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Old 09-14-05, 10:53 AM   #1
jeff-o
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Feasability of selling modded bikes

So, if one were to make a small business of modding bikes (and trikes and recumbents) with gas or electric motors and tried to sell them, would this business actually make a profit?

Would an electric-modified bike appeal to anyone but backyard tinkerers and grannies? Would a low, ultra-fast (thanks to a motor) recumbent or chopper appeal to teens? Would someone with a 5-km commute ditch their car for a bike (at least on sunny days), if they didn't have to pedal as hard to get around?

What about the legalities of this? If a customer disconnected the battery while riding to see what would happen, and consequently did an endo because the motor locked up, could they sue the person who built the bike?

Do governments enforce any kind of certification on bike shops? How are bike shops protected if something goes wrong with a bike they sold/assembled?

You see what I'm getting at here, and I suppose my attempt at keeping this hypothetical has failed. However I'd still like to hear your opinions on these matters.
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Old 09-15-05, 09:29 AM   #2
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Jeff-o, I have no legal or business experience, so maybe I should keep my trap shut, but...

I think there is a market for a powered-plus-pedalled bicycle. It would be a boon for longer cycle commutes and around-town use. IMHO a four-stroke cycle gas or tiny diesel plant would be preferable to a two-stroke-cycle gas unit.

One possible loophole for all the liability issues would be to build a very good product and sell it only in kit form, then accompany it with a legal document, to be signed and returned before installation. I feel this would cut down on some of the red tape and hassles.

Whatever you decide on, I wish you the very best of luck. Please keep us posted.
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Old 09-15-05, 10:01 AM   #3
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I think I'd try to stay away from gas engines, and keep everything electric. It's true that the energy density of a battery doesn't come close to gas, but it's also a lot safer, easier to maintain, and cleaner. I suspect a commuter would be able to get about 45km on one charge with minimal pedalling, and at least 25 km with no pedalling at all. This would restrict an electric bike to in-town commutes and short shopping runs, but for most trips that's enough (at least in my experience).

Heck, it would probably pretty easy to convince your employer to provide an outlet where you could charge your batteries while you're at work. This means you could do a 50-90km round-trip commute on an bike. Not too bad!

I don't think I would be able to successfully market it as a car replacement. It would be a supplement to a car (or perhaps the car would be a supplement to the bike), so that a commuter could still take the car if the weather is nasty, their trip is really far, or they have a lot to haul.

I should hand out surveys at work or something...
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Old 09-15-05, 10:10 AM   #4
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Unfortunately most battery powered bikes end up being so heavy they become pretty much useless for pedaling. The ones I've seen weighed 45lbs or more.

Lots of companies have tried to do the same thing you are talking about without much success.

However, as emissions laws get tougher and 2-cycle gas scooters become more and more expensive electric powered two wheel vehicles may eventually catch on.

These look good, but don't have pedals: http://www.egovehicles.com/ The name is bad, though. E-Go looks too much like Ego.
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Old 09-15-05, 10:31 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jeff-o
I think I'd try to stay away from gas engines, and keep everything electric. It's true that the energy density of a battery doesn't come close to gas, but it's also a lot safer, easier to maintain, and cleaner. I suspect a commuter would be able to get about 45km on one charge with minimal pedalling, and at least 25 km with no pedalling at all. This would restrict an electric bike to in-town commutes and short shopping runs, but for most trips that's enough (at least in my experience).

Heck, it would probably pretty easy to convince your employer to provide an outlet where you could charge your batteries while you're at work. This means you could do a 50-90km round-trip commute on an bike. Not too bad!

I don't think I would be able to successfully market it as a car replacement. It would be a supplement to a car (or perhaps the car would be a supplement to the bike), so that a commuter could still take the car if the weather is nasty, their trip is really far, or they have a lot to haul.

I should hand out surveys at work or something...

Sorry, I read too quickly and missed your focus on electric power.

An electric bike would work well for my commute...a scant five miles, then charge up next to the forklifts and other prime movers. I expect my consumption of amps would be relatively high, as I work nights, and in transit would run headlights and possibly running lights continuously.
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Old 09-15-05, 10:48 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by lz4005
Unfortunately most battery powered bikes end up being so heavy they become pretty much useless for pedaling. The ones I've seen weighed 45lbs or more.

Lots of companies have tried to do the same thing you are talking about without much success.

However, as emissions laws get tougher and 2-cycle gas scooters become more and more expensive electric powered two wheel vehicles may eventually catch on.

These look good, but don't have pedals: http://www.egovehicles.com/ The name is bad, though. E-Go looks too much like Ego.
The e-go weighs 120 pounds with batteries!!! The design I'm considering would weigh half that (because it doesn't use lead-acid batteries), and would be faster, too. Unfortunately, I think my design would end up being more expensive as well, mostly because of the batteries. That is unfortunate, and makes for a much harder sell...

A few years ago, stuff like this would never sell. Cars were just more convenient. With gas prices and interest in a healthier lifesyle going up, there's a slightly better chance of electric bikes being successful today. And tomorrow, who knows? I'll be keeping a close eye on gas scooter sales results; I think that the market for these closely matches the market I'm looking for.
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Old 09-15-05, 11:14 AM   #7
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The other problem with electric bikes/scooters as a category is that people interested in "a healthier lifestyle" tend to ride regular bikes.

If an average person now has a car and a regular bike, they might use the bike for trips up to 10 miles or so. An electric assist bike or scooter would then only be replacing car trips between 10 and 20 miles. Which is still a lot of car trips, maybe even most of them.

It would be interesting to see some research on how they would end up being used. And how likely bike riders and non-bike riders would be to use them.
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Old 09-15-05, 11:44 AM   #8
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I got this in my inbox from google today:

http://hometownlife.com/GardenCity/N...Date=9/15/2005

Quote:
In these days of nearly $3-a-gallon gas prices, one Redford man offers a low-cost alternative to driving about town.

Dave Khoury sells the WindJammer, a motorized bicycle which can be used for short commutes and for recreation.

Six years ago, brothers Nick Turco, of Livonia, and Dave Turco, of Irish Hills, happened upon a make-shift motorized bicycle at a garage sale - and it inspired them to create this whole new mode of transportation.
Didn't read the whole thing, but it might help you get some ideas of someone else doing it...
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Old 09-15-05, 01:24 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by lz4005
The other problem with electric bikes/scooters as a category is that people interested in "a healthier lifestyle" tend to ride regular bikes.

If an average person now has a car and a regular bike, they might use the bike for trips up to 10 miles or so. An electric assist bike or scooter would then only be replacing car trips between 10 and 20 miles. Which is still a lot of car trips, maybe even most of them.

It would be interesting to see some research on how they would end up being used. And how likely bike riders and non-bike riders would be to use them.
Yeah, but many people (especially business types) do not want to arrive at work tired and sweaty... which a motor-assist bike can help with. The most common complaint I've heard from coworkers is that they live "too far away", which in reality is probably less than 10 km. An electric bike can't help you if your commute is 50km each way, but if it's less than 15 then it would work perfectly.

I'm considering building an electric bike for myself, for my 4 km commute. NOT because I'm lazy, but because I want to keep up with the 60km/h traffic that makes up my entire trip. The fastest I've ever gone on a bike is 58km/h, and that was downhill. I want to do that all the time!
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Old 09-15-05, 02:57 PM   #10
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True. About the business commuter.

The electric assist for speed is an interesting idea. Keep us posted!
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Old 09-15-05, 08:13 PM   #11
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2 issues right away to consider.

In most states, anything over 50cc is considered a motorized vehicle of some sort. Once you put a motor on it, it needs to comply with all sorts of regulations, from lighting to emissions.

As far as liability is concerned, you will most likely be held liable for anything that happens to someone operating the cycle. At least in America, where people are quick to point a finger, rather than take responsibility for their actions.

I would suggest that if you really want to pursue this, look at modifying a bike to take the motor of your choice, and selling the motor (petrol or electric) as a separate option, with some kind of waiver or disclaimer.

I like the idea, but it's almost like trying to reinvent the wheel. Whatever you come up with will be similar to an existing idea.

PM or email me if you want some technical ideas I've come up with too.
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Old 09-16-05, 08:27 AM   #12
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There are a lot of different kinds of electric bikes already available. And to my knowledge, the market for them is very small. The best ones use pancake hub motors. Check out these electric bikes Your best business bet would be to become a dealer for one or more already available solutions.
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Old 09-16-05, 08:47 AM   #13
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That's a pretty good site. Entering the retail market is very dangerous though, especially for such a new/unknown product! I've casually brought up the idea of a bike store to my wife, and her reaction could be described as "nuclear explosion." Suffice it to say, she doesn't want me to put such a huge financial and time burden on our family right now (possibly ever?) Maybe she's worried that I'd royally screw it up.

But yeah, if I opened a bike shop, I probably would sell other models in addition to the ones I've built/modified. That would help me span a larger price range, and would give a nice large selection (which I understand is desirable to customers).
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Old 09-16-05, 04:31 PM   #14
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This has been said countless times - If you want to make a small fortune in bicycle retail, start with a large one.
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Old 09-16-05, 08:15 PM   #15
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This has been said countless times - If you want to make a small fortune in bicycle retail, start with a large one.
Indeed. I'll probably never go further than offering to build one for someone who's interested enough to pay me straight-up in cash.
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Old 09-26-05, 05:47 PM   #16
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There are now two companies that I know of offering fairly high-speed electric motor kits for bikes, which run their power through the bicycle's gears. There are quite a few companies offering low-speed electric motor kits. (under 20-22 mph under power hub-motors which do not take advantage of any gearing.)

As far as I know, Australia, the UK, and most of the USA have laws that are similar in effect regarding human-and-motor powered vehicles. In the USA I think it's that at any speed over 20mph a bicycle "shall" not run on fuel/electric power.

In effect, your bike isn't allowed to go very fast under power from a non-human source without being classified as a mo-ped or motorcycle. AFAIK Driver's License, license plate, registration, and insurance are required for a mo-ped. Possibly a horn and lights/turnsignals as well. However, i think in the USA you won't get classified as a motorcycle with the kind of low-power vehicle you're talking about. What that means is that people with a car-driver's license don't need any other driving license.

Mod kits are pretty the established way to go for selling fast pedal&motor bikes, because of the legal issues. I like the idea of selling the motor-ready bike and the motor, separately but at the same time, with a liability waiver and notice of the law regarding the vehicle. However, I'd be worried that a court would say that "effectively" you were selling a mo-ped, so you'd still broken the law.

internal-combustion-and-human-power bikes are more rare because little gas engines are fairly dirty and bigger gas engines bring you to the realm of vehicles where it's obvious you are legally required to comply with mo-ped or motorcycle rules.

I'm interested in the possibility of a biodiesel-assist bicycle, though. There are a couple people who've also put aerodynamic bodies over recumbent bikes (you'd go fast!) which had the added benefit of being rain-proof. That's my current dream bike, I think.
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Old 09-26-05, 05:53 PM   #17
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I'm going with the aero recumbent trike myself. But I may tinker with an motor assist on that too.
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Old 09-26-05, 06:08 PM   #18
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The speed at which something would be automatically classified as a motorcycle is legislated at the state level, so it varies quite a bit depending on where you are. From as slow as 20 to as much as 35 MPH. There are often other things to the law, such as requiring a step-through and/or an automatic transmission, that differentiate between what is considered a motorcycle and moped.

The only thing that varies more than the law is how much or little it is enforced.
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Old 09-27-05, 06:03 AM   #19
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The laws in my province (Ontario) are rather vague. Or perhaps it's that an electric-assist bike falls in a little grey area. With working pedals, it would indeed be classified as a moped. According to this, it's a moped if it has an attached electric motor or gas engine of less than 50cc, and if it has the requisite lights, brakes and registration. You also need a regular or motorcycle licence to drive it. There is no figure given for the size of the electric motor in this classification, at least on this webpage.

There is another classification of "motor-assisted bicycle," which is what this bike would be if it didn't have signal lights or registration. In this case, it would not be street-legal at all.

I actually talked to my insurance company about insuring an electric-assist bike, and they said no way. So it's kind of a tossup here. The government's own webpage says that mopeds must be registered and insured to be legal. Yet I cannot get insurance for it! Chances are a cop wouldn't even care if he saw me ride by at 50km/h. Maybe he'd just think I'm really fast (it is a recumbent after all, many people have never even seen one or what they can do). But if I ever got in an accident and got caught with an electric motor strapped to the bike, well, I might be in a less desirable position.

Perhaps I should look into what it takes to get a custom vehicle registered at the DMV...
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Old 09-27-05, 06:06 AM   #20
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OK, I checked about registering the vehicle. It must be insured for liability for at least $200,000 (ha, as if I could cause that much damage with a bike!) before they'll register your vehicle. On the plus side, a moped costs only $12 to register, where a car costs $74.

EDIT: My insurance agent, State Farm, offers a "Personal Liability Umbrella" policy in increments of $1,000,000. I wonder if this would be sufficient to register a moped with only one (possible) rider? After all, I'm about 10" taller than my wife, so there's no way she could comfortably ride this thing. Hmmm.

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Old 09-27-05, 02:41 PM   #21
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Your State Farm PLUP would be secondary. You would still need an Auto (Motor vehicle) policy in force. The PLUP is designed to provide the coverage that other policies don't, and they're generally for people with lots of assets to protect. Your auto policy might only offer $300k, but if you've got a million dollar home, you need a PLUP. Make sense?
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Old 09-27-05, 08:36 PM   #22
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Eh... As far as I know, the only insurance that is legally required when driving a car is liability insurance. According to the description on State Farm's website, their Personal Liability Umbrella policy is not for your own property, but for other people's stuff that YOU might damage. They specifically mention that it helps protect you in our day and age, when million-dollar lawsuits are the norm.

So in this case, I'm just wondering if this policy might be used in place of a motor vehicle-specific policy, since they're basically going to do the same thing (at least from the other person's perspective).
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Old 09-27-05, 09:15 PM   #23
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Unless they sell a different policy in Canada, Personal Liability is just that, personal liability. A guest comes over, trips on your carpet and breaks their leg. If they sue you for more than your homeowner's/renter's policy covers, your PLUP covers that. It would also cover you in the event of a MVA, but I'm pretty sure that it would be secondary to your legally required auto liablility policy. They would not sell it as a catch-all policy for whatever damage/injuries you may cause in your day to day actions. Does that make sense?

[edit] There are probably some exclusions in the policy language regarding things like operating motor vehicles, engaging in business activities, and even something regarding dog bites. Ask your agent, and see if you can prove me wrong.

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Old 09-28-05, 04:10 PM   #24
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Unless they sell a different policy in Canada, Personal Liability is just that, personal liability. A guest comes over, trips on your carpet and breaks their leg. If they sue you for more than your homeowner's/renter's policy covers, your PLUP covers that. It would also cover you in the event of a MVA, but I'm pretty sure that it would be secondary to your legally required auto liablility policy. They would not sell it as a catch-all policy for whatever damage/injuries you may cause in your day to day actions. Does that make sense?

[edit] There are probably some exclusions in the policy language regarding things like operating motor vehicles, engaging in business activities, and even something regarding dog bites. Ask your agent, and see if you can prove me wrong.
You're probably right. I don't really care what insurance I get, as long as it allows me to legally ride an electric-assist bike on public roads. I guess it's up to the DMV to decide if PLUP is enough, or if I need motor vehicle-specific insurance.
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Old 09-28-05, 04:22 PM   #25
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I guess it's up to the DMV to decide if PLUP is enough, or if I need motor vehicle-specific insurance.
You're backwards on that one. Make sure that your insurance company will provide coverage for your electric assisted bike. If the they say the PLUP is secondary to a motor vehicle policy, and you don't have a motor vehicle policy, there is no coverage. Or, as I stated before, that activity may be specifically excluded. Ask your agent.
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