Sitting in my hotel room in China waiting to travel to the factory to discover whether my thoughts on our next generation of Axcess electric bikes fulfils my expectations, I cannot help ponder if the correct decisions have been made and assumptions proved practical.
Innovation often comes in incremental steps, but occasionally a number of minor advances come together in a whole new concept.
Now in their 5th year, the Axcess bikes look the same as when they were first launched, but internally there have been a number of improvements. The electronic controllers have been re-programmed to provide soft start action rather than a sudden rush of power. The electrics have been improved, primarily to stop the ingress of water into the system – so causing problems- and incidentally making any repairs much simpler by introducing a range of plugs into the circuit so that soldering repairs have become a thing of the past. We changed the action of the twist grip throttle and replaced it with the thumb throttle as it is less likely to be switched on by mistake. The battery boxes look the same as always but internally the battery construction is entirely different. The cells are now known generically as 1850 cells, some of which are made by Samsung, so that the batteries have not only become smaller and lighter, but are less susceptible to damage by owner misuse, though they should not be left fully discharged for any length of time.
But what do our customers want? They want the bike to look like a normal bike, not an electric bike, they want it to be light, they want long term reliable operation, they want it to look attractive, they want value for money, they want a throttle and, although they may not know it, they want long term easy repairs and replacements.
During these 5 years, the most significant advance in electric bike design has been the further development of the crank drive motor positioned between the pedals, in particular by Bosch. Many genuine claims are made for the advantages of this system. Some aspects are not emphasised. It is certainly a more expensive and complicated method. With all the power being transmitted through the chain and gears, the power of the motor is limited, and these components wear out more quickly and need replacement. The motors tend to be programmed for each manufacturer and sometimes each model of bike. If anything goes wrong with the motor, it has to be removed and sent back to Bosch. Crank motors are operated with a torque sensor, so the more power the rider puts on the pedals, the more power the motor delivers, up to its maximum. This is not necessarily a good system for a rider who is not strong. A weaker rider wants to enjoy the full power of the motor at any stage for acceleration, hill starts, hill climbing and sometimes, to have a rest from pedalling.
So where does this leave Axcess-electric-bikes?
The simple answer is – With a huge opportunity to produce something different, attractive and competitive, primarily developed for the UK market.
Faced with the competition from crank drive motors, the manufacturers electric bikes with rear wheel drive systems have not been slow to rise to the challenge.
Motors have been re-engineered, control systems developed, battery sizes reduced and bike frames redesigned. With crank motor electric bikes priced from about £1700 to £13,000 (Haibike XDURO HardNine Carbon Ultimate), this leaves us with a price point between (say) £1000 and £2000 to develop a bike which:
It is time now to pack my bags and complete the last part of the journey to the factory visit and see what is being delivered out of these aspirations.
Note 29/04/2016: And it was good – but not quite right!
To be continued!