Thursday, December 3, 2015

My New eBike: What, Why

I've gone . . . electric.  [GASP!?!]

I'll give you a minute . . .

K, time's up.

Here's the deal, then.

I've been getting more and more interested in electric-assist bikes, or pedalecs.  Reason being, bike commuting has become, for me, not workable.  It's the time commitment - at 34 miles round trip, with a chunk of elevation at the home end, and frequent wind, it can take me an hour or better to get to work and and 1-1/2 or better to get home.  Throw in a shower at each end, and I'm looking at 2 extra hours vs the drive.  At a stage in my life where demands on my time are at an all time high and my energy level is inevitably decreasing with age, the equation doesn't balance.  My thought has been that maybe, this technology could be a way to work a bike back into my transportation scheme.

Ten, or five, or two years ago, my bike ego and resultant indignant sense of human-powered-purity would not have allowed me to even consider this heretical option.  My, how things change with time and technology.  I could go on, but Mr. Money Mustache explains my line of thinking far better than I ever could, in the first part of his post, HERE.

Where MMM and I diverge pretty radically is with respect to DIY kits/fiddling.  Here again, I just don't have the time, much as I wish I did.  I needed the plug and play option, and Bosch offers it NOW.  The system is so well engineered and so well integrated throughout the bike.

In a super-tight nutshell, here's how it all works:

  • Nothing happens unless you pedal.  If you do pedal, however, the bike will assist you, proportional to your input.  If you're lazy, it's lazy too.  If you're on fire, then "let's do this", says the bike.  The response is incredibly immediate.
  • The level of assistance is adjustable by you, the rider.  There are four levels.  Zero is a fifth option.
  • At the lowest level of assist, the bike will match you at half your input.  So if you're putting in 100 watts, it will add 50.
  • At the highest level of assist, the bike will add 2.75x your input.  So if you're putting in 100W, it will add 275, for a total of 375.  That's the shit that moves you up steep hills like a damn rocket and gets you home in time for a hot dinner, as opposed to a cold one.
  • If you ride at the highest level, you will drain your battery long before your ride has ended, and you will be pedaling your 45 Lb bike strictly under your own power and your face will look sad if not downright agonized.
  • If you ride at the lowest level, assistance will be with you for a great many miles, but your face will look content and not downright enthralled, as it would if you were climbing Bernard at 27mph and blasting spent electrons out your ass.
  • Balancing overall trip time against judicious juice use is the game then, and a fun one it is, especially given all the feedback that the handlebar-mounted brain provides.  Said the nerd.

Once I settled on the Bosch system as my must-have drive system, which didn't take long, I set about the task of deciding which brand integrated it into the dream bike with the greatest amount other stuff that I needed to have in my life.  There's a whole big other story about that, but it would put you immediately to sleep, so it will remain untold.  In the end, I recklessly forked over a small bike-fortune on a Trek XM700+.  Great bike, IMO, but how about that for a lame big-box bike name.  If it were up to me, I would incorporate electron spendage in the name for sure.  The "Trek Electron Ass Blaster 700", for instance.  I'm certain that they would sell a bazillion.  (I am also certain that it is a very good thing for Trek that that I am not employed by their marketing department.)

Whenever I get a new bike that I'm really excited about, I feel compelled to act out in a juvenile photographic ritual that I call "senior pictures".  I'm really excited about this bike, so here ya go . . .


The "heart" of this fine machine.

That's a pricey drive unit, appropriately protected by a skid plate.

The cockpit.

The "brain" of this fine machine.

Everything important (power assist level, info displayed) is controllable via this remote, left-thumb-operated unit.

Wires and cables abound.

Lots going on here.  Internal cable routing galore; Cannondale-style headshock;  worthy headlight
driven off the main battery.  And oh yeah, sucky fender line.  Pretty sure I can fix that, though.

Rad enclosed drivetrain.  Whatever big-boy bell-bottom pants you threw
your legs into this morning will work just fine on your ride.

Standard rear der and gearset out back, which works just like normal, and if you use it right, prolongs battery life.

Hydraulic discs, which are welcome and appreciated at the higher speeds you run around at on this bike.

Somewhat fugly but super functional euro kickstand, which I am quickly becoming BFF with.

Maybe my motivation makes sense to you at this point, or maybe you think I am totally full of bat-crazy bike shit, I get it.  You may like it, or you may hate it.  I am not sure myself.  Proof will be in the pud'n, for sure.  Let me get back to you.  In the meantime, please keep your car out of the shoulder . . . I have someplace to be.

19 comments:

amidnightrider.com said...

I looked into an electric assist for my bike touring adventures. But it's not time yet.

Have you ever considered driving part way to work and biking the remaining miles. My office was 30 miles from my home and depending on the day I would leave my care anywhere from 5-15 miles away.

Hank Greer said...

I look forward to reading about how this works out for you, Pat. And maybe seeing an electric-assisted burnout on an ice-covered road in a puddle of flammable liquid.

Not that I'm trying to give you any ideas. ;-)

Mike March said...

Welcome to ebikes.. That's a very high end ebike too..
I thought about the BOSH motors but to me, it had to much "propitiatory" connections, unique motor, unique frame, etc.

But damn sexy.

RCW said...


Can pedelecs legally live near schools and parks?

More to the point: Can they ride on designated bicicycle trails and lanes?

What are the rules of the road?

rory said...

Electric assist bikes can ride anywhere a regular bike can. The rules are they can't exceed 20 mph, so most programed to not exceed that.

Michael said...

Nice bike. Thanks to getting older and a injury or two, I'm pretty sure there's an e-bike in my future. But, that's still a few years off.

Stine said...

I feel a little jealous.

It's a good thing I'm done with my commute to Cheney -- E-assist would have made it totally do-able...

Dave N said...

What if you got hit by lightning on your way home? Could you manual all the way up the south hill?

Pat S said...

amr, I always thought that driving partway was a dilution of the purity of the human powered commute. But now I have an electric assist bike, that would truly be the kettle calling the pot black. I suppose I should now re-evaluate my half-drive/half-ride mindspace.

Hank, Patty requests that you please don't give me ideas.

Mike M, yeah. That's one of the knocks on the Bosch philosophy, for sure. And I get it. As an engineer though, I really dig the end result that has been achieved here by treating the eBike itself as a system, from the ground up, as opposed to the inherently challenging philosophy of adapting a group of power-assist components onto a bike that was originally designed to be powered by human effort only. They can end up being two very different machines. I think that people/companies that really study the latter approach can get it right, but I think there are far more that end up with a compromised vehicle. For me, the kind of time necessary to take on a project like this just isn't in the cards, and so I am glad to have the Bosch system readily available as something that I highly respect, from a design and performance viewpoint, even if it does come in at a price point that seems high to some (it doesn't to me, for what I get).

RCW, state laws are still taking shape across the country. As rory stated, in WA, anything capable of assist over 20 mph is no longer considered an eBike, by law. CA just passed the the most progressive policy in the country this past October, and it is anticipated that other states will follow suit. The quick summary is here:

http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/new-e-bike-law-passes-in-california

Michael, Stine, yeah. The right time and place is requisite, for sure. These things aren't gonna go wilfire in Spokane anytime soon. That's because it's way too easy to get into our cars and there is no real pressure driving alternative transportation. It's still very much an individual choice here. In other US cities, but especially in other international cities, conditions exist whereby eBike have demonstrated exceptional societal value as utility vehicles and their popularity and acceptance is significant, as a result.

Dave, that would require an integrated, Bosch-engineered flux capacitor, which was a $37,000 option. I had to pass, sadly.

Wileydog said...

Cool (cuz I'm from the 70's and still say that) and neat, too! Strangely enough, I've had a conversion, too, regarding ebikes and don't think they're evil anymore. Don't plan on getting one soon, but think they're a practical alternative or complement to the pedal powered variety.

Jason Gilman said...

I was pleasantly surprised to see this post in light of the fact that I'm also in the process of building a pedal assist eBike for similar reasons to your own. My commute is a bit longer since joining Hank on the north side, and while it's still totally doable, adding another 30-40 minutes makes it tough to fit into my family's schedule on a daily basis. My hope is with the ebike I'll finally be able to get back to daily riding again.

teamdarb said...

I'm confused, is there an off switch for the light? If not, would distance increase with a dedicated dynamo hub powering it and possibly charging the main?

Rory said...

I can't speak to the trek, but on my bike, the wattage of the lights is so low that it really doesn't impact the longevity of the battery.

Pat S said...

teamdarb, yes, there is an on/off switch for the light. And adding a dynamo hub to this bike would make no sense whatsoever.

ebikedelight said...

I’d love an electric bike because it would really help me get around in my community. My daughter just got her license so she takes my car some of the time. It would be easy to run errands with this bike and much more eco friendly than getting another car.

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