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Brompton CEO says "kiss traditional bicycle goodbye"

Will Butler-Adams says he believes e-bikes will fuel development and ultimate end of traditional bicycle as technology improves

The head of Brompton says we can “kiss goodbye” to regular bikes, hailing the dawn of a new era of e-bikes.

In a talk at Google headquarters in London earlier this month, discovered by BikeBiz editor, Carlton Reid, Will Butler-Adams said Brompton is nearing development of its own electric motor, and that although the humble bicycle’s design hasn’t changed from two wheels and a double A-frame for 100 years, that could soon change.

He points out the e-bike market has gone from “pretty much nothing” to a €1.2bn industry in Germany in ten years, and that is expected to grow around the world.

Brompton inventor Andrew Ritchie steps down from company’s board

“The [ebike] market is expected to be worth €24bn globally by 2025. So you can kiss goodbye to a normal bicycle.

“This is old tech I’m showing you”, he jokes, indicating a Google branded Brompton, “but never mind, I’ll still sell it to you”.

He compared the 1916 aeroplane “made out of cotton and wood” with today’s fighter jets, and then pointed to the two-wheels, double A-frame design of bicycles.

“Basically it hasn’t changed,” he said. “It’s gone nowhere. But now that is about to change because suddenly we’re putting technology into a bicycle, that means average sale price in Germany is €2,500, that delivers more revenue for the industry, more revenue to develop materials science.

“I think bikes are going to change, particularly when you think of them from an urban perspective,” he said.

Butler Adams said the company tried for years without success to develop an electric motor, but ran up against problems with the epicyclic gear train.

Brompton's luck changed after the company approached one of its customers, Patrick Head at Williams, “the F1 fast car people”, who use an electric motor with KERs, or kinetic energy recovery system, in their cars.

Butler-Adams describes the device as a light, efficient dynamo with a battery pack, and says the company received funding from the Technology Strategy Board, now Innovate UK, a Government department that offers grants to businesses.

Brompton has been working on its electric drive for three years, and has come “quite close to having something”, he says, cracking a problem with the hub gear, involving a “very clever injection moulding” and a four tooth engagement, rather than three.

Butler-Adams says each part of the bike has gone through at least three upgrades since its inception, including the frame, which he says was strengthened to withstand 17 stone “rugger buggers” jumping off kerbs on 10 mile commutes.  

Earlier this month Brompton’s inventor, Andrew Ritchie stepped down from the company’s board, reportedly unhappy at the company’s expansion plans.


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