Mar 26, 2016: An Electric Transportation Revolution

All of a sudden it seems like every car and bike manufacturer is coming out with an electric vehicle, and one of my favourites so far has to be the Honda ‘EV-Cub’.

The beautiful Honda 'EV-Cub'

The beautiful Honda ‘EV-Cub’ (source Gizmag)

Modeled after Honda’s original 1958 ‘Super Cub’ it really is a thing of beauty. My own first motorbike was a Honda 90 Step-through Ag Bike that I used to ride around the farm where we lived. It was not nearly as cool as the Super Cub but I loved it anyway. According to this Gizmag article, the current prototype of the EV-Cub has awful performance specs, 34km of range with a top speed of 30kmh, but it’s not slated for release to the public until 2018 (I’m can’t imagine why they would wait that long) so hopefully, by then it will have the speed and range to match its great looks.

Meanwhile, not wanting to wait that long for an electric bike, I got myself one of these…

The EnviMotion electric assisted mountain bike.

The EnviMotion electric assisted mountain bike.

Actually it was my good friend Noel, who runs a wonderful shop selling genuine Australian antiques called the Merchant of Welby (if you like beautiful furniture you should stop by his place sometime) who got the bike for me. Noel knew I was interested in an electric assisted bike so, when he found a pair of these ‘EnviMotion’ mountain bikes for sale second-hand on Ebay, he offered me one of them. Given that the retail price for this bike is $2,195 I am thrilled that Noel was able to get me one for $650. And it has performance specs that rival the Honda ‘EV-Cub’ with a range of 50km and a top assisted speed (limited by law in Australia) of 25kmh.

A good friend of mine in Montana bought one of the first electric-assisted bikes to come out in the US about 8 or 9 years ago and paid a couple of grand for it. At the time I was getting around Missoula on a second hand mountain bike that cost me $25 so I was pretty skeptical about the value for money of his new purchase. I remember saying at the time, ‘Why don’t you just ride a normal bike, get yourself some exercise and save a LOT of money?’. But then, when I got back to Australia and went to stay with my sister in Canberra, I found that she had an electric assisted bike too. She rides that thing all over Canberra and I have found that trying to keep up with her on my mountain bike is impossible. Plus, when we arrive at our destination, she is relaxed and cool and I am huffing and puffing and sweating like a pig. So I’ve come around to appreciating the benefits of the electric assist.

Later I met another friend, Glenn Robinson, who is a hard-core mountain biker but does most of his transportation on a bike he converted to a cargo carrier with electric assist. I’ve written about Glenn and Lee’s wonderful energy-positive house in Bundanoon before, and about their sustainable transportation choices. Lee walks about twenty metres to work in the exercise studio they built in front of their house and Glenn rides almost everywhere on this…

Glenn Robinson's converted electric bike with cargo carrier

Glenn Robinson’s converted electric bike with cargo carrier.

I love to get around on a bike too, but since we moved into the Greeny Flat I haven’t been riding as much as I used to because Mt Gibraltar stands between Mittagong and the places I most often visit (like the tennis courts in Bowral). If I ride my mountain bike to tennis, by the time I’ve gone up and over the mountain, I’m not much use on the tennis court or, if I have a meeting, I arrive all sweaty and disheveled. I’ve only had the EnviMotion for about a week but I love it already. I can zip over Mt Gibralter to play tennis, get there nicely warmed up but not even breathing hard, play for a couple of hours then ride home without wearing myself out. My first trip on it was to a business meeting about 15km from home. I rode there on a pretty warm day and arrived without being drenched in sweat. So, even though I can do all my short trips powered by renewable energy in our Outlander PHEV, I’m sure I will be choosing to take the bike instead whenever I can. Not only does it use much less energy but it gets me outside and exercising and enjoying the beautiful place in which we live.

My brother, George, lives in an even more beautiful spot overlooking Wingecarribee Reservoir. He would like to get around by bike as well except that Kangaloon Road is a ridiculously dangerous place to ride a pushie. Electric assist doesn’t help because there is no road verge, lots of blind curves and you really need to be moving at the same speed as the cars and trucks or risk getting knocked off your bike. George has spent a good deal of time looking at all the available options for electric bikes and has recently put down a deposit on a ‘Fonzarelli’ electric scooter.

Australia's first electric scooter - the Fonzarelli

Australia’s first electric scooter – the Fonzarelli

The Fonzarelli is designed and engineered right here in Sydney. I think the parts are mostly Chinese but I’m not sure whether the bikes are assembled here or in China. In any case George decided that the ‘The Fonz’ offers the best combination of range, speed and cost for his local transportation needs. Fonzarelli offers a number of ways you can customise your choice of bike including additional batteries, a more powerful motor and regenerative braking. I’m not sure of the exact specs of George’s bike but I think it will have a range of about 80km and a top speed of around 85kmh. This means that the rider has to have a motorbike driver’s license (which George does and I don’t). I think there is about an eight week wait for George to take delivery of his new scooter but, rest assured, I will let you know when it arrives. At that point I will be proud to say that all of us Lemann children (me, my brother and my sister), plus at least two of my friends, will be riding some form of electric bike.

Scaling Up

If you want to go a bit bigger, more sheltered and protected, but still cool, retro and electric, you might like the look of the Microlino prototype.

The 'Microlino' tiny EV is modelled on the 1955 BMW 'Isetta'

The tiny ‘Microlino’ EV is modelled on the 1955 BMW ‘Isetta’ (source Gizmag)

As described in this Gizmag article, the two-seater Microlino, will have a range of about 100km and a top speed of about 100kmh. Apparently three of them can park side-by-side in a single car-parking space. The Microlino is slated for release in Europe in early 2018 with a price tag of around US$10,000. This would be a great little electric vehicle for Sydney or Melbourne commuters but I’ll be amazed if our ridiculous bureaucracy ever allows it to be driven on Australian roads.

The New Prius Prime

Slightly bigger still, and more likely to be seen down under, is the next iteration of the Toyota Prius… the ‘Prime’ Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV).

Toyota's new Plug-in Hybrid Prius 'Prime'

Toyota’s new Plug-in Hybrid Prius ‘Prime’

According to Gizmag it will be available in Europe ‘towards the end of the year’ and will have an all-electric range similar to our Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV at about 50km. However, since the Prius is smaller, lighter and uses the very latest technology it will be somewhat more energy efficient. Our Outlander came with a rated fuel-economy of 1.9L/100km and the Prime, which Toyota claims is ‘the most efficient plug-in hybrid on the market’, is rated at 1.4L/100km. Once again, there’s no telling when the Prime might be available in Australia. I suspect it will have a much higher price tag than the $30k we paid for the Outlander and it won’t be capable of pulling a trailer or carrying my tools around so I’m still very happy with my decision to buy the Mitsubishi.

Over The Top

Finally, going right to the big end of the scale, we find that there are now all-electric double-decker buses running around London.

Chinese Buses Invade London

Chinese Buses Invade London! (source Gizmag)

Made by BYD in China, these new buses can carry 81 passengers, have a range of 300km and can be recharged in 4 hours. In this Gizmag article, London’s Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment, Matthew Pencharz, describes the benefits of the new buses as follows…

‘The running costs are much lower and some of the maintenance and operations costs are much lower on the buses. Also, these [buses] are zero-emission, zero-tailpipe-pollution and that is a huge benefit for Londoners.’

I was very glad that he qualified ‘Zero Emissions’ to mean ‘Zero Tailpipe Pollution’. Regular readers will know that it is a particular pet-peeve of mine when electric vehicles are described as ‘Zero Emissions’. If an EV is charged from the grid and the grid power comes from a coal-fired power station there are still going to be emissions, they will simply be coming out of a smokestack instead of a tailpipe. Nonetheless, it has been repeatedly shown that, even when charged from the dirtiest power source, EV’s have lower lifecycle GHG emissions than equivalent petroleum-powered vehicles. Thus, as we convert to more and more renewable sources of energy, the overall climate effect of EV’s will continue to get better and better.

Sustainable Trains

Even bigger still are Transport for NSW (TfNSW) plans to power the entire Sydney Metro Northwest rail link with Renewable Energy (RE). TfNSW is currently calling for expressions of interest from companies to supply 137GWh/year of RE by 2019 when trains are due to start running on the new line between Chatswood and Rouse Hill.

The new Sydney Metro Northwest rail link is currently under construction

The new Sydney Metro Northwest rail link is currently under construction

This is a huge project and hopefully just the first of many more aimed at making our transportation system more sustainable. I look forward to the day when the entire Sydney rail network is powered by renewables. This, of course, is one of the great advantages of electric vehicles be they bikes, scooters, cars, trucks, buses or trains… if they are powered by electricity there is at least the possibility of running them on renewable energy.

Clearly we are at the start of an electric transportation revolution and it’s going to be fascinating to see where we go from here.




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