The Boston Police department has been seen using electric bikes during the 2014 Boston marathon, which was held just a couple of days ago. The TV news video (ABC station affiliate WCVB) had very little information about the specifics of the bike, and only mentioned that the two biggest benefits were the added speed and endurance that it provided officers in crowds, and also that the integrated loudspeaker/siren was very useful for officers when addressing crowds.
This particular model (currently called the “Vbike”) was assembled by the Vision Motor Corp division (VMC) of Vision Industries. VMC ‘s main business is developing “fuel cell” vehicles that are powered by hydrogen for future zero-emission transportation needs. These six electric bikes are an opportunity to get some free publicity in order for their name to become more well-known in the alternative vehicles field.
The first six sample Vbikes were donated to the city by a Boston native, Bradley Birkenfeld…and will be evaluated by the Boston Police Department for further possible modifications. Mr Birkenfeld was present at the previous years marathon, and after the infamous bombing there…he wanted to do something to help the police in his home-town to be as effective as possible.
The pic above shows the right side of the Vbike. There is a single chainring up front, and it appears there are only a few sprockets at the rear wheel. But…Boston is fairly flat, so having only a few gears to choose from shouldn’t be an issue.
The scarce published information states the battery is a 15-Ah Lithium-Ion pack providing 48V…so that is the good news, because both of those parameters are excellent choices. However, the geared hub motor in the rear is not very large, and is only rated to be a 500W motor, perhaps similar to the common Bafang-BPM. This would probably not be an issue in a flat city like Boston, except that it is listed as being capable of 30-MPH.
The most popular entry-level kits that are recommended to new E-bikers at the endless-sphere forum use 1,200W to achieve 28-MPH…and that is from the voice of experience.
Short sprints in pursuit of a suspect at 30-mph will be fine in a flat city like Boston, New York, or Amsterdam. However, any police departments with significant hills should be aware when reading this story that this model may overheat on a long uphill.
The pic above shows the combination siren/loudspeaker, plus the red/blue blinky-lights along with the small LED headlights. The system wisely uses a pedelec sensor, so the officer does not need to manage a hand-throttle, and…these six officers were also issued a new “hands free” head-set system for communicating.
I applaud Mr Birkenfeld for donating these bikes to the Boston PD. E-bikes can be a useful and affordable tool to have handy. The publicity of these bikes on the very visible TV coverage of the marathon will bring a huge boost of awareness to people across North America about the fact that E-bikes not only exist, but a serious organization like the Boston PD feels they are useful enough to try out.
There are a few good points about this particular combination of parts. First, they chose 48V instead of 36V. That’s a 30% improvement in voltage power without any extra heat from needing to raise the amps in order to achieve 30-MPH. It has dual cable-operated disc brakes. These are adequate for this duty, and they are easy to service.
Next, I don’t want to be critical, but…there were several choices that seem to have been made to save on costs, rather than secure a reasonable level of performance. The cargo needed in the seat-post-mounted rack may not be heavy (perhaps the police radio?), but this E-bike needs to have a welded rack with vertical supports. Bolted-on racks would work their way loose, and since this frame is a hard-tail…there is no excuse for a settling on a seat-post mount, which could crack right when you need it to hold together.
The frame appears to be an entry-level grade of generic Chinese E-bike. It’s good that it is likely to be steel, and also that the weight of the battery is centrally located. The forks are also probably an entry-level grade, but unless the E-bike officer will be chasing a suspect up and down some of the stairs in the park, they should also be adequate for this job.
Using a hard-tail frame on a lower-speed 20-MPH E-bike (with a suspension seat-post) might be adequate, but…at 30-MPH?…if you are truly riding at 30-MPH during an emergency (and honestly, there’s no other time they would ride at 30-MPH), that is exactly the situation where you would need the stability that a full-suspension frame would provide when running over curbs and potholes in the road.
I’m sure the Boston PD is struggling to accomplish the most that they possibly can on the stretched budgets that are a fact of life these days, but…it might have been better for them to have four long-lasting and robust E-bikes that they really love, instead of six E-bikes that are just “adequate”.
Here’s a link to an article about the Newport, California police trying out Pedego E-bikes.
Written by Ron/Spinningmagnets, April 2014