CitiesDo electric bikes really need gears?
February 2, 2022

Do electric bikes really need gears?

By Harry Maxwell
velo-fifteen-sans-vitesses.jpg

The short answer is, well, no. Here’s why electric bikes don’t need, and are even better off without, gears.

There's a famous knock-knock joke that questions the need for a bell on a bike. Now, and a little more seriously, we’re asking the question ‘are gears really necessary’?

For mechanical bikes, gears are borderline essential. They help manage inclines, starting and stopping, and can allow users to manage their speed efficiently.Electric bikes, on the other hand, are built differently, and they don’t necessarily conform to the same engineering criteria as mechanical bikes. In fact, it makes sense for them to break away from mechanical gears altogether.

Let’s explore why.

1. Automatic gears are simpler

Just as there are no mechanical gears in electric cars, certain electric bikes use automatic assistance to switch users from one speed to the next.

Torque sensors are a great alternative for electric bikes.

Instead of thinking about and fiddling with the handlebars to change up or down a gear - just like using the accelerator in an automatic car - users can simply adjust the intensity of their pedalling to change their speed.

electricbike__energy_pedal_image.jpegThe software commanding the engine ensures that pedal-assist kicks in right when it's needed, seamlessly supporting the rider in all conditions - even on the toughest of inclines.

Automatic assistance simplifies the riding experience and attracts people back time and again. We have very positive feedback from our users on automatic assistance; users like how quickly it kicks in from a standing start, and they are chuffed with the lack of technical problems that they face (such as gears slipping).

One thing less to focus on.

2. Automatic assistance gives a better experience

A key target audience for electric bikes and bike-sharing is people who have never ridden a bike, or at least haven’t ridden one in a long time. For many, especially first-time users, using gears correctly can be a challenging experience - and is something that could deter less-confident riders from taking up cycling.

For example, the innovative and market-leading VanMoof electric bike does not have mechanical gears. Instead, it boasts a more efficient, electronic and automatic gearing system. Cowboy and Angell have followed suit. There’s a reason high-end electric bike companies are using the gearless system - it’s the most enjoyable way to get around a city.

Simple and effective.

Read : Discover our latest electric bike

3. Lower operating costs and environmental impact

Gears, cassettes and gearboxes are among the most replaced items on a bike, and they rank near the top for costs related to spare parts.

Because the motor on an electric bike puts more tension on the chain, wear is increased when changing gears. In fact, these parts wear out 30% faster than on a bike without a motor.

 

gears-electric-bike.pngA Shimano cassette sprocket.

The chain, gearbox and cassette requires higher maintenance and must therefore be replaced or repaired more regularly. This is especially true in bike-sharing, when changing gears at the correct time is not always respected by cyclists.

Gears simply don’t suit electric bikes.

Automatic transitions between speeds with a torque sensor means that the chain is not moving across gears, making it require less maintenance, last longer, and reduce operational costs.

Think of the waste; fewer parts need to be created (no cassette, single sprocket) and replaced, helping reduce the carbon footprint of the life of each bike.

Financially and environmentally economical.

4. Higher customer satisfaction with fewer faults

According to Velib’, gears account for 29% of breakdowns on electric bikes. This is a significant problem for electric bike users, because a fleet of bikes with gears that break often usually leads to a poor fleet availability.

When users can’t pick up a bike that works properly, user satisfaction will take a hit, and so too will ridership figures.

No gears, no gear-related faults.

Read : How self-diagnosis features reduce operational costs and improve user experience

5. Availability of spare parts

One of the reasons we decided to remove the gears is to limit our dependence on a single supplier based halfway around the world. Shimano currently controls 90% of the market, and as we have seen in the bike market, shortages are not uncommon.

Today, the waiting time for gears from top suppliers can last 18 months. The management of spare parts should be a significant consideration for any bike project - if spare parts are limited,  it may well sideline bikes that are otherwise in great condition, which will decrease bike availability.

Simplify the supply chain.

Time to change gear?

With all these advantages, we hope that you will consider electric bikes with automatic assistance for your next bike project.

If you want to get into the details about torque sensors and automatic assistance, we’ll be happy to discuss further.

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