Electric bike offers a clear-conscience travel alternative

25th January 2008 By: Leandi Kolver - Creamer Media Deputy Editor

It looks like a normal bicycle and it pedals like a normal bicycle. The difference? It is electric, has a battery, a controller system, safety features and, it is a cheaper, more environmentally friendly method of transport.

The eZee electric bicycle, which mechanical engineer James Swift started importing into South Africa a mere five months ago, is starting to pick up momentum garnering interest among consumers. The eZee bike is the best-selling brand of electric bicycles in the UK and is also doing well in the rest of Europe, Australia, the US and New Zealand.

To test whether the bike is really worth the hype, a few Engineering News journalists decided to take the bicycle for a test drive. The result: excitement.

“Riding the bicycle was quite an amazing experience. It goes pretty fast without even doing any peddling at all. The only disadvantage is that it is quite heavy compared with a normal bicycle,” says Engineering News journalist Gerrit Bezuidenhout.

What makes the electric bicycle such an economic option is that the cost of the electricity used by the eZee bike is less than the cost of the food needed to produce the equivalent energy that is needed by the human body to travel the same distance by pedalling.

The bicycle also provides an environmentally friendly option to motor vehicles, as the generation of the electricity it uses for charging produces 20 times less carbon dioxide (C02) than driving a small car on a kilometre basis, and emits none while in use. The bicycle is estimated to save South Africa 12 000 t/m of C02 if 100 000 people use it, rather than vehicles.

The bicycle requires 250 Wh to travel an estimated 30 km and will cost less than 40 c of electricity to travel 100 km. The battery has a lifetime of at least 500 charges, which translates into two years worth of charges for a person travelling 50 km each day.

Swift says that the eZee bike would be a good way to, for instance, travel to the Gautrain rapid rail, and back.

“The eZee Quando model folds up, and can easily be used to ride to the Gautrain, and you can take it on board to use at your destination,” he adds.

The eZeebike’s 360-Wh lithium-manganese battery (which takes from between five to six hours to charge when completely depleted) can last up to 60 km on a single charge, depending on the eZee model, the cyclist’s weight and the terrain.

“The high-efficiency brushless motor and lithium-manganese battery, combined with a lightweight aluminium frame provides a quality performance bicycle, and makes it from 10 kg to 12 kg lighter than most electric bikes using cheaper motor and battery systems,” says Swift.

Numerous brand quality proving events have been completed in most of the supplier countries, including a challenge trip in the US where a cyclist travelled the banks of the Mississippi (3 200 km) to prove the bike’s endurance.

“Because the eZee bike adheres to all the legislation requirements, including the small stuff that even normal bicycle traders ignore, like the fact that you need reflectors and lights for night riding, they make for good quality. The fact that you have power on demand also makes it a safer option to normal bicycles when riding in traffic. They are of extremely good value for money if you look at the technology and cycle components that is fitted,” says Swift.

South African legislation, conforming to the European Union rules, allows bicycles which are powered by electric motors of no more than 250 W, and a speed limit of 25 km/h to be driven without a driver’s licence, and without being registered, as it is still considered to be a bicycle.

“Although the bike has been restricted to 25 km/h owing to legislation requirements, these speed restrictions can easily be removed for ‘off-road use’ to reach a speed of 35 km/h,” says Swift.

The electric bicycle market globally has grown more than 20% since 2005, with an estimated 20-million bikes sold each year.

According to Cycle Electric ten-million electric bicycles were produced in China during 2005, which is expected to rise towards 25-million by 2009.

In efforts to encourage cyclists to use this environmentally friendly option, some governments are offering citizens incentives. In Pasadena, California, a reward programme has been developed with cash handouts for frequent ebikers and a $500 subsidy.

Swift says that South African governmental departments and city councils can play a significant role in upgrading infrastructure to accommodate the use of bicycles and in doing so, urge South Africans towards alternative means of transportation.

“South Africans are used to using cars for every type of transport and this mindset needs to be changed.

“It will still take some time for people to get used to the idea of an electrified bicycle as a feasible transport option, and it will take a lot of education about the advantages and reasoning behind the concept of electric bicycles, but the popularity is definitely increasing,” Swift concludes.