Saturday, November 15, 2008

16 The RevoPower Puzzle : Where Is It ?



Beginning some 3 years ago, many websites, blogs and a handful of TV shows were raving about a new kind of gas powered, motorized bicycle wheel called RevoPower. The idea even piqued the interests of publications like Machine Design, Popular Science and even CNN :


video


When I first heard about it back then, I thought it was a pretty neat concept. Non-cyclists tend to stay away from pedal power due to the very requirement and consequences of pedaling! Sad, but true. So if this new idea was part of an answer to help target the vast blue ocean of non-cyclists, it was welcomed by all means. Hey, gas was cheap!


A snippet on the invention from the Machine Design magazine (2005)



Breakdown of proposed design : A gas powered 23cc 2 stroke engine rated 1 HPmax for 7800 RPM, and a slim gear transmission all at the hub of the wheel, nestled between the forks of the bicycle


As the rider of this bicycle, you would substitute the 15 pound Revopower wheel for your normal spoked front wheel, slip a tank of standard gasoline into your water bottle cage, clip the throttle to your handlebars using the given attachment, and start pedaling like you would normally ride a bike. When you are ready for some supplemental power, you operate the thumb powered throttle to get the engine to kick into action. The clutch would then automatically engage and you are on your way to wherever you need to be between 15-20 mph claimed speeds.

Tank and throttle attachment accessories come with the wheel


While the concept and prototypes looked fine, the product just didn't come out. In fact, Denver based RevoPower first said it would be out by late 2006. Then it was shifted to early 2007. Then to late 2007, and finally into 2008 according to the latest update on their website. We're almost nearing the end of this year and there is still no sign of the product.

The time to market has been nothing short of horrible. We all know that every fortnight, something new comes out in the commercial bicycle scene. I may be exaggerating but my point being that in a time sensitive market, it'll be against your opportunity by not getting the product out quickly.




Presentation on Target Markets, Distribution and Pricing Strategy


So the question then begs to be answered. Where are they? Whats happening behind the scenes? What is the bottleneck exactly? Did the credit crunch get them? Was the record gas prices early this year turning it into a non-viable product?

According to some sources : "RevoPower is in the hands of the secured creditors. There is no product imminent. The product could not be produced after 4 years and millions of dollars of investment due to thermal issues and performance constraints. The IP is in dispute with the original investors, and no one may offer this product without the consent of the creditors, which has not been granted. Please contact David Kendall, KKO Attorneys at Law, 999 18th St, Denver CO with any information which may lead to civil action."

While I'm choosing to trust whoever filled us with that information, I also want to talk a little about some other drawbacks of this design.

1. In this day and age, when cyclists are complaining about the very chain and sprocket transmission system (greasy and oily), here is RevoPower proposing to contribute 15 more pounds in weight of oil & gas powered componentry to the front portion of the bicycle.

2. In an impact, its the front wheel that often takes the first blow. While 400 dollars may not be overly expensive, placing all this setup at the most vulnerable site just opens it to the possibility of damage.

3. Clean, electric, battery powered pedal assists are being very compeitive in the market these days [see this video of a hub powered motor]. Whats the chance of a gas powered system standing up to them? 100mpg of claimed system efficiency might cut it for a while, but battery technology is leapfrogging and will catch up in no time.

4. The idea of placing a can of gas into one of your water bottle holders takes away the real estate for your drinking water. Besides, who would like the idea of carrying a flammable liquid between their crotch on a hot day?

5. A gas powered engine might trigger regulations in some states, requiring the rider to hold a two wheeler driver's licence.

6. The components might not be easy to understand for the new, unassuming cyclist. The installation of the setup is also crude and has to be taken to a bike shop or a RevoPower certified professional.

7. Every bike company is in for the money to be gained from claimed weight savings on their design. Being light and svelte is one of the chief selling points we commonly see in today's bikes. A lighter proposition for a pedal assist will most likely be preferable over something heavy.

8. Perhaps the most critical point that we may have not talked about so far is the fact the gas engine itself has its own explosive fuel mixture and has its own source of ignition. As such, it has to be tested and certified that it is safe to use by normal consumers. Imagine being able to snap on an explosive component to a bike and say its ready to ride. That may work in other countries but in the U.S, there are specific agencies that ensure that these products meet all the regulatory standards before being sold.


In conclusion, I'm not positive where this company is headed. RevoPower's fate perhaps highlights the classic pithole that an idea or invention need not always make it successfully to market. You need more than an inventive genius to finance and manage your operations and see it to the end of the tunnel.

It'll be very interesting to see if RevoPower pushes their date a fifth time into 2009. If you've further information about the company, or if you're Steve Katsoras, the inventor...please feel free to put some information in the comments here. There might be a good number of people painfully waiting to get a hold of this product. Wait, painfully huh?



Additional Resources : One of my readers posted a nice link to a 56 page PDF report on Revopower presented by New York Private Equity. Thanks! Read it here.

16 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:05 AM

    Ver nice breakdown of the design. I have not heard about it before. The only other hting i Can imagine is the noise from the engine while running at 7000rpm. We all know internal combustion is not not quiet.

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  2. Yep. I also think the gas tank is small. If we're thinking about a water bottle sized tank, it'd be somewhere between 800 and 1000ml~0.3 gal of gas. Its going to be a hassle to keep filling it. For the customer, getting involved with gas is a messy job.

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  3. Torque from the engine goes through the front hub bolt (there must be a reaction arm like in coaster brakes) to the fork crown and the headset. Maybe there are liability issues that are slowing down the process too?

    The design seems pretty complicated compared to solutions like the Velosolex.

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  4. Anonymous3:39 AM

    Thanks for the information. I have been hoping for this to come out, and in fact, bought a bicycle in anticipation. A good move even if it never comes out, I think.

    A few points you might need to clear up though. I understand that the wheel would not run on regular gasoline exactly, but on a mixture of gas and oil, which I have been informed is the standard fuel for a two-stroke engine.

    I think your speculation about batteries is a bit optimistic. Current battery technology contradicts your drawback point 7. Battery power would be both heavier and carry less pep. I understand that this was one of the reasons this design was proposed in the first place.

    Some of the other objections were also solved already in the wheel's design, including the noise issue mentioned by the earlier commenter. (At least if you believe their marketing materials.)

    One of the biggest problems I see with people trying to assess the appeal of the wheel is a bastard notion of the bicycle market. For example, will cyclists pay an extra hundred or thousand dollars more for a bike that's a few ounces lighter? Apparently. But would those same cyclists buy power assist at all? I don't think so. Weight is an issue almost entirely because you are relying on muscle power. Carbon fiber frames are probably being bought by people who consider bicycling a sport or a way to exercise. I was shocked when I went to the bicycle store. I thought the prices were outrageous and nobody seemed prepared to understand that what I wanted was a form of transportation that was cheaper than a car.

    Since the recent incredible rise in gas prices I'm seeing a lot more Vespa type scooters on the road. I think a lot of these people would have been in the market for the wheel were it available. How much did motorscooter sales increase in the last couple of years? There's an indication of the market for revopower.

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  5. hey ron,

    Are there not enough Motobecanes out there now.

    "Motobécane" is a compound of "moto", slang for motorcycle; "bécane" is slang for "bike."

    -B

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  6. Asb : Thats a good point. It'll be interesting to see whether the engine running has any effect on vibration and parasitic handlebar motion.

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  7. Anonymous5:10 PM

    If that front tire is going to be get punctured, someone will have to tinker with a 15 pound wheel to put a new tire on.

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  8. I am baffled by this idea. I tried out a very nice electric bicycle a year or so ago, and it only cost around $600-700. It was quiet, fast and nice to ride. I cannot imagine this would be much cheaper and how would it handle with all that weight in the front wheel? And if you want to go faster there are new motorcycles out there that look great and cost half of what Specialized road bike did!

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  9. Anonymous5:19 AM

    I've been waiting for the wheel as well. Meanwhile, I thought the below PDF file was a good read!

    nyprivateequity.com/NYPE%20Report%20on%20RevoPower%20(10-20-06).pdf

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  10. This morning their website appears to have gone offline. It's been replaced with a default "holding" page.

    Is this signaling the end of the company?

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  11. jakgamer10:31 PM

    I too can't wait until it comes out, I think since with the high gas prices nowdays,(although they aren't at the moment) this will be a good alternative, but it might not go very fast, but you might get about 100 mpg with revopower, but I do agree that they should put a little bigger of a fuel tank on it. by the looks of it, the tank looks about a quart or a quart and a half, they should make it at least 2 quarts. It may go around 100 mpg, but no one wants to fill it up every little while. but with the design and all, I haven't seen anything so compact, it should take the hills out of biking. I myself bike long distances, this summer I biked about 30 miles 3 times (one way) and I never used any kind of engine on my bike, just because I wanted to keep it original. But with the revopower, I can put it on my bike without worrying about distorting the originality about it. other engines you have to bolt the engine to the frame and that can distort the originality on the bike, unless you want to put the look of a motorcycle look to your bike. But when it comes out, I will definitly buy one for my bike and take half of the work out of petaling. anyone know when exactly it is going to come out,and how much it is going to cost? it will definitly be a big seller when it comes out:)

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  12. In May 2006 I sent Revopower $50 to reserve a wheel.
    I was given Wheel serial no. 5550010.

    Was I number 10 to send $?

    Looks like I am out the $50.

    rlawrence@tds.net

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  13. Anonymous10:27 PM

    i saw a video of this bike last year and have been waiting to buy one. this just looks like a great way to go to work or else. i would pay $400 if it work well.

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  14. It appears RevoPower is dead in the water. Site gone, zilch. By the way, this concept was not new at all. A very similar bike power wheel was made in the 50s and 60s. And the statement "battery technology is leapfrogging and will catch up in no time" is hilarious. I've been waiting for "no time" for many years. I keep riding my ezip with a maximum 8 mile range and lithium ion batteries are STILL way beyond my budget and many others. And they still aren't as nifty as people say. We're still in the stone ages.

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  15. That is indeed sad. I wonder what happened to the funding to this project. Thanks for all your updates.

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  16. Anonymous5:11 PM

    Hello guys...
    In my opinion the wheel will not come, this is sad. I spent a few moments to get familiar with the design and components and maybe somebody can help me with the following: i cannot locate any form of clutch at all, i can only imagine that there is an idler to make it ridable without running engine, i cannot see an ignition coil, only a timimg rotor - but that would mean that there is a battery for electronic ignition, the whole gearing is done with chains and sprockets - that is the dominant noise - louder than the muffler, why not toothed belt?.
    If i was able to build my own powered wheel i would choose the rear one, there is 35mm more width space, i would have it fix and not rotating (but this requires a split hub and thicker spokes), it was forced cooled with a small fan in front of the cylinder, it had a centrifugal clutch, brushless dc motor as starter generator and electronic ignition. But that would have the price of more than a china built 50cc scooter.
    Hope for inputs and discussion...

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Thank you. I read every single comment.