Hub-motor drive electric bicycles?
December 5, 2005 1:40 AM   Subscribe

Do you have any first or second hand electric bicycle experiences, particularly with the new hub drive retrofit kits?

I'm sick of waiting for buses - but I'm entirely uninterested in "giving up" and buying a big, bulky, wasteful car. I've got a meager 18 mile commute, round trip in a town that has something like 500 days of sunshine a year - it's even sunny here in Phoenix on the days it rains in Monsoon season. My shifts are generally long enough that I can get a full charge back into a battery.

I'm looking at these particular models: 600 watt brushed motor and 400 watt brushless motor, both front wheel hub-motor designs. This seems to be a pretty good price.

I'm also interested in the chain-gear driven "LashOut" electric bike, but the bike they mount it on sucks greatly. (I had a chance to ride one on the streets recently. The motor/gear combo has some serious pickup and oompf, but the bike is a piece of crap.) They apparently don't have a proper "LashOut" add-on kit, yet. Only the old Currie "ElectroMotiveDrive" model, which looks hinky and is apparently rather inefficient, and the precursor to the current "LashOut" design.

Does anyone have any first or second hand knowledge about the reliability, speed, cold-start power and durability of these new, imported hub-motor-drive models linked to above?

Long, anecdotal disclaimer: Yeah, I can ride that 9 miles, easily. The bike I have probably has 20,000-40,000 miles on it, and the one I had for 8 years before that probably had twice that. I love biking and cranking, but I get to work all sweaty and gross, and there's no showering options, and I deal with staff, faculty and students at a helpdesk all day long. I get really sweaty. I'm a large, hairy mammal with well a well functioning cooling system. I'm also looking to extend my bike-travelling range. I was recently in a rather hardcore but broad-spectrum bike shop looking at commuter/mountain bike style hybrid bikes, and when I asked if they had any electrics the guy got all snooty on me. "Bikes are meant to be pedaled!", the guy said. "Yeah, I pedal mine a lot. I have a 10 mile commute, and I'd get to work all sweaty. Plus it gets to be like a gazillion degrees here in the summer." "Well, I bike 20 miles to work every day! Even when it's a hundred and twenty!", he said in a superior tone. *blink* "Uh, yeah, but you work in a bike shop. I have to wear a shirt and frickin' tie and deal with corporate doofusii all day. I really want an electric bike". As a further example of this anti-powered bike bias, just before I went into this store I met the nice fellow who had the LashOut bike that I tried on the streets. Some yuppie yelled some sort of bike epithet at us as he cranked by in his spandex and $3,000 Klien carbon graphite full suspension mountain bike. We stood there and talked for a while and the guy rode by and yelled something at us again, then proceeded to go rack up his bike on his frickin' Lexus SUV and drive off. Grr. Damn your SUV-drivin' yuppie hide, I want an electric commuting bike - not a 5 pound mountain bike that's the price of a small car I only ride on weekends on the street.
posted by loquacious to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total)
You may have happened across these already, but askme has two previous electric bike threads: here and here. The first one seems to have degenerated into a scooter/motorcycle discussion, and the second one (mine) only got a few replies. Hopefully this one will have better luck. :)

I didn't end up going with an electric bike myself. My current solution is to bike part of the way and use public transit for the rest of the trip. The bike-to-bus distance ratio varies depending on how energetic I am feeling, and whether or not I want to shower when I get to school. :)

Is the Phoenix transit system equipped for bikes? Luckily, most buses here (Vancouver) are equipped with bike racks, and I can also take my bike on the Skytrain commuter rail system.

Alternately, if you can't take your bike with you on transit, is there a secure place you can lock your bike for the day? (e.g. the Skytrain stations here have bike lockers, so you can bike partway, lock up your bike, and continue on to your destination on foot/train/bus)
posted by sanitycheck at 2:17 AM on December 5, 2005

I've only had experience with the very expensive Heinzmann motor systems - from Kinetics in the UK - and they look to be about the only motor systems solid enough to handle commuting.

Ben of Kinetics showed me the guts of several cheaper motors that had been brought into him for repair. Most of them had very badly worn gears, and one had only had a few weeks' use.

See what AtoB currently recommends. They're based in the UK, but some of the brands are the same.

If you're not looking to retro-fit, Giant have a reasonable reputation for well thought-out and domesticated electric bicycles.
posted by scruss at 6:51 AM on December 5, 2005

Response by poster: Yeah, there's bus-mounted bike racks. But they're so popular on the routes I use that it would be a highly unreliable way to get to work. They seem to be slowly introducing these new-fangled 3-bike capacity racks, though. But that still won't help much, as it's almost daily on my route that the racks reach capacity and multiple riders are left behind.

Plus, even if I rode at a leisurely 9 MPH, it would the same time or slightly less to get to work as it would if I took the bus - just about an hour, give or take about 15 minutes. If I could average 15-20, I'd halve my commute time.

And finally, I work wonky evening hours, and they may be about to get wonkier. On the trip home I have to walk almost a mile. This is primarly more of an annoyance in that it adds even more time to a slow, crawling two-bus route commute, but walking on concrete sidewalks at night after a long shift amidst urban/suburban sprawl isn't exactly entertaining, either.

If I could reliably get my bike to work with me I wouldn't mind directly riding the 9 miles home just to avoid this slog.

Which is why I'm looking at electric bikes - it would take less time to make the commute, I could choose to ride whenever I wanted to or be whisked there mostly effortlessly on the way there.
posted by loquacious at 6:52 AM on December 5, 2005

Having never seen either of those units, I would go for the brushless model, as motor brushes can (in general) wear out and eventually need to be replaced. They definitely look pretty cool - I'd love to hear how they work if you buy one of them.
posted by GuyZero at 8:36 AM on December 5, 2005

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