WHEN THE CAR COMPANIES COME CALLING
Is there a coming wave from the automotive set?
Why would a car or motorcycle manufacturer want to make an electric bicycle? There are a number of reasons, starting with e-bikes being the cheapest way to get into the EV market. Not only do they cost less to build than a car or motorcycle, but even the prototyping is cheaper. A prototype car can cost millions to build, whereas a prototype e-bike can cost a mere thousands.
Also, the lessons learned from bicycles scale up nicely, and engineers and designers can see on a small scale what the stress points are, what geometry and suspension changes might make for better handling, etc.
Car manufacturers worldwide are seeing more city streets closed to cars and open to bikes, and many see an opportunity to capitalize on this.
WHO ARE THE PLAYERS?
There are some companies just getting involved, while others have stayed involved or simply got into the game, learned some lessons, then abandoned them. The latter group is why you should carefully pick which brand you’re going to buy. You need to know that you’ll be able to get service when parts wear out. Generally, most e-bikes have a standard mechanical drivetrain, so things like sprockets and chains can be replaced, but what about the motor and battery? Selecting a trustworthy brand is important. That motor system is a big chunk of what you’re paying for with the bike. Here are a few of the automotive companies making electric bicycles.
Th legacy German brand is known for luxury, performance and, in general, expensive vehicles. They teamed up with N+ Bikes to license a line of bikes that would have all the tech you’d expect from a leader in Formula 1 racing—features like a display built into the handlebar/stem combo and a Gates carbon belt drive with an Enviolo CVT (continuously variable transmission). One of the bikes, the Champion Edition, has no gearing, but features two motors—one in the rear wheel and one in the front. It’s the most expensive model of the four models available at $5800.
The lower-line Formula E Team e-bike comes in at $3450, the Silver Arrows sells for $4500 and the Silver Arrows Sport is $4950. All three have a 250W mid-drive motor that puts out 80 N/m of torque.
Audi had this crazy concept e-bike that was made out of a carbon fiber-reinforced polymer with a massive battery and too much power. It put out 3 horsepower, while in the U.S. our limit is 1 horsepower (750W) and a top assist speed of 50 (50!) mph. They launched it at the Worthersee Tour in Austria, and it was named for the event. Thankfully, it was only a prototype, and the public never had a chance to ride it.
Being a performance car company, surely they learned a lot that would go into their e-tron cars, including range. Back in 2012, that bike had a range of almost 44 miles. Battery technology is light years better now, so that’s an impressive feat.
QuietKat is known for making fat-tire hardtail bikes for hunters. Jeep approached e-bike maker QuietKat a few years ago to develop an e-bike that would be appropriate for Jeep owners. QuietKat responded by making their beefiest and highest -spec bike, adding rear suspension to the mix. The $7499 bike has been a hit, including having Bill Murray sitting on one in this year’s Jeep Superbowl commercial.
The success of that bike prompted a new version that recently rolled out with an even higher spec with a 1000W mid-drive motor, 1000Wh battery and a rear-wheel melting 160 N/m of torque. As of this writing they’re still taking pre-orders, but we expect it will be more expensive than the original model by quite a bit. That torque would be handy when on Jeep trails or hauling game out of the woods.
Porsche jumped into the fray with two bikes, the Sport and the Cross. The Sport is a commuter/touring bike, while the Cross is aimed at off-roaders. They feature carbon fiber frames and Shimano EP8 motors. Porsche also became the majority shareholder in e-mountain bike manufacturer Greyp, which will certainly help with R&D. Their current bikes are both priced at around a Porsche-expected premium of $10,000.
Ford has shown a really funky yet cool concept around 2011. That was a design exercise, so when Ford was really serious, they tapped Pedego to make a cool-looking, 1950s, space age-inspired bike instead. It was likely killed in a couple of years, thanks to corporate cost-cutting.
GM brought out a great-looking folding e-bike with a futuristic design. They even held a crowdsourcing campaign to name the bike with a cash prize of $10,000. That bike was named the ARIV, and it came in two models, the Meld and the Merge. The only difference between the two was that the Meld was a single-speed, and the Merge had an 8-speed Shimano Alfine drivetrain.
Described by GM as “fast, fun and a healthy way to reach a destination,” ARIV e-bikes are developed by GM’s Urban Mobility Solutions division in Michigan, USA and Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. They are “backed by the power of General Motors.”
GM was selling them, starting in 2019, but they stopped production when COVID-19 lockdowns started. That was likely a mistake, as we saw how sales of e-bikes exploded during the pandemic. Then again, GM’s first foray into EVs (the EV1) was quite successful, drivers loved them, but they recalled all of them (they were all leased, none were sold) and either crushed them or sent them to museums.
Volkswagen showed an odd-looking concept e-bike called the “Bik.e” in early 2010. That bike never came to market. Then, in 2019, they brought out a cargo e-bike with a self-leveling front end designed to prevent loads from shifting while turning. It could carry a remarkably large 463 pounds of payload (rider plus cargo) and could use a bucket in the front or be used flat to carry odd-sized/-shaped cargo. It had a 250W mid-drive and a 500Wh battery with a claimed range of up to 62 miles. The plan envisioned VW even leasing the bikes to companies and their employees. Sadly, the project fizzled, and the bikes are no longer available.
AS FOR THE DUCATI
Ducati chose the easy route by starting with bikes from Italy made by Thok. There’s a good connection here, because Thok’s Livio Suppo was a former team manager for Ducati, and he pushed Thok CEO (and former pro downhill mountain bike racer) Stefano Migliorini into the direction of e-bikes.
Unlike Ducati motorcycles, Thok has been making throttle-free, high-spec, enduro e-MTB bikes for a few years, and we’ve reviewed one in the November 2018 issue. However, Ducati does make commuter bikes under their own corporate flag. The Ducati e-bikes aren’t the same models you could get from Thok with just a Ducati logo. Ducati has different specs for the suspension and other components. They bill them as “Ducati powered by Thok.”
Harley-Davidson has the philosophy “all roads lead to Harley.” That motto has pushed them into making a range of new, very untraditional types of Harleys—from the (non-electric) Pan America off-road adventure bike to the electric LiveWire to their electric bicycle line, Serial 1, which was named for the original motorcycle they produced back in 1903. Serial 1 carries the Harley-Davidson name on the bikes, but they operate mostly independent of H-D. LiveWire was spun off as its own brand last year to be able to be nimbler and freer to innovate than under the confines of highly corporate Harley-Davidson.
The Serial 1 bikes feature Brose motors, innovative frames thanks to the Harley engineers, unique lighting on the front of the head tube, and reasonable pricing. They started R&D on their bikes years ago, and some of that experience surely bled into LiveWire.