Game-changing innovation sometimes starts with a small company that hits upon a big idea. Other times, it comes from a big company with a small idea. When I say big, I mean big. 400,000 employees big. This company that has been a leader in automotive technology for more than a century.
Today, we present the story of how Germany company Bosch tiptoed into the once-quirky category of electric bicycles.
At LA CoMotion I caught up with Claudia Wasko, Vice President and General Manager of Bosch eBike Systems Americas. She gave me the inside scoop on how the eBike became a thing at Bosch.
Have you heard the European folktale about the “7 mile shoe”? It is about a shoe that allows the wearer to travel 7 miles in a single step. A decade ago, Peter Kimmich, a Bosch engineer, wanted to make this for bicycles.
To do this he had to overcome the engineering problems that plagued eBikes and convince Bosch to get on board.
Early electric bicycles were odd-looking, and didn’t sell. There were problems with overheating, with battery life, with climbing hills. Parts would break down, and retailers who’d have to deal with pissed off customers. Some eBikes were a little scary because it felt like the motor was in charge instead of the rider.
Wasko admits that she wouldn’t have bought an early eBike, “They just weren’t cool”.
The birth of the Bosch eBike came from a Bosch auto part, the power steering motor. This part was intended to improve the way the motor boosted the driver’s input when turning the wheel, but car companies weren’t buying as many as predicted.
Another cycling enthusiast and engineer at Bosch was toying around with the idea that their lithium ion batteries used for power tools could be re-purposed for the eBike. The two men poked around the vast stockpile in what they looked at as the “Bosch toolbox” to create an eBike.
The torque sensor was the next piece of the puzzle. In a car, this sensors can tell whether the weight in the passenger seat came from a human or heavy bag of groceries. It decides if the car triggers the alarm to remind the passenger to use their seat belt.
On an eBike, the sensor could be rigged so that the motor would subtly provide extra assistance on hills; on flats, it would back off. Whereas earlier eBikes could give riders a jolting sensation, the Bosch system allowed riders to feel more like they were riding a normal bike. A “tailwind feel” is what Bosch calls it.
Now that they had all the parts, it was on to designing the eBike. They couldn’t just strap the parts to an existing bike frame and Bosch had no experience designing bike equipment. They needed a partner. Wasko took the idea to the streets looking for companies to design frame concepts for the Bosch system.
In 2010 Bosch introduced their innovation at the EuroBike tradeshow, 14 companies had prototypes on display.
LAPD Adopts eBikes!
Fast forward to today, at La CoMotion, a future of mobility conference held in Los Angeles. The LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) talked about how the design and roll out of their eBike customized for law enforcement.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s worked with several bike manufactures before settling on a system based on Bosch. He found theirs to be the most reliable with no failures during the test rides. Next he searched for a partner to design an eBike suited for law enforcement. Bosch introduced him to several OEM partners, ultimately, they selected Bulls USA. After 9 months of collaboration the “The Sentinel,” a custom-built eBike created to match the LAPD’s design specifications, was born.
A bicycle designed for law enforcement has different requirements that something an enthusiast might ride. The bike needs to be extremely rugged. It has to be fast enough to pursue a car despite having to carry a lot of police gear. The seat height needed to be adjusted to compensate for their utility belt should they need to dismount the bike and take a ready stance with their firearm.
In August 20 eBikes hit the streets of LA and the community response has been overwhelmingly positive. They have become a conversation starter and are improving the LAPD’s relationship with the community. It is one of the reasons a few cops have looked at joining the Bike division.
Not only have the bikes been good for relations but ticketing has increased 200% by the police using the eBikes compared to their ticketing rate on regular bikes.
“With a boost from an electric motor, officers can ride further and longer than they can on a standard bicycle, allowing them to expand their patrol area and cover more ground,” said Wasko ”Officers are still able to get into tight places and crowds, but now they can get there even faster. When a call comes in, an officer can easily adjust the assist level into Turbo and quickly pedal up to 28 mph – that’s comparable with top Tour de France pro rider speeds on flat terrain, and 9 to 10 mph faster than an average rider!”
View this post on Instagram
Bike officers regularly cover over 60 Miles per day and they don’t charge their bikes during their shift. It takes about 2 hours to charge up the battery and should they need to, they could top up over lunch, or swap out the battery.
What do the Bike Cops Think?
Sergeant Gordon Helper, who works for the LAPD’s Central Division, has been part of the LAPD Bike program since 2000, noted “they have always had a bit of charge left the end of every shift, so battery life hasn’t been an issue”.
While using the eBikes, he received a call about a person with a knife and was able to respond quickly.
“I responded on the eBike from Central Station in the middle of the day in heavy traffic,” Helper said. “While obeying all traffic lights and signals, I still had less than a four-minute response. The average patrol car time is seven minutes.”
According to Helper, when he rides the eBikes, he doesn’t even feel the strain from the 30 pounds of department-mandated gear he carries. The eBikes have enabled him “to respond to any call for service quickly and efficiently.”
He told another story of a female bike cop getting hit by a car while responding to a call and remaining upright on the bike despite the back tire of the bike receiving severe damage. The move was so impressive a gallery of bike couriers cheered her recovery from the accident.
Bulls USA took a short video of Sergeant Helper talking about his experience patrolling with The Sentinel.
There are 8 other police departments in the US that are using eBikes based on the Bosch eBike Platform. The LAPD has been showing off their investment to the LA Fire Department, who couldn’t help but be a little jealous.
Bosch believes its power systems helped jumpstart the eBike business. In the U.S, ebike sales doubled between 2016 and 2017, reaching $77 million. In much of Europe, eBikes are even more popular. In Germany, for example, nearly 20% of bikes sold are electric, and analysts predict that will soon increase to one-in-three. Global eBike sales are expected to grow 6.3% annually through 2025.
We’ve been in touch with Bulls USA about reviewing their consumer offering of eBikes based on the Bosch eBike platform, so stay tuned to find out if we agree with the LAPD!
This post was sponsored by Bosch, All thoughts and ideas are still my own.