March 4, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Bike maker heads for electric avenue
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motor at a few trade fairs, but he lived about 125 miles outside of Moscow, far outside the mainstream of venture investing, even for Russia, according Justin Martin, Ultra Motor's marketing director.
It wasn't until 2003 that Flintstone Technologies, a British venture capital firm whose directors include a former professor of Moscow State University, funded the project. Russian Technologies, the venture arm of the Russian conglomerate Alfa Group Consortium, invested in Ultra Motor in 2004. Silicon Valley VCs met the company during a tour of Russian start-ups last September.
The motor consists of a stationary permanent magnet attached to a hub and surrounded by three pairs of electromagnets. Those magnets are embedded in a rotating cylinder, which is attached to the wheel. Rapidly changing the polarity of the electromagnets from positive to negative causes the wheel to propel itself forward.
"The power from the motor is controlled by varying the pulse duration of the voltage. As rotation speed increases, both the on and off pulses will get shorter, but the proportion increases," Martin said. "The basic principle of electromagnetic propulsion--opposite poles attract, and like poles repel each other--is true of both our e-bike motors and the Maglev magnetic trains found in Japan."
Competing electric motors also rely on electromagnetism but aren't as efficient, Ultra Motor says. The design of its engines, it claims, can generate 50 percent more torque, or force around a pivot point, than competing motors, or get the same performance on less battery power. In addition, the company's motors contain only five main components and one moving component.
Like other electric vehicles, bikes equipped with an electromagnetic motor are fairly quiet. They can also be started from a dead stop or accelerated through pedaling. In Europe, however, bikes will have to be started through pedaling: A two-wheeler that can start on its own motor typically gets classified as a motorcycle.
TI Cycles of India, based in Chennai (formerly Madras), and Avon Cycles, based in Ludhiana, are slated to release complete bikes using Ultra Motor's technology in September, Bowman said. Because the motor is fairly slim, the bikes themselves are constructed around a standard urban bike frame, he added.
At $175, the bikes will cost more than a top-of-the-line pedal cycle, which sells for about $50 in India, but will cost far less than a $500 scooter, Bowman noted. Recharging the motor is also cheaper than using diesel fuel would be.
The AH300 will be able to propel a payload of 264 pounds, Bowman said. Subsequent motors for rickshaws will be more powerful, enabling the bikes to take on more weight.
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