Saturday, January 2, 2010

Electric bicycles as a tool for commuting?

There's much to be said about the benefits of electric bikes as a commuting tool - if you surf Bikeforums, you will probably be awed by how the ang mohs power their bikes with 350 - 1000W motors, and lots of lithium batteries as a power source. It's really good to have that much power - one horsepower (745W) on a bicycle can take you places real fast through city traffic. Comparatively, a human intending to produce one horsepower will be tired like a fool. Not even Armstrong, Merckx or Contador can sustain 1HP for one hour. Critical power for us regular people who lost our youth in the last century is even worse, with a curve that drops continuously. We can average, perhaps, 180W over an hour on a good day with a good breakfast, perhaps. That's around 22km/h on a MTB. I don't want to be red-lining my way to work, for sure, which is why the idea of an electric-assist bicycle came to mind.

That said, laws here are quite siong against electric bicycles. Straight from the horse's mouth,

Technical Requirements

Motorised bicycles, with a maximum power output not exceeding 200 watts, are treated like conventional bicycles and are exempted from registration with the LTA for use on public roads.

In addition to this condition on maximum power output, LTA will introduce the following additional requirements, to take into account the safety and environmental concerns associated with the use of motorised bicycles:

1) The construction of a motorised bicycle must be similar to that of a conventional pedal bicycle;

2) A motorised bicycle can only be powered by an electric source (e.g. battery), and not be petrol-driven;

3) The motor power of the motorised bicycle can only cut in when the rider starts to pedal; and

4) The motor power of the motorised bicycle must be cut off when it reaches 25km/h or when the rider stops pedaling.

Motorised bicycles, with a power output greater than 200 watts, are required to meet the technical and registration requirements of motorcycles, if they are to be used on public roads.

Clause 1, 2, 3 are reasonable clauses but four and the power limitation - two hundred watts - is something I am a bit wary of. Assuming you don't put in much effort when you pedal, then, 200W will not get you to places fast. You'll face the same problems that you face when pedaling with your two-stroke, two-cylinder, fat-carbohydrate-air combusting engine. You'll have to play a game of leapfrog with buses, and, based on experience, the optimal speed to overtake buses is over 30km/h. It's not only overtaking buses, but a motor which cuts off at 25km/h is practically a speed limit of 25km/h, of which any bike enthusiast can do without much effort, it seems pretty pointless to get electric-assist... the motor's not gonna help you after all if you decide to go faster than 25km/h.

The LTA argues that this is ensure safety. Again, I don't agree when people put unreasonable speed limits as a means to enforce safety, especially at speeds such as 25km/h. Sure, if you are talking about the Autobahn, then that can be a bit unsafe - you can be doing 100km/h or 300km/h. But, as I always believe, medium is often less of a concern rather than the rider/driver. Generally, cyclist get a real bad name because they are quite a poor law-abiding group. Running reds, riding quickly on pedestrian pavements, riding against the flow of traffic, riding like a bitch, and what have you. Those are unsafe acts - all caused by the agent. Arguably, the medium does have its problems - bicycles are small and less visible, but it usually doesn't shroud the fact that it's largely the agent that causes it to be unsafe.

But there's a silver lining to this dilemma. The dealmaker is that, despite the nonsensical speed limit, is that it can take you places without having you sweat. It's also green. It certainly won't get you places faster than your car would, nor can it carry the load which a car can - so don't go out and get your licence kantonged - you still need it. And hell, it's also cheaper, more convenient and faster than bike/taxi/train commuting. Private transport has never lost to public transport in all but cost, but this is a watershed. Of course, knowing Singapore's low-crime-doesn't-mean-no-crime thing, don't get it stolen - that would make it real expensive. Range-wise, Singapore is a little red dot, and because of this, you don't really have to worry about range unlike people in bigger countries. Of course, if you run out of juice there's always Starbucks and McDonald's where you can recharge your batteries... that is, if you have thick skin.

On a closing note, the funny thing is, although, theoretically I don't work out at all, but I still sweat when riding an e-bike... damn!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that this should be put into consideration about the speed limit and the power cut off for electric bicycles..
    Basically Singapore is lack of choices of transport where MRT and bus stop are jammed with people. Imagine 10% lesser people at the MRTs and bus stops .
    Taxis are not efficient at peak hours , should we wait stupidly at the taxis stand and bus stop ??
    Technologies is to help people and not we put so many restrictions to suits the technologies .
    And now we have this technologies ( e-bike) but we don't put it into good use and make so many rules just to suits the E-Bikes.Are we human masters of the technology or the technology is the master of human ?
    Below 60km/h should be fine to get the electric bicycles to work as this helps to solve the problems of traffic conjestion. If it is at 25km/h ,this doesn't really helps . It become toys and not some useful technology..
    LTA should encourage and approved it maybe at 50km/h and 50km , this really helps to lessen the burden of the traffic conjestion if 10% of singaporean are using electronic bicycles .
    You all see the picture where beijing in china is conjested with bicycles?? What if the situation turns around and become cars?? How the situation will be ? we can't contain more cars , so we need an alternate ways of transport , and at the same time we keep the environment green and better exercise .