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Video Electric Bikes Get More Elegant Every Year (Video) 164

Tim Lord first saw Faraday Bicycles at CES, where their bikes drew plenty of attention and a fair amount of media interest. The company ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, and 2014 is when they are starting to ship their pre-ordered bicycles and hope to get new orders for lots more. Tim's travels later took him to San Francisco, where he had a chance to visit the shop where Faraday bikes are made, and to talk with some of the people who are designing and making them. (If you don't see the video below, please use this link.)

Tim:So Adam, here we are in the headquarters of Faraday Bikes. Talk about what is the thing that is standing next to you.

Adam:Well this is the Faraday Porteur. It is our flagship bike.It looks just like a frame right now, but it is actually going to be an electric bicycle. It has got a battery pack that is built completely into the frame.I won’t tell you where it’s going, our favorite game is to make you guess. As you guess, you may be surprised. And then everything else about it is like a bike, really high end nicely built bike to last a ride. It is comfortable.It is rough and light weight for an electric bike. And it is beautiful. And that was the point in the beginning as we sort of set up to say, “Electric bikes are great, they have a huge amount of potential to get more people riding bikes more often.” Which is something we want to see in the world. But how do we make that?How do enable that? How do we make them more attractive and appealing to people?

Tim:Speaking of attractive, you mentioned it is a Porteur.

Adam:Porteur, yeah.

Tim:Explain that phrase. That word.

Adam:So that gets mispronounced a lot.

Tim:By me at least.

Adam:Yeah, by everybody. You are not alone.____1:06Porteur a load carrying bike. One of the cool things about it is it has got this big rack in the front here. And it is a cargo rack. We meant for this bike as it goes it looks to be a workhorse. We want you to put your bag of groceries, or your laptop, or crates of coffee, or whatever it is in the front of the bike here and really use this bike for utility.And that is one of the cool things. It is attached rigidly to the frame here. We could shake the whole thing.

Tim:Show us a little bit how it is detached.

Adam:So this is a neat design. We basically have these bars on the rack attached to this bracket here in the frame, it makes it a really strong rigid connection. And so that means when you steer, the weight in the rack doesn’t affect the steering at all. So you can have a lot of weight in there, and it won’t wind up or swing around. You have a bike with a rack on the handlebars which is maybe more typical if you do it. It can really get erratic and hard to control. So this is really really stable.I like it a lot. The cool thing too is you can take the whole thing off. So three bolts come off and the whole thing just comes off.There is times you may not want this. Some people just don’t carry so much weight in the bike. It lets you customize the bike to your style.So that’s where the namesake ‘porteur’ comes from. We originally created this bike. It was part of a contest to sort of redefine the ultimate utility bike.

Tim:Jim, you are sitting here in the bully pulpit here where you get to design all the circuitry that actually goes into the Faraday bike.

Jim:This is my electronics workbench space, my electronic domain over here. As you noted, chatting about, there is a lot that happens electronically in this bike, and we’ve got to pack a lot of electronics in the small space to get that done. So there are some fascinating challenges that come along with that. I am spending a lot of time working right now on thermal considerations, there is a lot to power from more than just the motor powering the lights, powering everything on the bike—it generates a lot of heat. We have a lot of electronics crammed into a small space. That can be an interesting thermal mechanical challenge. Doing the whole design process from mechanical mounting to fixing things. Hugo, our mechanical engineer and I would go back and forth a lot just chatting across the room at each other—“Hey is it going to work like that?” , “No, let’s do it like it instead” things like that. So it has been good team integration.

Tim:Now as a background, explain what you did immediately before this.

Jim:I come from an engineering background stuff. Before this, I was making toys.I was working for a small design shop that would design children’s toys mostly for six- to twelve-year-olds age market, and doing more software and less hardware. So it is definitely more on the building of physical things side, building electronics side of things for me.

Tim:And also the hardware you were making also didn’t have to carry 200 pounds for 20 miles.

Jim:Right. Although it had to survive a six year old on Christmas day.

Tim:That actually sounds like a pretty tough challenge. So talk about the actual design of this, and the way you are interacting between electronics and hard physical environment—what do you have to do, is there anything different in designing what goes into a bike than what goes into a laptop?

Tim:Certainly everything needs to be reliable. It is a bike with an on button. And that keeps it simple from the user perspective. But that means that we manage a lot of details tucked away, hidden in that box there, that is in the bike frame. So a lot of it is just getting a lot of these systems, from the battery to the motor controller to the lights, to data logged in memory on the electronics getting all of these systems to play together nicely, and work as a single integrated bike.

Tim:Can you give us a quick rundown on some of the tools on your desk, and how they play into your day-to-day life?

Jim:Sure.You see as with any engineering, the laptop or the computer is the main design tool.

Tim:What are you using to program here?

Jim:I am just writing in a text editor there. And that’s not a programming tool necessarily. It is not programming that works directly. But we have some software here that will let us program up these test boards that I had built.

Tim:What is the software environment that you are using?

Jim:It is just the standard AVR Studio tools.

Tim:And some of the other tools on your bench. What are you dealing with here?

Jim:The typical electrical engineering suite where you have a power supply, you have some multimeters, you have some solder irons, you have an oscilloscope that logs some data there, so the essential EE tools.

Tim:And you’ve also got this desk one of the interesting things, so that is a nicely elevatable desk here?

Jim:I got to alternate between standing and sitting right, just at the touch of a few key buttons, which is handy. I like to stand up sometimes while I am working on some things or to adjust different heights for when I am working at the computer or soldering some circuit boards, it changes my operating level as it were.

Tim:Over the course that this project has been in progress, what sort of changes have you had to see? What things as being a bike, and the realistic environment cause you to do differently?

Jim:A lot of it is just dialing small things in, changing the brightness of lights to adapt to the urban environment that we have here, how bright do we need these lights to be, what is the most visible, so we will make these small changes, we get out and ride, we do lots of riding, we just had a motor controller response to startup and things like that, just based on the subtle feel of how the bike rides.

Tim:Although the Kickstarter supporters are going to be getting their frames pretty soon, starting at least, how many bikes like these are out in the wild, or you have been able to actually put wheels and motors on?

Jim:Just the few that you have seen around here so far. We have built up a handful of test bikes that have been riding around San Francisco. It is starting to get spotted in a while, it is kind of fun, to see that go up on Twitter sometimes.

Tim:Is the software updateable?


Tim:Can you plug in a USB cord when Faraday comes out with a firmware upgrade?

Jim:Yeah, we are making sure that you can get new versions of firmware as we release them and put them on the bike to make it even better as we go along.

Tim:Will it not be long until you will be able to drive your electric to ride, on your electric car, on the back of an electric powered train, is it?

Jim:Not too long at all.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Electric Bikes Get More Elegant Every Year (Video)

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  • Re:Still ugly (Score:4, Informative)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @05:23PM (#46339025) Homepage
    A more efficient motor would mean that the battery could last longer, even if you were limited to low speeds. Speaking of speed limitations though, the literature for the Faraday Porteur says that it has a 350 W motor, which means its too powerful [] to qualify as an electric bicycle in Europe and many other places. Personally I find that the speed limitations are another big problem. The highest speed limitations I've seen are 32 km/h, which I can easily maintain on my non-electric bike.
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @05:37PM (#46339191) Homepage
    20 mph is 32km/h. I can easily maintain that on the flats with my bike, and my bike isn't amazing, and I am not in that good shape. The speeds you see quoted on that website are the overall average speed for the entire ride, which will most likely contain a few hills. The stopping distance of a bike, or even an e-bike is short enough that even going 30 km/h when everyone else is going 15 km/h will still give you plenty of time to react to other cyclists.
  • by CaptBubba ( 696284 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @05:41PM (#46339233)

    For $3500 the components are a real mixed bag. Sure no visible battery is nice, but other bikes have that too and 195Whr is very low as far as e-bikes go. A brooks leather saddle is very nice, but Avid mechanical disc brakes are entry-level. That's not to mention the really questionable choices of a belt drive and bamboo fenders.

    Compare it to something like the Stromer Elite: []

    Same price, nearly double the battery (approx 350Whr), no visible battery, a standard shimano sora chain drivetrain any bike mechanic can work on, and hydraulic disc brakes.

  • Re:Still ugly (Score:4, Informative)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @06:23PM (#46339591)

    If you wants decent aerodynamics, you don't get a a "traditional" racing bike, you get a recumbent. Recumbents hold the world records for speed by a far margin and it's because they cut the aerodynamic profile in half.

    They are known widely for being way more comfortable than traditional bikes (which is why most exercise bikes these days use 'bent form). You don't get saddle sores from them, but they are much better for your lungs and midsection as well, as bending down in the proper form in racing bikes practically crushes your middle. So I don't get your comfort assertion at all.

    Of course, recumbents often are bigger and that's a down side, as well as visibility being a factor (the aerodynamic win trades off with being lower to the ground). And the ability to "hop" over objects. Uphill is reportedly tougher but I find that is more with newcomers because recumbents exercise different muscles, particularly midsection, and endurance comes from riding a long time.

    I think a lot of the bad characteristics of recumbents is mitigated in the "crank forward" design of recumbents, which is a hybrid of the traditional frame of the bicycle and recumbent - pushing the crank forward like the name suggests, elongating the frame slightly but still being high enough and able to jump objects.

    Google images has a ton of crank forward bikes to view.

    As to the topic, I've been looking into a 1500 watt scooter. Can stand or sit. Can go up serious hills. Looks possibly small enough that I can take mass transit without them bitching about my luggage. Has a 20+ mile range, a little more if I don't go all out. Since it can go 35+ miles, 15 more than I'm willing to go on a scooter of that type, I think I can exceed that easily. [] [] []

    I would consider it seriously if my area rained a lot less than it does, like if I lived in Arizona. $1500 is still a lot, but compared to 5 or 10 years back, leaps ahead of what I could have gotten.

    Previously, I was considering a gas powered Sym Symba (a Honda Super Cub remake) but I think that costs $3K, and only goes 45mph. With the electric scooter, I can go on bike paths, but on this, I would have to take roads, and that is too slow plus I would have to get a motorcycle license.

  • Re:Still ugly (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @06:34PM (#46339711) Homepage Journal

    Depends on the number of hours you put in the saddle. If you just ride an hour or two on the weekend, then a cushy seat and upright posture feels comfortable. If you ride many more hours per week it's a prescription for saddle sores and cut off circulation near the tops of your femurs.

    If you ride a lot, you get used to the drop handlebars, which afford a number of small but significant changes in posture over a long ride, and allow you to use more of your body muscles (along with cleated shoes). Also with drop handlebars you support more of your weight on your hands and legs, so no manhood problems. When I was riding over a hundred miles per week, I found the most comfortable saddle was hard plastic with no padding at all.

BLISS is ignorance.