendency to not keep a straight line.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

lanswitch (705539) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817238)

The cyclists in Leidem are maniacs. They don't pay attention to other traffic, violate all traffic rules and sometimes seem suicidal in the way they behave in traffic. That's why truckdrivers sometimes stop for bycicles. They want to keep their truck clean.
I know this to be true because I'm one of the cyclists there.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817026)

"Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem."

So, you vote in people that will make Houston friendly for bicycles. Or you relocate to somewhere that is friendly for bicycles. Or you stay resigned to using a car for every trip, eating up more and more of your salary as gasoline and other expenses increase over time.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817050)

[agh, accidental click on the post button, and no edit]

BTW, one-two miles to the bus station. About 2 kilometers or so? That you can walk in 20 minutes? No need for a bike, just use your legs. I walk longer than that to the local train stop every morning and night.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817124)

Walking does not fix the beer bottles aimed at pedestrians problem, nor the no sidewalks problem with fences that go right up to the curb on incredibly busy streets problem.

I'm not saying there's no way to walk from point A to point B, but if you're talking in Kilometers you're probably thinking European, which is a lot different than thinking urban sprawl in a city designed by drunk monkeys.

In the Houston area if your starting point is 1 mile from your ending point by car there's a good chance to get there on foot anywhere near safely you will have to walk 8 miles to get there or more. Often, many destinations are "road locked" meaning there is NO safe way to get there under human power. I've crossed freeways on foot before, I've crossed no-pedestrian areas on foot before, I've trespassed before just so I can get from point A to point B in under an hour. I did all of that in Baton Rouge which is bad, but still not as bad as Houston.

It's not a matter of lazy, at least not for everyone.

Your vote reference, ever see the Southpark episode about voting for Giant Douche or Turd Sandwich? That's about it.

Leaving the Houston area, I wont get into why I'm pretty much stuck here for the time being. I work at the Johnson Space Center for one of the good reasons that isn't to personal, but that's not all of them. If I can move just a little closer to work I can get there safely, there's a pocket area surrounding the space center that is semi pedestrian/bike friendly, that stretches to U of H, but doesn't go much beyond that and only in one direction.

The U.S. is nothing like Europe. Most of Europe is old construction with old ideas in mind when new construction is built. Too much of the U.S. was built during an era of obstreperousness that saw automobiles as the wave of the future and the old ways as being no longer relevant. Most U.S. cities have pocket areas where old areas are biking/walking friendly and 1960's to modern decade construction that isn't.

Good news, much, but not all new construction takes into account the whole cars only thing was a bad idea and they are trying to change it back. The bad news is most urban sprawl construction was 60's, 70's, and 80's.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817168)

wow, I should have double checked my spell checkers suggestion: that was prosperousness not obstreperousness. I had to look up obstreperousness to figure out what that even meant.

Re:Great, still doesn't fix the Houston problem. (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817260)

however they don't come anywhere close to solving the beer bottles from pickups aimed at cyclist problem

Wear some sort of high visibility industrial work shirt instead of lycra. They will think you are just on the bike because you've been caught drinking and driving and lost your licence. People like to pick on those they see as different.
I'm not picking on the Texas rednecks here. Where I am the necks are probably redder and the industrial shirt trick works.

Why not just buy a motorcycle? (5, Interesting)

Rix (54095) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816864)

The price point for these seems way off.

Re:Why not just buy a motorcycle? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816896)

Because it is a power-assist, not a power-drive system, hence you don't need a license, at least in Japan.

Re:Why not just buy a motorcycle? (2, Informative)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817098)

There are places where you can drive a low power scooter without a license, but you still have to register it and pay taxes for it.
    However, bikes are not registered nor taxed.

Re:Why not just buy a motorcycle? (0, Troll)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816920)

Yeah, you can get a Honda Metropolitan for less than $2000. It's less eco-friendly, but also less gay looking, more useful and has a higher resale value. The downside I guess is that you can't really get away with riding a scooter on the sidewalk.

Re:Why not just buy a motorcycle? (4, Interesting)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816958)

For one thing -- exercise!

I own a 2009 Optibike 850 -- an expensive toy, sure, but my pride and joy. It gets me to work and back in less time than driving followed by a gym session would require (and much less time than taking an unassisted bike both ways, which I've started doing on occasion as well), while being great exercise -- the way the Opti is geared encourages the rider to pedal along with a cadence in the 85-90 area, and my cholesterol and waistline are both way down since I dropped the car from commute duty.

I also like being able to take my ride inside the office with me rather than needing to fight for parking. (Motorcycle parking is close to the building too, so not a big deal when I ride my scooter... but getting a chance to work out on my way to and from work makes all the difference in the world in terms of stress, and having the workout be part of my commute means I stay with it).

Re:Why not just buy a motorcycle? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817070)

a) They're relatively new and not a mass market product yet. Prices will come down. They're basically normal bicycles with a hub motor and a battery. You can DIY if you want: Kits are available on eBay.
b) Electric bicycles are almost silent.
c) No license requirement (don't know if this is the case in the USA, but in Germany they're in the same group as bicycles if they only apply engine power when the cyclist pedals.)
d) Motorcycles need gas, e-bicycles need electricity. You can make your own electricity, but killing dinosaurs to make gas is bit of a challenge.

Re:Why not just buy a motorcycle? (1)

DeadRat4life (1638391) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817214)

because these are for people that want to look green by riding their bike without actually having to ride it. I prefer getting around on my own power, not a engine, and certainly not a motor attached to a bike with inefficient geometry.

Re:Why not just buy a motorcycle? (1)

j_sp_r (656354) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817224)

A high-end bicycle costs you around E1000,-. This including baggage rack, lighting, locks and in-hub for the gears and dynamo. Adding some batteries to it, it becomes a bit more expensive (E1500,- I think). They've been around for years and replaced the bicycle with combustion engine.

2300? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816876)

I paid less than that for a used motorcycle *shrug*
No thanks.

best quote (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816888)

I'm pretty skeptical about the ebike thing, I'm sure some people will find a use for it, but this quote from the article was eye-opening about cultural differences:

In China, riding an electric bike conveys professional achievement, even a certain degree of wealth. People in the United States, said Ed Benjamin, an independent consultant in the bike business, don't quite know whether these bikes are fashionable. The e-bike is "an ambiguous statement," Mr. Benjamin said.

I'm not entirely sure what the cultural significance of that is, but it must mean something.

Re:best quote (1)

Techman83 (949264) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816948)

Is it just me, but the only bikes I could see on that site all appeared to be "Girl/Female" bikes with a step through design.

Personally the whole concept of the "Male" and "Female" designs boggle my mind, why is it that one with the balls gets the one with the bar? (I understand the whole dress thing on the female bike design, which is where I'm lead to believe it came from..)

Re:best quote (3, Interesting)

JanneM (7445) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817064)

Personally the whole concept of the "Male" and "Female" designs boggle my mind, why is it that one with the balls gets the one with the bar?

It's a local cultural thing. We had that distinction in Sweden too, while here in Japan everyone uses step-through or halfway-bar type bikes (like mountain bikes) for normal everyday use. High-bar bicycles are only for racing bikes used by people dressed in bright nylon tights and oddly-colored sunglasses.

Re:best quote (1)

Techman83 (949264) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817092)

people dressed in bright nylon tights and oddly-colored sunglasses.

*shudder*, that should be banned!

Re:best quote (2, Interesting)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817082)

There is a direct correlation between the number of bicycle injuries and whether the bicycle is a "male" bike (with a top bar) or "female" (step-through). Of course the relationship is not perfectly linear, because there are other kinds of injuries too, such as head injuries from falling off. But the fact is that the "ladies" design, while not structurally as stiff, is safer all around.

Re:best quote (1)

Techman83 (949264) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817150)

I can attest to that, Racing Bike + Too Short for it + Bad Shoes + Pot Hole = crying 12 year old!

Re:best quote (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817130)

The "male" models (the diamond frame) is stronger and more rigid for the same mass. On the other side, many MTB frames (even dedicated "male" frames) have a lower horizontal bar (or an oblique top bar)

Re:best quote (1)

Animaether (411575) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817228)

I ride a 'female' design bike - it's much easier to get up on / off of, which is rather useful when you're doing any off-roading and need a speedy dismount (I prefer my bike crashing without me on it). Just watch some off-road biking accidents footage.. guys trying to jump off their bikes only to have their foot get caught behind that crossbeam. funny stuff.

The only -practical- downside I've found is that you can't rest it against lightposts/thin trees - it'll just fall over :)

Overall, though, the 'male' model is pretty much going extinct outside of sports bikes (be that the aforementioned off-road or tour-de-france style skinnies)

That said - there's certainly male models of e-bikes;
http://www.ezeebike.com/Forte_product.htm [ezeebike.com] (seriously slow website)
http://www.sparta.nl/NL/Fiets.aspx?Id=4414442 [sparta.nl] (change the 'Dames' dropdown to 'Heren')

Re:best quote (1)

j_sp_r (656354) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817236)

You can carry a girl on the horizontal bar. (and on the bagage rack and if you're really skillful you can add one on the steer)

Re:best quote (2, Interesting)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817116)

The ebike thing is perfect when you have some steep hills on the way - instead of chugging along at a walking pace and getting to the top all sweaty, you let the electric motor work, go faster and aren't tired and sweaty at the end.
      Also, the assist from the electric motor allows you to go faster and farther, so you're able to use it in more cases than usual. You can also carry more weight (shopping trip) without effort.

Re:best quote (1)

plasticsquirrel (637166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817244)

In most places those bikes are cheap even for the average person. Only the truly poor people would have any problems getting one, as they are only $200. It's cars that are the real status symbol, and people are so proud that they won't even buy a used car. The only acceptable car is a brand new car (think $50,000-75,000 in equivalent U.S. value), often a nice BMW or similar luxury European car. They will even borrow money from family and friends, but usually not a bank (that's looked down upon), all so they can buy something new and special to show off. The way cars and clothes are used as status symbols here is terrible. If you want to see vanity at its worst, come to China and look at the rich people. I don't even feel comfortable around the middle class people, really.

Re:best quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817256)

I've lived in China for 5 years and these things are pretty much standard for anyone (hundreds of millions of people...not kidding) who doesn't have a car or needs the extra push of a real motor bike.

      It's a little funny to see how far usa is behind the times.

Old (5, Insightful)

ZirconCode (1477363) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816890)

We had those here (Japan) for 5 years now, they're quite popular in rural areas or for shopping but otherwise everyone takes the train.

Re:Old (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816932)

Train.

A train would be nice. Coast to coast bullet trains would be awesome in the US. A Northern Route, a Southern Route, and some North and South bound routes. Heck, the Northern and Southern route could be the same trains making a big circle and the North and South bound routes could be smaller circles bridging the line. Amtrak is a joke, and we as Americans should take issue with the French having awesome train when we don't have one - we don't let them show us up on anything else, why do we allow them to do it on this?

I think we could do it without spending much tax money at all if we just spend the tax money to clear the paper trail for private developers and investors to get in on the deal. Personally I would prefer a good high speed train setup over the airline industry.

Re:Old (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816962)

We had those here (Japan) for 5 years now, they're quite popular in rural areas or for shopping but otherwise everyone takes the train.

In Germany, I'm sure many people would love to have something that they could take on and off the train, to make the medium-distance trips from station to destination. Traditional bikes are already a hassle and few carriages allow something like that.

Folding bikes are often crap, scooters are too big, an electric folding bike might be popular here. Of course, getting everything down to size...

Cars are a hassle and expensive to maintain and park. There just needs to be something that complements trains, not to replace them or anything.

As for the states, the only real bicycling culture are in the biggest cities. Mass Transit is nearly non-existent outside of that or just more hassle than it's worth. It's better to buy a $2300 car than this for 99.999% of cases.

Laziness! Now in disguise! (1)

Engeekneer (1564917) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816906)

So, this will mean people will sit on their assess, riding the electric bike and go "oh, that was some good exercise, now I can eat a tub of chocolate ice-cream since I burned all those calories". Then they bitch everywhere that they can't lose weight no matte rhow much they exercise.

Not that I'm against electric bikes, that would make a 15km trip to work enjoyable, without too much sweat on the way there. But I fear laziness will win for most people.

Re:Laziness! Now in disguise! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816942)

Nice stereotyping. What's wrong with laziness, anyway? One of the virtues of a good programmer.

Re:Laziness! Now in disguise! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816950)

What the hell? A bicycle is firstly a cheap means of transport, and secondly a way to exercise while you get from point A to point B. This has just made the bicycle more economical. I'm sure that the people who need exercise would not bitch about not losing calories while cycling. It'd be like bitching that walking doesn't make you any fitter.

Re:Laziness! Now in disguise! (1)

ianezz (31449) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817048)

It's not just laziness: in the town where I live (northern Italy) half of the residential areas are on hills, while offices and factories are on the bottom of the valley, with level differences of 200-400m. Electric bycicles are quite popular among middle-aged people (and I'd say also younger ones), because they allow them to ride to work for the most part of the year. An healty man in its thirties has few reasons to buy an electric bike, but things change once you get older.

Re:Laziness! Now in disguise! (3, Interesting)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817060)

Not all ebikes are built alike.

I ride a mid-drive bike. The motor (built into the bottom bracket) is optimized to work with a rider pedaling with a cadence in the 85-90 range, and the bike just doesn't feel right unless you're working along with it. Indeed, one proponent of a competing product has made a point online of calling us "Optibike huffers", referring (I presume) to our tendency to be getting enough of a workout to be panting at the end of a ride. (My commutes are fast, and fun... but not by any means sweat-free; thankfully, work has showers).

My heart rate is regularly in the 150-170 range for about 90 minutes a day while I'm riding -- which is pretty much where it should be for the kind of exercise I'm trying to get -- and the regime has my employer's health coach downright thrilled with my weight loss, lowered cholesterol, lowered resting heart rate, etc.

So -- enough of the stereotyping, 'kay?

These are useless as transport (1)

heffrey (229704) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816912)

Surely humans can produce well in excess of 250W. The problem with these things is poor handling due to battery weight and their inability to go uphill again down to weight. Once the hill is steep enough it's harder than without battery assistance! Wouldn't want to ride one of these in San Francisco!

Re:These are useless as transport (4, Informative)

pitterpatter (1397479) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816964)

Probably Lance Armstrong can produce over 250W for much of a day. I on the other hand, break a sweat just thinking about it. A hardworking horse can keep up about 750W (definition of a horsepower). Imagine yourself and two buddies playing tug-of-war with a Clydesdale.

Re:These are useless as transport (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817172)

Assuming that you weigh 100 kg (220 pounds) and climb stairs on 10-feet tall stories, you use 250W to climb a story every 12 seconds.
      With a bike, climbing a steep hill (12%) with some 3% rolling resistance, assuming you and your bike are 100 kg total (220 pounds), you can go on electric motor alone at 1.5 m/s (5.4 km/h, 3.3 mph, a fast walk)

      by the way, those ~750W were for a mine poney (the first steam power plants were used to supplement coal mine poneys), not for a full horse.

      As for climbing a steep hill on a bike at a fast walk speed, let me tell you that it's quite a bit of work, hot and sweaty (I'm talking about kilometer-long climbs)

Re:These are useless as transport (2, Interesting)

GAB_cyclist (1274556) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816982)

That, in fact is not the problem. The e-bikes perform quite well on steep climbs and recharge a bit on the way down. The test has been done on the Mont Ventoux without problems. I do have concerns on how long it takes for the battery to lose it's full power capability. Six months? A year, maybe? And what will be the price of a new battery?

Re:These are useless as transport (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817004)

The BMS programming makes a big difference in terms of how long the batteries last.

My bike has a 3-year / 30,000 mile prorated warranty on its batteries -- but they do that largely because the battery is overprovisioned; it only charges to 80% of what the cells are rated for, and the battery management system also has a hard cutoff before allowing the voltage to drop too low. (Excessive battery temperature? A limit is placed on drain. Excessively low battery temperature? Needs to warm up before being able to charge; etc).

Also, there's no regenerative braking -- regen tends to strain batteries substantially, provides relatively little benefit on a vehicle as light as a bike, and is incompatible with a freewheeling mid-drive design.

I'm entirely happy with these limitations, as that kind of expected lifetime and warranty is next to unheard of in this space at present.

Re:These are useless as transport (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817096)

An electric bike with only a 250-watt motor (the Eneloop) will not go up any mountain, much less Ventoux.

Re:These are (not at all) useless as transport (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816986)

Peak? Absolutely.

Over hours? Not so much.

Anyhow, 250W is the kind of pansy-ass bike they make for the European market where the laws are ridiculously restrictive. US- and Canadian-made e-bikes are closer to 1kW output; my own ride is, an Optibike 850x, weighs 55lb including the internal battery, sufficient for 40-50 miles. The external battery brings the range up to over 100 miles and adds 15 pounds more. Newer Optibikes (and mine, when it gets back from its current round of upgrades) are using the Rohloff Speedhub, which provides a wide enough range of gearing ratios that there's no reasonable question about any hill, including those in San Francisco.

For street-legal bikes in Europe or Austrailia -- yes, you have a point. In the US? No. My moderately hilly commute takes 75 minutes each way on my unassisted bike, 45 on the Opti; that adds up to a big difference in time I have available each week for things I like to do.

Re:These are useless as transport (1, Interesting)

julesh (229690) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817068)

Surely humans can produce well in excess of 250W.

Yes. 250W is only "twice as much power as you provide" if you're taking it very easy. Based on measurements provided by the exercise bikes at my gym, I know I'm able to produce around a kilowatt for 5 minutes or so at a time, and can sustain 500W practically indefinitely.

OTOH, there are regulatory reasons for the motor being 250W: at least here in the UK, you'd need a full drivers licence, annual vehicle inspection and all-around crash helmet to ride it if it were more powerful. It should also be designed so that the motor cannot make the bike go faster than 15mph.

Re:These are useless as transport (4, Interesting)

bertok (226922) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817210)

Surely humans can produce well in excess of 250W.

Yes. 250W is only "twice as much power as you provide" if you're taking it very easy. Based on measurements provided by the exercise bikes at my gym, I know I'm able to produce around a kilowatt for 5 minutes or so at a time, and can sustain 500W practically indefinitely.

OTOH, there are regulatory reasons for the motor being 250W: at least here in the UK, you'd need a full drivers licence, annual vehicle inspection and all-around crash helmet to ride it if it were more powerful. It should also be designed so that the motor cannot make the bike go faster than 15mph.

Errr... according to this:

Lance Armstrong can ride up the mountains in France generating about 500 watts of power for 20 minutes, something a typical 25-year-old could do for only 30 seconds. A professional hockey player might last three minutes and then throw up. (source [active.com])

...it sounds like you're either an olympic-level athlete... who reads slashdot... or your gym equipment is severely miscalibrated. I've tried those bikes at the gym, and 250W is
my limit for a 10-15 minute stretch, and I'm by no means unhealthy. Are you sure those weren't imperial units? I know the UK has switched to metric, in theory, but I know some of you poms still get confused. 8)

Re:These are useless as transport (2, Insightful)

kurthr (30155) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817230)

I call BS.
Perhaps you're an elite cyclist, or someone is editing Wikipedia to make you look silly, but averaging anything like 500W for an hour (much less indefinitely) would make you the worlds best distance cyclist.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_performance [wikipedia.org]

Lance Armstrong near his peak was reputed to be capable of ~520W for 20min.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/weekinreview/24kola.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print [nytimes.com]

Ok... so your gym exercise bike is a flattering, but I agree that 250W is within the range of most regular cyclists, although most won't push that hard.

Re:These are useless as transport (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817120)

Average sustainable power output of a normal (non-overweight) person is about 100W. The hub motor only provides the 250W in bursts while accelerating from a stop or going uphill. The rest of the time, assist power is less than 100W, but still more than most people would put in pedaling.

these are great fun!! (1)

mxh83 (1607017) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816926)

Ever since I saw the little scooter in Reign Over Me I always wanted it. Where can one get something like this today?

Re:these are great fun!! (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816974)

Search e-bay under "gas scooter", or look at cheap tool stores like Harbor Freight or whatever your local equivalent is. These things are horrible, of course, basically a weed-whacker engine mated to a skate board. America's response to environmental responsibility is a $300, dangerous, smoke-spewing, big-tire toy for adult children*.

*baby boomers

What's the point? (2, Interesting)

tafkadasoh (1634863) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816956)

I do bike a lot, but I don't get the point of those e-bikes (except for old people maybe). I'd like to have additional power on long tours but for those these batteries are just additional weight for most of the trip, which you'll feel when going uphill. City trips (less than 20 km) shouldn't wear out a healthy person, so no good point having them there. My bike is 10 kg now and I still think it's too heavy. I don't see a very big market for them. Also, more parts means more things can break.

Re:What's the point? (2, Interesting)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816992)

The point is that the batteries don't really weigh that much, and are used for regenerative braking so that all the effort used to climb a hill isn't lost on the way down.

Re:What's the point? (2, Interesting)

tafkadasoh (1634863) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817042)

Agreed, it's more efficient than older designs, but their basic flaw is still there: After a certain trip length it requires more energy to move the batteries+cables+motor than the batteries are able to hold. So no batteries at all will always be more efficient. So unless you have trouble making a short trip on a bike I see no reason for anyone to by one. ergo, not year of the e-bike.

Re:What's the point? (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817088)

After a certain trip length it requires more energy to move the batteries+cables+motor than the batteries are able to hold. So no batteries at all will always be more efficient.

No, you still miss the point. The idea is not that you charge up the battery and then take it for a long trip over flat road. It's still a bicycle, not a motorcycle.

The idea is that biking along a flat road, even with 40 extra pounds of battery and motor, is faster and more efficient than walking, and healthier than driving. So the battery and motor are only there to smooth out the hills. The battery only needs to be big enough to get over the biggest hill, and the regenerative braking handles the rest.

Re:What's the point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817012)

Yes, they are mainly for old people. That's certainly the market for them here in the Netherlands, where the most popular available electric bikes are marketed as having "invisible motors" so that people don't know you need assist.

For longer commutes, there are better options than electric assist [blogspot.com].

Easy solution. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817074)

Just hike the tail of the bike up, like hot rods do. That way you're always going downhill!

the alternatives are 10x cheaper (3, Insightful)

societyofrobots (1396043) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816966)

An brand-name electric scooter is ~$300, and much more portable.

A Honda motor scooter is under $2000, can seat two people, and go 30mph.

$2300 for an electric bike is just silly.

Re:the alternatives are 10x cheaper (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817102)

You're making it sound like an e-bike is (or should be) a poor man's scooter; that's missing the point.

A good e-bike makes cycling practical for people whose commutes otherwise are too long. I pedal just as hard when I'm on my e-bike as on my conventional one -- but on the e-bike my average speeds are almost double what they are unassisted (and remember, wind resistance makes much more than twice the power necessary to hit double the speed). I don't always have the 2.5 hours necessary to commute round-trip on my old bike -- the hour and a half on the Opti, on the other hand, is less time than what it'd take to commute by car and then work out at the gym, and a lot more fun.

So -- I'm getting great exercise, I'm way less stressed, I don't have the temptation to skip days like I do with the gym... all these are benefits that a scooter (motor or otherwise) just can't deliver.

Sanyo Fail (0, Troll)

dreamer.redeemer (1600257) | more than 4 years ago | (#30816968)

Electric bicycles are a great idea for advancing fitness and reducing energy consumption and pollution, but Sanyo did a terrible job at realizing this. Like the eneloop, most e-bikes have the electric motor mounted as the hub of the front wheel, and this is idiotic for a number of reasons. For one, this placement fails to utilize the ~21 gears that happen to be on the bike already, failing in turn to utilize the variability in power and speed. Second, having the motor in the front hub puts all sorts of stress on the forks, limiting the maximum power and accelerating wear on one component you really wouldn't want to fail during run time. Proper chain oriented pedal assist systems are fully possible, I guess Sanyo just figured it was safer to copy the same design that many others have been peddling with limited success. Sigh.

Re:Sanyo Fail (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817206)

If electric cars don't need gears, why would electric bikes? Electric motors have very high low-end torque and quite high max rpm, so they don't need gears.
      As for wear on the front fork, guess what happens when someone brakes hard? An even higher effort on the front fork than what an electric motor in traction mode might put, as there is some weight transfer to front wheel when braking.

$99,800 Yen in Japan. Why so expensive here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816972)

99,800 / 90 Yen/Dollar = ~$1100

Why is it double the price in the US?

fatties. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30816998)

my bike commute is 36 miles round trip.
Average speed 16-18mph.
Mostly hills.

I never have needed a motor.

I don't get it. Is this like... for people who are trying to get fat?

I mean. If you want to be fat, go buy a gas guzzling 82 firebird and stay dry. If yer gonna be out in the elements, at least take the opportunity to not be fat.

Re:fatties. (3, Interesting)

dltaylor (7510) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817112)

It's not the weight. I can easily do that distance around here (some long hills), although my commute is about 33.

It's that I have no place (shower) to become tolerable to my co-workers for the rest of the day.

With an electric (not the silly Sanyo, but a proper one with a decent CG, and the drive to the rear wheel, if I can ever find one), I can "ride" to work and pedal home. Dragging the extra weight of the batteries would be even better exercise (for that trip) than just a bicycle.

Nice electric, bad bicycle. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817040)

I have been watching the e-bike market for years now, and almost all of the reasonably priced products suffer from the same problem: when the battery power runs out, they are lousy bicycles. They are single-speed only, or they are outrageously heavy, or both, or have some other drawback that makes them unsuitable for pedaling any distance. A few even have pedals so far apart that you couldn't pedal them for a block comfortably.

I want something I can use as a regular bicycle, with electric power I can kick in if I choose. I am fully aware that motor and battery pack are going to add significant weight. That's fine... it just burns that many more calories. But it should be a good bicycle first, and electric vehicle second. Not the other way around.

By the way, for anyone considering buying an Eneloop for $2,000+, just don't. 250 watts is woefully anemic. It won't get you up an even halfway decent slope. Go for at least 500W or more. The battery life does not suffer as much as you might think: the motor doesn't have to work as hard to get you somewhere.

Illegal in Europe (3, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817148)

The biggest problem with electric bikes in Europe is not technology but politicians. (in the UK, the Government still has not legalised the Segway, despite its obvious utility for post and packet delivery and beat policing.) Under EU regulations soon as an electric bike exceeds 250W, it is classed as a moped (i.e. max. 2200W). This is a huge gap, especially given that you can ride a horse (approx. 1kw and 750kg) on the roads with no legal controls. 250W is too little to be really useful.

A bicycle is unusable for most people where I live because our town is on the sides of a steep sided valley, and the combination of traffic going up the hills at 30mph, and cyclists at 3mph, on narrow English roads, is lethal. To be really useful, an electric bike needs to be able to go up those hills at 20mph.

If there was a political will for this, there would be a Europe-wide specification for an electric bicycle of, say, about 1200W maximum output and a continuous rating of 800, with a test and licence requirement but zero tax and a State-sponsored insurance scheme to overcome the objections of insurance companies, who detest anything new in the way of risk.

Of course there would be a need for new regulations - such as limiting them to 12mph on cycle tracks - but this is nothing that technology couldn't handle (e.g. a "cycle track mode" which flashes a green light, to assist law enforcement.) But an electric bicycle that was fast enough to be safe in European urban traffic would be vastly better than the current situation, where only the very fit can ride a heavy, limited electric bicycle on anything other than the level.

Re:Illegal in Europe (1)

j_sp_r (656354) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817266)

They are assisted bikes, they're not meant to go up the hill on the motor alone. You can pedle and use the electric motor at the same time. And most bikers (at least in the Netherlands) top out at 15km/h (you don't want to arrive all sweaty on your work and it saves you 5 minutes if you go faster) it isn't a big deal.

Re:Nice electric, bad bicycle. (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817252)

There are conversion kits for bycicles (those contain front wheel or front wheel hub with integrated motor, battery packs, electronics, command and control systems and whatever else), and those can be adapted to any bycicle:
http://www.greenspeed.us/bionx_motor_bike_kit.htm [greenspeed.us]
First hit in a google link, which conveniently suggests "electric bike conversion kit" when typing "electric bike" in its search box.

      As for the higher power electric motors: 250W is enough (unassisted) for a fast walk speed on a 12% hill - but using a bigger motor forces a stronger (heavier) battery and possibly charger. More power than that might be good, though.
      As for battery life, ignoring some extra losses due to the bigger and heavier components, if you ride in the same way, the bigger motor would use just a bit more energy (if you accelerate harder with the bigger motor, it will use more energy, though).

Twice the power? (1)

notanatheist (581086) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817054)

Twice whose power? Twice the average slow poke pedaling at 12mph? Or twice the average cyclist doing 16+ mph? 250W doesn't sound like much to me. I can peak over that power output myself as I'm sure any avid cyclist can. Seriously, how about some real numbers and not this "twice the power" BS.

Re:Twice the power? (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817080)

By American and Canadian standards, 250W is a lousy excuse for an ebike -- but for the European market it's the standard, as that's the limit there to be street-legal.

This article was ridiculously ill-researched -- there are (and have been for years) much, much better bikes out on the US market, the higher end ones having upward of 650W sustained output where the rubber meets the road, and peaking up around 2hp when combined with a strong rider. See the power meter readings at http://groups.google.com/group/optibike-owners-group/browse_frm/thread/3e6e907b3a99f3c1 [google.com] if you're interested in some numbers.

or just bike... (1)

pr100 (653298) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817072)

I suppose an "e-bike" might appeal to some couch potatoes, but a good part of the point of cycling is that you actually get some exercise.

Fugly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817076)

That is one of the fugliest bikes I've seen. I'm a cyclist - road and MTB; there's no way in hell I'd be seen dead even *looking* at that monstrosity.
That will turn more people off biking than it will convert.
There really is no need for electric bikes - road bikes are light and fast, and reliable, most importantly.

Fugly (1)

zag2me (1498967) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817164)

I don't know about anyone else but I wouldn't be seen dead riding that sanyo thing. The go cycle is about the only good looking ebike available right now. http://www.gocycle.com/ [gocycle.com]

Re:Fugly (1)

Mr_Tulip (639140) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817216)

Really?

Say what you like about the Sanyo, it is a pretty terrible looking bike, but the gocycle is definately as ugly, if not worse. On top of that, the gocycle looks like it would break in half if it ever hit a speed bump.

Lame. (1)

L4m3rthanyou (1015323) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817178)

They demoed E-bikes on my college campus, and with good reason- college yuppies are actually stupid and wealthy enough to buy E-bikes. I test-rode one, and it's fun, but not $2000 fun. I'll stick with my regular bike.

To make matters worse, these dumbasses ride around stupidly and create more hate for cyclists from pedestrians and motorists alike. Also, they're stimulating the bike theft market by locking up poorly. Last week I saw one locked with a U-lock around a single spoke of the front wheel and a cable through the rear wheel... the idiot didn't even think to take out the external battery.

Unexploded battery under your bum? (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817180)

a black lithium-ion battery strapped to the frame beneath the seat

whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

Re: The Year of the E-Bicycle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30817226)

Ebicycle sounds like fuckcycle for russian ear.

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