Niche ebike drive takes manual gear-shifting out of the equation
Spanish startup Niche Mobility has announced the development of "the first drive system for electric bicycles with regenerative braking and a virtual gearbox," which will be made available to ebike makers from next year.
The company was co-founded in 2021 by Marc Barceló as CEO (who previously ran Volta Motorbikes – which brought its first electric motorcycle to market in 2014 and is currently busy redesigning that model for a Gen II launch in 2024) and Francesc Queralt (from digital platforms Social Energy and Social Car), who serves as Chief Business Officer.
Rounding out the core team is Enric Delgado (also previously with Volta) as Chief Operations Officer and Lluís Olivet (of OTC Engineering) in an advisory capacity. "In short, Niche Mobility has built an experienced team of serial entrepreneurs with a clear vocation for sustainability," reads the press statement.
Niche's patented Automatic Digital Transmission System (ADTS) has been developed completely in-house and is made up of a 250-W motor capable of up to 120 Nm (88.5 lb.ft) of torque that comes with a virtual gearbox and regen braking, plus a 450-Wh battery, a color handlebar display and mobile app.
Input from the rider is "mechanically independent from output" to the rear wheel – which means that pedal power is routed to an onboard generator to charge the battery. This also caters for anti-theft protection as the ebike won't move unless it's unlocked by an authorized user.
The system is home to a traction motor too, which is linked to the rear wheel via chain or belt. The included ebike control unit continuously calculates the amount of output needed at the wheel based on data from the onboard speed, torque and "slope" sensors, and then smoothly adjusts motor assistance as necessary – which is likened to how continuously variable transmission (CVT) works, but it's all electronic. Pedal-assist up to 25 km/h (15.5 mph) is on tap in line with European regulations. And when the rider is bombing downhill or braking hard, the traction motor can enter a regenerative braking mode.
Different drive modes can be selected via the 2-inch TFT dashboard display or a companion app running on a paired smartphone. These drive modes determine the level of energy recouped during braking, the pedal-assist level provided and the "gearshift" profile.
Niche intends to sell the ADTS to ebike manufacturers rather than packing the tech into ebikes of its own, aiming to start with urban models and cargo bikes to provide "a more robust, low-maintenance solution and offering much more comfortable rides to urban and professional cyclists." Further down the line, the 250-W motor component will be joined by a 450-W flavor with a 650-Wh battery supporting PAS to 45 km/h (28 mph) or even 60 km/h (37 mph), and coming with the option of a throttle.
The company says that OEMs should also benefit from cost, size and weight savings compared to conventional mechanical and/or manual shifting setups, which will ultimately benefit riders as well. The mid-mount drive unit starts at 3.6 kg (~8 lb), the 450-Wh battery weighs in at 2.6 kg (5.7 lb), and the 650-W battery comes in at 3.2 kg (7 lb). We've no information on component dimensions.
Initially, some 500 units will be manufactured for European OEM customers during 2024 but that could ramp up to around 50,000 by 2027. Before then, Niche is raising funds with a crowd-equity campaign on Crowdcube, where it's already blown past its €250,000 target – with funds going towards development and homologation costs. That's on top of the €228,300 already granted by the Institute for Diversification and Energy Saving of the Spanish Government as part of the European Next Generation project.
Source: Niche Mobility
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I’m not saying this isn’t an interesting concept, but it isn’t a bicycle. It is an electric motor cycle with an on board human-powered rage extending generator.
A bicycle is one of the most efficient transportation machines ever invented but the energy losses from trying to use electricity to replace a direct mechanical drive makes this impractical. You will be going nowhere fast on this “bicycle” if the battery is dead.
Now what would make this a bit more interesting is if there was a stand to use this as a stationary exercise bike while charging the drive battery. Work up a sweat at home, take a shower, then motor to work...