By Tony Donaldson [email protected]
I recently came across an old image of me from 2001 that was taken when I handed my camera to someone to take a picture of me standing alongside long-time Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca as we posed inside comedian Jay Leno’s garage. The occasion was a promotional photo shoot for Iacocca’s latest endeavor—the introduction of his eBike.
I had been hired to shoot the photos to be used for advertising and marketing for the brand, and that day Lee not only unveiled the eBike, but also his equally new PT Cruiser. As the former CEO of Chrysler, he could request any car they produced and it would be delivered to him posthaste.
After that shoot, he loaded a second folding bike into his car, then I followed him to Jay Leno’s “garage”, which is actually two huge airplane hangars at the airport in Burbank, California, both full of Jay’s collection of interesting cars and motorcycles.
The PT Cruiser was so new that few had seen it in real life, so it was hilarious to watch the reactions of people in crosswalks when we’d stop at a red light. Some would check out the car, and a few did neck-snapping double takes when they recognized the former CEO and spokesperson behind the wheel.
PREDICTING THE FUTURE
Lee had seen electric bikes as the future and started eBike, the company that basically named an industry. He came out with a product line that was so ahead of its time that the technology just wasn’t there yet. His bikes had lead-acid batteries, which meant they were heavy and had a very limited range. They were expensive for what they were.
The company switched to lithium-ion batteries in their infancy. It was too soon, as at least three customers burned their garages to the ground while charging the bike’s battery.
“I think sales are ready to take off in a way we’ve not yet seen!”
But here we are, almost two decades later, with technology that will actually power the bikes well and reliably—far more powerful motors, more efficient and far larger batteries, and better design on bikes. We now have electric motorcycles, too.
Zero debuted in 2006. I was one of their early photographers as well, and helped get them going with images. I was able to ride the first model, which was around 140 pounds, basically a really beefy mountain bike with a crazy electric motor and 3-inch motocross-style tires that made the bike incredibly responsive and truly scary at the same time. That bike was designed by actual NASA engineer-turned-mountain bike designer Neal Seiki, who founded Zero and who would eventually be ousted from his own company.
Fast-forward to today and the NorCal company has just debuted its fourth platform, the SR/F, which looks and specs out like a proper motorcycle, with torque that’s off the charts and range that avoids anxiety. While the e-moto market has been slower to gain the popularity and sales success enjoyed by the world of pedal-assist bicycles, the number of major motorcycle manufacturers that have begun production or announced their intention to do so has multiplied in just the last year. From Harley-Davidson and Triumph to Yamaha, Honda and Energica, e-moto production has taken on a truly global scale. And look at all the smaller manufacturers, like Lightning and Feull, also on the path to production.
We’re now riding more bikes with Fazua motors and we’re liking it. Bosch is bringing out their next generation of motors as well. On the Bosch side, they’re going up to 625-watt-hour batteries, a 125-watt-hour leap that is bigger than the 100-watt-hour jump they just did a couple of years ago from 400 to 500 watt-hour. Capacities are going up, while size and weight are going down almost precipitously (see page 50 for the latest from Bosch).
It’s an exciting time, not just for the ramping up and rapid changes in the technology, but for the ever-increasing speed at which e-bikes are being adopted. As I write this, thanks in large part to the effort of PeopleForBikes, 22 states have now adopted the three-class system for electric bicycles. That’s twice what there was six months ago, and at this rate, more than half of the states in the U.S. will have adopted it as well.
Between that and now many of the ski resorts embracing e-bikes on their trails, we’re past the tipping point. I think sales are ready to take off in a way we’ve not yet seen!
Oh, and before I sign off, there’s a new podcast in town—the Electric Bike Action podcast. I’ve been interviewing people in the electric bike realm, and it’s live now. Check it out on iTunes, Google, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts!
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