Controlling Interest: E-Bike Controller Manufacturers Offer Alternatives to Big Motor Brands

A version of this article originally appeared in the May issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) – As the e-bike market matures and growth accelerates even after the pandemic boom, brands are increasingly looking to position themselves in the market, particularly in the development of niches like e-cargo bikes and e-MTBs.

Several companies that offer electronic controllers — the component that tells the motor how to behave based on various inputs — say they can help bike brands deliver a tailored experience that can separate them from the pack.

Some of them claim to offer a “secret sauce” that can distinguish one brand’s e-bike from others with similar batteries and motors. Tailored ride quality can help a brand overcome the fact that the value of their bikes is largely determined by the brand of their engine.

Accelerated Systems, Inc. (ASI – no relation to the former bankrupt owner of the Performance chain of stores with the same acronym), of Waterloo, Ontario, is one such company.

ASI provides controllers for a variety of electric vehicles including lawn mowers, skid steer tractors, golf carts and scooters.

“Anything to do with an engine under 50 horsepower,” said company CEO Willem Jager.

ASI has been supplying controllers to e-bike brands since 2008 and supplies some of the biggest brands on the market, although the company stays behind to avoid competing with customers.

E-mobility applications now represent approximately 60% of ASI’s business and the company recently hired cycling industry veteran Adam Micklin as director of e-mobility market sales. Micklin was most recently vice president of US sales for Felt Bicycle; he has also worked for MRP, Hayes, Mavic and Shimano in the past.

ASI develops controller software, firmware, hardware and related applications. It does small-scale manufacturing in its factory in Canada while larger orders are fulfilled from contract factories in Vietnam, China, India and elsewhere.

Micklin said ASI sees tremendous growth potential in e-bikes.

“When I was walking around Sea Otter, I saw five or six brands that we work with, and then another 30 to 40 brands that we have the potential to work with,” he said. “People are rushing towards electrification quickly and some of them need a Jedi master to guide them.”

ASI’s forte is brands that want to move away from branded motors defining their bikes, but might lack the electrical engineering staff to develop something distinct. But Jager said ASI is also ready to work with bigger companies.

“The whole business is changing…it was the Kickstarter guy. Now there are brands with hedge fund investors putting in $100 or $150 million. They have to have chains of supply in place. We have great guys talking to us because they want to do things more like the auto industry does things, and we have that ability,” Jager said.

Jager joined the company about four years ago. At the time, it had about 15 employees and its sales were less than $2 million per year. Now, he said annual sales are “tens of millions of dollars” and he has 60 to 70 employees, most of them professional software and hardware engineers.

Last year, Briggs & Stratton acquired a minority stake in ASI. Briggs & Stratton is a leading manufacturer of gasoline and battery-powered engines for consumer and industrial products. The investment gives ASI access to proprietary battery intellectual property that contributes to the “secret sauce” of its controllers, Jager said.

ASI is not alone in the controller market. A competitor is Motor Control Technology, a five-year-old company based in Hood River, Oregon. MCT specializes in “bespoke motion control” for the aerospace, auto racing and industrial CNC industries, said Conrad Harley, its founder and owner.

Montreal's FTEX is another entrant into the e-bike controller space.

“We take care of everything from design to manufacturing,” Harley said.

While MCT is working with a small bike brand on some CNC fabrications, the company has yet to sell its controller technology to an e-bike brand.

“We’re looking to partner with a frame maker that has more experience on the bike component side to develop a home-grown e-bike motor, instead of relying on Shimano, Bosch and Yamaha,” the co-writer said. MCT founder, Hans Keisler. . Keisler said MCT’s controllers for other applications can be easily adapted for e-bike use. “The technology is pretty well established, it’s all about packing it in,” he said.

Montreal’s FTEX is another controller company eyeing the e-bike industry. The company is active in the electric vehicle industry and offers a smart gallium nitride motor controller, which it claims is more energy efficient, runs cooler and offers smoother control than other controllers, which results in a 15% increase in range.

More information: UPS | MCTs | FTEX.

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