Electric bikes are changing fast. Not only are frames becoming lighter and more durable, the tech that powers and controls them is getting smarter, too. Motors, screens, batteries and mobile apps are all evolving, and the whole e-bike riding experience has transformed into something slick and user-friendly in just a few years.
That’s largely down to the drive systems, most of which are built by a small handful of companies. You won’t see the name Bosch emblazoned on a top tube, but huge brands including Cannondale, Canyon, Kona, Peugeot, Raleigh and Trek all rely on its components to power their e-bikes. Whether they’re mountain bikes, tourers, hybrids or cargo bikes, they all use Bosch batteries, motors, computers, and screens.
That’s why Bosch’s new ‘smart system’ is big news. The package, which will start rolling out in 2022, includes a new high capacity battery, LED control unit, Kiox display, and Flow app – and it could very well be tucked away inside your next e-bike.
TechRadar spoke with Claus Fleischer, CEO of Bosch eBike Systems, to find out exactly how this will all affect you as a rider, and what differences you can expect.
Personalize your e-bike
At launch, the smart system will include one battery, one remote control, and one drive unit. Many more components to follow over the coming years, but Fleischer explained that the biggest changes for riders will be the new eBike Flow app.
“What is most of what is initially important for the rider is the settings, which you can use to adjust the bike to your liking,” he said. So you can choose different modes, different configurations, and adjust them to your to your own individual riding style.”
For example, you can choose a support mode using the remote control your bike’s handlebars, but if you delve into the app you’ll be able to fine-tune the power settings to suit your liking. And that’s not all.
“Many cyclists like to track their activities,” said Fleischer. “Typically you have to start activity tracking, but we have developed a seamless integration. If you have connected the app to the system and you start pedaling, then the tracking starts and you don't have to push a button. And when you stop, your activity tracking stops, and you have all the information in the app and in the cloud available for you.”
This system will be compatible with Apple Health at launch, and integration with more third-party apps should follow soon.
Another extremely important feature is over-the-air updates, which will let you download the latest firmware for your bike through the app.
Firmware updates are an essential part of e-bike maintenance, as Julian Thrasher, Head of Training at Shimano, told TechRadar in a recent interview – and it’s something that would usually need to be done at a professional bike shop or service center.
"[Firmware updates] ensure that any bugs in the system that [the developers] have found are taken out, that all the components speak effectively together, and sometimes there can be little upgrades,” said Thrasher. “Basically there’ll be features that come out that the new firmware accommodates, so it’s a really good virtual upgrade."
Being able to manage those updates yourself means you’ll always have the latest safety and performance updates direct from Bosch.
“We all use smartphones and computers,” said Fleischer, “And we get software updates frequently for all our devices. So it's a logical next step to have all the software updates for the whole system.”
When it comes to safety, Bosch is working with government bodies to put more cycling infrastructure in place, but it also has some tech solutions in the works. In 2018 the company launched anti-lock brakes for an e-bike’s wheel, and it’s continuing to adapt other tech from cars and motorcycles.
“This is active safety,” Fleischer said, “but we also have solutions in the digital world, like a connect-and-call service. Once you have an accident, [the system] can support you by sending a call to an agency, [who] will monitor your situation.”
Bosch is also hoping to develop a standard that will allow bikes to communicate with cars and infrastructure, and can provide an early warning system so cyclists know what’s happening around them.
Fleischer says that this is still a concept for the time being. “There's nothing for next year’s Eurobike show, and not for two or three years,” he told us, “but it's important that the industry is working on that with all the different partners like manufacturers, other systems suppliers, and communication providers.”
It's an exciting time, and electric bikes have never been more popular. In fact, they're now so widely accepted, you can even pick one up from Best Buy.
“We are super excited how the bike has developed, all over Europe and in different countries,” Fleischer told us. “The last few years saw more cyclists using e-bikes, and riding more often and even longer than with a normal bike […] for transportation and for commuting, and for sports and lifestyle.”
Whatever you use it for, your next e-bike is going to be a lot smarter – and give you far more control.
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