Mercedes Benz bringing smart ebike to market
Michael Vaughan, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, June 18, 2012 9:43AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 30, 2012 7:49AM EDT
There are lots of electric bikes around for about nine hundred bucks or you can convert your regular bike to electric with a kit for about four hundred clams. Well how about an e-bike from Daimler's (Mercedes-Benz) smart division. It's definitely a huge step up from the cheapos -- but it should be with its $3,240 price tag.
Yes, Mercedes is getting into the electric bike business -- the "premium" electric bike business -- with the smart ebike. It's from the smart car division and, as the little smart now comes in an all-electric version, the company thought an electric bike should join the portfolio. What will Mercedes come up with next -- an electric scooter? Yup, it's coming next year.
But for now it's just the fancy ebike. The category is called pedelec or Pedal Electric Cycle and strictly speaking it's a hybrid. The rear-wheel electric motor hub motor is manufactured by BionX -- Frank Stronach's electric company in Aurora, Ontario.
The rider of the smart ebike decides how much power he or she wants the electric motor to deliver to assist pedalling. There's a choice of four power levels along with an integrated three-speed gear hub. The wheel hub motor becomes as a generator when the rider brakes. The braking energy is converted into electricity which is stored in the smart ebike's lithium-ion battery.
The notable thing about the BionX system is how light it is and how seamlessly the power assists your pedalling. You can choose to have no assist when you enthusiastically start out on your bike but can turn up the power when the hills, headwinds and exhaustion defeat you. You can get a range of up to 80 kilometres if you go easy on the electric-assist.
Adding a bit of rechargeable battery electric power to a bicycle seems to me to be the formula to get aging Baby Boomers back in the bicycle lane -- as long as they're able to dish out $3,240. You do get some pretty cool features for your dough including hydraulic disc brakes from Magura at the front and back and an LED headlight with a daytime running function. The ebike won a Red Dot Design Award which is a very big deal in Europe.
The drive system features a maintenance and oil free carbon toothed belt instead of a normal bicycle chain. You get the beginnings of an infotainment system on this bicycle; a USB port comes as standard which enables various accessories and add-ons. With the help of an iPhone app specially developed for the smart ebike the smartphone becomes an information centre. Plus there are accessories like a smartphone holder and a luggage rack to run your price up even higher.
Daimler has done something pretty clever with their smart cars and that's to put a few thousand of them into a car sharing business called car2go. It's a car-sharing scheme with some interesting wrinkles. First of all you can rent them by the minute. Find one on the street or locate it through your smart phone, flash your card at it and the doors open and away you go. Park it anywhere within the car2go zone, basically the city limits, and walk away. car2go has a fleet of more than 4,000 smart fortwo vehicles (including 625 electric drive cars) in 11 cities worldwide including Vancouver, and it's coming to Toronto and Calgary next year. They plan to have 50 cities in Europe and 30 cities in North America with fleets by 2016.
I'm not sure I'm ready to slap down $3,240 plus tax plus accessories for a bicycle but I'd sure like to be able to rent them from cars2go when and where convenient for city travel. That would keep my car off the road on those occasions for sure. Also surveys show the twenty-something year olds are a lot more interested in buying the latest smart phone that forking out a lot of money for a car. Will they lay down four thou for a bike? The price seems too steep for them -- or me. But as an hourly rental -- bring it on.
All the car companies are talking about providing urban transportation solutions. "Sharing" ebikes ought to be one of them.