Progress in electric bicycles?

Extremely loyal readers may remember that I previously reviewed a 2013 Trek electric bicycle:

  • 52 lbs. for XL frame size
  • $2100
  • 250 Wh battery
  • 250 watt motor

It’s been 10 years. Let’s check in to see how much better today’s electric bikes are. Behold, the Trek Verve+ 2:

How much better is this than the 2013 bike?

  • 51.5 lbs. for M frame size (i.e., heavier)
  • 2,850 Bidies (BLS says that $2,100 in 2013 is equivalent to roughly 2,800 Bidies today, so this is about the same when adjusted for official inflation)
  • 400 Wh battery
  • 250 watt motor

The 2023 bike should be better balanced, due to the battery being in the middle, and it has hydraulic brakes. On the other hand, if the battery dies, the old bike’s 21-speed drivetrain will likely be superior to the new design’s 9-speed (presumably lacks the low gears you’d want to pedal yourself and a ponderous electric bike back to the garage).

I’m shocked at how little progress has been made. I would have guessed that, at the $2100 price, the weight would have come down to 40 lbs. and the battery capacity would have doubled to 500 Wh. Maybe if we’d put $20 trillion into electric bike engineering instead of coronapanic lockdowns, payouts, subsidies, etc.? Or are the bike engineers running up against the laws of physics and chemistry?

From my 2015 review:

What about the new stuff? It seems as though the 900-lb. gorilla of the bike world, Shimano, has entered the market with the Shimano Steps system, which is what Trek is using on their latest models. This may prove the point of Crossing the Chasm (that the innovators often don’t end up as market leaders because products that appeal to hobbyists and early adopters don’t necessarily appeal to the mainstream).

My bike is a regular Trek city bike to which they added some Bionx components, much as a consumer might have done in his/her/zir/their garage. What happened to Bionx when Shimano and Bosch moved in? A 2018 article:

Electric-assist and retrofit electric motor company Bionx has gone bankrupt and its assets are being sold off.

After cornering the North American electric-assist retrofit market, Bionx suddenly closed its doors and laid off all workers in February 2018, just at the start of the busy Spring season in the bicycle industry.

Apparently, the financial failure of the company is related to a deal with General Motors, in which Bionx was to produce electric bicycles for the auto-maker at a cost of $1000/ea. After finding that the bicycles would actually cost $1400/ea to build, Bionx defaulted on the contract and went into receivership shortly thereafter.

In the Department of Never Take Investment Advice from Philip, this is what I thought would happen to Tesla. They fiddled around with standard Li-ion batteries and electric motors. As soon as they’d proven that the market existed, the companies that were experts at making great cars would swoop in and take away all of Tesla’s customers because the cars around the batteries/motors would be so much better. The UK’s Car magazine, however, recently did a comparison test and BMW’s i4 M50 was ranked #3, Hyundai’s Ioniq 6 was #2, and the best electric sedan was the Tesla 3. In other words, Tesla figured out how to make a good car in less time than it took BMW to figure out how to mount some batteries and a motor into a car.


21 thoughts on “Progress in electric bicycles?

  1. What does weight matter if you’ve got an electric drive system doing most of the work? My local bike shop has no-name xhinese ebikes for about ½ the price of a Giant, but I happily paid a premium for a brand name to avoid the risk of a faulty battery/charger.

    The downside of an ebike is you really can’t leave it outside, as its a prime target for “undocumented bike shoppers”, as I learned with a visible carbon-framed bike, the 1 time I locked it on a busy street in front of an office building for 15 minutes.

    • Anon: The battery eventually will run out. It wouldn’t be a lot of fun to try to get a 70 lb. bike home, for example. You may want to lift the bike into a maximum prestige personal vehicle (i.e., a minivan) or, even tougher, onto the roof of the prestigemobile. Handling, I think, will be better if the bicycle weighs less.

    • Anon: I park mine outside all the time in Jupiter, Florida. It came with a European-style spoke lock. So far nobody has tried to steal it (by lifting it up and throwing it into the back of a pickup).

  2. “I park mine outside all the time in Jupiter, Florida.”

    Jupiter, FL has very favorable demographics.

  3. Figure the biggest factor in Greenspun transportation is now being able to travel around the world with it. Actually commented on the Bikespun posts in 2015 so that’s extreme loyalty. Wonder what ever happened to Gallium Nitride.

    • (June 2023)

      Wise-integration, a French pioneer in digital control of gallium nitride (GaN) and GaN ICs for power supplies, and Savoy Group has announced the new GaN charger for e-bikes embedded with the battery of the new electric bike from KILOW, Savoy Group’s e-mobility division.

      “Our charger is embedded in the battery itself, making it the lightest, most compact and convenient charger on the market,” said Wise-integration CEO Thierry Bouchet. “This technology enables e-bike users to easily charge their bikes on the go, wherever they are.”

      Wise Integration’ GaN devices provides power electronics designers with new levels of power density, performance, and cost-effectiveness. Gallium nitride (GaN) is a wide-bandgap, next-generation semiconductor technology that has become key for development of advanced power electronics. It operates up to 20x faster than silicon and provides up to 3x the power or 3x the charge in half the size and weight of silicon devices.

  4. The difference in the number of gears is likely not great. The old bike probably has a 3 x 7 setting using a front derailleur. Having fewer parts is always good. For the cost of that bike you can buy a Brompton, an excellent folding bike that you cant take in a small plane. I suspect that considering the average distance they travel, most people don’t need an electric bike. Personally I don’t like that some of those “bicycles” are really electric motorcycles that share paths with traditional bikes. They are about 50% heavier and much faster which increases the potential for bad accidents.

  5. I retrofitted my 9.6 kg Wilier aluminum frame road bike with the Swytch kit for around 500 euros. The kit weighs 3 kg (wheel + motor hub + controller + battery). The kit looks pretty good on the bike and now the bike weighs 12.6kg (about 27 lbs?). The average ebike weighs 24kg. The battery is small though so only good for 30 miles max. These kits can also be install on bromptons.

    • btw- you can buy extra batteries though and easily swap to extend the range. They have a “pocket”sized one too.

  6. What is exactly the difference between a heavy electric bike and a light electric motorcycle? The pedals? Concerned with range? If that is the case a “Vespa Elettrica” is much more elegant and fast. More expensive, but it carries two people.

    • I suspect that an electric motorcycle may have handling dynamics more suited to the speeds at which it travels. But this is mostly speculation, not something that I have researched.

    • Try riding a vespa around a bike park and you’ll see. But if comparing plain boring city bikes…an ebike still provides some exercise vs. just riding along i.e. even ebike riders are less fat pigs.

    • A motorcycle is a motorcycle. Doesn’t have pedals and you don’t get exercise. A bike is a bike and you pedal it. Also there are legal differences in where you can ride a bike vs a motorcycle.

  7. ifif

    In NYC it seems that those in charge of enforcing the laws think that riding a Vespa at full speed in a park or a bike lane is perfectly fine.

    “Although the city last week revved up its crackdown on dangerous driving by operating speed cameras round the clock, bike lanes remain severe safety hazards flooded with scofflaws on e-bikes, mopeds and motorcycles that constantly disobey the 25-mph speed limit.”

  8. I picked up, not an e-bike, but a Chinese-made e-scooter off Amazon for $250. It’s foldable, about 30 lbs, tops out a 15 MPH per the onboard digital speedometer, and fun to ride.

    One problem is fixing a flat tire. The tires are pneumatic tubeless, and quite a bot of work to take the rear wheel off. I got the wheel off, but couldn’t get the tire off the wheel. No bicycle shops would touch it. A motorcycle shop had to special order a new valve stem and finished the repair for $65. Next time, I’ll replace the pneumatic tubeless tire w/ a solid tire, available on Amazon for about $20+/pair.

    • Cannot you just buy am inner tube ? I have tubeless tires on my manual, or rather “pedal”, cyclocross bike.
      When it started leaking air, I just bought a matching size tube and kept the tires.

  9. I’m training for my first (and last!) Sprint Triathlon in Dec. I just bought my first low-end road bike on-line for $260 at It came partially assembled. Lightweight and rides and shifts very smooth.

  10. A bit off-topic. I think everyone (most?) readers are aware of China’s bicycle graveyard. Google it if you are not.

    With regard to batteries, renewable energy, and saving the planet, nothing will work till we accept nuclear power plants. What shocks me is the trillion of $$ we spent to save the planet when nuclear power plants are the cheapest and, yes, safest solution that we have.

    I think most readers know this, but just in case, nuclear waste, instead of storing it in a deep mountain, can be reused, over and over again [1] to re-power a nuclear power plant. This is old technology that goes back to the 1960’s. Want even better news? The more recycling the waste goes through, the less radiation it leaves behind, and thus, instead of storing the bad waste for 100,000 of years, you only need to store it for 200-300 years!


  11. Re: 21 speed v. 9 speed.
    From my experience back in the 1970’s and ’80’s, the highest and lowest gears of 5, 10 and 15 speed bikes were the same. The only difference was more gradations between the highest and lowest gear.

    • The granny gear of my existing Trek bike (tiny front chainring) is much lower, I think, than what any bike with a single hub for gearing can offer. Triple chainrings on the crankset provide an extremely wide range.

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