#eBikeThoughts: I rode a NiceRide eBike!

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.

NiceRide Booth at the E-Bike Challenge

NiceRide Booth at the E-Bike 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.

NiceRIde Bafang 250-watt E-Bike Motor

NiceRIde Bafang 250-watt E-Bike Motor

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.

Full speed ahead, Captain.

Full speed ahead, Captain.

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.

NiceRide Enviolo Hub

NiceRide Enviolo Hub

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 at the E-Bike Challenge

NiceRide at the E-Bike Challenge

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.

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20 Responses to #eBikeThoughts: I rode a NiceRide eBike!

  1. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker April 5, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

    Just from afar, I really like what I see NiceRide doing. I am glad they have found a use for the docks, I think there are benefits to both docked and dockless bicycles, and it seems smart to me to have a mix.

    In the future, perhaps NiceRide could charge a $1.00 fee if you park the bike outside of a charging hub, and not charge if you park at a hub. That would provide an incentive for charging, while allowing people to use the bikes as dockless if it is necessary for their trip.

    • James Kohls April 5, 2019 at 3:31 pm #

      @AlexS: I’ve long thought reduced cost for good behavior is a good model. I’ve also thought crowd-sourcing bike balancing for free rides would be beneficial.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke April 5, 2019 at 2:50 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this James. Bike share is changing so quickly it’s tough to keep up!

    • James Kohls April 5, 2019 at 3:38 pm #

      It certainly has been. With NiceRide non-profit joining with Motivate, then Motivate being bought out by Lyft. Not to forget St. Paul gaining and losing Lime. The bikeshare landscape in the Twin Cities from 2017 to now has been a sea of change.

  3. Melissa Wenzel
    Melissa Anne Wenzel April 5, 2019 at 7:58 pm #

    I love the idea of #ebike sharing. You know that better than most. I sure wish they were in all parts of Saint Paul….

    You do know that William Shatner is the spokesperson of Pedego Electric Bikes, right? You were so close to Ann, the co-owner of the Pedego stores in Minneapolis and Owatonna! #HelloFun!

    • James Kohls April 5, 2019 at 9:45 pm #

      Hopefully we can get eBike Share in St. Paul, but I won’t hold my breath for anything to come this year. I’d love to see JUMP bikes in the Twin Cities.

      I visited with Ann and talked to her about the bikes. Great folks. Great bikes 🙂

  4. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell April 7, 2019 at 9:08 am #

    James, great overview. I’m looking forward to trying these out. The Bafang front hubs I’ve tried were not very smooth so it’s encouraging to hear that they’re getting better.

    I heartily agree w/ you about torque vs cadence activated. I’ve yet to see a cadence activated system that was at all smooth or easy to ride. I’ve tried e-bike share in numerous cities around the world and in bike shops and the cadence systems are just too jerky.

    250 watts is actually quite a lot. It may be on the low end in the U.S. but the high end elsewhere. In Europe a pedalec is legally limited to 250 watts maximum and power must taper to 0 at 15.5 mph. Numerous countries are expected to lower this to 100w, 150w or 200w and some are also considering lowering the taper point to 12.5 MPH (20 Kph). If you want to go faster than average then you’re 100% on your own. There are two reasons behind this; 1) They’ve found that the more assist you give people the more inconsiderate they often are of others on bikeways and 2) E-bikes have shown to provide near zero health/activity benefits and there is a concern that more powerful e-bikes will lead to a less heathy population and increased healthcare costs.

    Even 100 watts is a lot. Riding my 48 pound opafiets around the twin cities I average about 67 watts going 13 mph on flat and peak at about 192 watts climbing a somewhat steep hill (from downtown St Paul up to Cathedral Hill (Nina’s Coffee). In last years Tour de France Luke Rowe would average 254 watts over a one hour flat going nearly 30 mph. Riding 18 MPH on Twin Cities Bicycle Club rides I’ll average about 155 watts and even climbing hills fairly fast would rarely go over 200 watts.

    • James Kohls April 7, 2019 at 9:54 am #

      I’m curious about your claim the eBikes have shown to provide near zero health/activity benefits.

      In 2017, Norwegian study noted “95% of time spent biking, both for e-bike and conventional bike, were considered to be MVPA [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity].”

      Further, exercise intensity, measured in METs (metabolic equivalence of tasks) was measured at 8.5 for eBikes vs a conventional bicycle at 10.9. MET of 1 is resting metabolic rate and vigorous riding on a conventional bicycle is 6.4-8.2.

      Source:
      https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316500769_Physical_activity_when_riding_an_electric_assisted_bicycle#pf6

      Also, University of Colorado Boulder study concluded: “Participants rode a pedelec in the real world at a self-selected moderate intensity, which helped them meet physical activity recommendations. Pedelec commuting also resulted in significant improvements in 2-h post-OGTT glucose, and power output. Pedelecs are an effective form of active transportation that can improve some cardiometabolic risk factors within only 4 weeks”

      Source:
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27299435

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell April 7, 2019 at 1:31 pm #

        E-bikes do provide physical activity but the actual resulting benefits are far less than with walking or riding a regular bicycle.

        This study (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326089074_Transport_mode_choice_and_body_mass_index_Cross-sectional_and_longitudinal_evidence_from_a_European-wide_study) is the most comprehensive I’ve seen and looks at various modes of transport along with the resulting health benefits of each using BMI as a proxy for health benefits. Their determination was that riding an e-bike ranks second to last, just above riding in a car but below motorcycles (upper left chart of fig 1 on original pub pg 114). And it’s important to note that these were e-bikes limited to 250 watts tapered to 0 @ 15.5 mph. The results would be worse for e-bikes in the U.S. without these limits.

        I talked with two of the authors and they acknowledge that riding an e-bike does provide physical activity and so at first thought that their results were due to selection bias as the majority of e-bike riders in Europe are elderly. They said that even accounting for this did not significantly change the results or conclusion.

        One issue that the medical community is struggling with is that a calorie is not necessarily a calorie. What works in theory (riding an e-bike results in +xxx physical activity) does not always prove out in reality (riding an e-bike results in +x change in BMI rather than -xxx change in BMI). In this case it could be a variety of externalities (people riding e-bikes walk less, spend less time riding, etc) or it could be our still developing understanding of what a calorie is and how to calculate calories, consumed and burned, accurately.

        One mitigating thought is that the majority of these e-bikes were very likely personal bikes and so the riders were probably on their e-bikes nearly door to door and so did not get much physical activity from walking from their bicycle to their destination. In the case of docked e-bikeshare the rider will at least have to walk from the dock to their destination (which in St Paul with the extremely few docks could mean considerable walking).

        I think for some people with disabilities an e-bike can be a huge benefit if it allows them to ride a bicycle when they otherwise cannot. The key here is ‘cannot’. Something that is extremely evident in The Netherlands and to some extent in Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere, is that a huge chunk of people with disabilities can successfully ride a regular bicycle and receive significant benefit from doing so. Even so, I’d rather see someone with a disability ride an e-bike than not ride at all, even if people in Europe with the same disability ride regular bicycles.

        Similarly, people with very hilly commutes or who sweat a lot due to poor physical condition or other reasons can benefit from e-bikes as can some delivery people.

        I’m a huge proponent of e-bikes and if they get more people riding bicycles (responsibly and considerate of others) rather than sitting in a car then go for it. At the same time we may need to temper our enthusiasm a bit as there are some land mines with e-bikes that we may want to avoid.

        • James Kohls April 7, 2019 at 4:12 pm #

          Yeah, I’ve read that study. I’ve pretty much dismissed it regarding eBikes because the sample size for eBikes was, in their own words, “not statistically significant.” They even cited the Berntsen study: “it is unlikely that all of the weight gain was the result of reduced physical activity, as e-biking still requires moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity.” Doesn’t matter anyway as their sample size wasn’t sufficient to make anything but loose theoretical conclusions when comparing eBikes to other modes.

          Regardless, I don’t actually care that much about the heath benefits. For me, the biggest win for Minneapolis in getting eBikeShare from NiceRide is greater transportation equity and increased ridership. Which will get more people riding bikes instead of cars.

          Unfortunately, when it come to riders who are responsible and considerate of others; we don’t get to choose which drivers make the switch. But even if they are not responsible and considerate, I’d much rather have them on an eBike than driving a car.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell April 7, 2019 at 2:10 pm #

        Something else to keep in mind with all of these is that there are vast differences in e-bikes. Those with a very low assist curve will result in much greater physical benefit than those with a very high assist curve.

        Do you know what the assist curve is for the Nice Rides?

        There’s a huge difference in one that provides no assist below 75 watts user input and then only tapers up to 1:1 assist vs one that provides 1:1 assist at 1 watt user input and tapers up to 5:1 assist.

        Riding 5 flat miles on the latter will result in perhaps 1/4 the physical activity of riding the same 5 flat miles on the former which will result in perhaps 20% less physical activity vs riding a regular bicycle.

        • karen Nelson April 10, 2019 at 5:23 pm #

          I have real problem with anyone in the U.S. saying this “E-bikes have shown to provide near zero health/activity benefits and there is a concern that more powerful e-bikes will lead to a less heathy population and increased healthcare costs.”

          Please do not keep saying this, take a step back and consider what you are promoting, discouraging.

          Have you been on an ebike for over 5 minutes? If not, I suggest you pedal one for hour and see if you feel it is of “no” value, not even equivalent to walking.

          I get the argument about ebikes, in say Netherlands, where soooo many people are already biking, where land is flat, and biking paths are at or beyond capacity and people suddenly getting a break on their “forced to exercise because biking is most practical transportation option” may actual be a bit of backsliding for them and on their very busy bike paths, bikers suddenly getting faster could be huge problem. But also please note, I have biked in Amsterdam, on a bulkly, cruiser, fat tire, single speed bike and it was already easy and you really couldn’t go that fast, my “not-in-bike shape” was able to keep up with prevailing traffic because paths are congested, only so fast you can go. And it is so flat, so extra weight of heavy bike, cargo, not same deal as on hills. Why do you think people hop on in business clothes, arrive to work not smelling like the gym? So the benefit they get biking there is already limited compared to many places with hills – but they do move all the time, even if they are not getting aerobic exercise.

          But the Netherland’s problems are far different from ours in U.S.- where even in bikey-est places we have maybe 5 percent of people biking regularly and car is king.

          So ebikes compared to cars are of no benefit and far less benefit than walking? Does this even pass the smell test. The medical establishment is telling people sitting stationary at desk, at home is “the new smoking” it is considered so bad for us – so introducing something that gets peoples legs moving instead of sitting in a car, is no good for you? really, do you believe that?

          I walk and I ebike and if I do either suddenly for say, for an hour, when I haven’t in a while, both will make tired and a little sore. It’s movement. No it’s doesn’t have to be aerobic (if you rely heavily on the juice on the ebike) but it is not nothing. It’s movement.

          I work in suburbs, 15 miles from where I live and ebiking takes me an hour one way to get to work. Would a single doctor on the planet say 2 hours pedaling an ebike, outside, is of no value to me compared to sitting in my car for my commute?

          If I suddenly abandoned my car commute and slowly walked 2 hours a day, would you say that was of no benefit?

          Shoot, British health folks found the driver of their street cars and the ticket collectors that walked the aisles had similar weights, but vastly differently life spans, simply because the ticket takers were moving, slowly, not aerobically, through out the day.

          My scale and resting heartbeat after 6 months of ebiking my 2 hour r.trip commute really, really begged to differ with you. Even though I ate far more last summer, I lost 15 pounds and heart rate improved. Of course, one way to get in better overall shape is to do intermittent, high intensity quick training, but I found with ebike, even when I just treated it as transportation, and didn’t push it as exercise, just duration of low intensity had a very

          And if you get on any ebike forum you will find many people that have had their health transformed by ebikes. Really, you should read some of their stories, they are quite inspiring.

          One of things critical to getting people to exercise is just getting them to start small and work they way up and this is where ebikes are great for physical health. They are fun, they are can be upright, fat tires, heavy and comfortable and still as easy to ride as a skinny guy hunch over a carbon fiber road bike on skinny tires.

          The most important thing to note about ebikes is that most people who currently rarely bike or even those that do bike a fair amount, will greatly increase the amount of biking they do if they have an ebike, this has been shown over and again.

          But even if ebikes were of zero physical health value – please, let me say this slowly for emphasis – in U.S. with our spread out land use and where cars are kings, ebikes are magic way to get people out of cars and commuting, running errands etc by bike. That alone is hugely important.

  5. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell April 7, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    I wonder if rather than a flat $1 charge, what would happen if they charged by the watt? If you only use a very little bit of the battery to help you get up a hill then you’re charged maybe $0.25 but if you use a lot of watts for your entire trip (and thus the battery needs to be charged sooner) then you’re charged perhaps $2.

    Besides better aligning price with maintenance costs this might also encourage people to pedal on their own more and gain more health benefit.

    • James Kohls April 7, 2019 at 9:59 am #

      I think $1 flat is simpler for users to calculate. Charging by the watt/hour would vary greatly and couldn’t be pre-calculated. I think those uncertainties in cost would be a big negative to riders.

      • James Kohls April 7, 2019 at 10:03 am #

        Unlike some eBikes, the NiceRide eBike does not have an on/off switch for the pedal assist. It is continuously variable in output. In addition, they do not have a throttle, so you are always pedaling.

  6. karen Nelson April 10, 2019 at 5:33 pm #

    On ebiking health benefits:

    https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/963103/diabetes-type-2-symptoms-exercise-e-bikes

    “Professor Cooper and his colleagues studied a group of individuals with the disease who were given an e-bike for 20 weeks.
    Aerobic fitness levels and heart health were tested both before and after the 20 week survey, using heart monitors and GPS tracking systems.
    Remarkably, the subjects’ maximal aerobic power increased by 10.9 per cent and their heart rate reached 74.7 per cent of their maximum potential, compared to 64.3 per cent when walking.
    The bikes were used for normal day to day activities”

  7. karen Nelson April 10, 2019 at 5:41 pm #

    More ebike health stuff:

    This is a literature review, which I tend to put more weight on than anyone study

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2018/11/23/riding-electric-bicycles-boon-to-health-and-not-cheating-confirms-literature-review/#111339ee35cc

    “Cycling is better for health than riding a pedal-assist electric bike, but e-bikes provide a better workout than walking. That’s the conclusion of a new systematic review published in the latest International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.”

    “While those on e-bikes exercise at less intensity than if they were on traditional bicycles – industry adverts promote e-bikes as sweat-free – e-bike riders perform at “greater intensity than walking,” said the review.”

    The review does show, no suprise, if you replace a walk with an ebike of the same distance, yes, walking is better exercise, because, no surpise, you are moving longer when you walk and mile than when you ebike a mile.

    But it’s so important to note, even in freaking Netherlands, where most people already bike a ton, ebiking make them bike much more.

    “For many, getting an e-bike isn’t replacing a walking trip, it’s replacing a car trip. In this scenario, “e-cycling offers a physically active alternative to the largely sedentary behaviour associated with motorized commuting,” stated the literature review.

    One Dutch study has reported that individuals in the Netherlands commuted 50% further with an e-bike than on a conventional bike.”

    And its not like they are going twice as fast on an ebike – so they are not just using the bike more, they are actually moving for more hours in the day because of ebike.

  8. karen Nelson April 10, 2019 at 5:43 pm #

    and another study:

    https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00042752-201805000-00002

    Conclusions

    “E-bikes may have the potential to improve cardiorespiratory fitness similar to conventional bicycles despite the available power assist, as they enable higher biking speeds and greater elevation gain.”

    “Participants in both groups were instructed to use the bicycle allocated to them (e-bike or conventional bicycle) for an active commute to work in the Basel (Switzerland) area at a self-chosen speed on at least 3 days per week during the 4-week intervention period.”

    After four weeks of pedal-assisted riding the overweight participants recorded improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, and the improvements were little different to those recorded by those in a control group riding pedal-only bicycles.

    Why? Because those with ebikes biked for longer durations and for more trips than those with conventional bikes.

  9. karen Nelson April 10, 2019 at 5:46 pm #

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/can-really-get-fit-electric-bike/

    “And according to Norwegian and Dutch studies, you could get fitter than you would on a regular bike because ­e-bikes encourage you to go further than you might otherwise. Which makes sense when you try one – suddenly a meeting 10 miles away seems like nothing, even uphill. ”

    “E-bikes give people the confidence to explore more, rather than be exhausted after 20 minutes and go home,” says Dave Hull, owner of North Pennines Electric Bike Hire (and an e-bike convert himself). “Before you know it, you’ve done 50 miles and been out for hours.” I certainly found that. On a day when I would have got the bus to meetings, I managed to clock up 40 miles.”

  10. karen Nelson April 10, 2019 at 5:52 pm #

    I went from driving to suburbs everyday and rarely biking, just occasionally for leisure trips, to ebiking 30 mi r.trip, and then happily hopping back on my bike after getting home to a meeting or night out with friends another 15 mi r.trip.

    If you told me 2 years agot I’d be eager and happy about moving 3 hours a day, I would ha have said you were nuts.

    And the beauty of my ebiking is that as the summer progressed, I started using the pedal assist less, taking on hills with no assist on way home when I didn’t mind get sweaty etc…it gave a fun way to build up confidence and stamina and got me out of my car.

    Ebikes for everyone, except those who already bike every possible trip they can, for those folks, keep on regular biking, but the other 95 percent of us, let’s go ebiking!

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