Matthew BeedhamEditor, SHIFT by TNW
Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls. Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls.
As a road cyclist, I can tell you wholeheartedly that downhill mountain bikes are lazy*. I know this, because I used to live with them. They would put their bikes in a van, drive to the top of the trails, and then let gravity do all the work as they plummet back to earth. Sometimes, they would even use ski lifts to get to the top of the mountain, where’s the fun in that?
If only there was a gadget that could give them a little assistance, so they could actually ride to the trailhead, rather than having to drive there.
There are plenty of options for retrofitting motors to bicycles nowadays, but one neat — albeit shockingly expensive — little device has caught my eye because it is so minimalist and means you don’t have to remove your fancy wheels or add a crazy heavy motor to your rig.
It’s called the Elevate, made by startup Bimotal, and it fits to your bike with minimal modification. It’s a small motor that attaches to a bike just above the rear disc brake. Using a special disc brake rotor, that has a toothed gear attached to mesh with the Elevate’s motor, the device can apply power directly to the rear wheel.
The Elevate motor is powered, like other ebike retrofit systems, by a battery that’s the shape and size of a water bottle — so it can be placed directly into one of the bike’s bottle cages for secure storage and easy removal.
[Read: 5 things to know when you’re buying your first electric vehicle]
One of the main issues, though, is that it’s throttle powered, rather than being a pedal assist like most ebikes. This means that the system might not qualify as an ebike in most countries, instead it’d be regulated more like a moped than an ebike.
According to industry site Bikerumor, Bimotal is working on a pedal assist feature so that the motor only applies power when you’re actually pedaling and up to a certain speed.
Perhaps the best bit, though, is that the motor system only weighs 1 kg, making it significantly lighter than hub-based motors. It can also be easily removed when you don’t want to use it, restoring your bike to its former lightweight agile glory.
The whole system, including battery, wiring, and mounting hardware comes in at 2.7 kg.
At the moment, the neat little device has enough power to deliver a steady 50 nm of torque, and peak torque of 100 nm. That’s good for 28 mph (45 kph) on the flat, which means it makes any bike it’s attached to a Class 3 ebike in the US. It’s only going to deliver between 15 and 30 miles of range, so it will need recharging frequently if you use it a lot.
That said, the Elevate isn’t intended for daily use, it’s really designed to be an infrequent assistance tool, I can see it being popular with mountain bikers who want some assistance going up the mountain, but want to remove it as they dive on to the trails.
Removing the Elevate means they don’t have a heavy motor adding loads of unsprung weight to their bike, ruining the handling of their otherwise perfectly tuned and poised downhill rig.
It sounds great, but there’s a huge sting in the Elevate’s tail that has totally and utterly deflated my enthusiasm for the product: it’s price. Bimotal is taking pre-orders, which start at $100, but the final retail price of the whole system is going to be $1,950.
Yes, you read that right. Nearly $2K.
It seems expensive for such a small and what should be a simple device. The only use I can see for this price is if you already have an expensive downhill bike you love, and just want a bit of assistance when there’s no van or ski lift available. Seeing as it’s so light and easily removed, it might also be a good option for performance focused riders who don’t want to compromise the downhill handling of their bike.
But outside this very niche use case, I can’t see why anyone would modify their existing bike. There seems to be little point adding this device to your commuting bike for some extra oomph, for $2K you could just buy a dedicated ebike.
*Mountain bikers aren’t really lazy, please don’t @ me.
So you like mobility? Then join our online event, TNW2020, where you’ll hear how data, autonomy, and connectivity are fueling the future of mobility.
SHIFT is brought to you by Polestar. It’s time to accelerate the shift to sustainable mobility. That is why Polestar combines electric driving with cutting-edge design and thrilling performance. Find out how.
Get the TNW newsletter
Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.