Many of us could bicycle to work but we don’t. Why? Several reasons. Maybe it’s too far to pedal or it’s uphill part of the way. No one wants to get to the office looking like they just completed a leg of the Tour De France. Electric bicycles could solve both problems.
There are lots of other perfectly good reasons not to get on your bikes and ride. Many cities have roadways that force bicyclists and motorists to compete for the same space, making riders nervous. Then there’s weather. Riding into the teeth of gale while it is pelting down rain is no one’s idea of a good time.
BMW likes to think of itself as a mobility company, not just an auto manufacturer. It thinks a stripped down version of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea would be a low cost way to make riding a bicycle to work fun, fast, and enjoyable. “It’s our Hyperloop,” Markus Seidel, head of the BMW Technology Office China, tells Automotive News.
BMW calls its plan the E3 Way, named for the three “e’s” at its core — elevation, electrification, and efficiency. The system would even generate income. People could rent an e-bike or pay a toll charge that would be automatically billed via a cell phone app. The proposal results from a collaboration between the BMW advanced r&d center in Shanghai and Shanghai’s Tongji University, which helped with the structural elements.
BMW envisions modular tubes made in a factory to keep costs low, possibly with transparent covers so riders can see the world outside as they pedal along. The sections would be transported to the proper location, then raised into place and snapped together. The completed components could be suspended from or supported by existing transportation infrastructure, lowering costs still further.
Maximum speed inside the tube would be set at 15 miles per hour and rigorously enforced by electronic monitors. Digital controls at on ramps could restrict entry when the system is at maximum capacity.
China is further along with the idea of commuting by bicycle than other parts of the world. It is also a leader in electric bikes, with more than 250 million in use throughout the country. In Shanghai, one of China’s busiest cities, e-bikes account for 20 percent of all journeys according to data compiled by BMW.
“E-bikes will become mainstream for short and middle-distance travel,” says Dandan Wang, BMW’s project manager for future urban mobility. BMW already has an electric bicycle in production — the Active Hybrid — that would be perfect for the middle class riders it thinks would utilize the E3 Way system. It has a range of 62 miles and top speed of 16 mph.
The whole dedicated weatherproof tunnel idea for electric bicycles is intended for journeys of 10 miles or less. Urban commuting by car or public transportation often operates at far less then 15 mph after accounting for congestion, traffic lights, and other impediments, which means getting in and out of cities can eat up hours of time that could be put to more productive use.
Back in the days of the horse drawn carriage, the average speed on the streets of downtown London was 3.5 mph. Today, with cars, trucks, and buses clogging the streets, the average speed is still the same — 3.5 mph. Congestion in Beijing adds 75 minutes to the average commute. Pedaling along at 15 mph in comfort without having to dodge traffic could save commuters an hour or more a day. Electric bicycles also have health advantages according to recent studies.
Less time commuting, health benefits, lowering of pollution from cars and buses, all with no drain on local or regional budgets? The BMW Hyperloop for electric bicycles sounds like it could be a smart step forward for many world cities.