The New Plan
With powerful motors and heavy price tags, electric assist bicycles blur the line between pedal bike and electric motorcycle. The big motorcycle manufacturers along with the major bicycle companies are showing increased interest in the segment. Given that it has been notoriously difficult to lure young people onto street motorcycles, it appears that many of the motorcycle companies have a new plan—sell them an electric bike now and something else later. It isn’t necessarily a crazy plan—some of these electric bikes are going to set you back a princely sum.
As history shows, the simple bicycle morphed when someone thought to fix gas engines between frame rails. Big factories and backyard DIY-ers have been refining and distorting the process ever since.
The line between motorcycles and bicycles started out as a blurry thing but the distinction between the two grows less clear with each new arrival in the now-booming electric-assist bicycle market. What was once a minor curiosity on the streets is now a full-blown disruptive force in the two-wheel industry.
From Giant to Cannondale to Specialized and Trek, simply every major bicycle manufacturer now has e-bike offerings in all the nameable categories. There are electric-assist mountain bikes, cargo bikes, folding bikes, cruisers, hybrids, and pure road bikes and they’re sold in three separate classes depending on the level of actual physical input required of the rider.
Propelled by front hub, rear hub, or mid-drive motors variously capable of producing between 240-500 watts continuously and briefly up to 750 (and even 1,000 watts) the generally pricey e-bikes have artificial speed caps of 45 kmh (28 mph) imposed upon them by most jurisdictions.
As society overall seeks alternatives to internal combustion the rise of the e-bike dovetails neatly with the now unstoppable development of electric motorcycles. Small wonder major motorcycle builders have turned their attentions to e-bike manufacture and their products are now arriving.
While some of the factories have previously dabbled in the e-bike segment (BMW since 2013 and last issue we saw Triumph’s 250-watt Trekker GT) Yamaha is the undisputed leader in this regard. The Tuning Fork company was actually an e-bike pioneer when it launched the world’s first electrically power assisted bicycle in 1993. Its Yamaha Bicycle subdivision purports to be the only manufacturer with 27 years of experience designing complete e-bikes from frame to motor.
In July, Yamaha Bicycles leapt into the all-mountain e-bike segment, with two new models: YDX-MORO and YDX-MORO Pro. Each are equipped with Yamaha’s PW-X2 drive unit and new 500 watt-hour lithium-ion battery housed in the all-new Dual Twin frame, which features split top and down tubes, as well as an angle sensor.
The YDX-MORO models are Class 1 e-bikes (pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and with a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.) They have five assist modes including Eco, Standard, High, new MTB mode, and EXPW. The new PW-X2 drive provides assist up to 120 rpm in Eco, Standard, High and MTB modes and 170 rpm in EXPW mode, which is helpful in technical sections and on steep climbs when beginning from a stop and a fast pedal rotation is often needed to get started again.
A new mode is Walk Assist, which provides a slight power assist for riders to walk their bike through difficult terrain or challenging sections.
The YDX-MORO will be available in Desert Yellow ($4,499) while the YDX-MORO Pro ($5,499) is finished Podium Blue/Nickel.
Yamaha also launched its new Civante road bike, which is the company’s first North American model offered in the Class 3 category, which allows for a higher top speed of 45 kmh. In some areas this class of e-bike is considered a motor vehicle and requires its riders to be licensed. Canadian regulations vary from province to province, and savvy shoppers check their local laws before making the purchase.
The dropbar Civante gets its power assist from Yamaha’s PWSeries SE motor that delivers four levels of power assist with up to 70 Nm of max torque. (Lightweight e-bikes generally make 30-40 Nm while cargo and mountain e-bikes are in the 80 Nm-range.)
It carries a 500-watt-hour Lithium-ion battery pack, which should theoretically last one hour operating at full assist. (Small batteries have about 300 Wh and that will last only for short in-town runs.) Yamaha says its high-speed charger tops up from zero to 80 per cent in about one hour.
Key features include multi-function LCD display with Bluetooth app compatibility, LED front headlight, 10-speed drive train, and hydraulic disc brakes.
With an MSRP of $3,399, the Civante has a three-year warranty on the drive unit, battery, controller, display and frame.
Ducati riffs on Scrambler with electric bicycle
With inspiration from its family of Scrambler motorcycles, Ducati this summer introduced the e-Scrambler, an “urban “trekking” bike with a Shimano Steps E7000 motor outputting 250 watts and 60 Nm torque from a mid-drive setup. With a 504-Wh Shimano battery the e-Scrambler is available in four frame sizes and costs US$4,285.
Ducati also unveiled a line of three folding e-bikes dedicated to the Scrambler family: the Urban-E, SCR -E and SCR-E Sport. The folding bikes bolster Ducati’s electric assist roster that saw the MIG-RR mountain bike unveiled at EICMA in 2018 as a collaborative effort between Ducati and Thok E-bikes.
Both Wheels Spin Hard
Christini has been building AWD systems for bicycles and motorcycles for many years, but for 2020 the company has launched a new generation of All-Wheel Drive bicycles with a new high power electric- assist mid-drive motor to launch them over slick rocks and wet roots like no other single, rear-wheel driven e-bicycle.
Available in a 27.5-inch hardtail and several FAT tired models, these electric-assist mountain bicycles incorporate a mid-drive Bafang 1500W motor and arrive carrying a $5,600 MSRP sticker.
The Fuzzy Dividing Line Between Electric Motorcycle and Bicycle
As if the dividing line between e-bicycle and motorcycle weren’t fuzzy enough, Harley-Davidson added to the confusion during X Games Aspen 2019 when the company unveiled these two lightweight electric concepts.
The EV scooter requires no clutch or shift action on the part of the rider and is obviously intended to provide the urban commuter with a hassle free experience. The BMX-styled handlebars and snappy bar-end mirror add a touch of attitude while the double downtubes riff on Big Twin frame architecture.
Beefy rubber, wire wheels, floorboards, belt drive, and disc brakes with wave rotors add styling fun to the package.
The mountain bike styling of the other EV concept commands immediate attention. Long travel front forks and the frame-integrated rear shock suggest a package that could really mash single-track trails. Is this Harley’s contribution to the gravel bike class?
Maybe not, but a second look is needed to confirm the absence of pedals.
Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire remains the flagship of its electric portfolio and these two offerings were still just prototypes when last we looked, but expect the unexpected from The Motor Company in years to come. Don’t rule out the arrival of a proper e-bicycle.
The Legendary Motorcycle Racer + Giant
“Kind of a hardcore guy”
After four Grand Prix World championships, two Superbike championships, and an astonishing 31 GP race victories, there isn’t much Eddie Lawson hasn’t accomplished on two wheels. So it’s not a surprise that when he retired to Lake Havasu, he continued to train and ride hard.
Mountain biking became a passion, a way to have fun and keep racing skills sharp. Ultimately, Lawson discovered the advantages of electric assist bikes on rugged trails, and specifically Giant’s Trance E+ 1 Pro e-bike.
“Now it’s like riding my motocross bike or taking the jet skis out,” says Lawson. “I just want to be out on the trails riding that bike every day. So yeah, I’m kind of a hardcore e-bike guy.”
Giant Bicycle has since collaborated with Lawson on a number of promotional activities including a series of YouTube videos and appearances at industry trade shows such as last year’s International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, California where Lawson was on hand as Giant displayed its 2020 Giant, Liv and Momentum brand e-bikes.
Canadian Biker Issue #349