Keynote on the new Smart drive for e-bikes from Valeo with CTO Geoffrey Bouquot

Valeo: Smart on the Outside, But How About the Inside?

Among many other things, last year was a year of motors. Several manufacturers have either presented decisive further developments or have even appeared as suppliers for the first time. Fazua, Amprio, Bosch, Shimano, Linear Labs, Pendix, FreeFlow Technologies and, most recently, Revonte. And these are only the representatives we have dedicated ourselves to on the blog. With Valeo, another premiere concluded the year 2020.

Correctly, there is another name that needs to be mentioned right away at this point. It is true that Valeo is the focus of attention as an established automotive supplier with an annual turnover of around 19 billion euros, and this name adorns the motor housing. In fact, however, this new product is inextricably linked with the name Effigear. Guy Cavalerie, another Frenchman and the inventor of a bottom bracket gear, is behind it. His own Cavalerie bikes, for example, use it to race across enduro and downhill tracks all over the world. This bottom bracket gear was the inspiration for the heart of the recently introduced “Smart E-Bike System” from Valeo.

Let the gears be shifted instead of shifting by yourself

The original nine gears have become seven at Valeo. And while the gears on a Cavalerie bicycle have to be changed manually, the new drive system for e-bikes does it automatically. This system is an electric motor with an adaptive automatic gearbox, which is fused as a whole with the entire bottom bracket including the pedal unit. Instead of pressing or turning the gear lever, in future you will have to trust the algorithm. According to Valeo, it analyses your pedalling, registers your riding style and the terrain and derives the optimal gear ratio from this. Well, does anyone feel reminded of the automatic shifting of a car?

Design of the Smart e-bike drive from Valeo

Valeo’s motor works on the basis of a 48-volt low voltage. The reason for this is simply the know-how that the manufacturer has gained from building other electrically powered micro-vehicles such as electric motorbikes and scooters or autonomous delivery droids. Usually, voltages of 24 and 36 volts are used for the drive units of e-bikes.

Powerful into new dimensions

The torque that Valeo is promising seems almost insane. According to the company’s own information, the system has a constant output of 130 Newton metres. This would be eight times what you can generate by yourself. In addition, the manufacturer announces established functions such as a walk assistance and an anti-theft function that allows you to lock the drive without a lock when you park the bike. The manufacturer also mentions a boost option in a press release. This is supposed to make it easier for you to overtake and climb particularly steep climbs. However, at least for the first purpose, the boost will probably fizzle out from time to time. For example, if the person you want to overtake is already going 25 km/h or faster. Even the boost is guaranteed to have to keep within the speed limit of the e-bike.

Design of an e-mountain bike with Smart E-Bike System from Valeo

 

Prototypes with light and shadow

That will then be at the discretion of the bicycle manufacturer. Valeo itself only wants to operate as a supplier of a drive system. The company apparently has no ambitions to put its own bikes on the road. To illustrate how this could look in case of doubt, Valeo has published pictures of four prototypes. Model number one is a trekking and city bike. The second variant is a hardtail e-MTB. Clearly more unusual is number three, a vintage bike whose design is reminiscent of Indian motorbikes from the 1930s. And last not least, an e-cargo bike is to be seen. Its frame undoubtedly comes from Omnium. In our opinion, it is the most coherent of the bikes presented. The enormous power of the motor fits perfectly with the requirement profile of an e-cargo bike. Especially since Valeo has announced an option that enables reversing to recover energy from the braking process.

Design of an e-cargo bike with Smart E-Bike System from Valeo

 

The other e-bikes are not entirely convincing. To some extent, this is due to the somewhat loveless-looking finalisation of the prototypes. For example, cables are attached to the frame in a provisional manner with cable ties. On the frame of the mountain bike, the battery is mounted extremely high up on the down tube. Hopefully, no one really implements this. The large and certainly not light battery ruins a lot of the positive riding characteristics up there, which the nicely low-positioned drive system actually enables. In addition, the slim frame tubes of this bike counteract the decidedly clunky-looking Valeo Smart. The same applies to the trekking e-bike version. If this is supposed to be a bike for longer excursions, where is the space for something obvious like a bottle cage? And why are displays suddenly being installed again that look as if they have been left behind from ten years ago?

Design of a trekking e-bike with Smart E-Bike System from Valeo

 

Ambition and reality

Against this background, the tone of the French in the press release is a little irritating. In it, they describe themselves as revolutionaries of e-bike propulsion, bringing a new promise to the market. In a keynote delivered via video by Geoffrey Bouquot, CTO at Valeo, details such as dispensing entirely with gears, a bicycle lock or a bicycle chain are touted as innovations. Well, these are innovations. It’s just that Valeo is not behind them.

E-bike Atelier Heritage with drive Valeo Smart

Impressively huge

However, you shouldn’t write Valeo off just yet. After all, some things do speak in favour of the newcomer. For example, the growth of the market for e-bikes mentioned in the keynote. In the next ten years, sales in this segment could increase 15-fold. The figures are based on a forecast made this year by the McKinsey Center For Future Mobility. A group of experts from Cycling Industries Europe (CIE), the European bicycle industry association CONEBI and the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) recently reported similar figures.

The Paris-based automotive supplier will also benefit from its size. According to Wikipedia, Valeo currently employs around 115,000 people in 33 countries. The group maintains more than 190 production sites and drives developments forward at almost 60 research and development centres worldwide. This inevitably results in immense synergies in the transfer of knowledge and equipment. For good reason, Valeo emphasises the size of its own production capacities and points to potentially significant economies of scale. In plain language, this means: We can deliver – cheaply and not in short supply. Especially in times of the e-bike boom, the argument of delivery capability is becoming increasingly important. It is quite possible that more news from Valeo will arrive quite soon. Or from another motor manufacturer.

 

Pictures: Valeo

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