Aldi is an unusual store. They are based in Germany and they are primarily a grocery store that is expanding into many countries. I was only recently introduced to the Aldi brand when a store was built in my home town in north-eastern Kansas. It was only when I began researching for this story that I found out the Aldi brand was once one store chain, started by two German brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht. There was a business disagreement, and in 1966 they split into two companies…Aldi Nord, and Aldi Sud (Aldi north and Aldi south). The “Aldi” name is a combination of Albrecht and Discount.
The Aldi formula involves keeping prices low while still maintaining a modest selection of reasonable quality products. The stores are smaller than the average of their competitors, and they stock a limited selection of products and brands. The stores are able to be operated with a minimum number of employees by using several strategies. Many of the items are often left on pallets in the store to reduce the time-consuming shelf-stocking, and the shoppers are encouraged to return the shopping carts by being required to deposit a coin in the carts automated locking system, similar to airport luggage carts.
The majority of their products are food items, but they stock a small selection of household items if the product meets their quality standards and are affordably priced. They are also well-known for spending almost no money on advertising. Both Aldi’s operate in North America, and Aldi Nord has partnered with the specialty store, Trader Joes.
They sell an E-bike now?
In 2013, both Aldi companies (who occasionally buy together for better bulk discounts), began carrying a simple 250W front gear-motor e-bike in their EU stores. It was the simplest style, with the 36V battery mounted in a cargo rack, above the rear tire. It was a pedelec, which means it had no throttle, and the system only supplied power when it sensed that the pedals were moving. The 250W model they chose met all of the most restrictive European Union (EU) rules, and only supplied power up to 16-MPH (25-kph).
That news would have been somewhat boring, except that the bike was sold for a mere 699-Euro’s ($953-USD at todays May 2014 exchange rate). I am sad that the EU has a low power limit. I can understand rules that will limit speed and safe riding style, but steep hills require more power. Switzerland allows 500W, but their mountains are so steep, that even 500W is too little. However, because of these rules, there are a lot of 250W E-bikes selling in Europe.
To be fair, many EU countries have an S-pedelec category (S = Schnell, meaning Fast in German). And it is similar to the rarely-used “moped” licensing in North America that is rarely found. You can go faster and have more power, as long as the S-pedelec/Moped has a license plate, insurance, registration, and the rider has the appropriate license. You must also include a headlight, tail-light, turn signals, horn, and a brake light.
In the 2014 model Aldi will be selling, there are three bits of good news. First, the pack has been relocated to just behind the seat-post. Although locating it in the downtube area would likely provide the best ride and feel, the vertical position behind the seat-post is an improvement over placing the weight of the battery high and at the rear of the bike.
The second improvement is that they have upgraded to using high-quality Samsung 18650-format cells. The system uses 36V, which is much better than the old standard of 24V for 250W (which is rarely seen anymore). The 10.4-Ah size is adequate, especially since the switch to using a mid drive will lower the peak amp-draws on hills. The Samsung cells are very good news, because the battery pack is one of the places where entry-level E-bikes often cut corners by using the cheapest possible cells, leading to a bad first experience for new E-bikers…
The third bit of good news is that they have switched to a mid drive. Aldi has contracted with a chain of bicycle shops that operate under the Cyco name as their supplier. Cyco has branded their mid-drive system as the “e-novation”, but the insides are 100% Bafang-BBS01.
The Nexus-7 rear IGH provides the motor with 7 gears to choose from, so hill-climbing is dramatically improved over a one-speed hub motor. The big surprise when the BBS01 came out was that bafang showed that a mid drive didn’t have to be noisy. Their engineers used helical gears in the design, and the amount of noise is much softer than the previous hub-motor, which used the common straight-cut gears.
The 2014 model that Aldi is carrying is priced at 950 Euro’s ($1,300-USD at today’s May 2014 exchange rate). The frame is a uni-gender step-through style, and it is made from aluminum. A 7-speed derailleur would have been cheaper, but Aldi decided to spec a Nexus-7 Internally Geared hub (IGH), which I think is nice. It features fenders, lights, a cargo rack, and dual V-brakes.
The price is not great, but it is actually not bad when compared to the competition in Europe. Nobody is suggesting that the quality or performance of the Bafang-BBS01 is as good as the famous Bosch mid-drive, but…the Bafang quality and performance is also “not bad”, and it is quite a milestone to have this adequate amount of performance in this low of a price range.
For North American customers, the same Bafang mid drive system can be found for only $500-$800 (minus battery), so there still might be room to save a few dollars by installing the kit to your own bike yourself, however the price difference is small. I do not expect that Aldi will provide any customer support at this price range.
Cyco is a chain of bicycle shops that is based in New Zealand. They advertise Trek bicycles as their main brand, but the Aldi’s bike appears to be a common and generic Chinese frame of a style that is made by several large manufacturers. I have no idea why Cyco wanted to provide the middle-man support for supplying these bikes to Aldi, but I hope this arrangement works out well for both of them.
I think this is a good thing. When we first saw the Bafang mid-drive about a year ago, the outstanding feature we noticed is that it can be easily attached to a very wide variety of existing frames, rather than needing a proprietary interface, like the Bosch unit.
The Bosch unit is designed and made to a very high level of quality, and nobody is trying to claim that the Bafang-BBS01 is just as wonderful. The Bafang unit is good, and…although it is not great, it is improving. Because the Bosch has a proprietary interface, their management can ensure that their drive is only allowed on bicycles that meet their minimum standards of performance and quality. That’s very nice, but…what if someone can’t afford the $4,000+ for a Bosch-equipped BH E-motion, a Trek, or a Cannondale?
The Bafang kit allows you to install an adequate mid-drive onto a bike that you can afford, and also now…it allows any retailer to have an entry-level factory mid-drive E-bike in their catalog.
We also couldn’t help but to notice that…the MXUS company recently announced a new mid drive that is almost identical to the BBS01, so…love it or hate it, there is a lot of competition going on right now.
Edit: Only a day after this was published, endless-sphere.com member cwah posted this link, to show that an seemingly identical E-bike is being marketed by a German bicycle company called “Prophete”. In this pic the smaller 24V battery is shown, but the taller 36V battery is listed as an option along with a picture. The price listed is 1,400 Euros ($1,908 in USD at todays exchange rate), so the Aldis price (minus customer service) saves $608, and to be fair, purchasing this E-bike at Aldi’s may require the customers to assemble the boxed parts.
Here is an advertisement for the Aldi E-bike, thanks to the German pedelecforum.de member Bagatelli
Written by Ron/Spinningmagnets, May 2014