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Easy e-rider

Hot new wheels for urban cyclists.


Nothing focuses people on green energy alternatives like skyrocketing gasoline prices. At $1.33 per litre and climbing, alternatives to fossil fuels are looking pretty good, especially in cities.

Sure, there’s always public transit, scooters or even bicycles, but now you can add the growing popularity of electric bikes (e-bikes) in European and Asian countries to the list. They’re affordable, require no gas and they’re easy to maintain.

One issue, though, is batteries. They’re generally very heavy, lack range and require a lot of time to charge.
A Quebec bicycle manufacturer intends to change that and as a result, how Canadian city dwellers get around. Its new e-bike has a range of up to 150 kilometres and requires only one hour to re-charge the lithium-ion battery.

Procycle, a bicycle manufacturer in Saint-Georges, Que. that owns the Rocky Mountain and Miele bike brands, will introduce its first e-bike – the eVox – this spring to the Canadian market.

Although a relatively small city, Saint-Georges is often considered the Metropolis of Beauce Region because it’s the largest city, but it’s also an important manufacturing centre for textiles, steel forgings, garage doors, truck trailers and – of course – bicycles. In fact, Saint-Georges has a special relationship with the world of cycling. It hosts (for almost 25 years) one of the more important cycling events in North America. The Tour de Beauce attracts as many as 150 professional cyclists from around the world who race up, down and around the region’s hills and streets.

However, Procycle is aiming for more conventional enthusiasts with the eVox.

“The market is pretty new for electric bikes in North America,” says marketing manager Jacques Dutil.
But the company could be onto something big. A report by clean-tech market firm Pike Research suggests worldwide sales of e-bikes could top more than 460 million units by 2016.

The company hopes the eVox will revolutionize the North American market for e-bikes. Procycle managed to shrink the size of the battery and motor with its DynaMe propulsion system, which supplements pedal-power through five levels programmed into an on-board computer system.

What sets the eVox apart is the one-hour recharge time.

“Since the charger is included in the rear-rack, riders charge on the go instead of having to buy a second battery, something the competition is pretty insistent on at point-of-purchase,” says Dutil. “Riding around with that second battery makes the bike super-heavy and reduces range capabilities.”

The eVox’s 120/240-volt removable charger weighs only two pounds.

The Canadian-made eVox is sized to meet the needs of 95% of the population and weighs in at a manageable 60 pounds with the motor and charger attached (48 pounds without). DynaMe provides three propulsion modes: pedal assist, which supplements pedalling efforts based on five computerized options and has a range of up to 150 kilometres; freedom mode, a pedal-free option with an operating range of 40 kilometres; and bike mode, which allows riders to use the eVox as a traditional bicycle without the assistance of the electric motor. In freedom mode, riders have the option of removing the lithium-ion battery and charger to reduce the bike’s weight.

The company spent three years and “millions of dollars” developing the concept, and conducted rigorous market testing to make sure the idea was road-worthy in the Canadian market. Potential users insisted the eVox had to look and feel like a traditional bike, avoiding the typical bulkiness and complications of older e-models.

Making it simple

“The electric part of the bike is there to help out, but it had to be simple,” says Dutil. “It’s really useful when going up a hill or into the wind, but can’t be the bike’s sole power. It’s really designed for people who still want to be active and ride something that truly resembles a bike.”

To do that, the company hid all the electrical wiring within the frame – something other e-bike manufacturers have been unable to do, says Dutil.

The eVox will be the first Canadian-made e-bike on the market. Although parts are sourced from China, all assembly will take place at Procycle’s 205,000 square-foot facilities in Saint-Georges where 70 employees build each unit along an assembly line. Dutil says Procycle has opted to stick to the Canadian market once the eVox hits stores this spring. Market expansion will depend on how well the e-bike does at home.
The Canadian market represents virtually untouched territory.

“There are e-bikes out there, but they’re all made in China, based on one design, but sold under different brand names – none of it is Canadian made. We wanted to change that,” says Dutil.

Procycle is aiming for sales of more than 1,000 units at a price of about $2,795 for each of two models. All going well, the US market will be next, followed by other global markets over the next two years.

If sales take off, Procycle should consider adding to the city’s rich cycling tradition with a race of its own: the eVox Tour de Beauce.

Comments? E-mail mpowell@plant.ca.