You have probably seen the Sanyo eneloop bike quite a few times in the past year, both on this blog and at other sites. Though it was making news on the web long before, the pedal assist hybrid e-bike, which offers regenerative braking and coasting, was officially unveiled to the US bike market at Interbike this past September. Well… now the bike is getting more attention at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At CES, journalists not affiliated with the cycling industry will get a chance to try it out, and I am looking forward to reading some of those impressions as they start trickling onto the web.
I was lucky enough to test ride an eneloop bike while I was in Vegas for Interbike (thanks to Carlton Reid who let me try his loaner eneloop at the BikeHugger Mobile Social). Unlike a typical electric bike, which uses a hand operated throttle to control the power from the motor, the Sanyo motor kicks in as soon as the rider starts pedaling. It takes a little getting used to as you can really feel the extra acceleration when you first start pedaling. After a couple of laps around the interior area of the US Crits Finals though, I was really enjoying the effortless speed provided by the electric pedal assist (as you can tell from the smile on my face in the photo shown here). The motor assist diminishes as you go faster and cuts off completely at a certain speed (around 18mph if I remember correctly). That doesn’t sound fast, but the top speed feels pretty fast when you are pedaling easily on an upright style bike. My first impression of the eneloop was that the initial, almost jerky, acceleration might be off-putting (and potentially dangerous) to those who are new to cycling for transportation (the target market for a bike like this I assume). To me, it seems like the motor assist shouldn’t kick in at all until the rider has pedaled a few feet to get the bike moving. If the system is refined a bit (and maybe it already has been), I think the electric pedal assist technology does have the potential to open the possibility of bike commuting to those who would otherwise never consider it…definitely a good thing in my opinion.
My test ride on the eneloop was pretty limited, but Richard Masoner (Fritz from Cyclelicious) had a chance to try one out longer term. His review appears in the 2010 “Gear Issue” of Momentum Magazine. It sounds like he liked the bike overall. I will be looking forward to reading more about his experience with the bike soon at Cyclelicious. (update 1/10: Richard already posted more of his thoughts about the eneloop here).
Finally, I will mention the carbon version of the eneloop (pictured here) that Sanyo had in their booth at Interbike. That version of the eneloop is for the Japanese market only and is not slated for release in the US. Too bad, the 50-pound weight of the bike is potential issue for people, like Richard, who sometimes carry their commuter bike onto a bus or up stairs for storage. The carbon bike is less than 10 pounds lighter, but after lugging it up a few flights of stairs, that would probably be a pretty noticeable difference. So who is going to be first to market a performance oriented carbon fiber e-bike in the US… Sanyo, Trek, or someone else? I am not sure, but I think it is something we will see pretty soon.