There is a sort of circular logic at work with e-bikes; the cyclist may just want a boost up hills or an easier ride, but the heavier the bike, the more reliant one becomes on the motor. The logical end point is with those silly electric scooters that have pedals that are little more than decoration. That's why we have been so impressed with lighter, bike-like designs like the Faraday and the Vela.
That's why the Maxwell EP-O is so impressive. Electrical engineer Troy Rank has designed an Ebike that weighs only 27 pounds, little more than a conventional bike. The batteries are packed into the standard top, down and seat tubes; the only way you can tell that this is not a normal bike is the little triangle enclosing the controller and other electronics.
Batteries are packed in through a trap door on the front of the head tube. Because the bike is so light, the 250Wh battery pack will push this bike for 15 miles with a little help from the pedals. And really, that is getting it backward; this is a real bike that gives you a little help from the motor. Troy rides it twenty miles to work over hilly terrain every day.
Troy Rank is no novice at this kind of thing; he knows his batteries, having worked with them for years as an engineer, and tells me that the biggest problem in getting a new design like this on the market is the approvals of the battery design and layout to ensure it is safe to ship.
He also knows his Ebikes, having a place in the Guinness book of of world records for completing the longest motorized bicycle journey of 4400 miles from coast to coast. The combination of engineering skills and practical experience certainly increases confidence in the product. (Troy also has a bike frame builder as a partner.)
I have not ridden a lot of Ebikes, but riding the Maxwell is different in that you really don't know it is an Ebike at all. I rode it like a regular bike until I remembered that oh, there is a throttle under my thumb. (A pedal-assist throttle-free version is also being planned). I can't say it kicks in, there is no kick or jolt at all, just a smooth extra push. A little more throttle and it takes over, and I am flying down the streets of Buffalo at 20 MPH. I am sometimes nervous about motors on the front wheel and whether it will affect steering, but didn't even notice a difference. I did not have the opportunity to try any serious hills but do not think they will bother it very much at all, with 300 watts of power.
I wondered what the name, Maxwell EP-O meant, wondering if the EP-O was a reference to a certain performance enhancing drug used by certain cyclists. Because it certainly is appropriate; this is a nice bicycle with a bit of performance enhancement. It's not going to take you cross-country and doesn't match the range or power of others we have shown, but it is the most bike-like of any I have seen yet. This is, I believe, the real future of Ebikes- they are for people who need a little more range, perhaps a bit of a boost in hilly terrain, who don't want to arrive at work drenched in sweat. They make bikes accessible to more people of different abilities and ages. They truly enhance the bike rather than try and be something else.
The Maxwell EP-O will be coming up on Kickstarter shortly, raising the funds necessary for testing, approval and launch. The basic bike with a single gear rear hub will start at about $ 1500. This is probably all one needs; the prototype had Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hub that weighed almost as much as the motor and really, with the electric boost it is probably unnecessary. There's not much information yet on the website but more to come when Kickstarter goes live.
Short terrible interview of Troy Rank follows: