Bicycles

14 ebike manufacturers take on Valeo's impressive auto-shift drive unit

14 ebike manufacturers take on...
The Valeo system incorporates both a 48V electric motor and a 7-speed adaptive gearbox
The Valeo system incorporates both a 48V electric motor and a 7-speed adaptive gearbox
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The Valeo system incorporates both a 48V electric motor and a 7-speed adaptive gearbox
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The Valeo system incorporates both a 48V electric motor and a 7-speed adaptive gearbox
The Valeo system incorporates a belt drive instead of a chain
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The Valeo system incorporates a belt drive instead of a chain
The Valeo city bike prototype
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The Valeo city bike prototype
The Valeo motor produces up to 130 Nm (96 ft lb) of torque
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The Valeo motor produces up to 130 Nm (96 ft lb) of torque
The Valeo cargo bike prototype
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The Valeo cargo bike prototype
The Valeo handlebar remote is used to select the amount of electrical assistance, and to monitor factors such as the battery charge level
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The Valeo handlebar remote is used to select the amount of electrical assistance, and to monitor factors such as the battery charge level
The Valeo mountain bike prototype
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The Valeo mountain bike prototype
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French company Valeo is a vast and formidable entity doing some 20 billion euros' worth of business as a global automotive parts supplier, so when it announced in 2020 that it was planning to revolutionize the ebike world, people sat up and listened.

Most of the ebike market as it stands consists of hundreds of bicycle brands designing around a few popular motor units made by companies like Bosch, Shimano, B-Rose, Bafang and the like. When mounted as mid-drive units, these motors quite literally put inhuman amounts of torque through chain-and-derailleur gear systems that struggle to cope with it. This strain is multiplied when riders get lazy and leave the bikes in high gear because they're so easy to pedal with electric assistance.

Pencil-thin chains and derailleurs already seem like anachronisms in the ebike world. There's a lot of sense in the idea of an automatic transmission that's built right into the motor housing and designed specifically to handle the forces involved.

There are other automatic transmissions and derailleur-free shift systems on the market. Enviolo's Harmony units use an automated version of NuVinci's continuously variable transmission technology, for example, and Bosch's eShift system will happily talk to neatly sealed hub transmissions from Enviolo, Rohloff and Shimano.

The Valeo mountain bike prototype
The Valeo mountain bike prototype

But Valeo's system puts the whole thing into a single unit. It's a seven-speed adaptive gearbox, developed in partnership with Effigear, that can shift gears in less than a tenth of a second, powering the rear wheel through a clean, quiet carbon belt drive. The gearbox is integrated into the same housing as a 48-volt electric motor that can put out as much as 130 Nm (96 lb-ft) of torque. That's a pretty healthy output; for comparison, Bosch's Performance Line CX feels very strong and peaks at 85 Nm (63 lb-ft). The final power output will probably mostly end up being 250 W, with a max assist speed of 25 km/h (15.5 mph) to meet European regulations, but the motor's likely capable of a kilowatt or more if it was uncorked.

Other optional features that manufacturers can choose to have built in include regenerative braking, a boost function, reverse gear and an anti-theft pedal lock. Valeo's also making its own dash and control units, or presumably allowing manufacturers to build their own. It's a slightly chunky looking unit, but worth it in our estimation since it cleans up the lower half of the bike immensely, and it ought to be built to last.

Valeo isn't manufacturing its own bikes, but it's announced that 14 manufacturers have signed up to come on board, and series production of the powertrains will begin in May this year. It expects 100,000 bikes to be delivered in 2024. Customers at this stage include La Manufacture Française du Cycle (through its Sunn brand), Ateliers HeritageBike, VUF Bikes, Cycleurope and FUELL.

The key here from a consumer's point of view will be price. Bikes running the Enviolo system, for example, don't tend to appear below about the US$4,000 mark. That's certainly not at the premium end – you can pay very silly money for ebikes these days – but perhaps by integrating everything in together, simplifying the drivetrain and manufacturing in bulk, Valeo might be able to bring a solid solution in at a better price. We shall soon see.

Source: Valeo

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6 comments
6 comments
george56
In the US the standard mainstream ebike is a 750 watt (roughly) hub motor. For most hills, it will work. It does not require shifting, and there's no stress on the chain from the motor. Actually, the more the motor does, the less strain the pedal action puts on the chain and related parts. So, for this market, nothing changes. The problem with the European 250 watt limit is that it forces this kind of engineering to get as much as possible from the weak motor. Yes, we should all have auto shift or Rohloff or carbon drive belt, but with American regs it changes very little for most people.
2wheelfun
I think this concept is a good start to have a integrated transmission into the 250 watt mid drive motor housing with a torque sensor and no throttle to be a class 1 that is required in the USA for many of the trails here in the United States. Regenitive braking would also be a great plus and increase range, as far as the cog belt drive might be ok for street use I don't think it would be a great choice for MTB mountain bike applications where dirt rocks and mud could get lodged between the belt and cog wheel so chains are probably best for MTBs, especially if it is a direct chain drive that don't need to be shifted so it could use a larger chain (it is the derailer with a multi sprocket cassette that requires the use of a small chain for the derailer to work). Drive units on todays bicycles have introduced electronic shifting for the derailers but the derailer is where the problem lies where todays bikes they are exposed to being hit, bent or broken so the enclosed shifting of this new drive might be onto something. Let progress continue and I would like to test the results.
GdB
A cheap plastic enclosure for the drive belt should prevent most debris issues. Great to have regenerative braking, it should be mandatory to greatly reduce brake failure accidents.
Martijn Scheffer
guys you can’t have regenerative breaking with a mid motor :) by the way, one of you seems to think a hub. igor is better ? not for mountain biking ! good suspension requires low unsuspended weight (light wheels), cornering is improved by putting the motor in the middle. and a centrally placed motor has a much more natural feeling, u pedal WITH the motor, it’s teamwork. hub motors are for commuting, not for sports, as to those poor EU motors, well, they are limited to 250 watts of NOMINAL power, in reality they have closer to 560 watts, not that it matters, torque is more important especialy for mountain bikes.
Tim Read
@Martijn - You can have regenerative braking on a mid drive IF the rear wheel does not have a free wheel built in. The mid drive would need to include a clutch between the output shaft and the crank arms to allow the rider to stop pedalling while riding. This would also be the case for a reverse gear.... the rear wheel would need to be a fixie.
ljaques
Given the $4k price, you'd think they could at least have given the poor riders a bike with SUSPENSION. You don't get that much cush from fatter (or intermediate) tires when they're pumped up enough to prevent dismounting on corners and/or rocks 'n berms. The transmission concept is great, and I like that belt better than a chain.