maker heads for electric avenue
electronic bike is going to try for widespread acceptance once
again, but this time in the countries where it might be needed
Motor, a start-up based in the United Kingdom, will launch a
new type of electric motor later this year that the company
hopes will help jump-start the theoretically lucrative but
highly elusive market for personal transportation and clean
In September, two of India's largest bike manufacturers will
come out with bikes equipped with the company's AH300 motor,
which will run for 35 kilometers (21.75 miles) on a single
charge and run at a top speed of 25kph (16 mph). Billionaire Sir
Richard Branson auctioned off the first two prototype bikes
at a charity event in 2004.
Motor is also working on more powerful versions of the motor
that could appear in rickshaws (still a major form of
transportation in India, Vietnam
and elsewhere), wheelchairs, motorcycles, small cars and hybrid
vehicles. In tests, the company has cranked the speed of
vehicles using its engines up to 56mph.
motor powred electric cycle
vehicles powered by the company's motors could well be targeted
at environmentally conscious, bike-happy regions such as the
looked at the Segway
experience. They tried to change the behavior of the
customer," said Joseph Bowman, senior investment manager at
venture firm Russian
Technologies and formerly the interim CEO of Ultra Motor.
"We're positioning the company in the niche between a bike
and a scooter."
several years, personal vehicles like the Segway
Human Transporter and the Zap
PowerBike have been waylaid by potholes. This time around,
however, the circumstances favor the growth of the market.
one thing, the price is lower, Bowman said. Complete Ultra
Motor-powered bikes will sell for about $150 to $175, far less
than the Segway, which runs a few thousand dollars, or many
electric bikes, which can cost about $1,000. Recharging the
motor costs about 6 cents, he added.
attitude of governments has also become brighter. In 2001, New
Delhi swapped diesel buses for natural-gas ones, and several
other Indian cities are taking steps to adopt nonpolluting
public vehicles. Indian cities are also looking at offering
subsidies to buyers of electric cars such as the Reva, an e-car
developed by an Indo-American
the United States and Europe, motorized two-wheelers that top
out at about 16mph are typically classified as bikes under
pending and recent regulations, meaning that the company can
skirt driver's license and registration laws. Because the
vehicles are bikes, the sidewalk-driving controversy that
saddled Segway can also be avoided. Rising energy
prices, pollution and fears of global warming are growing in
importance as factors, too.
consumers have already shown that the concept has some legs. In
the past four years, about 3 million motorized bikes have hit
the road in China,
starting from a base of zero, Bowman said.
Cold War hangover
Ultra Motorís chief technology officer, Vasily Shkondin, began
tinkering with the concept of an e-bike while managing an air
defense radar station for the Soviet Army in East Germany in the
late 1980s. After the Berlin Wall fell, Shkondin showed off his
ideas for a magnetic motor
at a few trade fairs, but he lived about 125 miles outside of
Moscow, far outside the mainstream of venture investing, even
according Justin Martin, Ultra Motor's marketing director.
cycle motor and Richard Branson
wasn't until 2003 that Flintstone
Technologies, a British venture capital firm whose directors
include a former professor of Moscow State University, funded
the project. Russian Technologies, the venture arm of the
Russian conglomerate Alfa
Group Consortium, invested in Ultra Motor in 2004. Silicon
Valley VCs met the company during a tour of Russian start-ups
The motor consists of a stationary permanent magnet attached to
a hub and surrounded by three pairs of electromagnets. Those
magnets are embedded in a rotating cylinder, which is attached
to the wheel. Rapidly changing the polarity of the
electromagnets from positive to negative causes the wheel to
propel itself forward.
power from the motor is controlled by varying the pulse duration
of the voltage. As rotation speed increases, both the on and off
pulses will get shorter, but the proportion increases,"
Martin said. "The basic principle of electromagnetic
propulsion--opposite poles attract, and like poles repel each
other--is true of both our e-bike motors and the Maglev
magnetic trains found in Japan."
electric motors also rely on electromagnetism but aren't as
efficient, Ultra Motor says. The design of its engines, it
claims, can generate 50 percent more torque, or force around a
pivot point, than competing motors, or get the same performance
on less battery power. In addition, the company's motors contain
only five main components and one moving component.
other electric vehicles, bikes equipped with an electromagnetic
motor are fairly quiet. They can also be started from a dead
stop or accelerated through pedaling. In Europe, however, bikes
will have to be started through pedaling: A two-wheeler that can
start on its own motor typically gets classified as a
Cycles of India, based in Chennai (formerly Madras), and Avon
Cycles, based in Ludhiana, are slated to release complete
bikes using Ultra Motor's technology in September, Bowman said.
Because the motor is fairly slim, the bikes themselves are
constructed around a standard urban bike frame, he added.
$175, the bikes will cost more than a top-of-the-line pedal
cycle, which sells for about $50 in India, but will cost far
less than a $500 scooter, Bowman noted. Recharging the motor is
also cheaper than using diesel fuel would be. The AH300
will be able to propel a payload of 264 pounds, Bowman said.
Subsequent motors for rickshaws will be more powerful, enabling
the bikes to take on more weight.