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Power struggle: e-bike gurus clash over wattage - BikeBiz

Power struggle: e-bike gurus clash over wattage

Ed Benjamin of the Light Electric Vehicle Association responds to the BikeBiz.com quotes from ExtraEnergy's Hannes Neupert.
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Ed Benjamin is the president and founder of the Light Electric Vehicle Association. He has written to BikeBiz.com to take to task our article featuring an interview with Hannes Neupert, founder of Germany's ExtraEnergy e-vehicle consultancy. Neupert has now said he's not opposed to ETRA's lobbying to get e-bike rules in Europe changed, a measure soon to be voted upon by the EU.

Neupert's original statement had said: ""The tendency of [ETRA] to ask for more and more power is not the real future. [And] when adding a power on demand throttle this will mean that you drop the pedals next and become a pure motorcycle. I have published in the latest ExtraEnergy magazine a proposal for future laws opposing to the current trend in the EU. Here I ask again for a combination of motor assist allowance in relationship to the muscle power input and a correlation between max assist speed supported by the electric enhancer and the muscle power input which is a new item."

Organisations opposed to ETRA's e-bike wattage increase lobbying include Sustrans, CTC, the Bicycle Association of Great Britain, and European organisations Colibi, Coliped and the European Cyclists Federation.

Benjamin owned bicycle shops from 1969 to 1995 but since the mid-1990s has championed electric bicycles. He’s also the managing director of an e-bike consultancy business.

In April 2011, Benjamin wrote that e-bikes were "larger ticket" products perfect for selling to "customers [who are] old, fat..."

"I was a bike racer, then a bike shop owner, then owner of 4 stores. Now I call myself a recovering retailer, and pay respects to those still in the fray. I have grandkids, a pickup truck, gray hair, and a belly. I am one of the old fat guys that I used to deride. You may not be seeing us in your bike shop. We still enjoy cycling, except that gravity went up and our wind went away. And our shoelaces are hard to see now.

"But there are some bikes that are particularly attractive to our situation. Most consumers regard the electric bike as more useful, and valuable than a pedal bike. Note that I said “most consumers.” Most consumers do not shop in bike shops. And that is a problem. And it is an opportunity – for electric bikes are attractive to a lot of people you don’t attract now."

Hannes Neupert has claimed that pedal bicycles will die, replaced by battery-powered bicycles. Benjamin agrees on this point, but he said he disagrees over Neupert's criticism of ETRA's wattage increase lobbying. In an open letter he responds to Neupert. The full text of this open letter is published below and there's also a response to this response from Neupert, with the ExtraEnergy boss saying he's all in favour of increased wattage and the quote above has been misinterpreted.

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ED BENJAMIN

Carlton,

I have been impressed with the quality of your work, and read your articles with interest. The recent one, in which I see an American style “gotcha” directed at Hannes Neupert, has caused me to give some thought to several points raised. 

First, I would like to recognize Hannes Neupert for his contributions to our industry. He has relentlessly worked to promote electric bicycles, and is responsible for much of the EU pedelec success. And I would like to note that I have many times found that Hannes has great insight into the ebike world, and frankly, can be brilliant. (And I should balance that statement by saying that, like all of us, he has moments when he frustrates and annoys me as well. I am certain that I frustrate and annoy him. ) 

When Hannes compared the manual bicycle to the manual typewriter, and predicted that in a few years, the manual bicycle would be as rare and unappealing as the manual typewriter is today (I have used my own words), he had a point. When you caught him out saying that manual bicycles have a future, forever, he also had a valid point. 

As a former bicycle racer, triathlete, and shop owner, I think that I understand the complex role that the manual bicycle plays in transportation, sport, fitness, and culture. As a keen observer who has traveled widely – mostly to study the use of bicycles and motorized two wheelers about the world – I think I see something that may have eluded many, and was seen but not clearly articulated by Hannes. 

Manual bicycles are transportation tools, sport equipment, fitness equipment, objects of art, and integral to history in many places. There is a culture of cycling, with traditions. And they are glorious gadgets in themselves. 

But electric bicycles are transportation tools, virtually without exceptions.

When you ask electric bike users why they chose electric, the answers are all about function. Getting to their destination more easily, quicker, or more comfortably. 

Sports, fitness, art, and culture all have roles for manual devices that are not as functional as the powered version. An easy comparison is sailboats. While I love the elegance of sail, and note that millions of sail boats are in use, they are not the choice of anyone who needs to get from A to B efficiently, repetitively, and comfortably. (And similar debates, resistance, and conflicts occurred in the early days of powered watercraft!)

But tools are quickly, ruthlessly, replaced with better tools, as technology advances. Despite my fond memories of learning to type on a manual typewriter, I moved to an electric one as soon as possible, and wrote this on a computer – of course. As nearly all of us do. 

Since an electric bike is a tool used for transportation that is more comfortable, more convenient, and more useful for most people, most of the time, I suggest that the Hannes was correct. The human race will replace the manual bicycle in it’s transportation role, with electric bikes. 

But like sail boats, manual bikes will live on as cherished and beloved for their elegance, beauty, simplicity and history. They will survive in sport, and for fitness.

A comment on Hannes’s observations about motor power: 250 watts is a good choice in many ways, for many places. But ETRA has been listening to the dealers (after all, that is ETRA’s job) and those dealers have been saying something very simple: “We want to climb hills comfortably.”

When seen in the light of “Transportation tool” rather than “fitness or sport” this comment is very important. 

The world (and even Europe) has a wide variety of people, in a wide variety of health, age, size, and conditions, and a wide variety of terrains. 

The idea that 250 watts is the right power range for all markets and all users is simplistic and erroneous. There are places and users who desire, and should have access to more power. 

But I note that humans resist change, and this plays into this entire message. The cycling industry is the primary distribution channel – today – for electric bikes. And we are all invested in and lovers of the manual bike. Change to electric is inevitable, but uncomfortable on an emotional level. It is interesting that some people and some companies – promoters of the change to electric – now resist the change in power and paradigm that a more powerful motor might mean. Are we already set in our ways?

+++++

HANNES NEUPERT

Ed,


I like your part of the discussion - and as I stated on Facebook I love Carlton's article since I have a lot of fun at many dealer trainings to pull the trigger with bike dealers by saying that manual bicycles are over soon! This can help in a afternoon session to wake up the last dealer in the audience and let them wake up quickly.

But in one thing your are not correct - I never asked to stay with the 250 W - this rule is shit and I always said that and you probably remember my statements about it 2010 and 2011 at Eurobike at the discussions I said that power is not correlated with safety! Only final speed and acceleration has an influence on safety.

So I claim for me with this radical approach to be even maybe the one giving ETRA the direction to ask for the complete cancelation of the max power thing.

I am now with something different - I am asking for a flexible final speed which correlates to the average human power.
This is something which was formulated in the last [ExtraEnergy] magazine but unfortunately I did not have the 5000 Euro left for the translation and PDF processing - so this only exists in German now...

So my direction is quite different to what some people did read out of my comments as well as you did.

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