Why Yamaha’s wild new electric bike has two-wheel drive

Yamaha is set to unveil an impressive new electric bicycle design in the coming days. In addition to a futuristic appearance, several key innovations in the Yamaha Y-01W AWD fly in the face of accepted norms in the e-bike industry.

Who says electric bicycles should only have one motor? While we’ve seen a few all-wheel-drive electric bikes before, they’re usually massive e-bikes that are closer in appearance and function to mopeds or light electric motorcycles.

The Yamaha Y-01W AWD, on the other hand, appears to be geared more toward classical electric bike riders (i.e., those who want to ride more like they were on a pedal bike than a motorcycle).

The rear wheel of the e-bike is powered by a typical mid-drive motor that operates the bicycle chain to engage the bike’s existing drivetrain. But the addition of a front thru-axle hub motor gives all-wheel-drive performance, allowing both wheels to power up and over various terrain.

To ensure that there’s enough juice in the bike to supply two motors, the company seems to have outfitted the bike with a second battery as well.

yamaha y-01W

So why is Yamaha throwing two motors at a single bike? The answer seems to be in the target terrain: off-roading.

As the company explained:

“This adventure e-bike combines a center-mounted electric motor and a hub motor at the front for two-wheel drive. Coordinated electronic control of the two motors, twin batteries enabling long-distance rides, wide tires, and more give the Y-01W AWD excellent off-road performance and it is a concept model that points to the many potential spheres of riding open to e-bikes.”

The fact that it is a concept model is important to remember, as there’s no guarantee that the Yamaha Y-01W AWD ever sees the factory floor. The fact that it seems to be rolled out under the main Yamaha brand and not under the company’s e-bike division, Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles, also shows that this isn’t something riders are going to be taking up the mountain in 2024.

But the design is also highly refined and uses mostly readily available components (even if it takes an extra few servings in some locations, like the quad-headlight design). The frame is unique yet not outlandish, meaning it could be practical to produce.

That being said, there are several peculiar design choices here.

For one thing, the bike seems to use a mashup of mountain bike frame design, commuter bike utility (with a built-in front and rear rack), and road bike efficiency with drop bars combined with aero bars that are usually found on road racing bikes. Those three design features rarely meet each other on a single bike, and some seem counterintuitive in this case.

The company is also ready to debut a second concept model known as the Yamaha Y-00Z MTB that sticks to the classics with a single motor but implements it in a new mid-drive setup combined with power steering.

Yamaha Y-00Z MTB concept electric bike

The company describes the bike as a “technical showcase of what is possible with eMTB technologies. It combines a split arrangement for the drive unit with an Electric Power Steering (EPS) system employing a magnetostrictive torque sensor proven on our PAS line of electrically power-assisted bicycles. The result is both excellent handling and stability in off-road riding.”

Whatever Yamaha is thinking, the company is set to debut the two bikes publicly at the Japan Mobility Show 2023 later this month. There the company will also show off some other wild designs, including a self-balancing electric motorcycle. So those that want to see these concepts in the flesh should be sure to snag a plane ticket to Tokyo pronto.

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