Interbike is the largest annual bicycle products convention in North America. Over 90% of the floor-space was populated by booths from conventional bicycle products companies (not electric), but there were enough electric bike vendors this year that I definitely wanted to go there, and have a look in person.
The last day of Interbike (Friday), the convention was open to the general public, but be aware that…to participate in the first three days, you have to be registered ahead of time, which requires the verifiable endorsement from some type of bicycle business. The majority of attendees appeared to be bicycle shop owners, which makes sense because the booths were companies that were showing their product line for 2015, in the hopes of signing supply contracts with industry buyers.
If you work at a bicycle shop (even just part-time, in addition to your regular full-time job), then this is one way that visiting Las Vegas can be a legitimate business expense, and can be written off as a tax deduction (check first with your accountant to ensure the trip is properly documented).
Where should you stay in Las Vegas?
If you want to be able to walk to the Interbike convention each day without getting a bus or a taxi, I have several suggestions. The convention is at the Mandalay Bay convention center, so of course staying there might be the easiest. The Mandalay Bay Hotel/Casino is located at the very bottom of the famous Las Vegas “casino strip”, which turned out to be very convenient for the buses that needed to head south to take attendees to the “Outdoor Demo” on the first day.
The other easiest options are the next closest hotel/casinos. Just north of the Mandalay is the Luxor (very hard to miss, since it is very striking by looking like a real pyramid). Next is the Excalibur, which has a “King Arthurs Castle” theme. I personally stayed at the New York, New York.
The first three Hotels mentioned are connected by an elevated tram, which is free, air-conditioned, fully enclosed, and makes the circuit every eight minutes…starting at 7:00 AM. Since I stayed at the New York, New York…I used the elevated pedestrian bridge to cross over the street to the northern-most tram station. I was able to avoid wrestling with sidewalk crowds, and also crossing traffic stop lights by using that path. There is also an elevated pedestrian bridge connecting the Tropicana to the Excaliber tram station.
If you wanted to ride your E-bike to the Mandalay, they provide a free lock-up area for any bicycles that attendees may have brought with them.
What to expect
Once you have registered online at the Interbike website, you will be sent an email a week before the event with a barcode on it. Do not delete the email, and even after reading it, save it as if it was still a new email so you can easily access it at any time. Print out a copy of the email, and bring it with you along with a picture ID (I had my drivers license with me). There were two separate places in the Mandalay Bay convention center that were set up to issue the access badges, I scouted them out the night before so I could get my badge as soon as they opened (before the huge crowds and long lines hit). The access badge system was open a couple hours before the convention, and the convention opened to the attendees at 9:00 AM.
You will be issued a wrist band, a large paper access badge with a neck lanyard, and a “swag bag” that is just the right size to hold sales brochures and about five hundred business cards. This year they gave each attendee two sports bottles, which will come in handy (in ways that I shall describe later).
The first day was on a Tuesday, and it was “Outdoor Demo” day. The badge center opened at 6:30, and the first bus to “Bootleg Canyon” left at 7:00. The buses were full-sized air-conditioned coaches, and they were reported to make the 25-minute run every 30-minutes between the convention center and Bootleg Canyon. I arrived at 7:30 coming of the first bus, and I ran to get a few pictures before the crowds arrived.
If you wanted to take a new 2015 model of pedal-bike or electric bike onto some steep and rolling hills for a test-ride…the “Outdoor Demo” event on Tuesday was your only chance.
I found it amusing that many of the same people who would never allow themselves to be seen in public on an electric bike…needed a truck to haul them up to the top of the hill to try out the new mountain bikes. Electric bike samplers simply rode up to the top, instead of waiting in line to ride a crowded truck. Nobody called me a “cheater” to my face, but if they had…I would have replied “Yes, I am!” with a big E-bike grin on my face!
The next morning (Wednesday) was the first day of the actual indoors convention, which was HUGE, by the way! The vast majority of electric bike vendors had their booths concentrated near the outdoor track exit. Although the previous days’ Outdoor Demo was a mix of pedal bikes and electric bikes, the test track on the parking lot of the convention center was all electric bikes.
I made sure to travel every aisle, and it turned out to be a good thing. This is because I found several E-bike vendors spread out among the rest of the convention, which I might have missed if I had stayed in the main cluster of E-bike booths near the exit to the track.
Food and beverages?
OH! back to the sports bottles I mentioned. Walking several miles a day to see all of the booths is thirsty work, but…don’t bother looking for a water fountain, because…there aren’t any! (and the restroom faucets dispense warm water). To be clear, I am FOR successful businesses making a profit, so it came as no shock to find that the Mandalay will gladly SELL you a cold bottle of water, but the huge convention had only one snack bar to dispense the delicious $4 bottles of refreshment!
Side note: the longest lines on the path to the convention were at Starbucks and Subway…Starbucks has some breakfasty snacks to go with their popular coffees, and Subway was doing a brisk business with their toasted flatbread breakfast sandwiches (both vegetarian style, or ruthlessly murdered cow/pig style, Mmmmm!). Subway also had coffee, if the Starbucks line was too long for you to get your morning fix.
The Interbike convention is sprinkled with samples of sports drinks and energy bars, enough so that I actually didn’t eat a lunch all three days that I was there. But you shouldn’t spend an entire day sipping only sports drinks with words in the names like Extreme! Power! Lightning! Turbo! Monster!…which is why electricbike.com will be coming out with with it’s own sports drink at the next Interbike, which is formulated to satisfy the specific needs of an E-biker.
It’s called “Refreshing Placebo!” Since E-bikers don’t sweat as much as pedal-bikers, you won’t be losing those pesky and vital electrolytes, or burning as much glucose, so…Refreshing Placebo uses a water base with no artificial flavorings, no sugar, and none of that jittery caffeine!
Stop teasing, what was new?
If you are a little tense from drinking Extreme power lightning turbo monster, I’ll give you the short version. Fatbikes are the hot trend, Bosch is dominating the factory mid drives, the Bafang BBS02 allowed many bike companies to easily add a mid drive to their catalog, and the most successful ebike businesses aren’t doing anything radical…they are just focusing on the basics of reliable products and good customer service.
On a side note, there were several Chinese vendors there that were looking to do design and production of carbon fiber frames, and also titanium frames…if that was something you wanted to get into, you could have had a face-to-face with an engineer and the boss.
First, the Bafang BBS01/BBS02 has been growing in popularity this last year, mainly because it can be retro-fitted to almost any bicycle frame. Similar new drives were presented at this Interbike from XOFO and MXUS. This style of drive allows any bicycle manufacturer to easily add a mid drive to their catalog without committing to a proprietary bottom-bracket, which would severely limit the selection of frames that had a mid drive.
I was finally able to see a Sunstar SO3+ in person (from Japan). It “looks like” a Bafang BBS02, but Sunstar was first because it had a patent on these from 2001…and they are suing Bafang in Germany over the BBS02. I just wish Sunstar had made a 500W/750W unit for North America. Sunstar kits are hard to get here, and currently limited to 250W.
There were many examples of a common bicycle frame with a BBS02 added (*yawn…), but I did find one that was different and interesting, made by the Carter company from Italy.
They have chosen to produce a model that had two distinctive features. First, their E-bike has stamped body panels which make its style reminiscent of a classic Honda Cub (which was popular in Europe in the 1960’s). The second feature that was different is the stamped and riveted spokes on the wheels. This construction technique has been used on some motorcycles, so it is very strong, and…they cannot loosen the way that spokes might. The body panels provide a broad canvas for advertising, and the sturdy wheels remove one possible maintenance headache. One of their customers so far has been a hotel chain that rents these E-bikes to visiting tourists.
They are fitted with the 250W or 500W BBS01 model, depending on local laws. The bikes gears on the rear wheel are provided by a Shimano Nexus 7-speed IGH, which requires much less maintenance and adjustment, compared to an external 7-speed derailleur. The clever seat-mount has a suspension element, and uses an innovative split post. The elevated chain stay means that you don’t have to break a link on the chain to service it, so…a worn one can be slipped off and a new one slipped on very easily.
TDCM Hybrid hubmotor
I did see one standout new product, which was way overdue for the E-bike community. TDCM is known for their torque-sensing BB cranksets, and this year they are introducing a direct drive rear hub that has an Internally Geared Hub (IGH) that is fully integrated into the center. The prototype that was shown has a 5-speed, and the rep stated that they will definitely have a 7-speed available very soon.
The benefits of an IGH are that: Having only one sprocket means no chainline issues, no mud in the gears, you can shift gears while at a stop, and…since you don’t need to allow for the width of an external 7-speed sprocket cluster, the stator in the motor can easily be as wide as 40mm while still fitting into a common 135mm wide drop-out.
I would love to see an Alfine 8-speed IGH in one of these (available for roughly $300). Not only does it have a lot of gears, but the freewheel uses ramped rollers instead of pawls, so an Alfine rolls very quietly without the click-click-click of the common pawls. I mention this because one of the few ways in which a direct-drive hubmotor remains relevant is because they can run very quietly (especially with one of the new sine-wave controllers), so an Alfine would be a good match.
The other thing I saw that is a trend I am very happy about is…the MXUS booth had a cutaway sample of their small 360W geared hub…and it is using helical gears. The vast majority of geared hubmotors use the common straight-cut gears. Helical gears (which have a slight angle to them), cost only a little bit more, but…they do cost more. The benefit is that they run quieter than the common straight-cut gears. I was VERY pleased to finally be able to ride E-bikes with the Bosch and BBS02 mid drives, and I can now verify what I have been told by so many. These new mid drives are surprisingly quiet.
So…why do I mention the Bosch and BBS02 mid drives here…when I’m talking about a geared hub? well…I’m glad you asked. The cutaway pics and dis-assembly pics we have collected of the insides of the Bosch and Bafang mid drives verify that their geared reductions use…helical gears! Mechanical devices have been a passion of mine since my childhood, and this is one application where helical gear-teeth are the right thing to do.
Also notice that the shaft shank on the right side of the pic is larger in diameter, and this allows the wires to avoid being routed through a hollow shaft with the exit point outside the frame (which would be more susceptible to damage, and creates a weaker shaft).
Bits and pieces in no particular order…
One of the standout experiences of this Interbike for me was that…all of the new E-bikes were so much quieter than I expected. I have read from the internet chatter that sinewave controllers are very close in price to the common square-wave controllers, and they have grown in popularity this past year. Once buzzy controllers are phased out…the other noises from the E-bike (like the gear noise, which never really bothered anyone before) will take on a new precedence, and one by one…E-bike companies will address each one of the noises. The “whine” of gear noise can be cut significantly by the affordable option of swapping to helical gears, so…I’m going to suggest that this will likely be a trend over this next year.
Everywhere I looked, there were various versions of a factory bicycle that had spliced-on a Bosch mid drive (and a couple dozen with a “slip-on” BBS02). I don’t want to post a bunch of pics of that, because there’s a thousand pics of those on the internet. For fat bikes, the only news is that you can now get fat tires and fat wheels in 20-inch and 24-inch, to go with the popular 26-inchers that were everywhere. Oh, and Luna Bikes now has a limited number of Titanium fat bike frames available.
There was a new style of motor being featured at the outdoor track, using the drive system from Höganäs Eclino from Sweden. Here is a video of the motor, which uses a “transverse flux” configuration (as opposed to the common radial or axial), which is very similar to how stepper motors and some magnetic linear actuators are arranged. Here is a link on Hoganas in German, and here are pics of the E-bike motor parts.
A traverse-flux stators’ current flows in the same direction as the bicycle tire, but the permanent magnets are still located in the motor rim (The E-bike motor is an outrunner, the graphic in the link is an inrunner). Since the transverse motor configuration makes a very slim motor (wider isn’t stronger), the Hoganas has three stators side-by side in their E-bike motor. In theory, this arrangement is more power-dense, so a similarly-sized motor would have more torque, or a similarly-powered motor could be smaller and lighter.
Each stator-section is energized in sequence, so it is still a 3-phase. Also, the electromagnet stator-sections are formed using powdered metal (Somaloy), so instead of a stack of steel sheetmetal laminations, each particle is individually insulated, so this motor should be able to run to exceptionally high RPMs without producing much eddy current heat. Without any fear of eddy-current heat, the magnets are very slim with a very high switching frequency, so even a direct drive motor can have a very smooth start-up in sensorless mode.
Construction is simple because the three stator-groups have only a single loop of copper wire each, so…I’m going to suggest that this motors’ construction could be automated (no hand-winding necessary). I would argue the higher power density and ultra-high RPM capability would suggest it’s use as a non-hub inrunner in a mid-drive. Imagine a Bosch/BBS02 mid drive the same size, but with 50% more power.
Juiced Riders had a few new developments. Their ODK-V3 longtail cargobike has been well-received this past year, but founder Tora Harris has decided to expand his catalog by creating a shorter version of the ODK, and also a stronger version with a dual downtube frame. The stronger version has an optional 30-Ah battery, and I think that is the largest battery on any factory E-bike sold today, and…it also uses hydraulic disc brakes for the expected heavier than normal loads.
The most interesting development from Juiced Riders (from my perspective) is their new diamond frame. From a distance it is just another boring frame with a battery pack in the downtube (like the Specialized Turbo and the Stromer). The interesting thing about this was that…even though the battery shape protrudes into the triangle space, it disconnects by swinging outwards to the side.
The outward disconnecting feature allows this new family of battery packs to also be used in a step-through frame (which may have dual downtubes that are close together). The fact that the pack projects upward into the frames triangle space means that he can have several sizes of pack that use the same interface. He now has two sizes of rectangular battery packs for it (the smallest battery is very stealthy and doesn’t even look like an electric bike!), and he’s exploring the possibility of developing an even larger triangle shape that uses the same interface.
Miscellaneous news, and meeting people
I was very happy to meet several people in person while I was there, and there is so much that can be learned from a face-to-face meeting that would remain vague if you only relied on email and phone chats. The highlight of the entire convention for me was a meetup with Justin Lemire-Elmore from ebikes.ca (along with two of his engineers, Dan and Rob). Among their many tasks were supply negotiations over the new “Satiator” smart charger (we plan to have an article on this soon).
I had an insightful chat with Chris Nolte from Long Island Electric bikes. I didn’t know he was the owner and founder at the time…to me he was just an enthusiastic E-biker that I was having a great time talking with. His perspective was very informative because his store has been successful for a long time (in a very competitive industry), and he carries a wide variety of makes and models.
One unexpected surprise for me was an unplanned chat with Terry, one of the two founders of Pedego. The Pedego company is one of the top three companies in North America by sales. Their growth has been phenomenal these last two years, and Terry broke it down for me into a simple formula.
1. Focus on established E-bike shops or start your own. Independent bike shops are not passionate about E-bikes, and some even hate E-bikes.
2. If someone is interested in an E-bike, get them a test ride! Pedego dealers are known for free test rides, and affordable rentals.
3. Quality Assurance is absolutely vital. his QA inspector is located at the Chinese factory. When the factory got tired of eating the occasional reject, they stopped making rejects. Pedego dealers can expect a consistent product.
4. When a customer has a problem, fix it! Dealers are expected to maintain a full stock of spares, so wait times are measured in hours instead of weeks.
It was no surprise to find out that he didn’t start out as an E-bike guy that was trying to figure out how to grow a business…he was already a successful business owner who had decided to focus his experience and talent on the growing and under-served world of E-bikes. His enthusiasm and energy is infectious, and I would recommend that…if you like to gamble, don’t bet against Pedego.
Terry left me with this nugget about Pedego’s success: “We did more of what worked, and less of what didn’t”.
There are thousand ways to fail at trying to run a business, but if you look at the successful vendors I mentioned above…they all seem to have some striking similarities. Go figure, huh?
Written by Ron/Spinningmagnets, September 2014