Hybrid velomobile - a formula for success?

What happens when one combines a fast and sporty velomobile like a Waw with the advanced electrical assist/generator like a BionX? Do they reinforce eachothers advantages or their disadvantages? Find out my and others experiences here. If you do not know what a velomobile or an electric assist is, check out the links first. (An electrical assist that helps up to only 25km/h and with power limited to 250W, remains a bicycle by EU law)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

First test - May 6 & 9, 2005

Extensive lobbying of my friend Peter H. succeeded in making me enthusiastic in testing an electrical assist. After searching the internet and visiting a few cycle shops, it became clear that the system having the best chance to make a convincing case for the concept was the BionX. (I have testridden quite some bikeelecs before too). Even I - previously totally uninterested in the subject - found the specifications of the bionX system appealing - especially the regeneration possibilities.

Now, Peter his motivation is shortly as follows: his health is not completely 100% (alas a heavy smoker) and hills are a obstacle for basic mobility - getting from A to B. For him it truly could make the difference between being mobile and have no choice but to wait for the bus. Peter does not want a car. If there would be no bus, he would have been forced to use a car, a situation many people around the world are in. A phenomena called car dependence - severely resticted choice of alternatives in the era of so-called freedom of choice...


I have become designated sceptical tester - in service of both Peter H. and Fietser.be - the latter a possible future distributor of BionX if the test goes well.

Testing, testing

First quick test is on a regular bicycle, in case my mom's pseudo (leisure use only) MTB during my visit in Belgium. Installing the BionX is very easy, it is no more complicated than the equivalent of changing a rear wheel, changing the bottle holder and installing a speedometer. With the right tools at hand, it takes barely a half hour. Could have been much worse. Things to keep in mind is that one needs the holes from the bottle cage and that the BionX has a threaded axle - only screw-on casettes fit onto it. It is unclear to me if those exist in more than 7 speed versions. So you might have to change the shifter too - not in this case - but a limitation anyway. Reportedly the producers should at some time make it 9-speed compatible - the standard for quality bicycles today.
Another slight dissapointment is that the axle is not quick release. Good for preventing theft, bad for weight and changing a flat. But reasonably, one does not really expect differently, all hub engines are probably all are like this. And I can manage to fix a flat with the wheel in anyway.

BionX installed on Moms bike - worst case test mule

The console is very nice. It includes a speedometer, trip and odemeter. It is easy to understand and has a pin code protection+ alarm and back-light for nightriding. One can choose 4 levels of assist mode or generator mode (for e.g. training purposes). Battery charge level and amount of assistance/generation are shown in real time. (more info: see the specifications of BionX)

Time is restricted, so I go for the most battery exhaustive test: assist level on 200% (nr.4) and go riding, without too much effort trying to stay above 25km/h. Not a hilly test course (It's more or less flat with some bridges - I am cycling into the city of Ghent and back), but the hub motor gets to work most of the time since I barely bother to go above 25km/h. The bicycle itself is about as slow as it gets, not too high quality, thick low pressure tires, very upright riding position. In effect, worst case. With the motor assisting all the time, riding becomes a breeze. Obviously. The engine is completely silent -I can't hear it. During braking, the hub engine switches to generator mode full power and this does make some sound. It is not really a (electric) noise, more like a vibration one would get from a slightly maladjusted brakes. My dad for instance did not notice the generation mode when I didn't tell him about it. This regeneration mode is actually quite a suitable brake by itself, it slows you down noticably. If one squeezes the rear brake lever gently (with the magnetic sensor stuck on it), one only activates the regeneration mode and not the actual rear brake. Works nicely once used to it and one can see on the real time indicator one generates quite some juice using this method of slowing down. Reminds me of the Toyota Prius hybrid car which also informs one of the state of affairs (under the hood).

With assist level on 200% (level 4) all the time, on the two test rides I twice get a range of 25km. Exactly as predicted in the manual (and just getting me home from the trips into the city of Ghent), which predicts that 100% assist should then get you approx. 35km far, 50% 45 km and 25% 75km. Seems very reasonable to me considering that you have less than 4kg of battery with you. When one runs out of battery, one can just continues riding, the only difference being that one now has a bicycle that is approx. 8kg heavier then if one would have been without... well, at least it doesn't immobilise you, it remains in first place a bicycle.

At the end of the test, I do some "high speed" and low speed testing. It reveals that the vibration of the generation mode dissappears above approx. 30km/h. The other way around, if one gives the engine a lot of resistance at low speed and full assist (very steep hill), it makes the same vibration noise under 10-15km/h.
Also, at the end of the test, all spokes were very loose. Basically the wheel was badly spoked and I needed to lubricate the threads and retention all the spokes in the wheel. Not very good of course, but also very easily fixed - producer take note!

Keeping in mind that the bicycle was particularly unexiting, the test went very well and the bionX lives up to the advertised expectations. Now I'm off to Sweden, where it shall be tested in the Waw001...


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