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Electric Bicycles (bikes)
Last updated 2014.01.24
Tips for winter e-biking
Do we really need tips for winter e-cycling? I mean, it's just like riding on those gorgeous days in the summer, except for a few minor considerations such as: it's cold; it's snowing; there's plowdrifts and snow furrows in the roads; the bike paths are covered in snow; there's slush and ice making the road surface treacherous; there are fewer hours of sunlight; and, drivers are dealing with all this too, plus their vision is impaired by windows that are fogged on the inside and not properly cleared of snow on the outside. Oh, you think those aren't such minor considerations?
For those of you gloating because your winter really is just like summer, only cool enough to be comfortable, this page really isn't for you. For the rest of you, let's take those things one at a time.
First, some good basic tips on winter cycling, with or without e-assist from the City of Minneapolis. (Not all jurisdictions are as bike-friendly in winter.)
You are going to dress appropriately for the conditions, with layers of clothing, preferably water resistant and breathable. A great place to find quality gear for Winter e-biking is to start looking at nordic ski and Winter clothing. Layered winter clothing is designed specifically for Winter sport activities so they will work well for Winter e-biking. Because if you are wet and cold, this isn't going to be any fun, e-bike or no e-bike. It's possible you are not going to be working quite as hard as a cyclist without assist, so you may not be generating quite as much heat. Of course, with an electric bike, this is completely within your control, so dress according to how you roll.
In really cold weather, experts advise against strenuous exercise, because it draws very cold air into your windpipe and lungs (which can cause a cold-induced asthma attack), and because it causes sweat that can freeze later. The good news on an electric bicycle is that you can avoid this by letting the e-drive do the hard work, so you don't have to exert yourself as much. Of course, that assumes that you have taken measures to ensure your electric drive system is up for the task.
As car drivers know, lead-acid batteries don't much like the cold. So, baby your batteries for winter use. Like babies, batteries should be kept warm (room temperature) and dry, fed properly and regularly, and kept away from open flames, high heat and sharp objects. When you take your baby, er, batteries outside, make sure they are properly dressed with an insulated covering. The covering will help retain the heat, and protect against the wind sucking warmth away, and moisture from precipitation and splashing. Warm batteries will retain the energy capacity you want. Unlike cars, most e-bicycles make it relatively easy to remove your battery pack from your bike and take it indoors with you so it can warm up, too. While this is not as critical for some other battery technologies (e.g., LiFePO4), most will also benefit to some extent from protection from the cold and wet.
If you are taking your battery indoors to keep it warm, why not take advantage of the opportunity to charge it? Because winter also means your battery will likely be working harder to overcome snow and slush and the occasional unplowed street or plowdrift. Keeping your battery charged up to capacity doesn't only mean more capacity for the return trip, but likely also longer life. It might be worth investing in a second charger for use at your work place, or one that is light and small enough to carry with you for use when opportunities present (e.g., visiting at a friend's house or while at the bike shop). Naturally, we recommend something from the Soneil line of compact, light, intelligent and affordable battery chargers.
In most jurisdictions, cycling lanes get the lowest or no priority when it comes to snow clearing. In fact, many bicycle lanes get buried under snow banks from the first major snowfall, only to emerge again with spring flowers. On partially cleared streets, there may only be a couple of ruts that are really passable. As a result, you may have to take the lane more frequently than you would in better conditions. I don't have to tell you that you need to be extra vigilant in these situations.
Traction can be a problem as you move over snow, slush and ice. There are snow tires, and even studded snow tires available for most sizes of bicycle rims, which definitely help with traction. However, most will increase the rolling resistance, taking more energy to move the bike. That will make you appreciate that electric assist that much more.
If you have an e-bike that uses a front wheel hub motor, you also now have all-wheel-drive at your disposal on your electric steed, an advantage your pedal-power-only cyclists don't possess. Used well, this will not only help with traction in slippery situations, but also puts more power at the road surface to help you push through small snow drifts and over ice ridges.
In winter, it's not just about you hitting the road; the road hits back. Snow, slush and even chunks of ice may spray up onto your bike, and its electric workings. Worse still, all this road mush may be served up with a generous flavouring of road salt. This makes it all that more important to ensure your battery, controller, connectors, switches, etc., and your motor, if possible, are armoured against this assault. The mechanical workings of your bike (chain, shifter cables, derailleurs, etc.) should also be protected by good oils and greases. (There are internal shifting hubs available for some conventional bike wheels.) Standard bike lubes and oils may not be designed for cold weather operation. Check labels, or use automotive lubricants rated for winter use, including for bearing grease. Re-lube periodically as appropriate to your use to keep corrosion at bay and everything working easily.
While you probably had old Sol lighting your way for most of your trips in the summer, he may not be on the job for your commutes in the winter. Therefore, you need to supply your own lighting, not only to see all the little traps that winter may have laid before you on your route, but also to ensure that other traffic can see you and avoid an unpleasant incident. Your e-bike already has a battery on-board, and the new, efficient LED marker and headlights don't create much of a draw. A lot of the marker lights are designed to be run off their own battery. Be light, be bright, be seen! In fact, why not make it festive? Put on several LED flashing lights, facing sides and rear, and in a variety of colours. They're not expensive or heavy Putting a smile on the face of an approaching motorist will make sure they stay aware of your presence, and might even calm an incipient case of road rage. After all, the ability of your electric bike means you may be out in weather conditions where other traffic is not expecting to see you, so being extra visible is only to your advantage.
Turning several switches on and off at the beginning and end of trips can add several seconds to your travel time. You may want to consider wiring them up to run off a master switch, for convenience and to save battery life on the one you might miss switching off.
In addition to the active lighting, use bright and reflective clothing. While light coloured clothing might make you more visible at night in spring, summer and fall, in the winter it makes you less visible against the white of fresh snow or the light grey of soot-laden snowbanks.
If you plan to use goggles or a visor to provide protection from wind and snow, make sure they are ventilated so they won't fog up. Using one of the anti-fog treatments wouldn't hurt either. Similarly, a water-shedding treatment (such as used for automotive glass) on the outside surface of a visor could be helpful.
With these tips, your electric bike should serve well through the winter cycling season.
Winter cycling - A local cyclist on winter biking (not electric assist).
IceBike - Another local cyclist on winter biking (not electric assist).
We don't sell electric bicycles. We continue to provide unbiased information about the electric bike because we feel they are a superior urban transportation solution for many applications, notably commuting. For a list of electric bike suppliers (complete bikes, kits and components), please see the listing at the bottom of this page or the advertisements to the right. (We do sell Soneil battery chargers, some of which are ideal as chargers for electric bike batteries as they are small, lightweight, intelligent and affordable.)
Winter Bike Commuting - 40 miles to NYC 2013.01.30
Australian Post Office replaces motorcycles with electric bicycles 2011.03.05
The Australian Post Office actually has a Sustainability department, which would be a revelation for most government departments here in Canada (a division of Tar Sands R Us). Anyway, these green boffins have had the audacity to replace petrol motorcycles for delivering the mail with electric-assist bicycles. According to the article, "all anyone really missed was the sound of his motorbike alerting them that their post had arrived, so Mr Mucciacciaro bought a whistle." Now, that's a brilliant solution to the "EVs are too quiet" myth.
E-bike Popularity in China Resurges 2010.04.04
Edmonton Journal article titled E-bikes win China back its reputation as The Bicycle Kingdom
A refreshing and welcome news item after the news in December where the Chinese government was preparing to throw roadblocks in front of electric bicycles.
What the Heck is Happening in China regarding E-bikes? 2009.12.14
Thomson Reuters article titled "Sparks fly as China quarrels over battery-powered bikes" says a green transportation group in Beijing is concerned about the lead-acid batteries in some e-bikes as an environmental issue. As if the motorcycles and cars that will take the place of the e-bikes in danger of being panned don't have lead-acid batteries in them for starting, lighting and ignition. And those gas-burners bring a host of other environmental issues with their expanded use, including more sprawl and traffic congestion. It also ignores that the lead in the batteries is sufficiently valuable to encourage recycling.
The rest of the world has largely standardized on 32 km/h (20 mph) as the acceptable electric assist maximum speed. Presumably the manufacturers only want to sell what they export within China as well. Keeping the official limit at 20 km/h (12 mph) will only force the small manufacturers to divide their resources over two model lines, one for each power rating. Given China is a large market, this could encourage those manufacturers to focus on the domestic market rather than models suitable for export, which could slow their acceptance in the rest of the world which has so much of its manufacturing done in China now.
New Chinese electric-bicycle regulations blasted 2009.12.11
All is not well in the world's largest market for electric-assist bicycles. The government has announced new standards that would make many of the models produced in China now illegal, or owners will have to license them as motorcycles. This article takes a conspiracy-theory slant on the e-bike story, suggesting that the new rules are desired by the motorcycle industry which feels threatened by more capable e-bikes. The rules have not found favour with the e-bike industry or riders.
Ontario legalizes electric-assist bikes at end of 3-year pilot project 2009.10.03
As the three year pilot project on electric-assist bikes came to a close, the provincial
government changed its regulations to permit the e-bikes to remain legal on most Ontario roads
on a permanent basis, but not without making some additional rules to reduce the attractiveness
of these zero-emissions, low-environmental impact vehicles. Notably, riders under the age of 16
may not use them. Adult riders, who are not required to use a helmet on a regular bicycle, which
can travel at speeds in excess of 50 km/h, are required to use a helmet on an e-bike, where the
power assist is limited to just 32 km/h. A weight limit (120 kg) and a braking performance
requirement have also been added, which is not even required of tractor-trailers in the province.
In my opinion, the most galling of the rules is still the age limit restriction. If we want people
to embrace this form of environmental transportation, let's make it available to them before we let
them behind the wheel of a 400+ hp car at age 16. Quebec allows 14-year-olds to operate motor scooters.
Is the province of Ontario saying that 14-year-old Ontarians are congenitally less capable of
operating two-wheelers than Quebecers?
E-biking Across Canada
Justin Lemire-Elmore from www.ebikes.ca completed his e-ride from Vancouver to Halifax on his e-bike with the goal of crossing the country on about $10 of electricity. The report of the trip is available here.
Electric bicycle, moped, scooter and motorcycle producers seem to appear and disappear more frequently than the producers of larger vehicles, probably because start-up costs are relatively low, but market penetration is difficult, especially in North America for such vehicles. Therefore, this page will probably be continuously out of date, no matter how often I update it. Any additions, corrections and contributions are always welcome.
There are several typical configurations for adding electric assist to a bicycle.
Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. The friction drive is simple and usually inexpensive to implement, but typically leads to accelerated tire wear and is less efficient than the other modes, especially in wet road conditions. Some systems tried to overcome the slippage issue by "clamping" two power rollers on either side of the tire, which added complexity and cost, and changed the wear (engagement) area from the tread to the sidewalls of the tire. The hub motors are typically expensive, but are clean to implement, and in the case of the front-hub designs provide an effective (if a bit odd) all-wheel-drive capability to the bicycle. The chain-drive systems typically force the pedals to keep rotating, even if the rider doesn't wish to be supplying drive power.
There are a couple of primary control philosophies for the electric bike as well:
In any case, the basic recipe comes down to this:
Some care should be taken in the selection, mixing and cooking (preferably none) of your ingredients.
When I started this page for e-bikes back in 2000, the electric bike was a rarity and we had to campaign for its acceptance. In fact, in my home province of Ontario, they were actually illegal. However, electric bikes are going mainstream now, and interest in them is very high in the summer of 2008 with gasoline prices seeming to go up like a rocket. It seems like our original purpose for this page (acceptance of electric bicycles as a viable mode of urban transportation that is efficient, compact, and environmentally benign [lower greenhouse gas emissions than a cyclist that is pedaling - if the electricity comes from a green source]) has been accomplished. We will keep this page up, and update it occasionally, but our focus will likely now shift to projects that have not yet achieved this degree of success. My thanks to all of you that have worked on this issue and bought and use electric bikes and made them yet another electric vehicle success story.
My son is currently commuting with our operable electric bicycle, which is a hybrid bike fitted with a Crystalite hub motor and controller, 36 volts of 7-Ah sealed lead-acid batteries and a Soneil 3605S battery charger (recently replacing the original 3602S to speed up recharging time at work).
One concern I do have about the recent and seemingly sudden success of e-bikes in North America is the number of low-quality units being imported to meet the surge in demand. In particular, I see a lot of chargers that do not carry a UL or CSA certification, and I worry that the frames used are from conventional low-cost bike lines and that they are not meant to carry the additional weight of motor, batteries and some of our larger North American riders. If your charger does fail or is causing you concern, of course we would love to sell you a replacement charger.
Several provinces have removed the provincial sales tax from electric bikes (e.g., British Columbia, Ontario). Check to see if sales tax exemptions apply where you live.
Batteries for electric-assist bicycles
Not everyone agrees with us that North America is ready for the e-bike. Has the electric bike’s future finally arrived? (Earth Portal 2008.09.02) As for the comment regarding the practical fuel cell, well, we'd love to recommend people read The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy, but then we're biased.
Update!! Ontario Campaign Successful!! (October 4, 2006)
The Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa's campaign has been successful! On October 4, 2006 Ontario Minister of Transportation, the Honourable Donna Cansfield announced a pilot program which allows the use of electric-assist bicycles on Ontario roads, by individuals 16 years of age or older, and wearing a bicycle helmet. You may see the government announcement here. More information at the EVCO Electric Bike Campaign webpage.
As of the summer of 2008, there is no word on the status of the pilot project, but with gasoline prices at historic high levels, e-bike sales are said to be growing.
While it is hard to keep up with all the manufacturers of complete electric bikes, kits and components that have popped up since 2006, the history dates back a little further than that. Here are a few examples.
In the 1970s, General Engines produced a line of electric power assist units for bicycles and an adult tricycle equipped with an electric assist system.
Announced with great fanfare in 1995, little has been heard of the EV Warrior since. Although the intention was to sell them through car dealerships, it appears few were sold in North America as of early 1997. Although details are elusive, there may have been legal (patent) problems with the sale of these units. The Los Angeles Times, on Saturday, June 21, 1997, reported that the Electric Bicycle Co. of Burbank filed for U.S. federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February, 1997, and then revised this to a Chapter 7 (liquidation) filing on May 23, 1997. Electric Bicycle Co. is the company set up by Malcolm Bricklin to produce and sell the EV Warrior. Reports in September 1997 indicated that the company was officially declared bankrupt and dissolved.
I have not yet seen this vehicle, or any confirmation of this announcement, but Sanyo is reported to be producing a bicycle with electric assist called the CY50. The same report states the bicycle has been on sale in Japan since 1995. Procycle is expected to market a private label version in Canada as the Mikado. The CY50 weighs approximately 48 pounds (including the drive system and battery), and is expected to retail for about CDN$1,300. It does not have a regenerative charging capability. Sanyo was one of the investors in Bricklin's Electric Bicycle Co. that marketed the EV Warrior. For more information, contact Sanyo Canada Inc., 50 Beth Nealson Rd.,Toronto ON, Voice:(416)421-8344, Fax:(416)421-5878. It seems that Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha also produce electric bicycles for sale in Japan.
One of the advantages of an electric-assist bike is that it can operate on bike paths and in bike lanes (where not explicitly forbidden), as the bikes are still quiet and zero-emissions. Here are some maps of bike routes found on the Web.
National Capital Commission's PDF map of recreational pathways (bicycles permitted, but not exclusively for bicycles).
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