2008/01/16

Yamaha


For some, the name Yamaha brings to mind keyboards, guitars, or other musical instruments, or perhaps audio systems. Others will no doubt think "motorcycles".

My new Yamaha is none of those. It's a PAS City-S Lithium hybrid-electric bicycle.
"A whosiwhatsis?", you ask.

A hybrid-electric bicycle is one which can be pedaled like any ordinary bike, but which also has an electric motor to assist when accelerating, climbing a hill, riding against the wind or carrying heavy loads. Yamaha has been building them since 1993 and currently offers twelve models including a trike. (Unlike an electric bicycle, which can move using only the motor, a hybrid requires the rider to pedal.) The latest, like mine, utilize a Lithium-Ion battery and 240 watt motor to provide a range of power assistance and up to 104 km (64 miles) of range. At this time, I believe Yamaha is the only Japanese bike offering a Li-Ion battery.

I have read studies which show that hybrid electric bicycles are more energy efficient than a regular bike (when all energy inputs are taken into consideration). Pretty amazing. That would make them the most efficient means of transportation on the planet.

I put about 50km (32 miles) on it in the first two days. I've also carried a heavy load - 18 liters of kerosene, which weighs 14.75 kg (32.5 lbs). I am very impressed by the overall quality and performance. I've seen a number of hybrid-electric bikes here (they make up 25% of the one million bike a year market in Japan), but most use NiMH batteries and the overall quality is not as good as the Yamaha. I did pay extra for that. A Panasonic bike with a NiMH battery that I looked at, for example, costs about 40% less.

I found this bicycle offered on the internet and paid ¥101,800 (US$933), a 15% savings off the suggested retail price. They also threw in a cable lock and a bicycle cover. Initially, I was going to buy a version of this bike with a 3.7 amp battery and maximum range of 52km, but changed my mind and purchased one with a 7.5 amp battery which offers up to 104 km range. I think that should also give me longer battery life because of fewer recharging cycles.

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Fresh out of the box.

I've added a rear basket that, in addition to allowing me to carry more, gives me a place to put my backpack when it is not otherwise in use. I have installed a speedometer/odometer to keep track of distances and my average speed.

The bike handles well and the 27 inch wheels are a nice change from the 26 inch ones on my other bike. The seat is comfortable and its height easily adjusts without tools - for when K wants to borrow it. It is also easy to ride even without electric assist. That was something I did not expect as the EV Motors E-Bike I own (on Maui) is a real "bear" to ride without the motor.

The 3 speed internal hub transmission works very smoothly and offers a good speed range for a city bike. Pedaling flat out I get up to about 24 kph. Not coincidentally, if on, the assist will automatically shut off at that speed. My normal cruising speed turns out to be about 18 kph.

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There are three power settings and two modes to choose from. It isn't as complex as it may seem at first. For the assist there is off, Standard, and Power. There is also a choice of using "Auto-eco mode" or not. The Auto-eco controls the assist in a way that uses less energy. It senses how hard your are pedaling and adds power accordingly. It applies less assist on level ground and cuts out if you are cruising at a steady speed and don't need it, but gradually offers more assist if you encounter a hill or headwind. Basically, NOT using Auto-eco mode gives you access to more of a boost in each phase of riding. Using Auto-eco mode and Standard assist will give you the most range per charge - 104 km - but of course, going up hills and so on will reduce that range.


The Power setting offers the most help for starting from a stop or climbing hills. I was very surprised with just how powerful that assist is! With Auto-ec on and the Power setting, you still control energy use, but get the maximum assist if you need it.

I've ridden the bike into the center of town twice, about 25km round-trip each time. It is amazing how quickly it accelerates to speed and how easy it makes climbing a hill. I still have to pedal, but it feels like I have twice the muscle power. (Like Hans und Franz - the PAS system is there to PUMP - clap! - me UP!). On each trip I came back with several liters of drinking water and groceries or other goods. The PAS system it made it easy, even for the fairly long distance I rode.

For a short video intro to Yamaha PAS, click on the picture below. Then click on the four tabs to the right side of the video to see others about the PAS system.

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A 26" Yamaha PAS Bicycle
(Flowers and young woman not included).

Riding at night, I was happy to see that the 1 watt LED headlight is the brightest bicycle light I've ever had and illuminates the road very well. Headlights on bikes are typically only good for making you visible to on-coming traffic. In contrast, this one really lights up the path and lets you avoid rocks or potholes easily. While the headlight operates off the main battery, the flashing rear LED lamp has a small solar panel and Ni-Cd battery. It charges by day and comes on automatically at night. I added a second battery operated LED light to the rear basket for added visibility.

Using only high power without the Auto-eco mode will result in a range of about 52km. I did not use the Auto-eco mode at all the first day. The second day I used it about 2/3 of the time and also switched between Standard and Power settings. "Power" is really nice to have on the last part of a long ride. I think the Yamaha estimates are fairly accurate as using the bike as described above for 50 km I had used about 3/4 of the battery's power and would expect to go about 60 - 70 km that way.



The bike comes with a recharger which can handle both NiMH and Lithium-Ion batteries. The battery has a built in handle and is easily removed for recharging, which takes 3.9 hours. The batteries are good for 300 - 400 cycles, so I should get several years of service out of mine.

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The kick stand lifts the rear wheel off the ground and supports the bike in a fully upright position. This is important if you have cargo in the basket or a child seat mounted on it (as young moms in Japan often do), as it keeps the bike from toppling over. The provided lock puts a bar through the rear wheel and automatically locks the steering to either side or straight ahead. The same key is used to lock the battery in place. I also use a cable lock. If the bike were to be stolen, it is registered with the police department and Yamaha includes one year of theft insurance in the purchase price.

So what's it all mean for me? I no longer have to worry about being tired out after running errands all over Kashima City. I can make the hills around here with ease, and I can ride much further north and south than I used to, putting more stores and farmer's markets within easy reach, meaning less use of K's automobile and more convenience.

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The only things I might change are the transmission and color options. The 3 speed internal hub works fine, but it might be nice if they offered a 5 speed internal hub instead. The only colors offered on the "City-S L" are silver (nice color, but 95% of the bikes in Japan are silver - yawn) and dark wine (looks black in the pictures but is really a deep burgundy with a slight metallic sheen to it). Neither of these things is a biggy, obviously.

For people who commute a few miles to work (or train station) or who, like me, just don't want to produce excess CO2 or deal with the high cost of car ownership, yet want a good personal transport for errands, the hybrid-electric bike makes a lot of sense. Even if you just want to cut back on car use or have a back up means of getting around, it might be a good choice. No need to worry about breaking a sweat or wearing yourself out either.

For readers in the US, I'm sorry to report that to the best of my knowledge the Yamaha bicycle is not available in the USA. Maybe $5/gallon gas will change that, just as higher gas prices have prompted some car manufacturers to start offering plug-in hybrids in the next few years. E-bikes and conversion kits are widely available, however, and some hybrids as well.

There is a company with stores in Seattle, Washington and Oceanside, California, which carries the Chinese "Giant" brand hybrid-electric bikes that utilize Panasonic's NiMH technology. You can check them out at:

15 comments:

K & S said...

I hope this model will be good on hills especially when your battery dies. I've heard that these electric bicycles tend to get heavy when the battery dies.

ladybug said...

This is super info, we've already decided when the 2nd car goes (it's just matter of sooner or later), we're getting one for Snabby's commute! Instead of trying to add another car payment, buying an electric/battery bike seemed a much saner alternative. Plus, in case we find ourselves without living-wage jobs (which just may happen, several thousand have been laid off from Intel & Nike both around here-making the job market VERY competitive for those of us in the computer industry).

Too bad we can't get the exact model, but Seattle's close enough for us!Thanks to your detailed info, it was easy to decide to "do it"!

Pandabonium said...

K & S - That true for some electric bicycles. I own an electric bike (I didn't bring it with me to Japan) that is quite difficult to ride without the power and has lead-acid batteries which give out without warning. This one is much lighter and easier to ride - even without the motor. Also, the Lithium battery offers a range of 52 to 104 km. There is a 4 light indicator on the control switch so I can monitor the level of charge left. Even without the motor this bike is as easy to ride as my regular one. What is really difficult to do is drive a car when there is no gas. ;^)

Ladybug - that's super! A second car really is a major expense. As the saying goes, some people drive to work others work to drive. Then there are those pesky peak-oil and climate change issues...
Glad you found the post useful and hope those guys can help you find the best bike for your needs.

K & S said...

no gas = no go...this bike does sound like a winner :)

FH2o said...

This is so cool! What a smart looking bicycle. And thanks for all the information.

This post makes my day.

Pandabonium said...

FH20 - thank you. Now, all I need is a kayak trailer. ;^)

The Moody Minstrel said...

Considering the rate of bike theft in this country, I hope you have a really seriously good lock for it!

Pandabonium said...

Moody - indeed, I have a hefty cable lock, and I'm looking for a longer one so I can always lock it to a post.

Robin said...

wow wow, new toy..

Hope it gives you many years of fun.

Pandabonium said...

Robin - thank you. and thanks for the link to Professor Randy Pauschon's last lecture on your recent post. 'Been meaning to leave a comment for you.

mark said...

I just heard a report on the radio that either there was going to be a very high tax or a ban completely on electric scooters and bicycles. I got so damn mad I thought my head was going to break open. The reason for the ban was because of studies showing that the batteries on these vehicles were too volatile and were prone to explosions.

I think they are initially going to say there is a ban when there really isn't one, so that the tax on them won't seem so bad.

Anyway, I wrote an article on the story on my blog at www.electricbikesnscooters.com

Dennis said...

I was pleased to see your report. I'm returning to the U.S. after living 8 years in Yokohama, and I'm thinking about bringing a Yamaha PAS bicycle back with me. The main issue is the difference in electrical power (100v/50Hz in Japan vs. 120v/60Hz in the US) and whether it could present problems for charging the battery. I'm hoping that using a power converter will be enough. If do bring one with me, I'll probably buy an extra battery to have on hand if the first wears out.

Pandabonium said...

Dennis - Thanks for visiting. That should work fine. The charger is rated at 100V, 50 or 60 Hz (so that it works anywhere in Japan). It only draws 115VA (approximately 115 watts), so should be no problem for a step-down voltage converter (transformer).

Lithium Ion batteries start to age as soon as they are built, so buying a second one is problematical in that a couple of years later, it may not (won't) give you the performance of a new one. Perhaps you could take two with you and alternate them. They should each last about 300 charges and you'll extend the life of both by switching back and forth. Using up one and then switching to the second one may not work as well.

Yamaha sold licensed PAS bikes in the USA several years ago, but it wasn't the right time. Now that oil is going through the roof, electric bikes are in demand and perhaps they'll re-enter the market there.

And of course, a friend in Japan could ship a battery to you when the time comes.

Best of luck. I still enjoy my PAS, put about 300 km a month on it, and we're getting a second one next month.

electric bikes said...

hoho,this bike looks very beatiful!

angelosam123 said...

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