A primer on e-bikes from The New Yorker

I’m considering buying an e-bike, and I’m not alone. Over 500,00- e-bikes were sold in 2021, the last year for which sales figures were available. But those numbers were expected to grow to at least 565,000 in the year just ended.

But the market is confusing as hell right now with some domestic e-bike manufacturers you might recognize (Trek, etc.) and a dizzying array of foreign manufacturers who sell through everyplace from Walmart to Amazon and beyond.

So I found this articke in the current issue of The New Yorker interesting and helpful. It has a lot of basic e-bike information that I did not know (or fully understand) before, along with a lot information about NYC-centric sellers that will likely only interest New York City residents.

Here we must break for a lesson on how e-bikes work. Every e-bike has a battery and a motor, and, if you don’t know that, may I recommend my class on the invention of the wheel? The motor delivers power to your crankset by one of two systems: the pedal-assist and the throttle control. (Crankset, n. 1. the metal arm and surrounding components that connect the pedal to the wheel 2. informal. your neighbors in 8-G.) The Citi Bike is a pedal-assist. It will help you, but only if you help yourself. Pedal daintily and the boost it supplies will be commensurately unenthusiastic; pedal with more vigor and it’ll send in the Marines. Cheaper pedal-assists have a cadence sensor, which, unlike the torque sensor on a Citi Bike, is binary and, when activated, can feel like a passive-aggressive shove. The motor shuts off when your speed hits eighteen miles per hour, a limit agreed on by Lyft (the operator of Citi Bike) and the Department of Transportation. Most e-bikes cut off at around that speed, the exact m.p.h. determined by the relevant state or municipality. In New York City, the speed limit for pedal-assist-only bikes (Class 1) is twenty m.p.h., and the same goes for Class 2, a pedal-assist with a throttle. Class 3 bikes, which are also pedal-assist and throttle, can travel up to twenty-eight m.p.h., but New York City law requires the rider to wear a helmet. If you find this interesting, you should join the City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure while the rest of us talk about throttles.

Throttles provide power regardless of what the pedal is or isn’t doing. They are to regular bikes what Roombas are to brooms (pedal-assists being Dustbusters). A throttle control is functionally a gas pedal on your handlebars, operated either by twisting one of the grips or by pushing a thumb trigger. Now, if they just had air bags and a cup holder . . .

Patricia Marx, the article’s author also notes:

Let’s say you’d like an e-bike but don’t want to spend the money, or you already own a bike. One option is to buy an electric-bike conversion kit—essentially, a motor, a battery, and electric controls that you add to your analog bike. Most of these kits require you to swap out one of the wheels, a process that, according to instructions I’ve read, resembles performing a head transplant with a screwdriver.

If you think that sounds like a fun D.I.Y. challenge, I hate you. Luckily, there’s an alternative to this alternative. It is CLIP, an upgrade that you clamp onto one wheel of your bike which instantly electrifies it ($549). It’s bigger than a barrette but not as big as a breadbox, and as easy to use as both. No tools are required. If, later, you’re not in an e-bike mood, it takes a second to remove. This matte-white device weighs a little less than a cat (eight pounds) and looks like a sleek version of the boot that traffic cops stick on the wheel of your car if you’ve forgotten to pay your parking tickets. It contains a battery and a four-hundred-and-fifty-watt motor, and its two arms hug either side of the front wheel. A bike with CLIP installed can be ridden for fifteen to eighteen miles (or about forty-five minutes) on a single charge and travels up to fifteen miles per hour. CLIP can be preordered for shipping this spring, the initial run of a thousand having sold out.

I tried a prototype at the CLIP headquarters, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s New Lab building. Dating from 1902, the building was the machine shop for every significant ship launched during both World Wars. Now it is home to more than two hundred startups. At the ferry dock, I was greeted by Somnath Ray, CLIP’s C.E.O. and founder, a boyishly charming Indian architect whose résumé includes creating electric rickshaws, unfortunately at a time when the world wasn’t ready for them. Ray chaperoned me to the CLIP offices, on the second floor, passing one groovy venture after another. He explained that CLIP works via “friction drive”: “Think of it as a smaller gear driving a bigger wheel. CLIP is the smaller wheel and can deliver just the right amount of torque to the wheel.”

Because it was a weekend and the Yard was empty, I was able to take a test ride back and forth along the concrete floor in a corridor downstairs. I pedalled, felt a nudge, then pressed a red button on the handlebar and got a burst of juice. Whee!

All in all, a helpful article.

The New Yorker: Hell on Two Wheels, Until the E-Bike’s Battery Runs Out

E-bikes have gotten so reliable that major corporations have started using them for deliveries in warmer climes.

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