The Lyft ebike’s display between the handlebars will show basic ride data (such as speed and battery level) and will have a speaker to announce unlocking and parking instructions. But the company says it is working with other uses like navigation.
This brings us to the next big improvement: connectivity. Unlike the existing ebikes in Lyft’s fleet, the new model comes equipped with Wi-Fi and GPS. For riders, it’s easy to locate bikes using the road map in the app, especially in markets where bikes are dockless. But the new connectivity features also allow Lyft to release firmware updates over the air, whether to address bugs or to add new features. It can also track stolen bikes or monitor the hardware in real time for any physical tampering. Shambat says none of this data is shared with third parties.
Safety sensors are also fitted throughout the bike, and they can report problems like a bad battery, broken cable lock, or faulty brakes to the servicing team. That’s important, especially considering that Lyft had to recall hundreds of ebikes from its fleet in 2019 after dozens of riders were injured from brake failure.
“They’re all talking to each other,” says Shambat. “We want to know how things are going, and that’s why we’re constantly monitoring.”
Despite the larger size, the new eBike still fits into existing docking stations. Select stations will soon be electrified to recharge bikes when docked, but most will still see service teams swapping out batteries when needed. The improved range on the updated model means the battery won’t need to be swapped out as frequently.
It doesn’t mean standard pedal bikes are going away. Cities restrict the number of pedal-assist bikes available in a fleet. For example, Lyft says that New York City allows only 20 percent of its fleet to be electric: about 4,300 of the 22,000 bikes. As the popularity of ebikes grows, these limits may increase.
Ever since the US went into lockdown in early 2020, the use of electric bikes has increased. Ebike sales increased 137 percent in 2020 over 2019, according to the NPD Group. Samantha Herr, executive director of the North American Bikeshare Association, says ebikes are in high demand even in cycle-share programs.
“Our shared micro-dynamics in 2019 industry report“We saw that ebikes were being used more intensively in the system than traditional bikes,” Herr says. “We also observed that 15 percent of bike-share bikes were ebikes, and that bike-share systems in North America About 20 percent were cities. Includes ebike. We’re absolutely seeing an increase in those numbers.” (The 2020 report will come out this summer.)
With restrictions on long-distance travel and uncertainty about the safety of public transport during the pandemic, cities closed roads to automobiles and opened them to bikes and other modes of micro-mobility such as electric scooters.
“It was a really positive effect,” Herr says. “We can see that there’s a premise around the kind of rapid response that happened during COVID, and there’s a momentum to make these changes permanent. It’s just kind of the pace of something that was already happening.”
But ebikes are still a relatively new mode of transportation in many regions across America, and it introduces new issues. That is, accidents. Jennifer Dean says that automobile drivers and pedestrians are not used to guessing the speed of electric bikes correctly.
“You can’t judge accordingly if you’re going to try to cross the road in front of a conventional bicycle, or you’re turning right or left in an automobile and that bike is coming on a lot faster than you expect,” Dean says. “So we’re seeing injuries, and those injuries are related to a lack of awareness by road users.”