In 2015, French aeronautical engineer Nicolas Muron was visiting his grandparents, who lived in the French Alps where transportation in the winter often depended on snowmobiles. After listening to the peace and quiet of the mountains begin shattered by fleets of those noisy, smelly beasts, he decided there had to be a better way — something like an e-bike for the snow that was lightweight, easy to maintain, and sustainable.
Muron’s answer to the snowmobile invasion was the MoonBike. At 163 lbs, it weighs less that one third as much as a typical snowmobile. It is 88 inches long, 28 inches wide, and rides on a track that is ten inches in width. Its electric motor is rated at 3 Kw (4 hp) and provides 170 Nm (125 ft-lbs) of torque — enough power to easily sling the MoonBike up the steepest mountain slopes. Peak power is 6 kW (8 hp) and the top speed is 42 km/h (26 mph). Just like an electric car, the MoonBike has 90% fewer moving parts that an combustion engine powered snowmobile. The machine is designed to be easily repairable as it uses mostly off the shelf parts.
A 3 kWh battery gives the MoonBike up to 90 minutes of riding time, which can be extended to 3 hours if a second battery (optional) is fitted. The battery is easily removed from the machine and can be recharged using a standard wall outlet. The MoonBike operates on a 72 volt architecture and the battery compartment is heated to improve battery performance.
So what is the MoonBike like to ride? The folks at Electric Cycle Rider took three of them on an overnight trip to a cabin in the Rocky Mountains that was 11,000 feet above sea level. The riders said, “The quiet nature of the MoonBikes bikes offered a truly unique experience, different from anything we have had on snow machines in the back country before. Despite apprehension going into the trip about the claimed range and actual real world battery life, the MoonBikes proved to be impressive in the battery department, providing almost 2 hours of ride time per battery. In sport mode, riding flat out, with 8 inches of fresh snow to cut through, the power was more than sufficient for the type of riding we took on.
“It became apparent that the short track on the MoonBike came into its own when there was a packed base to dig into. When dipping off into deep snow, we experienced a quick loss of forward momentum. Spending several days with the MoonBikes made it obvious that these bikes are not designed to replace the modern 2 stroke, turbocharged, long track mountain sled. The MoonBikes seem to be best suited as a mode of fun transportation in mountain towns, ski resorts and the endless miles groomed snowmobile trails across the northern United States.”
To sum it up, the MoonBikes offer an extraordinary unique experience in winter environments. They are designed to be fun, lightweight and, above all, silent. They’re an excellent option for those who want to explore winter wilderness environments in a way that’s different from traditional snowmobiles, as they are a entertaining, quiet and unique way to experience winter.
The Next Web says about the MoonBike, “Think of it as a sophisticated person’s snowmobile. It’s cleaner and quieter but also smaller, lighter, and more maneuverable, which makes it more appealing to a broader demographic.” Muron tells TNW, “We’re on a mission to democratize snowmobility. The average snowmobile user is male, over 50 years old, and a powersports enthusiast who loves gas, fumes, and noise. We’re a little different.”
MoonBike buyers so far are a very different demographic from the typical snowmobile owner, Muron savs. They are avid skiers and nearly all of them also drive an electric car. While most sales so far have been to individual customers, Muron thinks sales to ski areas will soon make up more of the the company’s business.
MoonBike has won acceptance from ski areas that want to reduce their carbon footprint. Guided MoonBike trips are now available at over 50 ski areas in Europe and North America, with a new park opening in Japan this year. “The machine is a little more technical than a snowmobile but you learn quickly,” explains one happy customer on TripAdvisor, who did a MoonBike tour in the French Alps last year. “Its lightness and the silence of the electric motor is appreciable. We did a classic snowmobile two days before and the smell of gasoline was almost unbearable.”
But disrupting an industry doesn’t come without backlash, especially when petrol heads are involved. Muron says that “haters” regularly take to social media to vent their frustrations at the MoonBike but he takes it all in stride. “To me, it shows us that we’re heading in the right direction,” he says.
All Electric Snow Mobiilty
The MoonBike is no substitute for traditional snowmobiles that haul multiple passengers and cargo across the frozen tundra. But those machines, when used for recreational purposes, often cause extensive damage to the environment. Their tracks rip up land cover, affecting vegetation growth throughout the year. Their exhaust fumes contain dangerous levels of airborne toxins, degrading air quality and altering snow chemistry. In one hour, a typical snowmobile can emit as much carbon dioxide as a gasoline powered car emits in 1000 miles of driving.
They have been banned in some parts of Switzerland. Their bad reputation has also made it more difficult for MoonBike to get permission to operate in some areas. “Getting permits to operate in France, Switzerland, and Canada can be really difficult because, on paper, Moonbikes are in the same category as snowmobiles,” explains Muron. He believes regulations will help boost sales for his company as governments increasingly imposed restrictions on modes of transportation that degrade the environment.
Muron believes people are also changing their minds about mobility in the snow. Electric snowmobiles are now on the market, giving people options they never had before. Two to watch in this space are Taiga Motors from Canada and Vidde from Sweden. Taiga, which went public in 2021 at a valuation of $422mn, is undoubtedly the segment leader at this point, with three fully electric sleds available for tackling all types of snowy terrain. The company also makes electric jet skis.
Meanwhile, Sweden’s Vidde plans to deliver its first 1,000 electric snowmobiles in late 2024, with orders from the country’s resort operator Skistar, electricity producer Skelleftea Kraft and the Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi. In collaboration with Italian car design firm Pininfarina, Vidde claims to have built the world’s cleanest snowmobile.
As for the role of the MoonBike in the future of snow travel, it will probably be somewhere between skiing and snowmobiling — mostly for recreation but with certain practical applications. A greener, quieter world will do all of us good.
Hat tip to Dan Allard.
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