I was glad to see Ted Dillard’s article on electric bikes in HP172. For the last 40 years, I have been a bicycle commuter and recreational biking enthusiast, putting tens of thousands of miles under my wheels. During the last six years, a disability required a shift to electric bicycles. To date, I am 8,000+ miles and three e-bikes into that experience.
My first electric was a hub motor conversion to an existing bike with an eZee kit. They have a planetary gear motor drive instead of direct drive. They make a little more noise and have no regenerative capability, but are a lower-price conversion alternative.
In my experience, the option for regenerative braking capability in a bicycle proved to be more hype than utility. I never got more than 10% recovery in either bike with that capability, and that was over a wide variety of terrain and conditions.
On motor controllers, a number of manufacturers, such as BionX, build them into the hub; others, such as Crystalyte, have them as an external device. Keep in mind when doing a conversion that external controls have to be placed somewhere, generally in the vicinity of the hub.
Low and central battery placement gives the bike a better feel and balance. Placement behind the seat post has the effect of extending the wheelbase, thus increasing the turning radius and making the bike less responsive. Batteries on a rack over the rear wheel make the bike more top-heavy and likely to fall over if placed on a kickstand.
Most manufacturers now use 36-volt lithium as the standard. Faster bikes are shifting to 48 V. Nearly all new bike batteries use lithium-iron-phosphate or some comparably reliable battery chemistry. In used electric bikes, be advised that lithium polymer batteries, a first-generation battery type, have problems with capacity fading much quicker than with later battery chemistries.
Finally, a comment on “you get what you pay for.” I paid more than $4,000 for my current bike, but would not say the price matches the quality. The bike looks good, is designed well, and gets a lot of positive comments when I am out and about. Unfortunately, the company used an off-shore manufacturer and they installed low-quality drive components and substandard parts like the seats and brakes. Given the price, I expected a lot better. I am now looking to invest $1,000 to replace the drive system, brakes, and seat, so I can have the bike I expected. Given how much I like the basic design, I am willing to do it.
I suggest that people in the market for an electric bike examine independent reviews and be very cautious with a bike that is new to the market. There is an assurance benefit to having a track record that speaks to the true nature of the beast.
I very much enjoy riding electric bikes. I can continue being on the saddle when a medical condition could have curtailed that part of my life. I am happy for the option of electric assist, and feel fortunate the technology progressed so I can continue enjoying a lifelong passion for riding.
The bike I currently (no pun) ride is a Stromer ST1 Platinum—500-watt hub, 36-volt, with a 14 amp-hour battery. The range is 60 to 75 miles depending on terrain and aggression in riding. I can connect an additional 12 Ah battery in parallel and extend the range to 125 miles. I am considering an upgrade to a Grin hub, controller, Cycle Analyst, and charger. I’ve used Cycle Analyst displays on all my bikes and like the quality, reliability, and documentation for their products.
Jack Herndon • Seattle, Washington
Thanks for your letter; it’s well stated. Significant research is the key to being happy with an electric bicycle choice.
My first electric bike was also an Ezee kit with a 48 V battery, both purchased from Grin Technologies (ebikes.ca). I liked it very much, and my replacement is likely to also be an Ezee kit. My only complaint was the battery location. I selected the rear double-rack mount because there was no elegant means of mounting it low in the center triangle. I hope that’s changed by the time I buy my replacement kit.
Michael Welch • Home Power senior editor