If you don’t think e-bikes are a real mover in the bicycle marketplace? Look no further than the entry of Bosch in the marketplace to prove that some big brands are willing to invest serious resources in the growing market. For 2015 it has paired up with a few key brands to bring e-bikes with Bosch motors and control units—already a huge hit in Europe—to U.S. dealerships. Look for bikes from Haibike, Felt, and Lapierre, including this Overvolt FS900.
Now before you get your derailleurs in a tizzy, I’m going to gloss over the looming elephant in the room: trail access. Basically the bikes are too new and the impact too untested for Dirt Rag to take an official stance, and most land managers feel the same way. Watch for a full, in-depth look at the rise of e-mountain bikes in an upcoming issue of Dirt Rag.
Anyway, back to this bike. Bosch is a huge, mega-global corporation that builds everything from electric car window motors to industrial steam broilers. However it’s e-bike system might be one of its most visible applications.
The system is centered around a drive motor built into the bottom bracket. It senses power output from the rider at 1,000 times a second, and applies the corresponding boost to compliment that power. Basically the harder you pedal, the more boost you get. It can pump out up to 350 watts of power, a pretty significant boost, but it is limited by law to 20 mph. Anything above that and you’re providing the power yourself. There is not throttle system and the bike cannot be ridden without pedaling.
The battery is available in several capacities in Europe, but for now in the U.S. it is limited to a 400 watt, 11 amp, 36 volt unit that weighs 4.4 pounds. It can be charged on the bike or removed for remote charging.
The control unit is a big, easy-to-read display that shows a variety of information, from boost setting to range-to-empty. There are five settings, controllable from the left hand, that adjust the boost: Turbo, Sport, Tour, Eco and Off. The range obviously depends on usage, but you can expect anywhere from 15 miles to even a 100 miles if you really go easy. And once the battery dies it becomes just a regular (albeit pretty heavy) bike.
I took the Overvolt FS900 you see here for a quick spin around the Deer Valley resort property and had a pretty good time. The system is easy to use and intuitive, and the boost on high is impressive. I climbed up some twisty singletrack that would have left me breathless at 8,000 feet. Because there is still a tiny bit of lag between pushing the pedal and the boost engaging, it was difficult to move through technical maneuvers, so I found it worked best in Eco or Tour mode. Coming down it rides just like you might expect: a perfectly capable, basic, single-pivot, though the weight keeps it from feeling too maneuverable.
Would it ever replace my normal mountain bike? Of course not. But think of the applications where it would excel:
- Folks on vacation who would never consider going on a bike ride could rent one at a resort (especially at altitude) and explore.
- Anyone who wants to keep up with their spouse or kids when cruising along some doubletrack.
- There is a legitimate market for police and first responder applications.
- Finally, there are a lot of folks who love riding bikes and who want to use their car less, and could hop on one of these and get around town on those short, 3-4 mile trips.
Like it or not you will likely be seeing a lot more e-bikes out in the wild in the next few years, and lots of factors still need to shake out before we can gauge their impact on the industry and marketplace. But with simple and useful products like the Bosch drive system, you can bet there will be a lot more folks on two-wheels soon.
I sampled the Overvolt FS900 at PressCamp, a media-only expo of new products and technologies. Read more stories from the event here and keep checking back for more coverage.
What’s your take?
Will e-bikes give a jolt to the stagnant bike market and get more people on bikes? Or are they bad for the sport? Even if you would never ride one, can you think of some practical applications? Let us know in the comments below.