I have a theory on why everyone smiles when they ride one - Its the instant torque of the electric motor that give gives an instant pickup, which in turn gives you a instant high that makes your brain feel elevated for few seconds! :)
Anyway this is a blog on electric cycles, which have started to hit the Indian market. Read on to know more!
An electric cycle is a normal bicycle that has been adapted or manufactured to incorporate the assistance of an electric motor, while keeping the usual pedals and bicycle transmission. The motor assistance can help the rider go further than they would under their own power. With an electric bike you can tackle bigger hills, or simply ride with less effort.
Assuming they comply with the regulations, they do not require RTO registration, insurance or a license to use, and can be used wherever a standard bicycle can go.
So basically you can ride an e-cycle with the following 3 modes (depends on the brand)
- 'Twist & Go' - Turn on the throttle and accelerate without the need to pedal. Most Indian e-bikes offer these throttles. Countries like UK ban throttle based e-bikes!
- 'Pedal Assist' - Here the motor provides assistance for the cycle to propel forward while pedaling. If you are used to riding a traditional cycle, the pedal assist mode has a more intuitive feel compared to the throttle mode. The pedal assist mode is also nice because you can focus purely on your pedaling and you don’t have to hold the throttle in a certain position. Since you have to pedal, the pedal assist mode will generally give you more range when compared to the throttle mode.
- Good old human powered cycling with no assist.
I believe that e-cycles are a fantastic innovation that can
- Help people who do have some knee pain but they enjoy cycling.
- Help old people who love cycling but need some assist.
- Help office goers who want to cycle but don't want to get into work all sweaty.
- Weekend warriors - who want to get out there in nature in the mountains, but don't have the athleticism that they used to have. This is the way to do it. People can connect with your community with nature and do it in an efficient, green and relatively quiet manner.
Generally motors are rated at Watts. A 350 watt motor will go faster than a 250 Watt motor. Do note that only 250 Watt motors are approved by agencies like ARAI in India.
e-cycles can have motors that can be placed in the rear or front wheel (hub motor system) or in the middle (mid drive system)
- Hub Motor system - A Motor is placed in the rear wheel or in front wheel. Mostly they are in the rear wheel.
The magnets of the motor directly drive the hub and the wheel and they tend to be heavier. The magnets generate torque to drive the motor. A direct drive in-hub motor does not have gears, there is no wear and tear and in theory these in-hub motors can last forever and are extremely reliable. The in-hub motor does not leverage the cycle gears and are great for flat terrains. Hub motors operate best at medium and high speeds. This makes them zippy and satisfying no matter which gear you’re pedaling in but less efficient over slower speeds while climbing a hill.
- Mid Drive system - In the mid-drive system, the motor is placed in the middle of the bike near the crank, which leverages the standard cycle chain and gears. Cycles have gears, where the user selects a right gear to help the cyclist climb a hill. The mid drive system uses these gears , so it has a wide range of ability to climb hills. As compared to the hub motor, which has a fixed gear, so when you are going up the hill on an e-bike with a hub motor, the system will draw more current into the motor to sustain the torque to climb the hill. With the mid drive, you just downshift the gears to go up the hill. Thus mid drive system are more efficient in terms of using energy from the battery and can enable users to go further especially in hilly areas.
Mid drive motors are becoming more popular on electric bicycles because they offer certain strengths over traditional in-wheel hub motors.
- Improved frame balance front to rear.
- The ability to leverage a the cycle gears for better efficiency, while climbing hills.
- Easier maintenance for the drivetrain and wheels (as well as less wiring across the frame)
Disadvantages of the Mid drive motor system
Mid drive systems do have some limitations and drawbacks worth considering :
- Louder operation because they tend to be geared, they tend to produce the most noise in lower gears when the drive unit is spinning at higher RPM
- Increased wear on the chain or belt, sprocket teeth and derailleur because the motor is adding force to the drive-train.
- More active shifting and gear changing is required by the rider in order to start the bike, climb efficiently and reach maximum speeds as compared to hub motors which connect directly to the wheel and don’t interface with gears.
Most modern e-bikes use Lithium-Ion batteries. The older e-bikes used Lead Acid batteries, which are heavier and take a long time to charge. Its always recommended to go for Lithium-Ion batteries for e-bikes.
Most e-bike batteries range from 36 to 48 Volts (V). This indicates how far the battery can push the power.
The amount of current that is flowing out is generally represented in Amperes (A).
Generally batteries are indicated in Ampere Hour (AH). So a 12 Amp-Hour battery tells us that 12 amps current can flow in 1 hour. A 48 volt battery can give you more torque as compared to a 36 V battery.
The capacity of the battery is represented in Watt hours (Wh), which is calculated as follows
Wh = V * Ah
So when you are shopping for an electric bike, you will have to look at the Watt-Hour (Wh) rating of the battery.
If there are 2 e-bikes but both have batteries rated at 10 AH. But the key thing is to look at the voltage and find out the Wh rating , which can be calculated as shown.
ebike 1 - 36 V * 10 Amp hour = 360 Watt hours
ebike 2 - 48 V * 10 Amp hour = 480 Watt hour
So ebike2 will take your further than ebike1 as the battery has more energy.
This is the magic feature that is loved by all electric car owners. Regenerative braking (also called regen) is the conversion of the vehicle’s kinetic energy into chemical energy stored in the battery, where it can be used later to drive the vehicle. It is braking because it also serves to slow the vehicle. It is regenerative because the energy is recaptured in the battery where it can be used again.
An electric car weighs a lot, lets say around 1000 kg. When you slow down, there is a lot of kinetic energy that can be transferred back to the battery due to the weight.
In a cycle, you only have lesser kinetic energy to recover as compared to a car. Also if regenerative braking is enabled, the motor also has a little bit of resistance while pedaling as the motor turns into a generator. Thus you will not find it easy to just pedal like a normal cycle.
While Regenerative braking is cool, there are takeoff's regarding regenerative braking w.r.t cycles.
Thus many e-bike makers opt out of including regen.
There have been past efforts by the likes of BSA, Hero launching Lead Acid based e-cycles. We know the issues with lead acid. Very heavy, terrible charging times, bad energy density to weight ratio. Obviously they did not do well. Then there have been Chinese imports, which again did not do well.
This also gave e-cycles a bad reputation. Its the same with the e-scooter industry. As the companies that launched these products wanted to make a quick buck without actually investing in R&D or caring about service and support.
But there are couple of companies that are bringing 'Made in India' e-cycles by doing the right thing - Investing in RnD.
Hulikkal electric cycles
Then we found out about this innovative little company called Hulikkal based out of Coimbatore. They have invested many years of RnD in making a suitable drive-train for Indian cycles and road conditions. And they are purely using Lithium-Ion based batteries. They offer Hub motor based e-cycles and are not launching mid drive based drive-trains as of now.
The Hulikkal e-bikes offer throttle mode only. There is no pedal assist mode as such. As mentioned earlier, the throttle mode is similar to how a motorcycle or scooter operates. When the throttle is engaged the motor provides power and propels you and the bike forward. A throttle allows you to pedal or just kick back and enjoy a ride without pedaling! The Hulikkal throttle riding capability is really fun but i hope they offer e-cycles with pedal assist in the near future.
We @ PluginIndia did a review of the Hulikkal Medley electric cycle and did meet the CEO Mr Prashant Goel who says the company has started selling e-cycles now but will launch many innovative and disruptive products with the electric drive train.
What i like about Hulikkal is the RnD that is being done on the drive-train and kits. Their cycles might look basic with no great design, but the drive-train and features are being improved every year. The latest type 3 drive-train is very well optimized compared to the type 1 kit they launched 2 years back. This investment in RnD on the drivetrain and the kit is more important than creating fancy designs. Once they iterate multiple versions and bring upon improvements on the drivetrain, they can focus on designs and creating other products.
Having appreciated the company's efforts in RnD regarding the drive train, the community can offer following feedback to Hulikkal
- Provide "Pedal Assist" feature in all their e-cycles
- Improve designs of their cycles. Offer models without carriers, mudguards and keep it simple and elegant. There is a market out there who want e-cycles to look cool.
- Offer models with Alloy frames. This will dramatically reduce the weight of the cycles. Atleast have an option for users. People who can pay more will opt for Allow frames. The steel frames really does make your cycle weigh more.
- Offer more 'tech' accessories like LED display with stats etc.
- Offer kits and e-cycles with less range say 15-20 kms. This will enable more people who want cheaper e-cycles to go for these. Currently the Rs 30000 price tag is a big problem for many people who would to have an e-cycle but find it expensive.
Another Coimbatore based company - Miltexgroup are launching e-bikes after having invested many years performing RnD with the intention of launching an e-cycle called - Spero (Hope in Italian/Latin).
The first thing that you notice is the design. The Spero e-cycle has a very simple design where a small box in the middle hides the controller, battery negating the need for a carrier that has to be clamped behind to hold the controller and the battery pack.
This simple design has really caught the attention of many e-cycle enthusiasts and the company has received many orders from their campaign website found here.
- Regeneration - Charge the battery of the e-cycle with minimal pedaling.
- Cruise mode - While travelling at a constant speed for 6 seconds, cruise mode takes over so that you can ride without pedaling and accelerating.
- Pedal Assist mode, which tracks the pedaling pace of the rider and controls the motor correspondingly for a energy efficient and comfortable ride.
- Digital gears - change gears with just a click of a button. Helps in providing different levels of torque to help in inclined roads.
- Brake light - The attractive brake light helps in cautioning the riders at your back. It has an intelligent day mode and a night mode.
- Intelligent Display - The display helps to monitor the stats of the ride on the go. It indicates charge level, current speed, distance covered and much more.
- Multiple battery pack options for 30 km , 60 km and 100 km range.
The Spero looks very promising. PluginIndia will be performing a detailed review soon. Watch this space!
- Hulikkal e-cycles
You can order online at hulikkal.com/shop/ and the company delivers to your home. Do check for dealers at their website.
Here are some in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru
- Spero e-cycles
You can order online via their Fuel-A-Dream campaign
I love e-cycles. I really do. The instant acceleration is so much fun! And climbing hills gets very comfortable, especially in hilly cities like Pune.
I own one, and along with my electric car, they take care of my transportation needs in Pune - where i live. An e-cycle can help many more people who travel 20-30 kms everyday and can help them stay away from petrol while saving lots of money.
There is more to come in the e-bike world and PluginIndia will showcase all of these wonderful innovations! Stay tuned!