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LimeBike and Spin announce e-assist bikes, an innovation that could change bike share all over again

Promo photos from Spin and LimeBike showing off their new e-assist bikes.

Yesterday, both Spin and LimeBike announced electric-assist bicycles, an innovation that — if successful — could change the bike share industry all over again.

LimeBike will likely be the first to launch e-bikes in Seattle, saying in a press release that the bikes will be available “starting in January 2018.” The company is currently planning 300-500 bikes for Seattle. Spin is launching their first e-bikes in smaller markets where they are exclusive operators.

Seattle has hills. That’s an unchanging fact. So the potential for a well-run, dependable and approachable e-assist bike share service is immense. It could make bike share more accessible to more people and make more kinds of trips possible for everyone. A trip from downtown directly to First Hill? It’s possible on a non-assisted bike, but it’s a tough grind that only a handful of people are going to choose to make. But with a little boost, it could put a huge number of homes and jobs within an easy bike ride of downtown transit service, for example.

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Of course, how an e-assist bike share system without docks (and, therefore, regular charging stations) is mostly unexplored territory. Social Bicycles operates the Jump e-assist system in San Fransisco and Washington DC, and there are a couple e-assist bike share systems in a handful of cities around the world. But it is still a very new concept, and having bikes with higher capital and maintenance costs raises a lot of new challenges for the operators.

Both companies say their bikes will remain dockless, sending staff to swap out batteries as needed to keep them juiced. I am especially interested in how these more valuable bikes (with likely valuable batteries) can prevent theft. Jump, for example, might not have docks, but the service does require users to lock the bike to a bike rack or pole when completing a ride.

Unlike many e-bikes on the market, pedal-assist bikes do not have a throttle to activate the motor. Instead, you have to pedal and keep pedaling to get the motor to kick in. It’s not a motorcycle or scooter. The motor doesn’t do all the work, it just flattens the hills a bit.

Both Spin and LimeBike also say they are setting the assisted speed limit at 15 mph, meaning the motor will cut out past that speed. You may still be able to ride faster, but only by using human power like any other bike.

The other change is in pricing. Lime-E bikes will cost $1 to unlock plus $1 per ten minutes of use. So unless e-bikes are used for much longer trips than the existing bikes, the cost for most trips should be comparable to transit fare.

More details from the LimeBike press release:

Called Lime-E, these bikes will be available in existing LimeBike markets including Seattle, Miami, and greater San Francisco bay area starting in January 2018.

Lime-E bikes will cost riders $1 to unlock and an additional $1 per every 10 minutes of riding time. The pricing allows Lime-E to be one of the most affordable modes of transportation, and offers upgraded technology and faster speeds for riders. LimeBike is committed to making bikesharing affordable and will continue to provide discounted pricing for students and low-income riders. These new fleets will require larger local operations teams to ensure prompt maintenance of the bikes, leading to the creation of more jobs in target markets.

The addition of Lime-E bikes to LimeBike’s existing fleets positions the company as a key player in the future of mobility. The faster bikes enable riders to get to their destinations more quickly, but still more affordably than driving or using traditional rideshare services. The maximum speed on the bikes is 15 MPH and the power will smartly adjust to adapt to the users’ natural pedal experience. Riders can easily climb up the 30 degree hills in Seattle and San Francisco.

“2018 is shaping up to be a landmark year for the global bikeshare movement,” says Toby Sun, CEO and co-founder of LimeBike. “As the fastest growing smart mobility solution company, LimeBike is evolving to respond to the limitations of traditional, docked bikeshare services based on cost, accessibility and overall aging infrastructure. Our electric-assist bike, Lime-E, will provide cities a fast, efficient, equitable source of first-and-last mile transportation at absolutely no cost to taxpayers and minimal cost to riders.”

Here’s the Spin press release:

With a new year comes new innovations. Spin is thrilled to announce its next innovation in urban mobility — the dockless electric bicycle! Orange is now electric.

We have spent 2017 designing this new product and cannot wait to provide it to cities and campuses across North America. Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, have been shown to break down barriers to biking including hills, disabilities, age, and distance. The result? A larger population choosing to go by bike. Spin has already made waves across the US in advancing urban mobility, and it’s time for another boost.

In the long-term, we see e-bikes as a key component of Spin’s 21st century multimodal mobility network made up of traditional bikes, e-bikes, and accessible vehicles.

About the bike

Spin’s e-bike is designed to make your ride easier and more comfortable, while still providing the convenience of dockless bike share technology. The bicycle can go 50 miles with a full charge and has batteries that can be easily swapped by Spin crews. The 250W motor provides riders with pedal-assist power, meaning you have to pedal to get the motor-assist, up to 15mph.

Plan for launch

Spin plans to launch our e-bike with select partners, and we are always on the lookout for communities that want to amplify their community’s transportation options.

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22 responses to “LimeBike and Spin announce e-assist bikes, an innovation that could change bike share all over again”

  1. Dave

    They should be setting the max speed at more like 12mph. Inexperienced bike share rider + heavy bike + 15mph + crowded Burke Gilman Trail. Sounds terrifying.

    1. Peri Hartman

      Yeah, 12mph is fast enough. For many people, 12mph is hard to maintain on the flat, let alone uphill. So why should an ebike go faster?

      1. Alex

        They wont go 12mph up hill more like 6 if they are lucky. Legally you cant even ride an ebike on any trails in King County including the Burke Gilman.

  2. R

    Both seem to be using hub motors which are probably easier to steal and retrofit on to other bikes,

  3. Kirk

    It will be interesting to see if there is any enforcement of the laws prohibiting ebikes from trails and sidewalks. At least they are going only 15 mph, not the 30 mph I’ve seen with modified ebikes. My concern with ebikes on the trails is their combined closing speed of up to 60 mph. With ebikes passing most everyone else, they tend to be in the center of the trail and potentially passing in opposite directions a the same time, in the center of the trail.

  4. Zach

    I feel like people are caught up about speeds, but I’m more concerned that 50 miles per charge is not sufficient. If people use the newfound hill-flattening technology to start taking these from Ballard to the hill, etc, then we could see these sweet new E-bikes with dead batteries on the side of the road.

    I don’t think that these companies have proved that they are capable of maintenance and upkeep of their devices, although I would love to be proved wrong.

    1. asdf2

      I’ve been wondering about that too. It would be tempting to try it out one day on the way to work. But the thought of the battery giving out halfway across the 520 bridge is not appealing. One thing about e-bikes – the weight of the motor itself creates a need for the motor. I suppose, worst case, I just return the bike in the middle of the bridge and walk/run the rest of the way to shore.

      (Which reminds me – I hope the electric parts are waterproof – it seems a matter of time before somebody throws one of these bikes over the railing, into the lake).

  5. markinthedark

    Seems like these e-bikes will just exacerbate the hill issue on bike shares. e-bikes being used up the hill and left on top while the return uses a cheaper conventional bike to be left at the bottom.

    1. asdf2

      It’s not quite that simple. Many trips (e.g. Capitol Hill to Queen Anne) involve riding down one hill, then up another hill. Depending on the destination, the “up” might be only halfway up, so still a net elevation decrease, yet the electric assist still comes in handy. Also, if push comes to shove, many people are just going to use whatever bike happens to be in a more convenient location and not worry about the extra dollar (if the trip is under 10 minutes). Furthermore, if staff has to visit each e-bike frequently, anyway, to charge up the battery, the marginal cost of throwing some bikes into a truck for re-balancing isn’t that much. When re-balancing gets expensive is when staff have to make a special trip to bike *just* for re-balancing.

    2. GlenBikes

      Lime Bike already has a differentiation of the non-eBikes. Some bikes will get you a ride credit if you ride them for > 5 min. My assumption is that this is for bikes that have not been ridden for a while and they want their users to find out for them if they are busted and unrideable but nobody reported it, or if they are still rideable and just haven’t been chosen recently.

      I would not be surprised if Lime-e Bikes on top of hills with close to full charge will get you a similar deal.

  6. asdf2

    I’m a bit concerned that the electric assist is going to exacerbate the helmet issue. Partly because the motor can get you going 15 mph when you could only pedal 10 mph without it, but also because the risk of accident increases on descents, and many trips with uphill segments also have downhill segments.

    Regardless of one’s opinion as to whether helmet use should be mandatory, when you start adding hills and increasing speed, the risk of an accident increases, and the safety benefit of wearing a helmet increases with it.

  7. Observant

    The proliferation of illegal e-bike use (K.C.C. 7.12.295 E) in the recent years has gone from an occasional annoyance to a safety hazard. While the bike share bikes will supposedly have their e-assist capped at 15 mph, I fear this will only encourage more illegal usage of e-bikes.

    On the roads and adjacent bike lines, I believe that e-assist bikes are legal and OK (throttled bikes should be banned unless licensed in my opinion), but until Limebike and Spin can figure out how a way to keep e-bikes off trails, I think SDOT would be wise to not allow these companies to just dump e-bikes willy-nilly all over our City. I’ll definitely be contacting my Councilmember about pausing this until SDOT figures this out.

    Let’s not sacrifice the safety and comfort of trail users for the sake of a few riders who are taking advantage of an existing infrastructure to avoid traffic and effort.

    1. asdf2

      If e-bikes are banned from trails, does that mean it’s impossible to take one from Seattle to Bellevue without going all the way around the lake? Good luck getting people to abide by that.

      1. Observant

        The bridges count as state jurisdiction. Not sure the law regarding bikes on state trails.

      2. Josh

        Currently, state law already prohibits e-bikes on sidewalks, including bridges, and on trails posted as closed to motorized vehicles. There’s no enforcement, of course, but e-bikes are currently illegal on I-90 and 520 paths.

  8. ronp

    I hope these do not get stolen or dumped in lake union for kicks. Hopefully they have engineered at least the battery packs to be somewhat theft proof (secure code to enable power out?) If people have to cut the case and remove individual cells it may not be worth stealing. Motors could also include a lock out code/DRM of some sort.

    I keep hoping bike share will allow people to experience fun and adventure of urban biking and maybe get them to purchase a bike to commute and run errands with.

    More protected bike lanes needed! Get rid of the adult helmet law ASAP.

  9. Jean

    I saw obviously inexperienced bike share rider in mail line of Montlake Bridge. Disaster. He finally gave up 2/3rds across it. WSDOT Need sign:
    No bikes on bridge deck
    Use sidewalk only.

    1. Josh

      Except the bridge is open to bicycles, there’s no legal basis for that sign.

  10. M

    I just wish people would stop illegally riding them across on the ferry, and then abandoning them in front of businesses on Bainbridge. The companies take FOREVER to retrieve them while the keep occupying bike rack space for local riders and piling up on the sidewalks to and from the ferry. Please, if you feel the need to ride the bike over, RIDE IT BACK.

  11. Tim F

    It’s exciting to see the bike share industry continue to innovate so quickly. I hope cities can keep up in a constructive way to make the most of it. Maybe the companies will need to incorporate locks onto these bikes. Maybe not. They’ll figure it out. This is probably still a pilot or testing phase in anticipation of cheaper and better batteries and motors in the near future. A top speed of 15MPH should be considered in the context of an upright ride, relaxed geometry and wide-ish tires. I’m guessing the bikes can already go that speed unassisted down our hills, so the control issues shouldn’t be much different uphill or on flats. Of course we’ll all have to work for courtesy and safety, but that’s not fundamentally different from advances or trends in ultra-bright LED headlights, fixies, aero-bars, mountain bikes or roller blades, etc. over the years.

    I do think cities need to get ahead of the game on anticipating the need for more and wider bike lanes, trails and low-speed general purpose lanes, more bike parking and making these things explicitly legal in a safe and connected network.

  12. Josh

    In addition to the 15 mph limit on assist, I see Spin specifies only a 250W motor, vs. the 1,000W allowed by state law. That’s a good sign in a number of ways.

    On really steep hills, the 250W limit will keep speeds below the 15 mph governed speed.

    When the battery dies, a 250W motor only adds 5-6 lbs to the bike instead of 15-20. And a 250W motor doesn’t need as heavy of a battery pack for maximum current, either.

    In the long run, I think low-powered e-bikes will be the key to urban use, much as they have been in Europe and Asia. Sure, you’ll still have some people wanting 1,000W (or more… I see one prominent Seattle retailer openly advertises 28 mph e-bikes that are illegal state-wide), but for most practical city cycling, 250W and 10-15 mph is faster than taking the bus without being a de-facto electric motorcycle.

  13. […] meanwhile, is also about ready to roll out its first electric bikes but its launch will start in smaller cities where it is the exclusive dockless […]

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