March 4, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Bike maker heads for electric avenue

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The electronic bike is going to try for widespread acceptance once again, but this time in the countries where it might be needed most.

Ultra Motor, a start-up based in the United Kingdom, will launch a new type of electric motor later this year that the company hopes will help jump-start the theoretically lucrative but highly elusive market for personal transportation and clean vehicles.

In September, two of India's largest bike manufacturers will come out with bikes equipped with the company's AH300 motor, which will run for 35 kilometers (21.75 miles) on a single charge and run at a top speed of 25kph (16 mph). Billionaire Sir Richard Branson auctioned off the first two prototype bikes at a charity event in 2004.

Photos: Electric rides

Ultra Motor is also working on more powerful versions of the motor that could appear in rickshaws (still a major form of transportation in India, Vietnam and elsewhere), wheelchairs, motorcycles, small cars and hybrid vehicles. In tests, the company has cranked the speed of vehicles using its engines up to 56mph.

Ultimately, vehicles powered by the company's motors could well be targeted at environmentally conscious, bike-happy regions such as the Netherlands.

"We looked at the Segway experience. They tried to change the behavior of the customer," said Joseph Bowman, senior investment manager at venture firm Russian Technologies and formerly the interim CEO of Ultra Motor. "We're positioning the company in the niche between a bike and a scooter."

For several years, personal vehicles like the Segway Human Transporter and the Zap PowerBike have been waylaid by potholes. This time around, however, the circumstances favor the growth of the market.

For one thing, the price is lower, Bowman said. Complete Ultra Motor-powered bikes will sell for about $150 to $175, far less than the Segway, which runs a few thousand dollars, or many electric bikes, which can cost about $1,000. Recharging the motor costs about 6 cents, he added.

The attitude of governments has also become brighter. In 2001, New Delhi swapped diesel buses for natural-gas ones, and several other Indian cities are taking steps to adopt nonpolluting public vehicles. Indian cities are also looking at offering subsidies to buyers of electric cars such as the Reva, an e-car developed by an Indo-American joint venture.

In the United States and Europe, motorized two-wheelers that top out at about 16mph are typically classified as bikes under pending and recent regulations, meaning that the company can skirt driver's license and registration laws. Because the vehicles are bikes, the sidewalk-driving controversy that saddled Segway can also be avoided. Rising energy prices, pollution and fears of global warming are growing in importance as factors, too.

Chinese consumers have already shown that the concept has some legs. In the past four years, about 3 million motorized bikes have hit the road in China, starting from a base of zero, Bowman said.

A Cold War hangover
Ultra Motor?s chief technology officer, Vasily Shkondin, began tinkering with the concept of an e-bike while managing an air defense radar station for the Soviet Army in East Germany in the late 1980s. After the Berlin Wall fell, Shkondin showed off his ideas for a magnetic

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6 comments

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Exactly
I'll take an electric bike instead of an upright gizmo for $5,000
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
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Cheap, Easy & Dependable
While Segway may have a cooler underlying technology, this invention underscores what really matters in the consumer products:

It's cheap so it's more or less affordable to developing nations (where most bikes are used for everyday functions);

It's easy to use and implement. It looks like a normal bicycle and no learning is required. Bicycles are popular for a reason -- people can sit on them for a long time, while standing up for a long time isn't so easy (ask any salesperson).

Lastly, it looks like it's a fairly dependable technology. Due to inherent extemes of conditions in Russia (awful roads, for example, that most non-SUV foreign cars can't handle), most products originating there are pretty tough (overused but good example would be AK weapons).

If they can get this into mass production, it might be very successful outside US. Sure, not everyone could afford one, but those a bit more wealthy who ride bikes will probably pay for convenience.
Posted by Rusdude (170 comments )
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EGO Electric Bike
I'm wondering why you did not mention the EGO in your article on Elec Bikes. I been riding one for over a year with no problems.

See Egovehicles.com
Posted by (1 comment )
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RE:EGO Electric Bike
Well, the eGO Electric Bike isn't actually a bike, it's a scooter.
Also, the eGO retails around $1200 the article says these bikes will be between $125-$300.
Posted by mb_96_net (15 comments )
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Question is it as good as?
Interestingly, I read an article about US MARINES TIDAL FORCE FOLDING ELECTRIC powered mountain assault bike M-750 with a 32K top speed and range the only negative I can see is the cost of these units is 10X to this bike, but is extremely rugged!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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The features are very nice and interesting. I would like to have this for me. My dream is to have an electric bike for me which consists of various distinct features. I just got back into biking and I noticed a lot of bikes come with riser bars now. Personally, I think they look ugly and don't really do all that much so I'm looking to replace mine with a flat bar. Anyone out there care to share what they think? Also if you have gone from riser to flat.


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Posted by yaminpatrik (1 comment )
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