Pedelec Electric Bikes

Pedelec Electric Bikes

Electric bike, pedelec, e-bike, power-assist-bike, EPAC - the chaos in terminology has been raising questions here in our shop for years. What does it all mean? Pedelec and electric assist are new categories of electric bicycles. Often times, we have customers that do not understand pedal-assist, pedal-activated, pedelec, or pedal-powered.

Pedelec Electric Bike The definitions published in last year's Japan Cycle Press year book on human-electric cycles finally set the record straight. This solution has separated pedelec bikes and e-bikes (electric bikes) in two different vehicle categories. Since the introduction of the term pedelec in February 1999, more and more people - manufacturers, dealers, everyday people - are naturally speaking of pedelec bikes. They are well aware that they are talking about vehicles that support the rider with electric power only while he is pedaling.

Machines like the Sanyo Eneloop, Giant Twist, IF Reach DC or the OHM electric bikes fall into this category. Pedelec does not mean cycles that can be ridden by pure electric energy using a handlebar throttle such as the e-bike from the US manufacturer EV Global Motors.

The small, but important, difference is this:

  • Pedelec = using the pedals Motor input is only activated while pedaling. It feels like cycling with "tail wind".
  • E-Bike = using the throttle Motor input is activated by turning a handlebar throttle. It is possible to cycle without pedaling.

Worldwide research on the use of the term pedelec was conducted by Susanne Bruesch from ExtraEnergy. The results show that for 1 1/2 years since its introduction the term pedelec has met a wide acceptance in printmedia, on the internet, in conversation, and on local television news. In the printmedia we find pedelec used now in Japan Cycle Press, American publications like the Canada magazine, in the English magazine Bike Culture. It regularly appears in the trade magazine Bike Europe and in many German specialty magazines. The growing acceptance of pedelec as a term is, of course, related to the growing marked numbers of pedelec bikes as products. According to the market report by Frank Jamerson in 1998 360.000 human-electric cycles were sold, in 1999 420.000 samples and for the year 2000 he estimates 650 samples sold worldwide. Hannes Neupert, Chaiman of ExtraEnergy estimates that in 1999 255.000 samples of the mentioned number were pedelecs, including 55.000 in Europe. So, has pedelec become an every day word now? The answer, for my opinion, has to be a two-part one: yes and no.

  • Yes, as far as a small group of people is concerned, who are involved in the subject by profession or hobby. In an interview with a German bicycle magazine Uwe Zahnhausen, sales manager of Yamaha Germany, speaks of the "Yamaha pedelec" and the "pedelec future". Obviously pedelec is beginning to replace the term power-assist. The disadvantage of power-assist as a marketing term is its rather negative connotation stressing the rider's weakness, instead of his ambition for comfort.
  • No, because neither the product nor the name are familiar to the majority of the public yet.

Pedelec Console However, interest in these make-it-easier-bikes is growing. This has been proved by the growing market numbers. It has also been confirmed by the experience of the ExtraEnergy promotion team who has provided test rides for the public on a mobile try out track in Germany. This event has occurred since 1998 in European countries and in America. People now ask questions like "what is this" much less than before. Now they are more curious to know "how does this work". A great deal of public "education" on human-electric vehicles in German speaking countries has been provided by a special magazine published by ExtraEnergy in cooperation with the German edition Aktiv Radfahren. Titled "Pedelec and E-Bike Special" this is the first magazine to make extensive information on history, technology, products and markets available to the end customers. Pedelecs make headlines in other magazines as well, like "Pushing for Pedelecs" (Bike Culture), "Pedelecs and E-Bikes still overcoming Obstacles" (Bike Europe) just to mention a few. New word creations like "pedelec market", "pedelec activities", "Big Pedelec and E-Bike Test" (Bike Europe) show that this term has become a part of the special human-electric bike language.

Nevertheless, there are still problems to solve in the use of the term pedelec. Electric bike (or e-bike as abbreviation) is still used as generic term for pedelecs and e-bikes. This is confusing. Electric bike has been used for electrically driven bicycles that has existed long before pedelec. The German equivalent of electric bike is mostly understood as a bike for old and disabled people. In English the term "electric bike" does not cover the capacity of the new pedelec category. Definitely we are missing a convincing generic term for pedelecs and e-bikes which is short, positive, and precise. The best term so far is "human-electric vehicles". The necessity for an alternative to electric bike as generic term has not yet been recognized by the majority--yet.

Another problem is capitalization. Actually pedelec, e-bike etc. have the same function as car or bicycle or motorcycle. So, consequently they are to be regard as "normal words" (not as names) and spelled with small letters. At the end of June 2000 pedelecs were first introduced to German politicians of the Green party during their delegates' conference. The German Minister for Environment Juergen Trittin was provided hands-on experience on the ExtraEnergy try out track accompanied by a huge escort of press. Trittin was enthusiastic about the Yamaha Easy and the Flyer by BKTech (Switzerland) which he took a ride on - despite pouring rain! This first contact might be a step to make pedelecs and e-bikes a political issue in Germany with the goal to find a new regulation for pedelecs with a power assistance exceeding 24 km/h. So far speed-pedelecs are only allowed in Switzerland.

In combination with a more futuristic design and higher energy capacities by using fuel cells instead of batteries pedelecs absolutely will become very attractive for young generation in Europe, too. As the world and Europe accept and learn to use these exciting new vehicles, we will see the unique vocabulary of these machine become a necessary addition to human language.

This article was originally published by Extra Energy, one of the leading German electric bike manufacturers.

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