Dockless e-bikes might go BYOB (Bring Your Own Battery)

HOPR electric bike
© Cyclehop HOPR BYOB

A very interesting idea that might make it easier and cheaper to keep e-bikes charged.

Electric bikes are hot these days; they really broaden the market, helping older riders or those who live in hot or hilly cities. Dockless Bikeshares are red hot, with startups in every city. The few e-bikesharing systems around have the bikes plug into docks where they can be charged, but dockless e-bikesharing is tough; how do you keep all the bikes charged? It is hard enough to manage and maintain regular dockless bikeshares.

One really interesting idea that is being tried out is BYOB, or Bring Your Own Battery. At least two companies, CycleHop and JCDecaux, are giving it a try.

The Cyclehop HOPR BYOB is about the size of a paperback book and is relatively heavy, which some think is a problem. Asher writes in Medium:

Some might fret that carrying and charging a 2 lb battery is annoying. But it’s no more annoying than walking 5 minutes to a bus stop on both ends of a trip, or parking and locking your bike. Plenty of people already recharge their cell phone both at work and at home.

JCDecaux battery© JCDecaux

The batteries do not have the juice of a built-in system; JCDecaux has developed a BYOB that can push the bike ten kilometres (6 miles) which they say is four times as far as the average bike share. But the bikes are pretty much the same as the regular bike shares and can be used with or without batteries, which solves a big rebalancing problem. For instance where I live, the city is built on a tilt and I don't need a boost going downtown, but a little help going home would be great. So I might charge the battery at home and save it for the ride back.

HOPR basket© Cyclehop HOPR BYOB basket

The HOPR battery is about the same size.

Users will charge the power packs via A/C outlet at their home or office. The power pack clicks into a port located in the front basket and will provide a boost to riders for a range of 10 miles when fully charged. The pedal-assist motor will aid riders in reaching speeds of 15 miles per hour. When not in use with a HOPR e-bike, the power packs can be utilized as a portable charging device for your tablets and phones.

JCDecaux graphic© JCDecaux

The Shared-use Mobility Centre notes that bikes are already competitive with cars for short urban trips of 2-3 miles and that e-bikes can be a boon. “It really increases the range of how far people can bike, and how likely they are to bike, especially in a hilly city,” said Nicole Freedman, president of the North American Bike Share Association (NABSA).

But they are not so sure about the BYOB concept.

“I can’t imagine the people who are in the market for bikeshare that requires you to carry your own batteries,” said Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund. “I think it is easier to connect the stations to the grid or have service vehicles swap the batteries. The next step is e-bikes shared in fleets.”

It also doesn't work for everybody, as Asher notes: "This is not a model for occasional and spontaneous users, such as tourists, who won’t be lugging 1–2 lb batteries with them." On the other hand, if every dockless bike has an option to plug in a power pack to get a little boost, it could be a real boon for the regulars.

As I learned on a recent trip, maintaining a dockless bike system is hard work. I suspect electric systems are even harder, requiring more relocations as people use them to go uphill and use cheaper bikes to go downhill. I like the BYOB idea, it gives people a choice.

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