Spring term saw the beginning of full fleet testing for the Viking e-bike program, with multiple demos, orientations, and a term-long test of an e-bike as an alternative to a car for commuting completed by yours-truly.
The Viking e-bike team has been able to learn a great deal about how electrically assisted bicycles can be positively integrated into our lifestyles as a replacement for a car by having the e-bikes out in the field. Crucially, we have learned that an electrically assisted bike can achieve this goal.
With this confirmed, the Viking e-bike team is looking to expand its fleet. After researching different options and test riding different electric bicycles, the Viking e-bike team has decided the eProdigy Jasper will be an excellent fit for the Viking e-bike program.
While the Jasper meets the needs of the Viking e-bike team in many ways, I’m going to highlight the aspects of the bike important to me as an electric bike commuter and interesting from a technical standpoint.
The Jasper comes with an aluminum step through frame, making it more accessible to people of different sizes so more people can take advantage of the Viking ebike program. It uses standard shifting and gears in the rear and a single gear at the front. Front and rear disc brakes and fenders, front suspension, front light, digital display, rear wheel skirts, and a rack for carrying the battery and hanging saddle bags are all standard. The Jasper is also six pounds lighter than the Solexity, a roughly 10% reduction appreciated by commuters who carry their ebike up and down stairs for overnight storage.
The Jasper differs from the Solexity in a number of ways, but the most important one is the way they use their electric power. The Solexity uses a rear hub motor, while the Jasper uses a Coaxial Bottom Bracket Motor™ which mounts to the, you guessed it, bottom bracket of the bike frame at the pedals, making it a mid-drive electric bike. While rear hub motors are proven, and less expensive,but they make the rear wheel of the bike much heavier and they are not as good at climbing a hill at low speed. Mid drive systems place all of the weight of the motor in the center of the bike which improves handling, while weighing less than a hub drive system, more efficiently applying power to the ground, and performing better at low speed on a hill. eProdigy bikes are also somewhat unique because they can be programmed by the dealer to deliver 250,350,500, or 750 watts.
One of the features of the Solexity I came to appreciate as an electric bike commuter was its electric “throttle” which makes starting from a stop at intersections and traffic signals much easier as the rider can accelerate the bike by actuating the throttle. This allowed me to leave the bike in a higher gear rather than shifting down, enabling me to focus more on traffic and ride safer.
Electric bike pedal assist systems generally come in two flavors: torque sensing, and cadence sensing. Torque sensing reads the amount of effort you put into each turn of the pedals while cadence sensors read how quickly you turn the pedals to determine the level of assist provided by the motor. Those who commute regularly with their bike tend to find torque sensing more rewarding because the added power from the motor is so seamlessly applied. This is a double edged sword as more casual riders feel as though the electric motor isn’t doing anything because they cannot clearly feel the added thrust of the motor. Cadence sensing systems are essentially opposite in their appeal, many bike commuters and avid bicyclists who ride with these systems find the electric power application to surge and they don’t feel like they’re getting much exercise. Casual riders tend to like cadence sensing systems as they can feel the motor applying power and they need only turn the cranks to engage the motor. What makes the electric motor system on eProdigy bikes so unique is despite being a cadence sensing system, the application of power is controlled with the same precision as other mid drive systems which use torque sensing while also giving the distinctive thrust that defines a cadence sensing system.
Jasper, the Friendly Ebike:
Having tried multiple configurations of electric bikes, and lived with the Solexity for nearly three months, the Viking Ebike team and I agree that the Jasper is the logical choice for expanding the program as it matches or exceeds the capabilities and characteristics of the other bikes we have tested at an attainable price.
Term as a Commuter:
My time as an electric bike commuter was rewarding in several ways. The most obvious was I got to test a product that uses an emerging technology which is a real alternative to driving a car in an urban environment. My health obviously benefited as well as even with electric assistance, riding 5 miles a day was far better for me than doing the same sitting in a car. Indirectly, commuting on a bicycle actually added some order to my daily schedule as taking advantage of the faster commute time than a car(discussed further in a previous post) required that I have all of my riding gear and equipment for school ready to go and organized in advance. It was also nice to be able to go to parks with full parking lots on sunny days and simply lock the bike up, rather than park in the next state and have to walk. This may seem like a “no-duh” statement to those used to getting around on bikes, but it was new to me. This is why I encourage anyone who commutes to campus by car from within Bellingham to try an e-bike. I, like you, worried it would limit my flexibility, and while some routine changes were necessary, they were small and I found I could do more with the e-bike.
This blog marks my departure from WWU and my direct involvement in the Viking E-bike project. Thank you to all of my team members past and present, you were all awesome to work with and I look forward to seeing the progress of the program in the future!