By Tony Donaldson [email protected]
I’ve always been fascinated by technology. As a kid growing up in the ’80s, I lusted after the cool electronic toys, eventually convincing my parents to get me a Big Trak, a six-wheeled toy truck with a keypad on the back, and you could use that to program it to move, turn and fire a laser. I also had truly analog bikes, starting with a high-rise, banana-seated version before getting into a road bike (then referred to as a “10-speed”) and eventually a series of BMX bikes used for racing and freestyle riding.
Technology was always on my mind; I loved it and still do. I read a lot of magazine articles about it, often as many as I could get my hands on. I had a computer in the early ’80s. It was gloriously primitive by today’s standards, with a 1 MHz processor and 16K of RAM and a cassette-tape drive. Computing power since then has advanced by thousands of times faster and more reliable.
“We’re kind of like where the computer was in the early ’90s.”
Those personal computers started in the 1970s by a small community of people in their garages. People who were passionate and knowledgeable enough to start making computers, and some were able to turn that into a business, such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who went on to start Apple.
That entrepreneurial spirit re-emerged when e-bikes started to show up in the 1990s. Those early models were made by a handful of engineers (and some tinkerers in garages). The equipment available, in terms of motors and battery technology, was crude to say the least. There was a lot of funky fabrication, a lot of 12-volt lead-acid batteries and a bunch of crude electric bikes started appearing—but not to the masses.
Giant was an early adopter with the Lafree. They didn’t sell very many, but the technology wasn’t ready for the masses at that point, nor was it when Lee Iacocca saw electric bicycles as the future and founded eBike. The bikes were heavy, especially with the 12-volt lead-acid batteries that offered little power and dismal range. They switched to lithium-ion before it was ready, and three people burned their garages to the ground charging them.
We’ve come such a long way since then, but we’re still so very early on in the history of the electric bike. New ideas and new advances come out daily, and all the bikes keep getting better. We’re kind of like where the computer was in the early ’90s. People were starting to buy them and they were starting to become part of daily life. Some people didn’t know much about them or weren’t interested at the time, but now do you know anyone who doesn’t own a computer?
It took computers a couple of decades to catch on, but technology has a way of speeding up. When the smartphone first appeared, it didn’t take long before it caught on and almost everyone had one. Will electric bikes follow in this path? I think to some degree, yes. I don’t know if everyone will have them, but the industry is poised for some incredible growth as people are now discovering the exhilaration of riding e-bikes and as some who know about them are actually trying them and falling in love.
There are certainly plenty of choices to make electric bikes a compelling choice for commuting to work, taking the drag out of grinding uphills and, as one reader wrote in, riding into your 80s. They’re getting people moving who haven’t been able to or wanted to move for a variety of reasons. There are other stories in this issue that speak to that.
Recently, I’ve been privy to some incredible new advances for the electric bicycle world. We’ve seen a lot of major bike companies developing electric bikes, putting their vast know-how on building great bikes into the e-bike market, but also big companies like BMW getting on board with their own bike. It’s exciting that car manufacturers see the potential, but Porsche and Mercedes (via their Smart brand) jumped aboard very early on but haven’t done well. The bicycle industry is definitely enjoying the sales boost brought on by electric bikes.
There’s more integration between systems coming, more connected bikes that are connected in more ways. There are new battery technologies coming that will change the way we think about range and charging, stronger and more efficient motors, lighter bikes, and even things like anti-lock brakes. If you’ve ever been cruising down a beach path and had a pedestrian suddenly walk in front of you without looking, or the same with a car on the street, you know ABS is a great technology.
Some of these things are a couple of years out, but everything is moving at an ever-increasing pace. I’m really excited to talk about them when they can be officially revealed. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, get out and ride!
THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO GET ELECTRIC BIKE ACTION
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