Posted on 02 March 2018
RIDING (INTO) THE FUTURE
One ride and you'll understand.
The Moustache Lundi - pedal-assist meets high design
Pedal-assist bicycles are so new, so amazing that there's almost no words for them. To ride one is indescribable. It feels like there's a machine constantly adjusting to you and the terrain, constantly altering... almost like it's reading your mind. It t feels like you can go anywhere, up huge hills, across distance; you can break a sweat if you want, or you can cut through gridlock and arrive early - never breaking a sweat. In a city where summers are hot, distances are long and traffic is car-to-car, a pedal-assist bike feels like an urban solution long time in waiting, a revelation. Businesses are using them for deliveries, families are using them to drop the kids off, and private citizens are arriving on-time and stress-free.
A pedal-assist bike might feel like something for the early-adaptor who finds style in a solution few might immediately consider. That's ok, the nice thing is that you already have company. Nearly 40% of the market in Europe is pedal-assists, and in North America, the spark has caught fire. No Uber, no taxi, no transit, and no regular bike either. No change of clothes required, just show up, you're sweat-free. A pedal-assist bike is hassle-free autonomy. It may take an individualistic or contrarian streak to first understand, but who wants to be stuck in traffic or in a subway car? A pedal-assist takes your freedom seriously. It doesn't just compete with cars and transit, it competes with everything, including regular bikes.
WHO IS IT FOR?
A pedal-assist bike has several discrete markets. First, on cargo bikes, where all the added cargo requires a bit of assist over distance and hills. Second, as a commuter that connects distances that feel too far to bike but are still too awful to drive. A pedal-assist is something you can ride without a change of clothes, that you can ride without a drop of sweat, and that takes you door-to-door, feeling ready-for-work rather than stressed by traffic. They're for couriers who know time is money. And, of course, they are for those who ride recreationally, who want to push through wind and hills and make it to their goal. In short, it's for everyone.
These different uses are visible with the bikes we carry. A bike like the Devinci e-Griffin is a comfortable, upright city bike made for door-to-door distance or for recreational rides. The Devinci e-Cartier takes efficiency seriously, giving you a forward back position that takes acceleration, agility, and efficiency seriously. It's meant to get you there before all other options. Our premium French built Moustache bikes are designed for the city cyclist connecting constant meetings and appointments, who wants to avoid Uber or taxis for something that produces autonomy, health, and peace through gridlock. The Moustache bikes are the Platonic form of pedal-assist technology; purpose-built frames, designer colours, and intelligent technology, from built-in headlights to specially crafted handlebars.
WHAT IS A PEDAL ASSIST?
It's something you need to pedal (because you want to pedal!)
Pedal-assist bikes are often confused with e-bikes. There is a difference. E-bikes are anything that has autonomous pedals and an autonomous electric motor. Neither the motor or pedals are connected in anyway. if you pedal the motor doesn't know what you're doing. And, if you throttle the motor you don't need the pedals. That's why no one ever pedals these things. And, that's why these 'bikes' are illegal across Europe because they're really just e-scooters with pedals. The pedals are there for legal decoration, so that they can cynically be classed as a bike. Scooters in Europe - as they do here - require a driver license, registration and insurance. The legislation will surely become more sophisticated in Canada as the market progresses, but the difference in Europe is that the law says an e-bike is pedal assist (you must always be pedalling to get the assist) whereas in Canada it's legislated as a catch-all electric assist (which means the bike just needs to have pedals, but there's no law on whether these pedals even work).
We're not talking about e-scooters, they have nothing to do with pedal-assist bikes or even e-bikes. The fact that they are often included under the e-bike genus shows a confusion that is slowly sorting itself out as the market progresses. A pedal-assist is a bicycle, you continue to pedal, but you have a computerized motor that produces a powerful constantly-adjusting assist. In Europe, they call these bikes pedelecs. All of them have a computer, a torque sensor on the pedals, two RPM gauges (one on the pedals, one on the rear wheel) that take your inputs, crunch the data, and provide a power assist that feels like the perfect meeting of human and machine. You can adjust the level of power, you still have gears, and basically you choose whether today is a sweaty workout or whether today is a sweat-free errand. Either way, you're slicing through gridlock, saving tons of money, and arriving feeling refreshed and ready to go.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
From the front to the rear to the middle position
Moustache Lundi - bike meets architecture
Pedal-assist bikes have been on the market for nearly a decade now and we've been carrying them for the same amount of time, mostly in the form of cargo bikes - where the extra assist has always made a great deal of sense. Today, pedal-assist technology has truly arrived, but to get there it had to go through a genesis that was wild and innovative, but not always the best solution. And, while the market has arrived at it's solution, a lot of these past solutions still exist in the marketplace, and that can be confusing to the buyer who is new to all of this.
Pedal-assist systems began with front-wheel drives, mostly in the Netherlands, about a decade ago. Dutch manufacturers knew that a rear-wheel pedal-assist would replace the internal gear hub so essential to Dutch bikes, so they went with a front-wheel pedal-assist instead. It seemed like a good idea but it wasn't. The problem with front wheel motors (which are still on the market today but fading fast) is that the computer might sense that you need a bit of power as you're slowing down into a curve on an rainy day and suddenly give you a boost. Your wheel slips out, and suddenly you're out of control. By nature, a pedal-assist isn't there to give you control, it's there to give you power. A bikes handling and control comes from the front wheel while the power comes from the rear wheel. So it's not surprising that the next stage of evolution was rear-wheel drive pedal-assist.
To this day rear-wheel pedal-assists make a lot of sense and, unlike front wheel pedal-assists, are here to stay. But, they have one flaw: they don't work with an internally geared system - and that's a deal-beaker for a lot of city cyclists. The other problem with rear-drive pedal-assists is the plethora of companies out there that seem to come and go. The only rear-wheel pedal-assist that's trustworthy is Bionx, a Canadian (yay!) company owned by Magna International. We love them because they are supported by a strong balance sheet, because they have great after-sales service, and because they use next-generation Lithium Maganese batteries that are more stable in extreme hot and colds than Lithium-Ion. Of all the rear-drive systems out there, Bionx are the market leaders in power, torque, and technology. This is our first choice when it comes to adding a pedal-assist to any Nihola bike.
But then there's a question that's been lurking the whole time: if a pedal-assist bike assists pedalling, then why isn't the motor located where the assist happens... in the pedals? Ah, good question! ..let's move on...
The middle path
The Urban Arrow - the first cargo bike with mid-drive assist
The mid-drive motor represented two big advancements in pedal-assist evolution. First, it introduced large players like Bosch, Yamaha and Shimano to the market, all of who brought their high-level R&D and after-sales service to a market that lacked maturity and support. Second, it located the pedal-assist in where it makes the most sense, in the pedals. This advanced pedal-assist systems away from "kits" that retrofitted to any bike and towards purpose-built pedal-assist bikes that were built from the ground up.
Mid-drives locate the pedal-assist in the middle of the frame, and this does two things. One, it puts the added weight in the centre of the bike, where the riders centre of gravity already exists, making for a lighter more intuitive feel. Second, it permits any and all drivetrain options, whether you prefer internal gears, a derailleur system, or a single speed. These are sophisticated systems that we can continually improve with software updates, and the batteries can support other features from electronic shifting and high-powered lighting systems. With the presence of real brands and the pedal-assist literally in the pedals, the market has entered an intelligent maturation and standardization.
Whether you choose Bosch, Shimano or Yamaha. your making a great choice. Yamaha has been pushing high torque systems that help accelerate heavier e-cargo bikes, so its no surprise to see them on brands like Babboe. Bosch has earned the most success as the market leader in torque and power and they can be found on lightweight brands like Butchers & Bicycles, Urban Arrow, and Moustache. Shimano generally has lower torque and power but is the most trusted name in the bike industry. Their pedal-assists can be found on Devinci bikes and some Bullitt cargo bikes. The new Shimano E8000 system, however, is 30% lighter with equal torque and power to Bosch systems and you can find this on the high-performance Bullitt E8000 series of cargo bikes.
WATTS IT ALL ABOUT?
Understanding wattage, torque and batteries
The Devinci E-Griffin. Made for point-to-point sweat-free errands
Choosing a bike with pedal-assist introduces a new lingo into your bicycle purchase, but it's pretty easy. The power of the motor and the storage capacity of the battery are defined by the watts. The higher the watts, the more power the motor and the more kilometers you can go in a single charge. A 250W motor is more than enough power for a regular bike but a higher watt motor makes a lot of sense on cargo bikes, especially if the cargo bike is heavier and/or is carrying a great deal of weight.
In Europe, the power limit for the motor is regulated at 250W but here in North America the limit is a massive 500W. The mid-drive systems dominate in Europe, mostly because they work easily with internally geared systems; that's why most mid-drive systems tend to be around 250W although here in North America we get the 'export versions' which peak at 350W. Companies that make rear-assist systems like Canada's own Bionx have - until lately - dominated the North American landscape because most bikes commonly use derailleurs. This regulative environment explains why Bionx has been able powerful 500W rear drive systems which are very attractive for use on cargo bikes - even if you have to switch to derailleurs.
However, this begs the question. Most cargo bikes are sold in Europe and these cargo bikes definitely require extra power to carry their heavy loads up hills without fade. The solution was to increase the acceleration or torque of the mid-drive motor. High torque coupled with higher wattage is exactly what you should be looking for when shopping for a heavier (or heavy duty) cargo bike. And, because North America gets higher wattage 'export version' mid-drives, this is tantalizingly possible.
Torque is measured in Newton Meters, or Nm. On a regular (non-cargo) bike like the Devinci Cartier or the Devinci e-Griffin the system uses a Shimano E6000 250W motor and provides 50nm of torque. The battery is 418W - which is quite high - meaning you can typically go about 120km on a single charge. That's a lot! Compare this to the Moustache bikes which use a Bosch Performance Line 350W motor and have 60nm of torque; now you're getting 28% more power up hills and significantly more acceleration out of the gate. These Bosch systems also use a 400W battery, so you can go the same amount of distance.
PEDAL ASSIST FOR CARGO
Where pedal-assist finds its highest calling
Where all of this really matters is cargo bikes. Cargo bikes like the E6000 Bullitt, for instance, use the lower wattage and torque Shimano E6000 system because the bike is remarkably light and is made for carrying one kid (or lightweight courier cargo). Mid-weight cargo bikes like the Urban Arrow and the Butchers & Bicycles both use the phenomenal Bosch CX system. The CX has 350W of power and 75nm of torque. This is coupled with a massive 500W battery pack. That gives you roughly 70km distance and 50km loaded. Not bad!
Then there's the impressive Yamaha systems found on the heavier Babboe cargo bikes. Because these bikes do tend to be heavier than their competition, the powerful best-in-class Yamaha 500W motor is as welcome as the phenomenal 80nm of torque. Because of the heavier weight the distance is reduced to 38km loaded and 60km unloaded.
Last in the mid-drives is the new Shimano E8000 Bullitt. Like the other Shimano systems it also uses a 250W motor but jumps from 50nm to 70nm of torque. It was first designed for mountain bikers who constantly accelerate/decelerate and need a highly intuitive system that engages and disengages faster in tricky situations. It's not surprising to see such a system on a Bullitt, a cargo bike that is unapologetically built on higher-speed stop-and-start handling.
Unfortunately, Nihola does not make an e-assist cargo bike and relies on rear-assist kits like Bionx instead. While this does mean that you need to shift from the Nihola's internal gears to a derailleur system you get more stable Lithium Maganese, phenomenal range and power, and all the torque you really need. There are two systems we recommend for a Nihola. One is the Bionx RX350 with 350W of power, 40nm of torque and a large 425W battery. The other, which we've used on bikes heading to the west coast (or on the heavier Nihola 4.0 model) is the 500DX system that has a huge 500W of power, 50nm of torque, and a massive 555W battery. On a regular bike you get about 135km on a single charge, but you'd want to reduce that by about 30% on a cargo bike. We're pressing Nihola to use mid-drives in the future, but they really like rear-drives, so there you go.
More power to you!
Babboe City Mountain - huge power, massive torque. Holland meets Switzerland
In sum, the mid-drive systems from Shimano, Bosch, and Yamaha offer the best motor placement and the most assured technology and after-sales service. These pedal-assists let you use whatever drivetrain you want and offer various torque, power, and battery life. You can find mid-drives on most of our pedal-assist bikes, whether cargo bikes like Butchers & Bicycles, Babboe, Urban Arrow, Bullitt or regular bikes like Devinci and Moustache. And, while rear-drives like Bionx lack the same drivetrain versatility of a mid-drive they offer more power and better batteries, which is why they work so well on cargo bikes like Nihola.
Whatever you choose, a pedal-assist bike is something like a conversion experience. Our customers haven been those who live 10km+ away from downtown who resent the sweaty human-to-human or CO2 inhaling bumper-to-bumper congestion of transit systems or driving. A pedal-assist has let them breeze through gridlock with total autonomy and without breaking a sweat. That's nice. Others multi-task a ton of errands from point-to-point all day and need a gridlock busting solution that lets them arrive at meetings ready to rock. And then there's cargo bikes. In downtown Toronto, only 45% of families own cars, and these cars are miserable to drive and park in the downtown core. A cargo bike lets you negotiate dense urban spaces sweat-free with a ton of trunk space for kids, groceries and the family dog. Like we said, pedal-assist bikes are the future. It's a way of spending money to save money, and best of all, it doesn't just improve quality of life, it changes quality of life.