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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: