Audi Electric Bike Review
The German car and motorcycle manufacturer Audi is about to enter the electric bicycle market – the top-of-the-line electric bicycle market. Audi unveiled their electric bike prototype at the Wörthersee car expo In May 2012. (Each May, the Volkswagen and Audi car show is held in the Austrian town of Reifnitz, adjacent to Lake Worth (Wörthersee) The car expo is typically just called Wörthersee.)
Audi’s entry into the electric bike market is significant for many reasons. Firstly Audi purchased the Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ducati in April this year for a reported $1.2 Billion. This gives Audi access to a worldwide dealership and distribution network. Automakers are realising that the future of transport will cover the full spectrum of vehicles and fuel types. The big auto brands have an unprecedented opportunity to expand their product range and brands into new markets that have traditionally not been their domain of expertise. The lines will continue to blur and Audi along with BMW and Smart are introducing commuter and performance electric bikes.
Also, while Europe and Asia have embraced the electric bike, citizens of the United States are still dragging their heels on adopting this technology (as well as that of electric motorcycles and electric cars.) Many US cities are undergoing planning changes that will increase cycle ways and reduce the reliance on the motor vehicle. Combined with the electrification of many forms of transport the combined effect on the electric bike market look promising.
Audi, which is owned by Volkswagen, is one of the largest car companies in the world, with the finances to conduct research into electric vehicle technology and bring a design successfully from the prototype to the display floor. Audi’s prototype electric bike, provisionally called the Wörthersee, has been making currents (that’s an attempt at a pun…) since it was unveiled. This is for many reasons – but the main one is that it is pushing the limit of what an electric bike can do and push beyond the traditional rider. The Audi ebike is a trick cycling bike, coming with two “wheelie modes,” automatic stabilization while tricks are being performend, and the capability of recording those tricks and uploading them to Facebook right from the bike! It’s this integration with software and social media that makes these bikes really interesting. They’ll connect the real world with the virtual world. It is those features that will likely sell this bike to the American sporstperson and convince them that an ebike is so much more that a bicycle with an electric motor.
Lightweight Carbon Fiber Frame
One of the drawbacks of electric bikes to date has been their weight. The battery pack has always been very heavy. This if fine when the battery is fully charged and assisting the bicyclist. But when the bike runs out of juice and the bicyclist needs to ride back home, it can be twice as difficult to reach home – especially if one has to do it by going up a significant grade. The Wörthersee incporporates not only a carbon fiber frame but also wheels of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (if you’re an anagram junkie, that’d be CFRP). The frame weighs 3.53 pounds, and the wheels weigh just 1.32 pounds. (Never fear, the frame is reinforced at load points, so it can bear a hefty amount of weight.) Add the battery to that and the total bike weighs only 46.3 pounds or 21 kg which is an amazing accomplishment in engineering.
Integrated & Interchangable Battery
In addition to being heavy, some electric bikes also looked rather clunky, as the large battery had to be strapped to a carrier on the rear of the bike or attached to the downtube. As the technology improves, ebike designers are coming up with ingenious new places for that battery – as well as the rest of the electronics necessary to run the bike. For the Wörthersee, the Li-ion battery pack and the computer to run it are located within the frame. The battery is easily removable, allowing the rider the choice to bring extra battery packs or ride naked. The battery will charge in about 2.5 hours from a 230 volt plug in.
This electric bike is powered by a magnet synchronous motor. Basically it relies on magnets rather than the traditional coil. They are usually used to covert mechanical power to Electricity in large gas, steam, hydro and wind industrial turbines. The introduction of this technology show just how much engineering and design work went into this ebike. The motor has a peak output of 2.3 kW. The maximum torque delivered to the rear wheel is 250 Nm (that’d be Newton meters). The motor and battery is situated at the lowest point on the frame giving the bike a very low center of gravity. The rider controls the output of the motor using a traditional twist grip and can also control the ride modes through the on board computer.
Gears and the Brakes
The Wörthersee has nine gears, and shifting is ridiculously easy and fast with the nine-speed hydraulically actuated gear shift. Which was inspired by the R Tronic Clutch in the Audi R8. Bringing the bike to a stand still is no trouble with the fron and rear hydraulic disk brakes.
On Board Computer & Travel Modes
The Audi has five travel modes. The rider can choose between different balance between the motor and pedals.
- Pedal-power only
- Pedal assist
- Electric only
- Powered Wheelie mode
- Balanced Wheelie” mode
‘Pure’ mode allows the rider to pedal the bike without electric assistance. ‘Pedelec’ mode assists the rider with the electric motor up to speeds of 80 kph (50 mph) for a distance of 50 – 70 kilometers (31 – 44 miles). ‘eGrip’ mode powers the electric motor using the standard twist grip found on a motorcycle. ‘Wheelie’ mode controls balance and power output of the electric motor to assist the rider in maintaining balance and control in the wheelie.
In pedelec mode (pedal assist) the bike can achieve a top speed of 80 kph or 50 mph, with a range of about 70 km or 44 miles on a single charge. In electric-only mode, the top speed is 31 mph.
The Audi Wörthersee is a sport bike, which means riders can pop wheelies and show off their skills. For beginning riders, the Power Wheelie mode allows the rider to adjust the angle of the rear wheel. The Balance Wheelie mode is for experienced riders. (Sounds like a Segway, doesn’t it?)
The Computer and Wi Fi
Everything about this bike is controlled by a computer, and it is also equipped with Wi Fi. In addition to riding, the bicyclist can actually record his ride via his or her smartphone, and upload footage to Facebook if so desired. There’s also an app that lets riders compete against each other with this video footage. The computer screen also shows the speed one is travelling, the distance one has travelled, and the remaining charge in the battery.
The bike looks slick. There are loads of unique and innovative design elements on this bike. The Carbon Fiber weaved texture of the frame and wheels helps tie the whole design together. The red accents on the seat, brakes and pedals break up the black and grey of the Carbon nicely. Also, the white of the suspension and battery pack help lighten the design and draw the eye away from the battery. Compared to other traditional sport bikes the Audi is clearly the brain child of a sophisticated industrial design team. It has the right balance between performance and simplicity rarely seen in the over-the-top branding of most sport and mountain bikes.
Availability and Price
Currently the bike is just a concept. Based on the prototype’s materials and high-end components it’s likely to cost upwards of $20,000. This puts it our of reach of most consumers, but then again this is a performance bike. It sits in a new category that is a crossover between freestyle bicycle and motorcross. With all that in mind it’s well within the reach of performance riders who are used to paying upwards of $10,000 for performance mountain bikes. I’m certain Audi will broaden the appeal and lower the price point, as long as they don’t compromise on quality and performance which is unlikely. Either way I’m looking forward to see what the Audi design team comes up with.