The three biggest bicycle conventions each year are the Taipei Cycle Show in Taiwan (held in March), Eurobike in Germany (August), and Interbike in Las Vegas Nevada (September). These are the trade shows where bicycle parts manufacturers show off their new stuff to bike shop owners in the hopes of securing sales contracts. Take a quick scan of the pics from last years interbike, here.
It is a huge convention, but…only about 10% of Interbike has anything to do with electric bikes. Even so, every year there is something new to see, and this year was no exception.
The Overall Impression
Some of what I’m about to say is just opinion, so take that for what it’s worth. I’ve been wrong on occasion before, but…here goes.
Electric bikes have grown in North America over the last year, but…the growth has been slow, and it was definitely slower than projections from last year. In my humble opinion, this is due to the fact that gasoline prices have not only been lower this last year (I paid $1.95/gallon when I passed through Oklahoma, $2.05 in New Mexico, and $2.59 in Arizona), and…projections are that they will likely remain near their current state for at least until summer of 2016. Compare that to $8/gallon gasoline in many European countries, where E-bikes are huge.
We can debate the reasons for slow E-bike growth, but pretending that things are booming for E-bikes in North America will just make you sound like a desperate politician. There is some good news, though! Every E-bike I test-rode this year was quieter…whether it was a hubmotor or a mid-drive. Also, there are more choices than ever for consumers, regarding the frames and drive systems.
The first two days are called the “outdoor demo”, and are held in a rough desert hillside that is located at Bootleg Canyon Park. This park is about thirty minutes’ drive south of the Mandalay Bay convention center, and free shuttle busses are provided all day.
Although there were some paved pedestrian paths that could be ridden on with street ebikes, the reason for the outdoor demo is to allow riders to take the demo bikes and ride them on a real hillside with lots of rough terrain to see what the off-road bicycles and ebikes can really do. In the pic, the squigglely shape in the bottom right is a BMX track for everyone to use.
You may not ride the same way that I ride, but the Townie from Lectric Cycles (in Arizona) ended up being one of my favorites, since most of my riding is on street commuters. The aluminum frame is the popular Electra Townie. The BBS02 mid drive that they use has custom programming in the firmware that eliminates the power lag in the speed sensors used by the pedal-assist, with a smooth ramp-up in power. This kit can apply power by only pedaling if you want, and you also have the option to apply power by a left-side thumb throttle. I liked the combination very much.
Bosch and Yamaha mid-drives
One of the few things that I absolutely had to do at this interbike, was to ride several different frames that had the new Yamaha mid drive system. I had ridden the impressive Bosch mid drive last year, and they were still just as awesome now as when I rode them before. The large Haibike booth had several models of ebikes with both the Bosch and Yamaha drives, so I began riding and swapping Haibikes to evaluate and compare their “feel”. I had read that the Yamaha drive provides about 8% more torque than the Bosch, but…it will actually cost less than the Bosch unit.
Both of the Bosch and Yamaha drives performed flawlessly, and I couldn’t tell them apart unless I looked at them. If there will be a significant price benefit to the Yamaha, then I think they will do very well, since North American customers have a high opinion of both of these marques. Both used sophisticated torque-sensors in the crankset, and the power application was smooth and seamless, not jerky at all.
Of course I immediately raised the power assist on the small control panel to the maximum setting on all the ebikes I tested. I rode hardtails and full-suspension frames (the Germans called them “fullys”) with both the Bosch and Yamaha drives. I wish I could say to you that I could tell the difference, but they were both so wonderful, their performance would not be an issue when deciding between the two of them.
The one big difference this year is that there was an indoor test track (instead of the loop provided in the outdoor parking lot from last year), and I think the biggest reason for this was to make it easier to provide security for the companies that were loaning out their precious prototypes for test-rides.
It would be rude of me to suggest that Interbike is crawling with industrial spies that want to copy any new and clever product, but lets just say that…many new products are presented fairly suddenly at the three big bicycle conventions, so they can be tested by potential corporate customers “just before” they are already slated for full production.
After signing a liability waiver and getting my test-track wrist-band…I was free to ride any demo bike that was unoccupied and in the test track corral.
Bafang, and the new 1000W BBSHD mid drive kit
The star of the show this year is the new big brother to the popular Bafang 750W BBS02 mid drive (which actually can use 48V X 25A = 1200 peak watts when de-restricted). Some customers have been asking for even more power, so…this new drive is factory-rated as being 30% more powerful than the BBS02 (the factory rates it for 1000W continuous, and 1600W peaks).
Also, since the first BBSHD version will be a drop-in to fit the 100mm wide bottom brackets, that is good news for owners of fatbikes and the higher-end off-road mountain bikes that have a 100mm BB.
Lectric Cycles of Arizona had two of these, a company called Bat Bike had one (shown), and there was a green fatbike at the Bafang booth that had one. The BBSHD name means Bottom Bracket [location], Speed [sensor], Heavy Duty. If you have been using a BBS02, and it has been getting very hot on your commute…this drive would run cooler under the same loads.
In June of 2015, Bafang began shipping its popular BBS02 with upgraded FETs (Field Effect Transistors). These are the ON/OFF switches in the controller that allow the motor phases to work. Paul (from em3ev.com) was a vendor for the BBS02, and his biggest complaints from customers were heat-failures of the controller. Paul was already experienced at upgrading his other controllers to the more efficient IRFB 3077 FET, and their improved efficiency allowed them to use the same power while running much cooler.
Paul initially supplied the Bafang factory with 3077 FETs at his cost, for the BBS02 controllers that were being assembled for his monthly orders. The factory was so impressed by the performance improvement, they now ship all BBS02 controllers with the 3077’s. The new 1,000W BBSHD uses twelve of the 3077 FETs, instead of the 9 FETs that its 750W little brother uses, so I fully expect this new drive to actually be capable of using 1500W without overheating. Even so, we still recommend adding an inexpensive temperature sensor to the drives case. The Bafang controllers with 3077 FETs have an “N” as the third digit in the serial number.
EM3EV.com Double Wide MAC geared hubmotor
Paul at em3ev.com is one of our favorite vendors. Over the last few years, he has continuously added new products to his catalog of E-bike kits and parts. Paul is a native English-speaker who lives in China to ensure he can keep a close eye on quality control, and this also allows him to be very innovative. He was the first vendor that I can remember who began carrying a triangle-shaped battery pack, and after a few other vendors also started carrying a triangle pack, Paul began carrying two different sizes of triangle pack.
This Interbike, he was introducing two products. A double-wide geared hubmotor, and he has also become a dealer for an off-road frame-kit. There have been several new frame-kits introduced over the last few years. Paul felt that there was room for one more off-road E-bike frame-kit that was made with his quality-control ability (because of his location near the factory), and with a price that he felt was more reasonable compared to what’s been available.
The new “double wide” MAC motor is very innovative. It is based on some of the existing parts used to produce the conventional and popular MAC geared hub-motor. It would have been more expensive and heavier to make a geared hub-motor that is larger in diameter, plus doing that would require shorter spokes that result in a harsher nipple angle. So, if you decide you won’t be redesigning it to be larger in diameter, that leaves making it wider in order to get more power.
The standard stator on the popular MAC motor is 22mm wide, so…how wide could it be made, with some artful design changes? (while still fitting between the common 130mm wide drop-outs?) The most immediately obvious change is that the standard MAC has some airspace between the left side-plate and the brake disc. For any significant width to be added to the stator, the conventional style disc has to be eliminated. If you then widen the motor case on the left side as far as it would go, that provides enough added stator-width to make the extensive mods worthwhile, but…could there still be a way to have a disc brake as an option?
For the new model of MAC to have a disc brake on the left, it would require a proprietary disc and caliper set, so…that is exactly what Paul designed next.
There is more to this than meets the eye. Paul designed-in a larger side-plate bearing on the left side, and the most obvious benefit is that the motor phase cable can now exit the case inside the drop-outs (instead of through a hollow axle). However, this was also an engineering opportunity that Paul didn’t miss. Rather than use the smallest possible bearing, he chose one large enough that he could insert a thick aluminum bushing between the axle and the inner race of the side-plate bearing.
This accomplishes something very interesting. One of the issues with the popular geared hub motors is that the heat that builds up in the stator has a poor heat-shedding path to the outside. It would only take a small improvement in a geared hubmotors’ heat shedding ability to access a lot more power potential. Oil-cooling and ventilating the sideplates have been tried, but…oil inside the motor often finds a way to leak out, and some builders have expressed concerns about dirt and grit getting inside the motors from the ventilation holes.
Since the axle and motor-stator are stationary, the added aluminum bushing is able to easily connect the hot stator core to a thick aluminum disc brake caliper mount that is on the outside. While he was at it, Paul also added an integral torque arm to increase the aluminum thermal mass even more.
The prototypes shown have steel gears in order to be able to handle the power, and Paul is still developing methods to make it run as quiet as possible. They still use the common 5:1 ratio, meaning the motor will spin 5 times for every time the wheel turns once. The running prototype had a stock-width stator in it, but once the other development issues are settled, the stator can be widened up to twice as much. Even while still using the stock stator, the improvement in the prototype motors’ heat-shedding ability dramatically improved how many amps the motor can use without overheating.
Many upgraded product developers are happy to introduce one or two innovations, but…while Paul was busy designing this new motor, he also machined the prototypes with a “through axle”, which is much stronger than the common 10mm axle-flats in an open drop-out, while trying to fit a custom torque arm to many different frames.
For the rare ebike builder that wants to use 2WD, I always recommend a geared hub for the front wheel, and this new motor is by far the most powerful geared hub available.
I know I have written a lot more on this than any other Interbike subject, but…this is a truly new development.
Plus-Size Tires, 2.8-3.2 inches wide
There was a noticeable increase of fatbikes a couple of years ago, with most of them using 4-inch wide tires in 26-inch wheels. Last year, the big news was that you could also get the fat wheels and tires in 24-inch and 20-inch.
This year? there has been a huge increase in tires that are halfway between the common 2.5-inch and the fat 4.0-inch. I have seen them called “Plus Sized“, and also semi-fat, or mid-fat. There are not many versions in a street tire yet, but there was a surprising variety in off-road tires.
(On the other end of the scale, I also saw new tire widths between 4.5 to 5.0-inches wide!)
I casually polled Interbike attendees at every chance (over 90% were NOT there for the electric bikes), and every person I had talked to had tried the 4.0-inch fat tires fairly soon after they had been introduced years ago, and appreciated the benefits, but…wanted something a little less fat. I now saw 2.8 to 3.2-inch wide tires in 26, 27.5, and 29-inch wheels.
I can appreciate that there is a constant pressure for bikes and their components to be as light as possible, but I am 6-foot tall, and 200-lbs, and I always felt just a little out of proportion on the average bicycle. The 27.5 and 29’r wheels with 3.0-inch tires just look right to me (in spite of the extra weight). And whether you like street E-bikes or off-road…you will be seeing a lot more of these.
Concerning rim widths, an off-road expert insisted that the rim should be about 30% narrower than the tire width, to allow to tire to deform properly and get the maximum amount of footprint and grip.
2WD and Through-Axles
I was surprised that more companies didn’t have a 2WD ebike at their Interbike booth, even if it wasn’t intended for production, but was just there for publicity. I did see two ebikes with 2WD. Doctor Bass from the endless-sphere chat forum (who was at the NYX booth) had one, and also Paul at the em3ev.com booth.
Paul is now marketing an off-road frame kit, and the demonstrator had two of his new double-wide MAC motors, which are geared hub-motors. This allows the motor to spin about 5 times for every wheel rotation, which helps efficiency and allows a smaller and lighter motor to have the same torque as a larger direct drive motor.
NYX is getting a lot of buzz this year because they are marketing an off-road frame kit that has a lot of carbon fiber in it, to reduce the frames’ weight. Doctor Bass (Stephane Melancon, from Canada) built his up NYX frame with dual MXUS direct drive motors, which are rated for 3000W each, if used in the stock form. Stephane ventilated the side plates, which allows heat to escape. Doing this raises the continuous and peak power capabilities of each motor. He also increased the gauge of the motor phase wires to handle the extra amp-heat.
Another feature that both of these 2WD examples had was…custom machined axles to test a “through-axle” configuration. This style of axle is much stronger than the common type, and this last year they were being seen a lot more often on high-end pedal-only downhill bicycles.
Last year, Bafang introduced prototypes of a mid drive that is similar in size and interface as the famous Bosch mid-drive. I don’t think anyone will attempt to claim that the Bafang Max is as good as the Bosch, but…I have ridden it, and it performs very well.
This drive unit also uses a proprietary interface, where the drive unit bolts up to an oval half-shell that must be welded into a frame from the factory. I think this drive will quietly “shake up” the factory turn-key electric bike markets, because…even though the Bosch is widely recognized as higher-quality product that performs seamlessly, lets face it: the Bafang Max performs well enough for most customers, and it is less expensive.
The client that will likely soon benefit quite a bit is Prodeco Tech, but…there are also others that I saw with the Max drive.
This company gets my vote for “most improved” product line over this last year. Three years ago, I didn’t know if Prodeco Tech was going to be able to grow or not. I didn’t want to publicly say anything negative about any company that was trying to sell electric bikes, but…if someone had told me they had announced that they were struggling, I would not have been surprised.
To be fair, they did seem to be expanding and doing OK at that time, but I chalked that up to the fact that they do spend money on advertising, at a time when very few ebike companies are doing that. Plus, we live in an age in North America where many new customers have only recently realized that ebikes even exist.
last year, their product line seemed a little over-priced, and their biggest seller was a simple beach cruiser frame with a 500W rear hub-motor, and the battery was located in a rear cargo rack that was bolted-on (instead of welded). This year they displayed several models that had the removable battery located in the downtube, and they even had a mid-drive. And not just any mid drive, they contracted with the Bafang Max system. This suggests to me that they understand how price sensitive their customers have been, and I think this choice will work out well for them.
Miscellaneous Pics and Thoughts
The pic below is a custom board-tracker with the faux gas tank opened up to show a selection of liquors, and if you look closely…you’ll even see a sampler-sized whiskey bottle on the air-fill stem.
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, September 2015