Artificial intelligence, Internet of things, blockchain and more are some of the popular buzzwords being used to market the apparent future. But which ones are just cool slogans and which ones actually make sense? We cut through the confusion to present the most exciting software, service and connectivity solutions that will make your life easier.

We already know from our smartphones that it’s not the hardware, but the software that makes the difference between an iPhone and an Android. While not everyone is keen on seeing even more digitisation of their bikes, we all have to accept that software-based developments are becoming increasingly important. Modern software solutions have already created a whole new generation of bikes and will continue to do so. With an increasing number of sensors and electronic components already installed on many ebikes, manufacturers have the opportunity to make our bikes smarter, more efficient and even more versatile. But there’s one important question we have to ask ourselves: what’s already possible and what’s actually useful?

Greyp’s Kill Switch allows you to immobilise your bike from your smartphone, making ebikes much less attractive to thieves. But is this enough to protect your ebike against theft?

More security through service and connectivity

Imagine no longer having to use a key and a lock to protect your ebike against theft but instead being able to unlock it by fingerprint or smart lock with your mobile phone and then just ride off. Dreams of the future? Well, only partially. Ebikes that can be unlocked via smartphone already exist. The system works like with modern cars: as soon as you approach the sensor with your key or smartphone, the bike will unlock itself. Forgot your mobile? While this might seem unlikely these days, that’s not a problem either! A touchpad with a fingerprint sensor on the ebike is one of the solutions and Stromer already offer this option. Alternatively, a removable display can function as an intelligent key, as is the case with the Bosch Kiox display. Or Greyp allow you to immobilise your eMTB from a distance if it gets stolen, using the kill switch on your smartphone. Thanks to an integrated eSIM, the Greyp bike is always online. But are these systems 100% effective against bike theft? No, of course not! And while they might be a good deterrent and make eMTBs less attractive to thieves, no immobiliser will ever replace a classic lock.

The greatest potential for innovation in the bike industry lies in smart, software-based solutions.

A touch display, smart lock and eSIM in combination with a comprehensive service and insurance offering from the manufacturer could make a lock superfluous in the near future.

But it’s not just about immobilisers – GPS trackers and integrated eSIM cards take anti-theft protection and much more, to a whole new level. These systems alert you via an app whenever your bike is moved without your permission. If the bike gets stolen, you can track its movements and location. If you want to retrofit a GPS tracker to your current bike, you should take a closer look at the PowUnity BikeTrax, which costs around € 200. Install the GPS tracker, download the app, register and you can now monitor the exact location of your eBike or even use the tracker to record a ride. In case of unauthorised movement, the app will alert you and track the stolen bike within the EU. Tracking works via a SIM card that is permanently connected to the battery of the eBike. If the thieves remove the battery, an additional integrated battery takes over and ensures the system keeps running smoothly. The tracker is small enough to fit under the motor cover, cleverly tucked away from view.

However, as the technology is still new, not all thieves will know that they’re about to steal an ebike with a GPS tracking system. A lock-free future will only be possible once the technology becomes widespread and potential thieves live in fear that bikes can be easily tracked and recovered.

Riese & Müller offer what is probably the best solution in the industry – RX Connect. Basically a combination of a GPS tracker, an eSIM and insurance cover, if your eBike with RX Connect gets stolen, you just have to call the hotline or register online, have your bike located and wait for it to be returned within a short period of time. And if they fail to get your bike back, Riese & Müller will give you a new one. Additional services such as automatic over-the-air updates, crash detection and parking position are no longer dreams of the future and can be individually added as an extra service for all eBikes with RX Connect.

Connectivity and online gaming

Croatian bike manufacturer and tech brand Greyp uses a number of sensors, cameras and an eSIM to integrate real and virtual worlds. Is this the eBike as a modern Game Boy? Talking about the new Greyp G6, Zvonimir Sučić, CTO of Greyp Bikes, says, “This is not a bike, it’s an accessory for your smartphone.”

At EUROBIKE 2019 we experienced first hand what this means. Here, the brand hosted a real-time game which could be viewed from the stand in the exhibition hall while riders raced against each other on Greyp G6 bikes on the outdoor test course, combining real cycling, collecting geotags, live tracking online and comparing your efforts with other riders. This melding of the virtual and the real world aims to create new adventures and gaming opportunities which, in turn, should encourage new target groups to ride a bike. More details on this and other software trends can be found here.

This is not a bike, it’s an accessory for your smartphone.

This radical statement by Zvonimir Sučić, CTO of Greyp Bikes, shows what happens when a tech company decides to develop an eBike. CEO Mate Rimac adds:

We are among the best in electronics and software, so we built a bike around this know-how.

Holistic eMTB ecosystem

More sensors on ebikes mean more data, more knowledge and even more options. A holistic ecosystem that works around the motor enables riders to operate it intuitively and customise its performance for their personal needs. At the same time, it provides crucial assistance and gives them access to relevant information, for example on the wear and tear of individual components and advice on service intervals or instructions for breakdown assistance. While the display of the health status of the drive unit, heart rate-controlled motor support or range-based navigation are no longer a technical problem either, their implementation often doesn’t fulfil their full potential. The biggest challenge is often in creating smooth interfaces and user-oriented solutions. Some manufacturers try to keep their systems in-house and rely exclusively on their own systems, which, unfortunately, are not always intuitive and no longer reflect the current state of the art. From a user’s point of view, there’s hardly a way around the seamless integration of third-party options such as navigation service provider Komoot.

With their user-friendly ecosystem, Specialized stand out from the crowd of standard solutions provided by most motor and bike manufacturers. The holistic concept, which consists of intuitive operation, connectivity, motor software and a dedicated app, points the way to the future. In terms of usability, open interfaces, features and riding performance, Specialized’s ecosystem is currently the best one on the market. The American brand spares no effort and employs a team of over 30 software experts based in Switzerland, who are continuously working on the further development of their system. We’re excited to see whether other manufacturers can catch up with Specialized. However, the effort and costs involved in building such ecosystems are immense. Nonetheless, the fact remains that in the near future, software development will play an increasingly important role.

Is buying out of fashion?

New developments can be seen not only with the actual bikes, but also with the business models around them. Ebikes are expensive and not everyone can (or wants to) spend lots of money to get one. Additionally, once you’ve spent the money, you probably won’t be riding your bike all year round. Then why buy an ebike in the first place? German company eBike Abo offer a clever solution: instead of buying an ebike, rent one – for 3, 6 or 12 months. Their broad portfolio gives customers access to high-quality eCity, eTrekking and eMTBs from different brands, starting at € 79 per month. Up to date models suitable for every purpose can be rented all over Germany and a one-off service fee reduces expensive maintenance and additional costs. If you’re thinking of buying an ebike, this is a great way to try the bike over an extended period of time before getting one and will help you better understand and hopefully find the right ebike category for you. It remains to be seen how the business model is received by end users, but it clearly lowers the initial hurdles faced by potential buyers.

What will the future bring?

While science fiction movies once used to promise a better future, currently our biggest mission is to adapt our world to the challenges of the 21st century. Completely connected ebikes could become part of the future. Follow this train of thought even further and you’ll discover many exciting possibilities for better products. However, we also have to ensure that we stay in control of our technology, with the ability to switch off and unplug if we want to. If you’re after a minimal ride for switching off and escaping, then you should be able to do that too.

Alongside the above-mentioned approaches such as anti-theft protection, comprehensive ecosystems and gaming options, meaningful service, connectivity and software solutions will focus on urban mobility and different aspects of security, convenience and health/fitness. There’s also the potential to get new target groups onto ebikes and out into nature. Live eSports events with ebikes? A new geocaching trend with ebikes that revives the Pokémon GO craze? Why not?

What is certain is that new software solutions also present new challenges to the industry. Who owns all the data produced? Who can access it? These are important topics that need to be identified and questioned, and above all, need to be clarified today, ready for the future. Technological advances are progressing faster than ever and there’s an exciting future for software-based eMTBs ahead.

The role of eMTBs and the potential for where they can be used are changing rapidly. We offer fresh impetus to that change while helping to maintain a clear overview. One thing is for sure: the future of the eMTB is more exciting than ever before! Our E-MOUNTAINBIKE Theory of Evolution provides context for this and all other articles in our New Generation series, providing new perspectives and broadening the horizon of what’s ahead.

Further articles in the series cover the era of E-SUVs, the new handling of Light eMTBs, the potential for off-road cargo bikes, our off-road step-through group test, connectivity and software solutions, the new generation Z and our guide to passing on your bike passion to your kids.

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Words: Jonas Müssig, Robin Schmitt Photos: Oliver Graf, Daniel Geiger, Christoph Bayer, Robin Schmitt