NiceRide Minnesota is launching 500 #eBikes in Minneapolis this spring. I got a chance to ride one of the new bikes at the eBike Challenge.
The new electric-assist bikes use the same frame as the blue dockless bikes, introduced at the end of last season. This includes the traditional low step-thru design that means you don’t have to swing your leg over the seat to get on. The new eBikes are black in color with integrated front/rear lights, carry basket, adjustable-height seat, chain guard and fenders to keep you clean in the wet.
The motor is a 250 watt geared front-hub system with down-tube mounted battery pack. NiceRide staff told me they have an estimate of 50 miles, median range. The battery packs are a popular industry standard design, so NiceRide should have no problems getting replacement batteries for the life of the eBikes.
The biggest highlight, from a technical standpoint, is the eBikes use torque activation (crank pressure) vs. cadence activation (crank movement). This means the bikes are extremely manageable at very low speeds and can provide more assistance when needed and less when you don’t. This gives them an extremely natural traditional-bike feel.
In the general eBike market, a 250 watt motor is on the low-end for motor power. You can think of 250 watts as a good average human-power output for a semi-regular bike rider. So the NiceRide eBike motor effectively doubles your pedaling effort. There were not any hills at the eBike Challenge, but their staff tested them in San Francisco and found they were great for getting the bikes up hills.
The onset of power is gradual (typical for a 250 watt motor) and not jerky. This is ideal for a bikeshare platform with riders of different ages and abilities. Once you start to get up to speed, you can feel the power make the weighted feel of the 65lb bike disappear.
Because of the torque-activated motor, the bike feels very natural to ride. It is much easier to get up to speed than a traditional bikeshare bicycle, but has a ride familiarity that won’t be off-putting to regular cyclists. The motor is very quiet and won’t be audible at all, with the wind in your ears.
Gearing is handled by an Enviolo (NuVinci Cycling) N330F continuously variable transmission. This is a bikeshare specific gear-free hub that allows an infinite range of equivalent gears. The handlebar mounted twist-shifter controls the transmission and the motor’s pedal-assist levels. This combination allows the eBike to be very efficient and extend the range.
Because the Enviolo hub is in the rear, the motor is in the front wheel. Typically I am not a fan of front-hub motors, but the NiceRide motor is light enough, it doesn’t affect the steering. That being said, in this application, I actually prefer the front-hub design. It makes the bike front-heavy, lifting the bike and turning it manually by the seat is relatively easy.
Just like the blue bikes, the eBikes use 26” Schwalbe 2”-wide Marathon Plus tires. These tires are nice and cushy and should help smooth out bumps from large cracks. They also have some of the highest level of puncture protection, helping ensure you don’t end up with a flat.
NiceRide plans to launch 500 eBikes at their docked stations in April, with another 1300 more by July. Initially, there will be a $1.00 additional charge to rent an eBike versus are traditional docked or dockless bike. An employee at the NiceRide booth said this is because the eBikes require people to go out and swap batteries, adding to their maintenance expense. Eventually, NiceRide plans to update their docking stations to allow charging through the stations and has implied this will allow removal of the fee.
Having electric-assist bikeshare is a huge win for Minneapolis. It opens up Minneapolis bikeshare to a much larger group of riders and skill levels. Including persons with physical limitations such as bad knees or easy fatigue. It also means commuters can get to their jobs faster.