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Interbike 2010: The Electric Revolution!

As we reported back in August, E-bikes were supposed to be a huge presence at Interbike this year. Since this was my first year attending the massive tradeshow, I have no way of gauging whether or not electric/e-assist bikes were so visible in previous editions, but I can say with confidence that they were EVERYWHERE in 2010. It seems like every major manufacturer had one or two e-bikes on display, with a number of large booths displaying a number of different models. And I saw every setup under the sun: batteries hidden in the racks or built-in to the frames, hub motors, friction-drive setups or motors built into oversized bottom brackets. I took a ton of photos of various e-bike flavors, but don’t have a lot of information to accompany them. In many of the photos, the manufacturer will be visible. Take a look at some of the stuff we spotted:

Here’s one from Achiever Bike that incorporates an electric-assist motor in the oversized bottom bracket shell. The battery pack is under the rack and the drivetrain is mated to the new NuVinci N360:

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Here’s a sharp-looking cruiser by Pedego, with large rear hub motor. Pedego had a big display with a lot of varieties to choose from:

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Here’s another by Pedego, this one a trike with some smart cargo boxes instead of a typical wire basket:

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Here’s a friction-drive electric assist kit by Pedalix — their “Hidden Power” system . It won a gold award at this year’s Eurobike, and appears to be mountable to most bicycles. In this photo it is mounted to a Specialized Langster NYC:

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IZip had a large floor display with a number of e-bike setups. I liked this one in particular due to its stout rear rack, “angry bee” paint scheme and color-matched basket on the front. The battery pack on IZip bikes is hidden within the frame’s downtube.

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This is an e-bike by Kilowatt. One of the things I noticed about some of the more “complete” e-bike offerings was that the smart companies were choosing the tried-and-true BionX system. More on this in a bit…in the meantime, check out this Kilowatt:

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We’ve already seen the Torker Interurban-E drop-bar touring bike in a previous post, but here it is again…so nice! Alfine rear hub, disc brakes on both ends, sweet pedal assist…a great setup:

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Here’s a sneak peek at the Urbana electric-assist bike. We’re hoping that we can get an example of this beauty to test for you:

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Urbana (a Bikecommuters.com “Editors’ Choice” winner for 2010) also chose the BionX system for this model. As I was talking to a respected industry representative, I asked “what do you think is holding the U.S. back from embracing electric and electric-assist bikes the way Europe and the Far East have?” This rep had an interesting take: three or four years ago, electric bike kits flooded the market in the U.S. Many of them were comprised of sub-standard or immature technology and were prone to early failure. This sort of turned off many potential e-bike purchasers and the current crop of bikes using the (relatively expensive) BionX system is an answer to those earlier problems. The BionX has a great track record and is worth the extra investment, or so our industry rep indicated…she might be onto something, because as I mentioned earlier, BionX appeared on all the top-shelf models.

Here’s an interesting one…spotted in the Stromer booth. I can’t find my notes, but this one appears to be a folder with the battery hidden in the center of the pivoting portion of the frame:

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The above is just a sampling of the myriad e-bikes on display at the Sands this year. Some rough general observations — most of these bikes have a range of about 20 miles with heavy e-assist use/40 miles or so when the user pedals more. Top speed of the e-assist motors hovers around 20 mph (the top speed might be regulated in different states; check your municipal and state laws for specifics). Battery voltages range from 24V to 36V, and charge times vary but with most in the 4-5 hour range. And most importantly: e-bikes are coming! This segment of the market is maturing rapidly, and as battery technology improves, this segment is just going to get bigger and bigger.

Of course, there is some evidence that not all U.S. consumers…or even sellers…are “getting it”. One Clearwater, Florida-based retailer is selling moped-style e-bikes as “DUI Scooters“. Looks like we have a way to go before things get more serious in the electric/electric-assist bicycle field….

Interbike 2010: Smart City Bikes

On display at the Interbike 2010 trade show were many fully-appointed city bikes — bikes that would be quite suitable for utility cycling trips such as lengthy commutes, light cargo-hauling and all-around transportation. A lot of the bikes we noticed in this category come with fenders, rack mounting points and other features that make them quite desirable for someone looking for a versatile rig. Take a look at some of the bikes:

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This one from Salsa Cycles comes with a nice front rack and mounts for fenders and a rear carrier. Nice!

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Here’s an Electra Ticino in a “mixte” style…beautiful hammered-finish fenders and all the mounting points one could ask for.

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Another Electra Ticino…this one in a more traditional diamond-frame format. Same great features as the mixte bike above.

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This is a Velo Orange “Polyvalent” frameset…but one that could be built up into quite a versatile machine…rack points front and rear, upright and stable rider position and great looks without being too flashy.

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Pashley had a huge display…while their bikes are rather expensive, they come with a lot of desirable features such as generator hubs and lights, racks and full-coverage fenders.

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Our friends at Urbana had a great display…all the colors of the rainbow in their sturdy, versatile bikes. We did a review of one of their models a few months ago, and with a little luck we will be testing their electric-assist version in the coming months. A quick look at the e-version suggests it’s going to be a hit — they didn’t cheap out on the e-assist kit they chose.

There were many many more…and I’ll get photos up in the coming days. Things are hopping for the urban utility bike segment!

Urbana Bicycle: Final Review

The Urbana was custom-designed in-house. It’s not some cookie-cutter Taiwanese frame with some extras thrown onto it. The design goal was to create a different kind of urban bike. Inspired by freeride/downhill mountain bikes and European utility bikes, the Urbana is built be a one-size-fits-all bike for around-town errands, standing up to heavy loads on blighted roads. I was challenged by Haniya at KMI to push the Urbana to its limits.


If there’s one thing I can say about Kansas City, it’s that the late winter and early spring time can be really strange for cyclists. I just got back from a nice mountain bike ride, and it’s just beautiful outside: Partly sunny, 75°F with a light breeze. I was using the massive 2.7″ wide tires for “suspension” as I tackled rocks, tree roots and muddy ruts on my favorite local singletrack course.

Just a few weeks ago, I was using the same tires to carve through a snow storm to get groceries.

I’ve put the Urbana on a bus to take it downtown. I’ve picked up several huge loads of more than 60 pounds from nearby stores. I’ve taken it on a few short, slow group rides and there were a few days where I logged more than 25 miles on it pretty much in one run of things.  I’ve intentionally bombed straight into the most treacherous of pot-holes, smacked it into curbs, took it off some sweet jumps and ridden it down countless stairways. To say I’ve wrung this bike out would be an extreme understatement.

So now, the question remains: How did it hold up?

The Urbana needed a few adjustments during the review period. After the sort of abuse I put it through, this should come as no surprise. They’re the sort of adjustments that some cyclists would feel alright about doing at home: Tightening the headset, adjusting the brakes, tightening the chain tension and things like that. I’d imagine with normal use, these might be things you need a shop to do once per year or so. Try as I might, nothing broke during the review period. I’m notorious for killing wheels and breaking spokes. The wheels aren’t only intact, but they’re still as true as the day I unboxed the bike.

How does it ride?

The Urbana, as I mentioned before, weighs in at a somewhat hefty 43 pounds. My test bike was encumbered with pretty much every accessory that KMI is willing to install at the factory: the heavy-duty reinforced cargo rack, fenders, rear kickstand and a chainguard. Acceleration was, as you’d expect, slow going. My 8-speed equipped bike was geared exceptionally well, which is to say it’s geared for climbing and heavy loads, not for speed. The supple tires roll smoothly and quietly. They also don’t seem to add much rolling resistance, despite their width and weight. The head angle on the frame, combined with the steel fork’s “rake” feature gives the Urbana a unique feel on the road. The steering feels somewhat twitchy when you first ride it. You get used to this sensation quickly, though. A unique side effect of such extreme caster on the front wheel is that the front fender doesn’t cover much of the upper part of the wheel. The gargantuan tires happily throw water up into the air ahead of the rider, despite the fender, and if you’re moving fast enough or riding into the wind, you’ll get a face full of road grime spray.

The well-ventilated rear roller/drum brake grabs the rear wheel with gusto

While the front disc brake stops the behemoth of a bike (and whatever load you’re hauling) quicker than you’d likely expect.

As I mentioned earlier, the wide tires work pretty well in low-traction conditions such as sand, gravel, snow and mud, but they’re far from perfect. Today’s muddy adventures proved that thick, slippery mud is better left to knobby tires. They are otherwise perfect tires for year-round commuting and errands. All in all, the Urbana rides much like I was expecting: It’s big, comfortable and has a lot of momentum. It’s the SUV of bicycles, in more ways than one.

Nice Rack!

The custom-engineered RNR rack is sold as an accessory, but without it, I think the Urbana loses its identity. It’s rated to carry well over 100 pounds of dynamic weight, and it attaches to the seat tube with a rigid metal plate that keeps the rack firmly in place laterally, even with the heaviest of loads. The rack itself is made of thick tubing and plate metal, with beefy welds holding everything together. Its unique design suits not only the usual suspects: Panniers, trunk bags, and things attached with bungees and ratchet-straps, but it also holds re-usable shopping bags as well. More on exactly how that works on my personal blog.

On the street
I got a lot of looks and questions from people who saw the Urbana. It’s a somewhat unique looking bike. Of course, I got the occasional “You’re riding a girly bike!” but most people I talked to were genuinely interested in it, and several people wanted to take it for a spin. Yeah, I’ve also heard that line before. I knew the people who I entrusted to ride it. Theresa owns a local bike shop that focuses on commuting and utility cycling. A bunch of folks at the local hackerspace took it for a ride through the caves. Lorin is a long-time bike commuting buddy of mine. Bill owns a farm, and thinks this would be a good bike to get around the farm on. Here, he’s taking it for a night-time spin around a parking lot:

Final thoughts
The most basic singlespeed Urbana will set you back more than $1,000 USD. From there, drivetrain makes the most difference in price. Options include 3 speed Sturmey-Archer or 8 speed nexus IGH and 1×7 derailleur configuration. Toss in some cash for accessories like the RNR rack, and this is NOT a cheap bicycle. That said, it’s probably the last bike you’d need for getting around town. The days I rode 25 miles or more on this bike were NOT pleasant bike rides. This is a runabout bike for short errands. A 5-miles-at-a-time bicycle to get to the office, the bus stop, the bar, the food co-op, the hardware store. It’s a genuine pleasure to ride for these short errands, even when it’s fully loaded. Initially, I didn’t understand the lack of a place to mount a water bottle cage, but now I get it: If you will be out long enough to need hydration, you probably want to think about taking a different bike.