When debating the merits of electric cars, hybrids, hydrogen and other alternative fuels, it's easy to get tied down in the notion they're the solution to all our transport problems.
They aren't of course--they're just a solution. Improvements to public transit, encouraging people to walk a little more and even the humble bicycle will play a part. The latter in particular is getting plenty of attention at the moment, as electrically-assisted biking gets ever more popular.
With the launch of all-in-one e-bike wheels, it could become an even bigger phenomenon. And, says Navigant Research, they have the potential to seriously boost America's e-bike market.
Most e-bikes fit into a handful of categories right now. There are those people have converted themselves using off-the-shelf kits. There are also bikes converted professionally--regular bikes with electric assistance and a none-too-subtle battery pack slung around the frame. And then there are the bespoke bikes, like Smart's eBike--purpose-designed electric bicycles and "pedelec" bikes with neat engineering and not-so-neat pricing.
The all-in-one e-bike wheel could fit into the first category, but as a work of engineering it's much closer to the slick factory e-bikes we all wish we had.
They're fairly unobtrusive for a start--usually integrated into a hub system with no wires or bulky batteries to spoil the form of your bike. As such, they're also no harder to fit than any regular wheel. In many cases, they simplify your bike--replacing the multitude of gears, no longer needed thanks to the extra boost of electric assistance.
Several companies offer all-in-one e-bike wheels. FlyKly, launched in 2010, blitzed through its $100,000 Kickstarter campaign with pledges of over $700,000. A similar design introduced a year earlier by MIT students was acquired by Superpedestrian, while Italian firm Zehus has devised a particularly slick system for its own e-bike.
Smart eBike electric bicycleEnlarge Photo
That such devices retail for between $500 and $1000 is certainly attractive. While it's possible to get whole e-bikes cheaper than this, the all-in-one designs do allow people to personalize their bikes a little more--perfect for mountain bikers needing a little help, or style-conscious types with "fixie" bikes in cities like London, Milan and New York.
Navigant suggests that the designs may not appeal to everyone--those who want to retain their bike's gears, or those who want disc brakes--but it still has the potential to expand the USA's electric bike market beyond the 72,000 it reached last year.
And if it does take off, those numbers could comfortably out-pace electric car sales, too.
That may be obvious to some--bikes are much cheaper than cars, for a start.
But those electric bikes have another purpose. Easier to ride, cheaper to run and much better in heavy traffic, they may convince more and more car drivers to leave their cars behind in the city--and that can only be a good thing.