During research for a previous in-depth article about electric cars I was disappointed to find the $220,000+ Tesla Roadster marginally outside my disposable income bracket. In comparison the Wisper 805FE Folding Electric Bike loaned to me for review by electric and folding bike retailer Commute sells for $2150, 1% of a Tesla’s cost.
Omar Khalifa, CEO of member-owned non-profit organisation Bicycle NSW told me that bicycle use is rising, especially in cities where the quality of car commuting is perceived as deteriorating.
“Sydney last year saw a 32% increase in the number of people riding bikes compared to 2009, and the trend is continuing,” he said, pointing to investment in cycling infrastructure and promotion of bike culture, so that “it’s never been easier to jump on a bike, with bike lanes increasing and manufacturers creating commuter bikes designed for people of any skill level.”
I write short articles as well as long feature “explainer” articles on topics including: Google Android Smartphones and Tablets, National Broadband Network (NBN), Space, Civil & Military Aviation, Ebooks and the Publishing Industry, Electric cars, Technology augmenting human capabilities etc for Geare Magazine. The editor of GEARE has kindly permitted me to post articles here after the magazine issue the article was printed in has passed its shelf life. I have added updates where new information is relevant.
Electric bikes are regulated and treated under the same road rules as normal bicycles, so riders are not required to have a driver’s licence, or to pay any registration or insurance fees to State/Territory roads and traffic authorities
The Wisper 805FE that I rode was powered by a 200W high-efficiency brushless 36V front-hub motor. While you don’t require any licence or registration to ride an electric bike, the quid pro quo is that Australian legislation limits electric bikes to this maximum 200W motor. In Europe and North America 250W/350W models are available, as well as electric bikes that are 20% more efficient through the use of regenerative braking (energy generated from braking is fed back into the battery).
Electric Bike Battery Technology
The Wisper 805FE’s motor gets all its energy from a Panasonic Lithium Ion 36V 9Ah battery. Like all Lithium-Ion batteries its lifespan will depend on how much you use it, how often you engage the bike’s battery assist mode on a trip, and how often you recharge.
According to the owner of Commute, Jamie Dudderidge, the battery for an electric bike can be expected to last 800 charge cycles – perhaps three years of regular use. With the bike we tested, a warranty is offered for battery replacement if it drops in efficiency by more than 25% within two years. Dudderidge says battery technology for bikes is moving too fast for viable leasing of batteries to customers, and anyway the residual value at end-of-life for a Lithium-Ion is almost nothing.
One solution adopted by a recent Commute customer was to buy a second battery with his new bike, so he could keep one at work and one at home, to assure he is never “out of juice”.
Electric Bike Range & Riding Experience
I found no difficulty adapting to the joys of electric bike riding, switching the electric assist setting from Low to High for hill climbs – the 805FE positively zoomed up one hill that would be a significant obstacle on a pedal bike.
The maximum range for the 805FE I tested is quoted at “up to 50km” assuming a maximum speed of 30km/h under power, which should prove sufficient for many office workers who currently commute to work by car.
I concur with the quoted range of around 50km for this Wisper, though as with any other transport technology, you can get better features and more refinement at higher cost – a lighter bike, higher travel range, better gears etc. The best accessory option here might be to pay about $300 more for a higher-capacity battery that increases the range to 80km.
The speed issue is also fairly favourable; the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority figures for 2009-10 log car commuters at an average of 31km/h in the AM peak period and 42km/h on the journey home. Cyclist forums indicate that a push-bike rider can expect to average 20-26km/h during a commute, so that the electrically-assisted edge could see you equaling or even beating cars, at least through the morning rush.
Electric Bike Cost/Benefit
When you consider either petrol or public transport fares, the 15c-20c/day running cost of an electric bike (around 1kWh of electricity for each battery charge) is quite affordable – over several years, you might even save the $2150 price of the bike. And if you choose Green Power electricity, it’s a transport option which remains friendly to the environment as well as your wallet.
You don’t have to cycle all the way to work, of course, as Omar Khalifa points out.
“Electric bikes and folding bikes make it even easier for urban dwellers to combine cycling in their daily commute,” he says, “whether it’s to ride part of the way to work before hopping on a bus, or to use an electric bike instead of a taxi to get to meetings without even breaking a sweat. Folding bikes can now even go fare-free on trains, even in peak hours.” This last concession was introduced in Sydney following a trial last year. Previously, riders had to purchase a child ticket for rail travel with their folding bike during peak hours.
This article was originally published in GEARE Magazine issue #66. It is “digitally reprinted” here with permission from the editor. I have added updates where new information is relevant.