If you’ve spent any time reading about electric bikes, you’ll know that e-bike conversion kits – a motor that attaches to one of your wheels to add electric assistance to your rides – aren’t typically well-regarded, especially when compared to the best electric bikes.
Difficult to mount and operate, you won’t be getting the same experience as a proper electric bike. It would be nice to have a more advanced bit of tech you could attach or remove in seconds, that offered a higher quality ride than most cheap conversion kits.
Enter Skarper, a start-up coming to the UK and parts of the EU this year, along with (probably) the US, as talks with distributors are in progress. It’s a sophisticated two-mode electric bike motor that can be clipped onto a custom-designed disk brake (nicely named the DiskDrive) which also functions as a full gearbox. Once the custom disc has been installed onto the bike, clipping the motor on and off takes seconds, allowing you to switch between electric and pedal power immediately.
“This is a product we as a company have been working on for the last three-and-a-bit years,” said Skarper’s Uri Meirovich. “It originally started doing COVID. When [Alastair Darwood, Chief Innovation Officer at Skarper] was researching electric bikes, he couldn't find the right model he wanted, he found them to be cumbersome, heavy, and expensive.
”He then went and looked at conversion kits and said ‘Maybe that's the trick, I need to convert my bike’, but they were still cumbersome. You need to put wires all over the bike, you need to change your wheel. So his inventor mind kicked in and said ‘Why is this?’”
“All modern bikes come with a disk brake. And the beautiful thing about the disk brake is that even though every bike frame is different, the disk is the one part on all bike trains that is uniform. So the idea was that if you can connect the [Skarper unit] to the disc brake and not to the frame, you can actually become agnostic to the frame.”
Replace your rear disk rotor with a Skarper DiskDrive, and it will allow you to clip the Skarper unit on and off simply and easily in seconds. Once it’s clipped on, you’re ready to go, able to choose from Eco (low power) and Turbo (high power) for additional assistance on the road. Skarper is also offering early packages with multiple disks, allowing you to use a single Skarper unit across several different bikes.
It’s not cheap, with early packages starting at £1,295 (around $1,650 / AU$2,500) but it’s innovative stuff.
“The technological challenge was how to condense an entire e-bike into something you can hold in the palm of your hand”, said Meirovich. While we’ve not ridden the bike, it’s clear it’s been through the wringer in terms of testing: once the concept was off the ground, Skarper took the unit to Red Bull, which arranged an analysis of the Skarper gears and unit, alongside offering engineering advice on testing, construction and lubrication/cooling. Andy Damerum, Commercial Development Officer of Red Bull Advanced Technologies, said in a press statement the unit's compact drive system was "a true engineering breakthrough".
There’s no companion app yet to rival the likes of the software-orientated Cowboy 4, which offers a sophisticated app allowing you to control various parts of the bike and GPS locate it anywhere. Although the team intimated such an app was on the horizon, software is as yet undeveloped, and the focus is apparently on getting the product out to users at this early stage.
Skarper has managed to engineer every component of an electric bike’s motor, including two modes, into a clip-on, clip-off unit compatible with any bike with a disk brake system. It certainly looks like a much more futuristic, accessible take on electric bike conversion kits (despite the high cost), but the proof will all be in the riding.