Albert Iten, ex-downhill world champion
From a wind turbine to a bicycle drive: When the experience of top-notch athletes meets world-class engineering, cycling moves on to the next level. From the outset, the focus was on compactness and efficiency – and on Switzerland. This is the story of the maxon BIKEDRIVE.
Around the time when NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity celebrated their fifth anniversary on Mars, former downhill champion Albert “Albi” Iten went on a leisurely cruise on the Ibergeregg with his good friend Roland Abächerli. It is the year 2009. Roland, also a former champion, can see it in Albi's face: He'd much rather jump roots, barrel down curvy forest trails, or raise clouds of dust in the gravel. However, going up is part of the deal, and since e-bikes only come with heavy, inefficient drives, the two retired pros continue to rely on their own muscle power – for the time being.
The little drives from Mars
“Is there no bicycle drive that fits in a hub?”, Albi asks while huffing and puffing closer to the top. Silence. Now the downhill stretch is ahead. At the finish in the town square of Schwyz, Roland suddenly says: “Wasn't there a company in Sachseln that makes drives for Mars missions? Those would have to be good enough for the dirt and impacts on trails.” The two contacted maxon motor. As chance would have it, a former racing buddy was working for the drive specialist.
And thus, pro cyclists sat down with engineers.
The experts at maxon motor were already one step further: A wind turbine from another project appeared to have promising characteristics for building an e-bike drive. The ironless winding was what set the drive apart. It enabled the motor to achieve an efficiency of almost 90% (a combustion engine barely makes 40%). This isn't just great for power consumption but also for recovering energy.
From a wind turbine into a bicycle
In 2010, while maxon motor was preparing the market launch of precision motors for extreme conditions on Earth and in space, engineers were preparing the development of the new bicycle drive. This was done in secret, with no official mandate from the management board. At the time, the board was busy stabilizing business in key markets like medical technology, industrial automation, robotics and aerospace.
In 2012, CEO Eugen Elmiger personally took over the leadership of the project code-named MOVE. He had the support of main shareholder Karl-Walter Braun from the very beginning. “When I saw the compact design and technical sophistication of the first prototype, I immediately knew we would have to introduce this motor to the market”, Elmiger recollects. As a cycling enthusiast, he was very much aware of the flaws of existing drives: low efficiency, not enough power, and subpar reliability. There was room for improvement. And thus, the drive was continuously improved and tested over and over. After all, there was a suitable testing ground right in front of the factory gates: the Oberwalden Alps.
Uphill: a new cycling experience
“Now that I use this motor, even the ride up the grade is fun. I got hooked and left my regular bike in the garage more and more”, 50 year-old ex-downhill champion Albert Iten describes his test rides with the maxon BIKEDRIVE. “On the trails, I can still reach the uphill speeds that I once had during my heyday as a racer. And I can catch up with Roland again.” Roland chuckles and continues: “The drive has a lot of potential for both trail and road. Especially for people who need to do a lot of climbing during their daily commute.”
The hub motor delivers 25 - 30 Nm continuously. The peak torque is 50 Nm. The brushless DC motor has an efficiency of 85%. Even on upward grades at 15 km/h and 30 Nm, the efficiency is still 75%. If that doesn't mean anything to you, here is a comparison:
The picturesque Fluonalp, a popular destination for cyclists, is located above the town of Sachseln. It's about 1000 meters higher in elevation, and the road has an average incline of 10%. With the maxon BIKEDRIVE, a cyclist with an average level of fitness and a weight of around 80 kg can do the trip in roughly half an hour. For this route, with a distance of slightly more than 10 km, Google Maps estimates a time of 26 minutes – by car.
The maxon BIKEDRIVE is controlled with the Powergrip on the right handlebar. “You crank it up and immediately notice the boost”, Albi Iten describes the feeling of using the accelerator with a grin. There is no display. White LEDs show the battery level, and a simple lamp indicates the motor temperature. “You are always in control, and there is no need to let go of the handlebars”, says the former pro. “That gives your ride a completely different dynamic.”
The battery also features state-of-the-art technology. The 48-Volt lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 360 Watt-hours has the latest battery cells. It can be charged 70% in only 60 minutes. The full capacity is available after two hours.
“This whole drive is a load of fun, especially because of the smooth power delivery”, Iten and Abächerli agree.