Wednesday, April 28, 2010

eBike News, Updated Irregularly: Kona, UK, Lexus, 1300w, and $575

Kona announces a new line of 3 ebikes - the e-Ticket and e-Token appear to be new frames, and the Electric Ute looks like a slight modification to their existing long tail cargo bike. 250w front hubs, with Schwinn-like battery placement under the rear rack and controller mounted to seat tube. No word on price or local availability. My guess would be a 24v system, but that's pure speculation.

A roadside assistance service specifically for ebikes debuts in the UK.

Lexus shows off their latest hybrid concept bike - a belt driven electronically-shifted Shimano rear hub and a 240w front motorized hub. Pretty! It would be tough to mount accessories to it.

Practically another concept: Hungary-based M55 launches an ebike built around a single-piece aluminum frame. With a 250w motor street-legal version and a 1300w off-road version, they plan low production volume at 250/year. Looks like it includes a CycleAnalyst.

The San Diego Source wrote an interesting story about an ebike commuter, detailing the $575 he saves annually by ebiking vs. driving. The "hospital bills are extra" was a sneaky little jab; if in a car accident, he'd have hospital bills, too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Pathfinder ST

I'm test riding a Pathfinder ST from Boomer Bicycles this week, courtesy of The eBike Store. It's a great bike thus far, and I'm looking forward to putting it through its paces. Are there any specifics that you'd like me to look at or test for? I've only got it for a week, but plan to do a lot of riding in that time. Range, convenience, weight, charge time, anything else you're curious about?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My New Smart Trips Pannier

Mrs. PDXEbiker and I are big fans of Sunday Parkways; last year, she was an Intersection Hero for the SE version, and we had several family members from out of town join us for the other rides. This year, we're planning to volunteer even more. One of the great things about volunteering with them is that we've accumulated several Smart Trips tote bags; today I realized that a great use for a bag would be as a makeshift pannier.

I picked up a Bike Bucket kit from City Bikes ($12, though parts could be assembled more cheaply from a hardware store), reviewed the directions, and proceeded to convert. A sheet of plastic cannibalized from an old unused storage container served as a frame, and a couple of drilled holes and bolts later, and I was done. It's not a heavy duty pannier, and certainly not waterproof, but I think it turned out rather nicely -- and it shows my support for Smart Trips.

I encourage you to volunteer for Sunday Parkways; you may get a bag and soon be on your way to a fancy pannier like mine!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

eBikes Celebrate Earth Day: Special Offer Round Up

What better day than Earth Day to do a quick survey of special ebike-related offers from various vendors? Here's what I've found:

Ebikekit is offering up to $100 off installation of any of their kits today. Some conditions apply, check here for details.

Kalkhoff's launch promotion continues: $500 off any ebike in stock, using code "LAUNCHPROMO" at checkout. is holding a sweepstakes this month - enter for a chance to win an eZip Trailz from Currie. No purchase required!

Electric Star out of Ashland, OR and Santa Barbara, CA are offering $400 off selected models of their ebikes.

NYCEwheels is offering free shipping, tax-free shopping, other specials today.

If I hear of any other deals today, I'll add them here. Have you heard of any specials?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Alan Durning's "Parable of the Electric Bike"

Alan Durning is the founder and executive director of the Sightline Institute, in Seattle, WA. He recently wrote a series of blog posts considering ebikes, their adoption, and ways to increase their adoption. I'm offering a summary outline here, but his clear thinking, research, and conclusions on the topic make it a very worthwhile read.

Part 1: "Juice Hawgs"

Intro and insight into current demand, from cargo to personal transportation, and brief summary of the history of ebikes.
My response - Nice preview - this is going to be good!

Part 2: "Charging Up"

Three Reasons Why eBikes may soon become mainstream in the NW and NA
1 Technological innovation keeps improving electric bikes.
2 Electric bikes are spreading in China and Europe.
3 Political trends are encouraging for electric bikes as well.
My response - I'm with him so far, though the "ebikes will soon be wildly popular!" mantra is often repeated in the press, but it hasn't actually happened in the US yet.

Part 3: "Flipping the Switch"

Ebikes seem perfectly poised to be very popular. Yet even government subsidies can't seem to accelerate ebike adoption.
My response - I didn't know that there were government subsidies in some areas. In trying to answer the question "they should be, but aren't popular; why?"

Part 4: "Circuit Breakers"
Four barriers to ebikes in the NW are:
1 Immature technology
2 Utilitarian bike culture not as pervasive as China/Europe
3 Closed distribution channels
4 Safety
My response - these aren't really unique to the NW, and are to some extent repetitious of #3. On the Safety point, I hear from a lot of ebike shoppers and owners that they're looking for/appreciate a little extra confidence in traffic through the additional power the motor affords them. Citing technological innovation as a positive impact, and immature technology as a hindrance to adoption seems contradictory - the net is "immature technology, but its getting better".

Part 5: "The Body Electric"
The rise in popularity of ebikes in China is a "policy accident". In order to create conditions for the wide adoption of ebikes, we need to:
1 Enact climate control policies putting a price on carbon
2 Make dramatic progress in improving bike infrastructure
3 Promote density in city planning
My response - These are social ways to address the lack of utilitarian bike culture, and address safety concerns, but no mention of how to address technology and distribution issues. 

Overall, I enjoyed this series; its a good overview of the state of the industry/market, and is still being quoted online.  His solutions aren't ebike, or NW, specific, of course.  Its interesting that he wants to create societal pressure promoting ebikes; I think inherent in this is the assumption that electric car research into batteries will resolve technical issues there and that the forces of a growing market will address closed distribution channels. Granted, I live in a city with comparably well-developed bike infrastructure, but in the short run, I think the biggest barrier to ebike market growth is awareness. These recommendations, focused on long run solutions,will help sustain and build market growth, once the awareness issue is overcome.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

eBike Reviews: Establishing a Baseline

I'm working on setting up a series of longer-term tests of some ebikes, and I thought it would be useful to provide some information about the tester, his riding experience, and his current ride to help put some of my future reviews in perspective. Bike reviews can be very subjective, so I think knowing these details may help understand some of my opinons in subsequent reviews.

About the Tester
I'm a mid-30's commuter. My daily commute is a little over 5 miles, but I frequently finds excuses to go out of the way to make it longer. I've been a recreational rider for years, a full-time commuter for a little over a year. In addition to the commute, I also use the ebike for neighborhood transportation, including hauling a trailer and grocery shopping. I also rides non-ebikes, but I'm not a high-mileage rider or a racer. At the home end of my commute, I have to carry the bike up 6 stairs; at the business end there are a few staple racks and ample hanging rack space.

The Current Bike

The classic lines of 1957 Schwinn cruiser, with a Wilderness Energy front hub motor at 36v/600 watts. I'm running a Ping v2.5 10ah LiFePO4 battery, which yields an effective range of about 20 miles on a single charge; a complete recharge takes about 4 hours. Top assisted speed is 20mph, top observed speed (downhill) is 27mph. The kit is a throttle based system, using a right thumb throttle. The bike weighs in at 65 lbs, which includes the 10 lb battery.

Front braking is accomplished through cantilever brakes; a v-brake upgrade is likely in the future. Rear braking is via the original coaster brake. Rolling a Schwalbe Marathon Plus front tire and generic whitewall rear tire, the ride is firm when inflated to maximum, but can be modulated via air pressure. The cruiser retains its original single speed setup; the chrome chainguard keeps pants out of the way of grease without the necessity of velcro.

Front lights are halogen, hardwired into the battery with Planet Bike blinkies for backup. Rear light is helmet-based. Aesthetically, the shaker-can spraypaint in flatblack leaves a bit to be desired, but the classic lines of the cruiser frame, generous seat, swept handlebars, and aftermarket folding basket make for a comfortable and functional ride. The innertube top tube wrap and zipties secure wiring, and lend to the utilitarian nature of the bike.
Bicycle Rear Rack Grocery Baskets, Folding - Wald 582 (Set of 2), Black

Overall, its a nice bike. It's a bit heavy for carrying upstairs or using a hanging rack, but it's comfortable and the ride quality is good. A bit more stopping power and a battery bag upgrade would be nice.

"Schwinnly Goodness"
Comfortable ride
Powerful lights
Collapsable side basket
Good power/thumb throttle

"Not so good..."
Squeeky seat
Urban camouflage paint job
Front rim requires occasional retrueing

The 2nd Annual Portland eBike eRide

As part of Pedalpalooza, the 2 week bike-chanalia every June, I'll be leading the 2nd annual eBike eRide on Saturday, June 12th. After a great ride last year, I'm excited at the chance to lead it again.

As we did last year, we'll meet at noon at The eBike Store at 201 Alberta and Vancouver(gotta love the coffee!), and leisurely wind our way through Portland, stopping at various locations of ebike-related note. We'll wind up at a charger-friendly pub to top off our batteries, then head back to the start. Total distance will be less than 12 miles.

Mark your calendars now - the Pedalpalooza calendar fills quickly, and I know I've already got some difficult decisions to make. I'm still working out the route, but if you've got any ideas, I'm eagerly open to them!

Comparing Motor Sizes: Advice from the LEVA

Ed Benjamin from the Light Electric Vehicle Association recently detailed some considerations when thinking about buying an ebike - specifically, motor size - 250, 500, or 750 watts. Since legal definitions of ebikes are partially based on wattage, it's good to understand the difference. Here's a summary of his considerations:

1. What is actually legal where you live? In Oregon and Washington, the motor limit is 1000 watts, but there are other details in the definition as well.

2. How is that power measured? A motor may different power ratings based on where its measured.

3. Are you measuring peak power, or continuous?

4. How much power will your battery realistically drive - range/weight/cost are all factors here.

In general, Ed says that 250 watts are good for pedal assisted systems - as the rider has to be pedaling to for the motor to engage, they'll always be helping move the bike. 350-500 watt motors are better, Ed says, in throttle-based applications, and that much bigger than 750 watts really starts to require impractical battery arrangements.

Thanks for the tips, Ed! One of Ed's best points, I think, is that ebikes are bicycles, and "a bicycle is a very privileged vehicle". Ed was also recently interviewed on NPR's Science Friday, which I transcribed/summarized here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Earth Day Special: $100 off installed conversion kit

Ebikekit is offering a $100 rebate off any installed conversion kit purchased on Earth Day next Friday, April 22. They're carried (& installed) locally at The eBike Store, 201 N Alberta. Retail price depends on exact configuration, but my back-of-envelope calculation is about 10% off.

Conversion kits are a great way to breathe a bit of fresh air into an old friend. If you've got an old bike lying around, it may be a great candidate for a conversion. Also, the Community Cycling Center and City Bikes have very reasonably priced used bikes. There are some particulars about converting a bike (mostly details about the front forks), so you may want to call and ask about the details before you buy a bike specifically to convert.

Details can be found here:

Monday, April 12, 2010

eBikes on a Train

I recently took the Cascade Starlight train to Seattle, WA. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to take the ebike on the train, so I opted to use my folding bike instead. However, when I asked at the luggage desk whether ebikes were considered bikes, or were separately banned, they responded that as long as the bike fits on their rack and weighs less than 50lbs (with the battery removed, I assume), its fine for the train.

Unrelated to ebikes, the train was a great way to travel. Much better scenery than in a car, and no need to worry about the perennial I-5 traffic. Its an additional $5 to take the bike on the train, but in my mind, money well spent. There are a limited number of spaces that don't require some degree of disassembly, so I'd say its definitely worth planning ahead.

eBike News: Ban, Share, Infusion, Change, New

(An irregular rundown of what's new and fun in ebikes. Got a tip? I'd love to hear it!)

Sarnia, Ontario, Canada considering banning ebikes from sidewalks and trails. They're already banned from sidewalks in the US when operated under battery power, but legal on trails/MUP.

eBike activist looking to tap soft drink fund for several college ebike co-ops/rental services. Lucky UMinn, Iowa State.

Conversion kit maker Currie scores $6.5m investment infusion.

EU may announce changes to exisiting ebike law, allowing higher power/top assisted speed. Since many US models are built to European specs, could this drive changes in the US market as well?

Raleigh (using Panasonic electronics), Velorbis (handbuilt to order!) enter the ebike market.

"Better than Butter": NuVinci's New CVT Hub

NuVinci recently launched a new version of their continuously variable transmission hub - the N360. Its interesting technology, and an interesting application. As a continuously variable transmission, it varies the effective gear ratios based on input from the rider. CVT's have been in other applications; Subaru launched one in the Justy in 1987; to my knowledge this is the first application in a bike. The upgrade to the N360 reflects smaller size, lighter weight, and a $50 decrease in MSRP.

I had ridden the previous N170 version at City Bikes earlier in the day. It was fairly intuitive to ride, but I didn't immediately understand the "inchworm". As I twisted the shifter, the flat orange line gently curved into a hill, and then flattened again as I downshifted. Also, under load, the effort required to shift fluctuated.

At the launch event, Mrs. PDXebiker and I both tried out the new N360 on the trainer, and both found it easy to use. Unfortunately, it was so easy to use, that after a few shifts, it didn't require much thought at all, and we didn't really notice using it. Asked for our feedback, we couldn't come up with much more than "smooth", which seemed to be a the most popular response. City Bikes labels their (N170 model tester) "Like Butter!" - I'm not sure what's smoother than butter, but the N360 is. The "inchworm", I learned is a quick way to gauge what ratio you're in - handy at stoplights. The shift effort fluctuation is gone, too.

There were several other demonstration models on hand, in a variety of style frames. An urban bike, a mountain bike, a folder, a custom cruiser (later spotted in Pedal Nation's Pimp'd Bike contest), and an ebike all had the hub installed. Of course, bikes like that don't stay on trainers. Soon, people were slowly circling the room, trying out the hub, and smiling once it "clicked".

During a brief talk during the event, Alan Nordin, the President of the Bike Division of Fallbrook Technologies, detailed the benefits of CVTs, the improvements the upgrade to the N360 represents, and said that they specifically chose Portland to launch the product because "Portland gets bikes". Further, he specifically cited the ebike market as a target for them - people on ebikes appreciate the ease in shifting, comfort, and generally don't mind a little extra weight in the hub.

MSRP is (updated)$399, available through any bike store (they're carried by several part wholesalers) Kalkhoff's stocking a ebike demo unit locally; I'm excited to try it out off the trainer.

Pedal Nation: An eBike Perspective

Last Saturday, I attended the local Pedal Nation bicycle show. My attendance underwritten by The eBike Store, I was on task to see what the ebike presence was, talk to some old friends, and see if there's anything new in the world of ebiking. I managed to do all three, and still spend some time perusing the best the bike world has to offer.

Walking in, I saw that Tori of Gracie's Wrench was teaching a session on basic bike maintenance. Tori teaches ebiker safety classes to new eBike Store customers; as in my previous posting on the topic, this photo's a little out of focus. She doesn't stay still for long!

Of course, I first headed to the ebike section. Most of the ebike vendors were within 1 aisle of the bmx trick course, if not immediately facing it. I checked in with Wake from The eBike Store - he'd brought 2 of the models he carries, and had a full array of accessories as well.

Next to The eBike Store was Greenlight Bikes/Kalkhoff USA. They'd brought their entire line, including a new model with a NuVinci N360 CVT rear hub installed. I hear it's a smooth setup; I'm keen to try it out.

Columbia Scooters was there, showing their Hebb line of ebikes. New to the ebike scene, it will be interesting to see how Columbia incorporates ebikes into their current line of mopeds, scooters, etc.

I had an interesting conversation with E-moto. They had a significant booth at the show; they've also got some exciting stuff planned to really build category awareness, but I'll save those details for another posting.

Finally, I stumbled across Columbia Cycle Works. I'd not seen their Tripod model before, but its intriguing. A tadpole-style recumbent with a full fiberglass fairing and a 48v 500 watt rear hub motor, its an interesting entrant into the market. I'm partial to the classic British racing car-inspired styling cues.

I was also a big fan of the Nutcase Helmets Nutty Rider area. They were offering test rides on running bikes for kids, accessorized with Nutcase's whimsical and safe designs. I'm particularly taken with the watermelon version, seen awkwardly here.

Overall, Pedal Nation was a good event - it was the first bike show I've been to that so prominently featured electric bikes. Notable in its absence was the Sanyo Eneloop, which has been heavily promoted through national press. I was a little disappointed that the demo area was not larger, and thus more conducive to comparison riding. With all those ebike sellers present, it would've been a great opportunity for it. Hopefully, we'll see Pedal Nation again next year.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

eBikes at Pedal Nation

Here's a quick roundup of electric bike presence at Pedal Nation this weekend:

The eBike Store: Wakefield Gregg will have a selection of the brands he carries ready for a demo ride, as well as accessories and info about conversion kits.

Kalkhoff will be demoing their line of ebikes. Also, they'll be distributing coupons worth $500 off a new bike purchase (psst, enter offer code LAUNCHPROMO at online checkout).

E-moto will be demoing their full line of ebikes. They'll also be raffling off a new bike, drawing to be held Sunday afternoon. That's a $1500 value.

At 10:30am Sunday, Phil Herzog of Hebb Bicycles will be presenting on "Going Lean and Green on Electric Bikes". Billed as including interactive time with the audience, it will be interesting to see what questions the audience comes up with.

Its shaping up to be a great opportunity to try out a bunch of ebikes. I'll be there - will you? Pedal Nation at the Oregon Convention Center, $7 at the door. If I've missed anything, please drop me an email and let me know!

Update, 4/6:
Hebb Bikes reports on their attendance: "Hebb E-Bikes will be displaying our line of electric bikes with our new retailer in the Portland Area, Columbia Scooters. $200 off coupons and free test rides will be available. Come see and ride the "Lexus of Electric Bikes"."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Kalkhoff Open House

Last night I went to the Kalkhoff open house, coinciding with the Pearl District's First Thursday art walk. I had a great time; my observations follow.

First, a bike is The Way to get to First Thursday. With traffic backed up over the Broadway Bridge, I was able to ride by almost unimpeded. Between bike lanes and a handy Copenhagen left or 2, I arrived easily and quickly. Bike parking was at a premium; I had to use a sign. This might not be a bad spot for a bike corral.

Once there, I soon found Kalkhoff employees Todd and Prinelle, who directed me to beer and bratwurst.

The sales floor was dense with people enjoying the refreshments and checking out the bikes. I worked my way through the crowd (full messenger bags don't really work in crowds, do they? I quickly stashed it.), got a beer, and queued for a bratwurst. Imported from Wisconsin and cooked on an Evo grill, the brats were great.

Hunger sated, I mingled. Mrs. PDXebiker and I fortuitously met Miriam of Nutcase Helmets, and had a good chat - we all agreed that the best helmet is the one you actually wear, so their fun designs are great. Throughout the night, a video rolled on a large screen of ebiking in both Portland and Germany (I assume; it didn't look like Portland). I also managed to catch a shot of Prinelle by the grill (in yellow and green).

Later, I ran into Wake of The eBike Store, Eric of Greenlight Bikes/KalkhoffUSA and David of NuVinci, deep in discussion about ebike technology and the upcoming Pedal Nation show. Its great to be a fly on the wall during discussions like these - big things on the horizon, and insight into the cutting edge of ebike technology.

A light rain began, so I grabbed some gummi bears (Mrs. PDXe is a big fan) and made my exit. Thanks, Kalkhoff, for a fun night!

Updated, 4/2:
At the open house, they were distributing launch promotion coupons for a discount of $500 (yep, five hundred dollars) off any ebike in stock; they've given me permission to post the offer code here - enter code "LAUNCHPROMO" at checkout to redeem online. Of course, some restrictions apply - see them for details. I understand they may have these coupons at upcoming Pedal Nation as well.