At the recent Taste of Ki eco-chic product showcase, I was lucky enough to be able to take a test-ride on a very nice electric bicycle, the A2B Metro, made by Ultra Motor. What I discovered was an entirely new class of vehicle: an electric bike that is just as easy to pedal as it is to ride motor-only. While the bike itself appeared to be a well-constructed, well-designed and well-thought-out piece of personal transportation, I wondered exactly who would be buying it, given its whopping $3,000 price tag. The answer may surprise you.
Ultra Motor, a German-based company, manufactures the slick A2B Metro, the one I tried, and its cousin, the A2B Hybrid. The Metro is the more well-equipped of the two, boasting two battery packs, one built into the down tube, and one that slides onto the rear deck, and can be exchanged. The Hybrid model only includes one battery, the rear one. Both include an electric motor fully integrated into the rear hub, and disc brakes front and rear.
When I first looked at the A2B, I was struck by just how high the build quality appeared to be. The frame was obviously sturdy, with thick welds, and all of the components seemed to be heavy-duty. (For some reason, the thick brake cables seemed very notable.)
One unique feature of these bikes is the ride position, which is much more upright than a mountain bike. According to the representative I spoke with, this was an intentional choice to make the vehicle more comfortable for bike commuters. This certainly appeared to be the case: when you mount the bike, with your butt on the seat, your feet are comfortably flat on the ground. When riding, with your feet on the pedals, it doesn’t feel awkward, and is very comfortable.
Unlike the mopeds that many of us may be familiar with, the A2B is designed as an “electric-assist” bike, where the electric motor supplements a bike that can be pedaled on its own. When I was told that, I was expecting that the bike would feel heavy, until the electric motor was engaged, but this turned out not to be the case. The A2B seemed to be so well designed for the task, that pedaling it was just as easy as using the throttle.
One of the more interesting features is the way that you can use any combination of pedal or motor. While this sounds strange, at first, it works seamlessly, and took me only a few minutes to get used to.
I have to say that the overall experience was quite fun. It was just as much fun as any that I ever rode a motorbike of one sort or another, except that the electric motor makes everything so smooth, effortless and quiet (certainly something you would want if you were going to ride this through your neighborhood early in the morning, on your way to work).
It is very easy to see how the A2B would appeal to any urban dweller that is considering biking to work, especially one who has to contend with numerous hills, such as in San Francisco. While the hefty price tag may turn some off, it is certainly not out of line with the prices of some high-end racing bikes. The real market, however, is with fleet buyers, Police agencies, and retail rental outlets. As a matter of fact, one of the largest bike rental companies servicing San Francisco and New York owns several hundred A2B bikes, and they are constantly in use.
One of the things the rep said, which resonated with me, is that they wanted to build a high-quality vehicle that would last a very long time (thus justifying the price). While I am not sure that American consumers have adopted that mentality yet, it certainly seemed as if the quality justified that statement. He also said that there were no current plans to produce low-cost versions of the A2B. This is too bad, because I feel that a product, like this one, could really persuade people that commuting by bike might be a good idea after all.
However, at least one person vehemently disagrees with my take on the A2B. What do you think? Do $3K electric bikes make sense? Tell us you thoughts in the comments section.
Steve Puma is a sustainability consultant in the Bay Area. He currently writes for 3p as well as on his personal blog, BrightPuma.com, about the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future. Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can contact Steve through email or LinkedIn, or follow him on twitter.