I ride this new e-bike past thousands strolling along the San Francisco Bay. Travelers ferry to Tiburon, Sausalito, and Alcatraz. Large catamarans race the wind as they prepare for the America’s Cup. The Golden Gate Bridge majestically displays our gateway to Asia.
I am test riding a new Specialized Turbo electric-assist bicycle. Since I live in San Francisco the roads are familiar but the speed is new. For the first time, when I leave bicycle paths and merge into traffic I can maintain the same speed as the cars. The ride feels safer and faster.
Specialized is trying to create a new category of high-end performance urban e-bike. With the touch of a button, I can shift between modes such as Turbo, Eco, and Off, as well as shift thru 8 gears. Much of the ride is in Eco-mode where the 250-watt electric motor assists my pedaling. In Turbo mode, that 342 kWh battery delivers enough power that I can sustain over 25 mph in traffic. In eco-mode I can extend the battery charge.
On flat bicycle paths I can turn off the electric assist and get a good workout. Because the aluminum-frame Turbo weighs 50 pounds, it feels like more work when pedaling without the electric motor than when riding my hybrid bicycle.
San Francisco hills that normally are a challenge to climb in my easiest gears, standing up, are now easily conquered in this e-bike.
Other bicycle riders are stunned by how easily we zip pass them. At first glance, the Specialized Turbo looks like a performance hybrid bicycle. The lithium-ion battery pack is integrated into an oversized down tube. The powerful 250-watt electric motor integrates into the rear wheel hub. The 700mm x45mm tires easily handle going over bumps and curves.
Navigant Research forecasts that annual sales of e-bicycles will grow from 31 million in 2013 to nearly 38 million in 2020. Over 100 million e-bicycles are now in use, with over 90 percent of those in China. Navigant summarizes its research:
…the e-bicycle market is in a state of change. Western Europe’s market is growing increasingly crowded with competitors and now accounts for more than 20% of global e-bicycle revenue annually. Meanwhile, North American players are finding new, younger e-bicycle consumers among those who ride for transportation rather than entertainment. Even the massive 28 million unit Chinese market is in a state of change as the government considers changes to the rules governing the market and consumers begin to recognize the value of lithium ion over lead-acid batteries.
At $5,900 for the Turbo, Specialized is reaching for the high-end of the market. Performance enthusiasts are buying the Turbo in Germany and other European countries. Now the same enthusiast are likely to buy this ultra–performance bike in the USA. With record numbers of Americans now living in cities, e-bikes have significant potential for daily commuters. In San Francisco, 6 percent of city commutes are on bicycle and the city has a goal of 20 percent by 2020. Killer hills make that 20 percent a challenge. Yes, some will spend $6000 on a high-end e-bike instead of buying a car. Many of these will get to work faster and avoid thousands in car parking annual fees. Another potential market is university students who find car mobility limited and expensive on campus.
As I loop through the massive Presidio park I notice that people are smiling at me as I pedal past them. I notice that smile frequently as I ride. This Turbo is a thrill.
In 12 miles, I used 48 percent of the battery capacity, a perfectly adequate range for a daily commuter. The battery can be fully recharged from empty in 2.5 hours with a 4-amp charger, or in 5 hours with a 2-amp travel charger, which would be handy, to take on longer rides with work or lunch stops. A commuter rack is optional for those using panniers or carrying extra stuff. The battery pack can be unlocked and carried inside to make charging convenient with any 110-volt outlet.
In my garage at home, my $1000 Specialized Sirrus hybrid bicycle now stands next to my Nissan LEAF electric car. I am tempted to spend $6,000 on a new Turbo e-bike and spend less time driving the car.
Since I am not a daily commuter, the $6,000 seems a bit extravagant. If I buy the bike then it is only fair that my wife moves ahead with her $6,000 redecorating project, so I face a $12,000 decision. Although I cannot cost justify the purchase in cents per mile, perhaps I can in smiles per gallon.