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Friday, October 23, 2009

A2B verses A123

[Update May 23, 2010] Spotted another guy riding an A2B on the bike trail the other day so I thought I'd follow him to see how he used it. He was listening to an MP3 player and didn't have any rear view mirrors.

I clocked him at 20 mph the whole time except when he slowed down in traffic. He used his pedals once, briefly, as he climbed a short, fairly steep hill.

A few days later I spotted him again going in the opposite direction. Now I know where he lives and where he works!

[Update May 13, 2010] Spotted an A2B coming down the road yesterday. No pedaling. He turned a corner and headed up a hill. Again, no pedaling. That is not a bicycle. That's a scooter with pedals on it, commonly known as a moped. Is it cool for these quiet, underpowered mopeds to share bike lanes and trails? Sure. They're quiet, don't spew fumes, and as long as they don't exceed bicycle speed limits they are no more dangerous or obnoxious than a bicycle.

[Update April 4, 2010] I finally test rode an A2B. It does not have the ergonomics of a bicycle. Note in the picture how far forward the pedals are in relation to the seat. It feels like a kid's bike. You will be much more dependent on the battery, which means it will have less range and a shorter life for a given battery size. And if you have to pedal it home with a dead battery, consider calling your friend who owns a truck, at least in Seattle. I have a feeling that the battery won't last long because most will treat the A2B as a scooter rather than a bicycle.

The one I rode had been purchased used from the dealer. It had been returned (at least once) for a refund and the new owner was having his doubts. My guess is that the battery is grossly undersized for an electric scooter, which is how most owners treat it.

I've seen a couple of these A2B machines running around town. I finally spotted one on display at a scooter store. That's my electric bike parked next to it (videos of it in action found here and here). Some yahoo wanting to purchase an electric scooter to drive from his yacht at one end of a dock to the mailbox at the other end had waylaid the proprietor so I never got a chance to test ride it. You can find a video of a test ride done by the WSJ here.

From the above video:

"…after people ride it for a while they sort of quickly migrate through that phase of …[pedaling] …and, and usually when that surprise is, is discovered [that the pedals are mostly for show] it comes with a little, 'Wow!'"

I would describe the A2B as an electric moped disguised as an electric bicycle. Note in the video that it is described as an electric bike. Mopeds (motor--pedal, get it?) are scooters with pedals. In most, a gasoline engine provides the power. The engine is limited to something less than one horsepower, which allows you to ride one without a license in most states. The pedals are a necessary evil to help you get up hills and to get rolling. There is no way you would want to try to pedal one home if you ran out of gas. The same is true for the A2B unless home is at the bottom of the hill you're on.

Mopeds also differ from a scooter because, like a bicycle, they have larger diameter wheels. A tiny wheel diameter will help you get up hills and to get started from a dead stop, but it requires a lot of RPM to go fast. RPM is limited on bikes by our human geometry, thus the bigger wheel diameter and poor hill climbing ability--a trade off for speed on flat surfaces. RPM is less limited on mopeds, thus the slightly smaller wheel diameter, and scooters with high RPM single-stroke engines can get really high revolutions, thus the really small wheels.

Why market the A2B as an electric bike? Bicycles are often chosen over scooters because the law treats scooters like little tiny cars (sans armor plating). But riding a scooter in traffic is viewed by many as a death wish. Bicycle laws provide a measure of flexibility to protect riders from cars. They can ride beside the road, share pathways with pedestrians, and in most places, on sidewalks as long as pedestrians are given right of way. A bike can also go off-road if needed, be thrown on a bike rack, or lugged into your living room.

The A2B will stick out like a sore thumb on a bike trail or sidewalk, especially since most people apparently don't bother to pedal it.

A bicycle that you have to pedal (where the electric assist really is just an assist) is no more of a hazard than any other bicycle adhering to speed limits but lines have to be drawn. We can't let scooters and motorcycles on pathways and sidewalks just because they keep it under 20 mph. IMHO, if you are not using your legs to move you should not be on a bike trail or sidewalk.

If you are forced to ride this thing in traffic at all times, why not bite the bullet and get a scooter?

The battery only has a one-year warranty. This is the problem with virtually all-electric vehicles at the moment. The batteries suck. I've been using mine for three years with no noticeable drop in performance but you can't get A123 batteries on a commercially produced bike …yet.

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