Earlier this year, Ford announced its ongoing commitment to vehicle electrification. The automaker will be sticking to expansions in four-wheel offerings, but, surprisingly they're also also turning their attention to two-wheelers: E-bikes. While this change represents a radical departure from the company's core offering, it's a logical move nonetheless.
Vehicle electrification might be the sort of technology that forces a paradigm shift in personal transportation. Although electric vehicles have been around for as long as those powered by internal combustion engines, advanced batteries, sophisticated software controllers and modern and compact electric motors have created new opportunities to reinvent traditional vehicle platforms - the bicycle included.
Furthermore, despite the fact that most of the media buzz surrounds the new crop of electric cars hitting the market, projections suggest that E-bikes will sell in far higher numbers than will electric cars over the next decade. As such, Ford's exploration into this space could prove to be a smart development for them.
Ford's offering has much to excite both bicycle and EV aficionados alike. The frame is built from carbon fiber and aluminum, while magnetostrictive sensors - a technology more commonly found in Formula One motor racing - regulate precisely how the electric motor in the front wheel-hub, engages and assists the rider. A lithium-ion battery stores the electric power, while the rider provides pedal power via a carbon belt-drive system to a Shimano Alfine 11 speed hub-gear - dispensing with the traditional bicycle chain. Ford gets into more detail here about their technology, but suffice to say, this is cutting edge stuff - providing the rider with a highly commute-friendly 52 mile range.
Ford says it has no plans to produce the bike, but nonetheless, they are asking visitors to their web-page to let them know what they think about the bike, and whether they should build it. So it seems it's not out of the question that this bike could hit the market.
Although we've heard about President Obama's goal to put one million electric vehicles on American roads by 2015, Pike Research predicts worldwide sales of two-wheeled electric vehicles will top 466 million units between 2010 and 2016. So, while this includes electric motorcycles and scooters, as well as E-bicycles, it seems certain that that the two-wheeled EV market is going to be huge and significantly greater than the EV car market.
Electric cars, while cleaner than gasoline powered cars, still suffer from the same inefficiencies. Most of the energy they use goes toward propelling the heavy vehicle itself, not the people inside. Furthermore, this study undertaken in Scotland details that 61% of car journeys involve just a single vehicle occupant. The car, therefore, starts to look highly inefficient; wasting most energy moving itself and a bunch of empty seats around!
E-bikes on the other hand are lightweight, so they don't waste energy transporting themselves and they are far cheaper to buy as well. Consider too, the average speed of urban traffic as measured in London and New York - remarkably similar at 9 mph and 9.5 mph respectively. The E-bike has more than enough juice to assist its rider to get to work faster than by car, and in a sweat-free condition. Indeed, sweat-free and faster than a traditional bicycle will allow. The E-bike also avoids the dreaded (though often overblown) range-anxiety problem - since the rider can still pedal along if the battery is depleted. You can add further attributes to this list too: no license is required to operate an E-bike, plus a full charge costs around $0.10. Both pragmatically and economically - the E-bike has a strong case. There are health benefits as well. If you want a little fresh air and are keen to 'up' your fitness level the E-bike may be for you.
If Ford decides to make their concept bike available for purchase, they haven't said how much it would cost. But appearances suggest that Ford's E-bike concept has to be one of the coolest looking bikes around - I definitely think they should build it!
Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.