April 15, 2005 Silent, powerful with a range far greater than could have been conceived just a few short years ago, electric bicycles look set to play a role in the future of transportation. Second generation electric bikes are beginning to appear and they are a far cry from the first generation. A prime example of just how far we have come is the second generation Sherpa from Electric Vehicles – it can be pedaled if you wish, but it goes faster than you can pedal with a top speed of 30kmh a range of 30 kilometres, and the ability to fold into the size of a small suitcase (830 x 350 x 610mm). At US$1050, it represents such an economical and convenient “second” form of transport that it is finding its way into motorhomes, boats, inner city apartments and anyone who lives within 20km of their workplace. And it doesn’t require a license!
With a top speed of 30kmh, the Sherpa will outpace a lycra-suited semi-professional rider on a racing bike, has a range of 30 km (upgradable to 45 km), can be recharged to 60% capacity inside an hour and it folds up so small it can be stashed in the trunk of a small car.
“The first model Sherpa has been around for two years and has a strong global following, but the new model is a significant leap forward,” said Electric Vehicles (EVS) spokesperson Cary de Wit.
“The best thing about this product is that you can fold it down to such a small size so that it becomes a very convenient form of transport that can disappear behind a door or under a desk,” said de Wit.
The range of the standard Sherpa is roughly 30 kilometres though this will vary depending on the size and weight of the rider.
“If you are prepared to pedal, you can subsidise the power requirements considerably and get much more mileage from it”, said de Wit.
“We also have an advanced battery pack option that extends the electric range to 45 kilometres and that makes it suitable for almost all local area transport and inner city commuting requirements,’ said de Wit.
“The interesting thing is that with its 30kmh top speed, it also means that from point to point, it’s roughly as quick as a car in the inner city.
You’ll notice that often when you are driving, someone on a pushbike will keep passing you when you are stopped because you can’t drive above 30 kmh that much in the inner city drive cycle.
“The Sherpa accelerates as quick as a car, stops quicker, and can be ridden legally on footpaths, bike paths and it cuts straight through traffic snarls like a motorcycle does.
“As it goes faster than a fit racing cyclist and does so for much longer, in most cases the Sherpa will get to the same destination within a minute or two of a car.
“The Sherpa has a moulded aluminium frame, which is a more costly manufacturing process, but it has many advantages in that there are no welds and joins, so it’s stronger.
One of the other advantages of the Sherpa is that the battery is designed to be easily removed.
“If you’re riding it in to work,” said de Wit, you can lock it up downstairs and take the battery inside to charge it. A full charge takes four hours, but you’ll get 60% of the battery capacity inside an hour.” The Sherpa also has a smart charger which is similar in size and shape to a laptop charger, which means you can carry it easily and plug it in at any stage of discharge and leave it for as long as you wish. So if you’re stopping for a sandwich somewhere, and there’s a friendly shopkeeper, you can top up your battery while you stop for half an hour. There is also no memory effect, which means you can charge up when and where you wish and when the battery is fully charged, the charger goes into maintenance mode, maintaining the battery at full charge.
The Sherpa also has top quality stoppers - front and rear disk brakes – though it doesn’t have any suspension.
“In designing the bike we decided that the suspension compromised the weight and compactness too much”, said de Wit.
“We wanted to ensure we hit the right price points and the design attributes we were seeking for this machine were for it to be small and light and affordable.
“We’re really happy with the result because the bike has come in AUD$200 cheaper than its predecessor which as AUD$1695, and it fits in the back of a small car.
“Those are the key attributes most people are looking for because it makes the Sherpa a fantastic second mode of transportation,” said de Witt.
The market for electric bikes is proving to be quite diverse, with many people finding them suitable for transport where no prior equivalent existed other than public transport.
“We’ve sold electric bikes to people who have subsequently sold their second car, but we often find it replaces another form of transport entirely,” said de Witt.
“For example, it’s regularly finding its way onto boats as a ‘land tender’ vehicle. It’s so small that it can be stowed away and brought out when a boat pulls into port as the land transport. Prior to foldable electric bikes, there was nothing that could do that job other than a foldable bicycle.”
“We’re also selling a lot to people who are traveling in motor homes or camping. The key factor in these situations is space – the foldable electric bike offers a secondary mode of transport for when the motor home is parked. If these people had a secondary transport vehicle prior to now, it was either a bicycle or a motorcycle and they took up a lot of room. In the case of the motorcycle, it also brought petrol inside the cabin, and a host of other complications.
“The Sherpa can be charged off the alternator as you are motoring along and it becomes a very cost-efficient alternative transport when you reach the destination - no gas fumes inside the van, no insurance, no license and negligible running costs. It obviously depends on how much you use it and how much electricity you use and how you make that electricity, but we estimate that running costs for an electric bike are less than 50 cents a week.”
The Sherpa can be shipped anywhere in the world for US$1050 plus transportation costs.