Uber and Lyft’s e-bike braking systems are in the spotlight as reports mount of riders flying over their handlebars.
Now, the company that makes both companies’ brakes is speaking out.
Lyft-owned Ford GoBike and Uber-owned JUMP have both pulled their rentable e-bikes off streets in San Francisco, and nationwide, which Lyft claimed in its case was for brake issues. Uber also added a component to its brakes in bikes nation-wide.
The companies, both of which use brakes by Japanese bike company Shimano, said riders were reporting harder-than-expected stops that in some cases sent them flying over their handlebars.
However Shimano now says it’s not the brakes, but the two companies’ e-bikes manufacturers that are at fault.
In a statement sent to the San Francisco Examiner and other press, a Shimano spokesperson wrote that the company provided brake installation requirements that were not met by manufacturers of “some” of the bicycles in question.
Its brakes have been in industry use since 2015.
“With regards to this specific case, based on the information we have, this is not a Shimano brake issue as the specification requires the use of a power modulator for this brake,” the company spokesperson wrote. “It appears this specification was not followed by manufacturers of some of the bicycles in question.”
Bike manufacturer genZe made one generation of Lyft’s Ford Go Bike Plus e-bikes, according to a press release, and could not immediately be reached for comment. It is not clear if they made Lyft’s current fleet of e-bikes.
Lyft pulled 1,000 of its Ford GoBike Plus e-bikes from San Francisco’s streets starting Sunday due to braking issues. A few days later, Uber revealed to reporters it had removed its bikes from San Francisco’s streets late last year, quietly, for the same reason.
That lack of notice to customers and The City drew a rebuke from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, who tasked SFMTA staff with developing more strict reporting requirements for the bike rental companies.
Lyft has so far been quiet on the cause of its braking issues, but Shimano’s statement and Uber’s response to the Examiner may shed some light on the issue.
On its website, Shimano describes a power modulator as a device that “makes it easier to control braking by increasing the cable stroke at the brake lever within a certain constant range of braking force,” but clearly cautions that “if the effective operating range” of the power modulator is exceeded, the brake will malfunction.
In that case, “the brakes may operate more powerfully than intended and may cause the wheel to lock up.”
That’s the exact problem described by JUMP and Ford GoBike riders on social media in San Francisco and across the country.
In its first statement to the Examiner Monday, Uber said it installed a “hardware modification” to its e-bikes to fix its problems with Shimano brakes. “Late last year we introduced an updated model bike with a new brake system. Our older bikes have Shimano brakes but with a hardware modification to improve braking,” an Uber spokesperson wrote.
In an updated statement Thursday, an Uber spokesperson clarified the hardware modification the company installed was indeed a power modulator, as Shimano identified. Uber’s JUMP e-bikes in San Francisco have already been replaced or had a power modulator added to them, the company said, and it is in the process of replacing its fleet with a new braking system in cities across the U.S.
When reached for comment, a Lyft spokesperson would not directly address Shimano’s assertions or the existence, or installation quality, of a power modulator. Instead, the spokesperson sent their original statement on the e-bike recall from Sunday and reiterated a third-party engineering firm is analyzing the cause of the braking issue.
A Shimano spokesperson said in a statement that when bike manufacturers install Shimano’s brakes according to provided specifications, “the brakes perform to global standards.”