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24 years of ExtraEnergy Tests

Solar mobility activity for 34 years. Changing image: from embarrassing to cool. Hannes Neupert (President ExtraEnergy e.V./Executive Director EnergyBus e.V.) in the editorial of the ExtraEnergy Magazine.
 

 

It is now 24 years since the first test report was published, subsequent to which the ExtraEnergy Association was formed.

At that time, in 1992, there were just three different electric bikes on the market worldwide. Today, in 2016, there are around 35,000 models currently available across the world. In 1992 around 2000 electric bikes were sold worldwide; in 2016 that number is around 37 million. 

A changing image: from embarrassing to cool
In 1992 the electric bike was a vehicle for those who could no longer cycle, and you had to put up with your neighbours who would commiserate that you had to ride such a thing. Today, however, an off-road pedelec is the vehicle over which your neighbours will be casting envious glances, and one on which you can ride to the pub, only to have your friends ask about all its great features. And whether they can have a go! Yet in another 24 years we will smile at today’s products, just as today we might over the Hercules Electra from 1992, which was at the time the best-selling model worldwide.
 
A solar mobility activist for 34 years
The current times are truly astonishing for me, because after 34 years during which I have almost exclusively concerned myself with light electric vehicles, this so often ignored subject has now become normal. What were once called “normal bikes” are being shuffled increasingly off to the sides of showrooms by dealers, and in pride of place are going the new profit-generators of the cycle trade, pedelecs. Although they’re still often called “e-bikes” without affection and without understanding by some marketing experts – or even worse, EPACS.

Hans(1) and Elon (2) = comfortable and affordable mobility for the whole world
The man who, 34 years ago, led me to the subject of solar mobility – the Australian Hans Tholstrup – told me many years ago now that cargo pedelecs are the most important form of transport for the future of the world. He was talking about multi-track pedelecs with one or more seats and offering all sorts of transport possibilities, with a sun shade with solar cells to provide power, which would bring new mobility to all parts of the world as well as to its metropolitan centres… 
 
I was able to test ride a vehicle which comes extremely close to this vision, in ridable prototype form, in February 2016 in Herzogenaurach at the development department if one of Germany’s largest automotive suppliers, the Schaeffler company. It was a vehicle which came extremely close to the vision of my mentor Hans Tholstrup. A vehicle of this type, combined with the approach of Elon Musk, who describes the future of street vehicles as being with those which can independently earn their keep for their owners. Simply thus: when now and again they are not being used, for a few hours during the day, or also for whole days or weekends, they can be set free from pointless loitering parked at the roadside or in an expensive garage, to work for themselves. The vehicles in this PPT (Personal Public Transport) fleet would collect people or goods where there is a need, ride them to their destination and then drive themselves on to the next job, or back to their owner, for example to take him or her home from work. So it would something like a fusion of bus, taxi, Uber, public hire bikes, cargo drones… 
 
The technologies needed to enable this already exist today: they simply need to be combined correctly with each other and then produced on a major industrial scale to be robust and cost efficient. This is something that the automotive supply industry and the consumer electronics sector are potentially best placed to achieve. 
 
In 20 or 30 years there will probably already be 100+ million such autonomous solar pedelecs in this world, industriously transporting people and goods, and with the prospect of making mobility comfortable and affordable for all, available always and everywhere.

Cargo bikes and BIKE BILD 
It has been some intense weeks and months, thanks to the 2nd Cargo Pedelec Test initiated by Arne Behrensen and Wasilis von Rauch and carried out at ExtraEnergy in April 2016. Then the latest product from Axel Springer Verlag, BIKE BILD, joined in with a request to test first 10 then an additional 10 more pedelecs. Their requirement was also for the brakes to be tested, and because ExtraEnergy only carries out road testing and measures customer wish fulfilment, this was tasked to velotech.de in Schweinfurt.

And, as was the case previously when ExtraEnergy conducted braking tests with velotech.de in the tests from 2009 to 2012, there were many failures… and these were in all price categories. But as is usual for ExtraEnergy, poor test results are communicated to the manufacturers before publication, to push them towards making improvements to either remedy the deficiencies before publication, or in the worst case to halt production and instigate a recall. This is what happened with LLobe – at least, the supermarket chain Obi has halted sales until further notice as of 1st August 2016. Several cargo bike manufacturers have reduced the maximum total weight rating for their products, and improved their braking set-ups. 
 
Even with Kalkhoff, whose Sahel compact bike has already sold around 25,000 units, we found brake failures, and this despite the fact that Magura HS11 rim brakes, well-proven over many years, were fitted. After very significant engagement from both brake manufacturer Magura as well as bike manufacturer Kalkhoff it turned out in the end that the properties of the brake pads had clearly changed over the years, and the performance figures which would be expected from the black brake pads could no longer be attained with pads being supplied today. The result is that with immediate effect Kalkhoff is now supplying only the red brake pads, and it has offered to carry out a brake block exchange for customers with its bikes. 
 
At least in this case, the engagement of the industry was superb. Other manufacturers, for example Shimano, have in contrast been ingloriously reluctant in this respect, and behaved as if it is no business of theirs what their customers do with their products. The “Honda Verdict” in the German Federal Supreme Court from 1987 tells a different tale – the manufacturer should rather observe what customers do with their products, and advertise these products unambiguously. 
 
I am delighted that the brave editors of BIKE BILD have taken aboard the principle of enabling potential improvements before publication, and not done what Stiftung Warentest has done very unsuccessfully for years, always reporting luridly and without notice or the option to make improvements, or to remove the product from the market, condemning problems without divulging how exactly they were tested for, and also without contributing towards solving the problems, but instead simply pointing them out publicly, and seeking to use this to their own advantage as an institution (via increased circulation). 

Longer product lifecycles appear to be coming…
One reason for quality problems is often the frequent specification changes on pedelecs. An indication that this seems to be changing is the unprecedented number of repeats in this test: these are pedelecs which ExtraEnergy has already tested in Autumn 2014 or later, and which are still supplied to this very day in the same or very similar form. This is a clear sign that a good pedelec should be able to stay on the market for 3 or 4 years without significant alteration. Innovation in the details (e.g. the software, or particular modules) should really be sufficient. 
 
I hope you will find the pages of this ExtraEnergy Magazine an exciting read:
 
 
Hannes Neupert, Chairman, ExtraEnergy e.V.  

 

(1) Hans Tholstrup was born in Denmark on the 8th November 1944, and moved to Australia, where he still lives, as a youth. In 1982 he crossed Australia with a Solarmobile, in 1987 he organised the first World Solar Challenge, a race for Solarmobiles from Darwin to Adelaide. Since the mid-90s he has worked intensively on solar bicycles and their potential. In 1982 a newspaper report about him inspired my enthusiasm for solar mobility, and inspired me to make this my life’s work. 
 

(2) Elon Musk was born in South Africa on the 28th June 1972, travelled to Canada as a youth and today lives in the USA. Famous as the front man for Tesla, Hyperloop, SolarCity and SpaceX, he is in my estimation currently the most disruptive driver of innovation in mobility that the world currently has. 

 

Copy: Hannes Neupert
Translation: Peter Eland

Picture: Angela Budde, BIKE BILD, Moritz Grünke

Online publication: Angela Budde

7 October 2016

 
 

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