E-Bikes: Power to the Pedal!

The e-bike has rapidly developed into a staple of modern world mobility. DEKRA solutions investigates this success story.

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Linde is working on the H2 Bike. Easily replaceable H2 cartridges provide up to 60 miles of electric support each. (Picture: DEKRA)

The hydrogen-fueled electric bike is no longer merely a thing of the future – they are already to be found on our roads, however a mass produced model is yet to come. The H2, developed by the German company Linde, is the mutant offspring of a regular e-bike. The frame was rebuilt to house a hydrogen tank and the fuel cell that charges the battery that powers the motor. Only time will tell whether the Linde H2 provides a glimpse of cycling’s future. One thing it certainly does do is represent the dynamic of the e-bike industry – where massive growth is order of the day and nothing seems impossible.

Some insiders have gone as far as to predict that the e-bike will overtake the regular pedal-powered bike as steed of choice. Even now, the prospect of having a tailwind on demand is reviving the trusty bicycle as an exciting alternative for urban travel. Market entries by big system providers such as Bosch and Brose have further boosted the market, which has exploded since 2010. Bikes assisted with small petrol engines have been eking out a marginal existence for decades. Only once the concept was electrified have sales started really taking off. To put that in solid figures, 25,000 e-bikes were sold in Germany in 2005. By 2015, this number had risen to 520,000 with no sign of slowing down, according to Germany’s Bicycle Industry Association (ZIV). Only a short time ago, e-bikes were exclusively available from niche specialists. Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a bike brand has without at least one electric offering in each area of its portfolio: from folding e-bikes to classic roadsters, mountain bikes to quickoff-the-mark S-Pedelecs.

Types

The moniker “e-bike” is an umbrella term for all the different varieties of electrically powered two-wheelers. In Germany, the pedelec (pedal electric cycle) is the most successful manifestation of the e-bike. Pedelecs merely support the pedal power of the rider, rather than power the wheels directly. They do so up to speeds of 25 km/h. An S-Pedelec, on the other hand, will assist the rider up to speeds of 45 km/h, thus earning the “S” – for speed. The higher speeds do however require the S-Pedelec to be insured and registered. The rider is required to hold a valid driving license and wear a helmet.

So, what caused this e-bike boom? The elderly were the first to begin snapping up e-bikes. It wasn’t long before well-respected cycling brands were also got in on the act, bringing the advantages of the electric motor to the more trendy courier and mountain bike sectors. Over the last few years, more and more has been invested in further developing e-bike technology itself. This has resulted in more dynamic, direct and sensitive motors. Battery life – and with it the effective range of e-bikes – is constantly improving. Increasing design integration, such as the incorporation of the battery into bike frame, has provided higher quality and more attractive e-bikes too. Frames and components are furthermore designed specifically to cope with the increased load. Last but not least, the interface between e-bike and smartphone is also taking on an increasingly important role.

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Whether it be as a workhorse or a vehicle for your hobby- the Riese und Müller Load will help. (Picture: DEKRA)

Faster, further, lighter

One key advantage of e-bikes over their unpowered counterparts is their superior effective range. According to the report “Pedelection”, funded by Germany’s Federal Environment Ministry, the so-called “attractive range” rises from five to fifteen kilometers with the e-bike. By making higher speeds possible with less effort, e-bikes allow for sweat-free journeys to work and the hassle-free transport of heavy grocery bags from the supermarket. As touched upon previously, e-bikes also allow the elderly and people with physical disabilities to continue cycling, and do so at speed. It is precisely this point, however, with which e-bike critics take issue. They argue that if individuals with a reduced capacity to react and little cycling experience are let loose on our streets and cycle paths at 25 km/h, accidents are guaranteed. There are few reliable figures available, however there does appear to be an increase in accidents that correlates to the increase in numbers of e-bikes.

According to the German Federal Statistical Office, approximately 12% of all road deaths in 2014 involved cyclists. In absolute figures, this represented 396 deaths, of which 39 involved an e-bike. More than half of those victims were over 65 years of age. Andreas Richter, Director of DEKRA’s Competence Centre for Electromobility explains: “many people using pedelecs lack the requisite cycling experience”. Richter does concede that “the support provided by the motor does however mean that the rider gets tired less quickly. As a result, concentration can be maintained for longer periods”.

New arrivals to the e-bike market are presented in the DEKRA Pedelec Check. For this, Richter and his colleagues regularly examine pedelecs featuring new and improved technologies. “Our website (www.dekra-elektromobilitaet.de) also provides lots of practical advice on the subject, such as a buyers guide for those looking to purchase a new e-bike,” he explains.

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Outdoor fun: The power of the Haibike Nduro Pro’s electric motor is dynamic, even on mountain trails. (Picture: DEKRA)

The Big Question

Naturally, the additional features of an e-bike have their price, when compared to a regular bicycle. You should be prepared to part with at least 2,000 euros to ensure your e-bike is of acceptable quality. As for the top end of the market, you’ll find the sky is the limit with regards to pricing! For example, one manufacturer is selling a high-end electric mountain bike for a whopping 15,000 euros. The electric mountain bike sector is booming like no other on the e-bike market. They are the best-selling class of e-bike, and there is already a burgeoning racing scene. One rather remarkable trend is the electro-fatbike. With super-wide low pressure tyres, they offer exceptional grip, which in turn provides superior control in corners, in the wet and on loose surfaces.

Take a look at the new DEKRA Solutions magazine.

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