Electric Bike-Share programs finally in the news
Bike-share programs have been around a few years now, but…this past year I am finally seeing electric bikes being tried as an option. I think that’s great! And here’s why…
What’s a “Bike Share”?
Bike-share programs are simply a bike rental scheme, and it has been promoted as a way that crowded cities can ease traffic congestion. Many big-city traffic planners want citizens to embrace public transportation, like trains, buses, and subways. Anyone who has pondered the “last mile” problem will usually grasp how bike-shares can help.
In theory, people can live a certain distance from the expensive-location inner-city businesses, and then ride a train into the city for work (or fun). I was working in New Jersey once, and I spent my weekends riding the train into Manhattan, and then I wandered around the city on foot. I was very pleased to see how well that system worked. Doing that was fine for a tourist who wasn’t in a hurry, but when you are going to work, a long casual stroll from the train to your destination is simply not going to get more people onto the train, and out of their cars (which would also reduce the number of parking lots tying-up valuable Manhattan real estate).
So…how can we get across that “last mile” from the train station to our work? Bike-share programs are helping in some areas, since they cost much less than a taxi. Of course, pedal-only bicycles work best in flat cities, Like Manhattan and also Copenhagen. Once you throw in some hills (in places like San Francisco), it’s a hard-sell to get tourists and work-commuters onto a bike. BUT!…add an electric motor, and suddenly a whole new world of options will open up.
LimeBike unveiled its own dockless e-bike at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Other companies, like Spin and Motivate, announced e-bike pilots around the same time.
Uber buys “Jump Bike”
Most people these days have already heard of Uber and Lyft. For those who are new to these companies, it is a de-centralized taxi service that uses independent drivers as contractors who drive their own personal vehicles. You access them on your smart-phone, and you can very conveniently pay with Paypal. It removes a tremendous amount of liability and cost-overhead from the parent company, and it allows non-professional people to occasionally earn some money as a part-time driver.
Of course, this business model is not without its risks. Plus, this entirely new industry is under fire from their deep-rooted competitors, professional taxi companies. That being said, Uber and Lyft have navigated the obstacles so far, and are growing fast. This means they have to find some way to invest their profits into a legitimate business expense, or pay taxes on those profits, so…what should they invest in?
Uber just announced that they are buying the bike-share company “Jump Bike”, and this is happening just after Jump Bike has been promoting their new electric rental bikes. This is big news, because a large well-financed company will now be providing and promoting ebike rentals to major cities (and competitors like Lyft are likely to follow). It will allow people in several major cities to rent an ebike, and this is important because…I run into people these days who STILL don’t know ebikes even exist.
Don’t get me wrong, the rental ebikes they will be providing are going to be weak and ugly, and that will turn off quite a few people once they look up the price they’d have to pay to buy one for themselves. However, once they start looking at the ebikes that are for sale, they will also find great-looking models that have more power, and having thousands of people shopping for more powerful ebikes will be a very good thing.
Here’s a story from 2014 about a program in San Francisco. The “pre-pilot” program used two A2B Metro ebikes for testing, but…the client “CityCarshare.Org” was bought by “Getaround”, and there is no word on any near future ebike program.
Even though the ebikes from the article linked above didn’t pan out, I wanted to include them so I could show a pic of the pilot ebike. Notice the “elevated stay” in the frame just above the chain. Using a design like this means that if there is ever a problem with the chain, a bike mechanic does not need to break the chain apart, and then re-attach the links properly.
A worn or damaged chain can easily be swapped-in if the frame uses an elevated stay (along with making a rear-wheel swap easier, too), so I hope future bike share companies add this feature.
Back in October of 2016, the City of Baltimore launched a 200-ebike bike-share program. It was plagued by vandalism and theft, but the Canadian ebike systems supplier (Bewegen Technologies) has learned valuable lessons that they will use to upgrade their program while expanding it to other cities.
In 11 months of operation, users have taken 40,000 trips and traveled 60,000 miles. Nearly 1,800 people are reported to be active repeat users, so…there certainly is a demand for services like this.
Bewegen has also supplied the ebike bike share in Birmingham, Alabama. They recently contracted to provide the electric bike share in Park City , Utah, Howard County Maryland, and Richmond Virginia.
Seattle is known to be “green friendly”, but…the significant hills there make any bicycle-based rental program a little less-than-popular. However, they are trying out an ebike share program supplied by Lime.
The ebikes supplied by Lime have a 250W geared hubmotor in the rear wheel. they use 36V batteries, and when they are getting low, the rider is given some warning so they can still ride for a while before it must be parked. At that time, a signal is sent to the ebike mechanic, who drives out to swap the battery with a freshly charged one.
The Lime ebikes will have a 15-MPH top speed, which is fine with me, but…the 250W power limit is weak, and a hubmotor will not climb as well as a mid drive. They are pedelecs, so there is no hand-throttle and you must pedal to get any electric-assist. The US power limit is 750W, and a BBS01 at 36V would be a much better performer.
That being said, I still think this is a good development…
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, April 2018