Thursday, August 26, 2010 Guest Post

I'm happy to say that I'm a guest poster on today. My post, "eBikes, the Law, and You" is a brief summary of federal, state, and local laws regarding ebikes and their legal usage on the streets of Portland. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Charlie Sorrel, "Shimano STEPS Up with E-Bike Component Set", WIRED, June 21, 2010

Sorrel reviews the new Shimano ebike component group. Commenters question price, complexity, and battery capacity, but it looks like an interesting set of hardware.

7 positive
2 negative

"16 Electric Bikes That Help with the Pedaling", The Daily Green, June 13, 2010.

The staff at The Daily Green round up a gallery of 16 ebikes that "help you do the pedaling". Unfortunately, most of the comments were from dealers/resellers posting multiple copies of the same comments.

18 total comments
 6 positive
1 negative

Chuck Squatriglia, "Go From A2B on an Electric Bike, Praying the Battery Doesn’t Die", WIRED, 8/13/2008

Continuing my on-going informal survey of ebike press, and the comments people post, today Squatriglia positively reviews the A2B ebike for Wired Magazine, and spam comments aside, generates a good response.

37 total comments
15 positive
16 negative

Reading: "Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives"

Photo c. D. Woodard
On Thursday, August 5, Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez spoke to a group of about 15 people at Powell's Books on SE Hawthorne Street.  They discussed their new book, "Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives". They've wound up a cross-country, book tour (car-free, of course), with subsequent stops in Seattle, WA, and Vancouver, BC.

The idea to write "Carjacked..." came about, they said, through a related series of events, some tragic.  First, they both switched lifestyles - Anne moving from an urban area to a suburban neighborhood, and Catherine making the opposite change. As they adjusted into their new lifestyles, the changes each experienced prompted a deeper conversation between them.  And tragically, at around the same time, they lost several close friends (to whom the book is dedicated) to automobile accidents. They sought to answer the question - if cars are apparently so bad for us, how did we end up in the situation we are in?

C. Lutz records a recent Sprockettes performance.
Bringing her experience as an anthropologist to the table, Catherine has great insight into how this happened culturally.  Anne complements this with a keen business insight. The fact that they both have educational experience at both the primary and secondary levels is reflected in a thoroughness yet easy readability. The book is well-documented with endnotes, quotes from extensive interviews, and sheds light on some commonly held (and in some cases, intentionally created) misperceptions about our relationships with the automobile.

Here are some interesting facts from their research:

* Americans spend, on average, 18.5 hours per week either driving or riding in a car.  In a year, car owners spend $14,000 a year on direct expenses related to their cars, commonly the second greatest household expense, and approaching the greatest household expense in some areas.

* Their research further indicated that rather than providing freedom for their owners, cars actually accelerate the economic disparity in society. In fact, a car is not freeing or empowering, it is impoverishing.

* Cars create carnage. 40,000 people die each year in car-related incidents.  Additionally, 2.5 million people are injured in cars; these injuries can affect the quality of life of the victims for the rest of their lives.  More people have died in car accidents in the history of the US than in all our wars combined.

* The "Public Transit Diet" - by opting to take public transit or other forms of active transportation, people can easily drop between 5 and 10 pounds of weight.

* Fuel efficiency is not, on average, improving. The Model T, when introduced, got 28 miles per gallon. The modern average fuel economy is 24.7 mpg.

* Electric cars are not the answer to car culture - their experience (Anne owns a Toyota Prius) has been that the only thing they change is the source of power for propulsion. Granted, there are benefits from switching power sources, but that won't move us away from a car-centric culture. Also, they think, the electric car is something of a red herring, in that car companies are saying they're constantly just at the horizon, but "in the meantime, please buy this SUV".

When asked about what can be done to move Americans from a love/hate relationship or a sense of ambivalence to their cars, in addition to the recommendations that they make in their final chapter, "A Call to Action", they recommend we overcome the ingrained car culture through awareness and education.

Monday, August 23, 2010

First Look: The Kalkhoff Sahel

Sahel Pro Disc enjoying the Esplanade.

With the launch of their 2010 line of ebikes, Kalkhoff also announces the introduction of two new models, the Sahel Pro Disc and Sahel Comp.  Based on the same 26v 250 watt Panasonic electronics as the rest of their line, it does demonstrate a new line of thinking for them. I was lucky enough to get to test ride a pre-production sample model of the Sahel Pro Disc.
The most striking difference between the Sahel Pro Disc and the Pro Connect Sport, their top-of-the-line model, is the wider tires.  These seem to afford a smoother ride, and are more forgiving in a roughly-paved urban environment. The Sahel Pro Disc also features an 8-speed internal hub, and titular disc brakes.

Though not as aggressive as the Pro Connect Sport, the Sahel Pro Disc's riding position is still fairly aggressive. It does lack the integrated bar ends of the Pro Connect Sport; however, I didn't really miss them. Riding the Sahel Pro Disc was enjoyable - the shared electronics make it cohesive with the rest of the Kalkhoff line - the tires are a bit more comfortable. The lack of front suspension was noticeable, but also afforded better feel for the road. Integrated lights are a nice touch, and the disc brakes do ensure reliable and responsive stopping.

Sahel Comp, with Xtracycle, c. Kalkhoff USA.
In short, the Sahel is a well-designed product. It's different enough from the Pro Connect Sport, and indeed, the rest of the Kalkhoff line, to merit it's own position.  At launch, it is available in Pro Disc configuration, reviewed here, as well as the Comp edition, which is distinguished from the Pro Disc model by a step-through "Wave" frame, hydraulic rim brakes in lieu of discs, leather grips, and a Brooks leather saddle. Kalkhoff USA is experimenting with an Xtracycle-equipped version of the Sahel Comp, an interesting Teutonic take on the Japanese "mamachari" ebike.

The Sahel Pro Disc retails for $3,449; the Sahel Comp lists at $3,399.

New for 2010: Kalkhoff USA Launches New Models, Upgrades Current Line

Kalkhoff USA recently announced new additions and changes to their product line for 2010. They reflect a refreshed approach to the American market for ebikes, as well as targeting a broader audience for ebikes.

Sahel Pro Disc, courtesy KalkhoffUSA
The biggest news is certainly the launch of 2 new models, the Sahel Pro Disc and Sahel Comp.  The Sahel Pro Disc seems to me to be a more urban-friendly version of the Pro Connect Sport, with disc brakes and fully integrated lighting. It sports an aggressive riding position and wider tires - better for crossing railroad tracks and providing a somewhat smoother ride. The Sahel Pro goes a step farther, sporting a step-through frame, leather hand grips, and a Brooks leather saddle. I rode a pre-production sample of the Sahel Pro Disc recently - I'll be posting a more comprehensive review shortly.

The bars, top center, indicate real-time assist level.
Changes also come to the Pro Connect Sport and Pro Connect models. The Pro Connect Sport is now also available with SRAM's Dual Drive technology - a nine-speed rear derailleur coupled to a 3 speed internal rear hub, yielding a total of 27 available gear ratios. Both Pro Connect models have been upgraded to a 300-watt motor from last year's 250-watt model, as well as 2:1 power assist.  The additional power also comes with an upgraded "dashboard", which includes a power meter, detailing in real time how much assist the motor is providing. Not merely good to know; this information helps enable a rider extend their range by monitoring battery usage. I would expect some impact to range due to the increased power, but I can't estimate what that impact will be.  I briefly rode the new Pro Connect Sport recently, and the additional power is a seamless and welcome addition. Sadly, the ergonomic hand grips with integrated bar ends have been replaced, but the new grips are fairly comfortable, too.

The entire line of Kalkhoff ebikes receives an upgrade in color selection as well. A somewhat more muted palette, the new colors might make the Kalkhoffs a bit harder to pick out in a crowd, but also reflect a commuter's sensibilities in color selection.

Xtracycle'd Sahel Comp, c. KalkhoffUSA.
Kalkhoff USA is also researching an Xtracycle-equipped version of the Sahel Comp model, with a Tasman Wave to follow. A USA-only offering, the addition of the Xtracycle vastly increases the load-carrying capacity of the ebike; the reassuring stopping power of hydraulic brakes is a necessary feature when carrying larger loads.

Kalkhoff USA is hosting an open house at their Pearl District showroom (528 NW 11th) this Thursday, August 26th, from 5:00 to 9:00 PM. Drop in, enjoy a complimentary bratwurst (they are German ebikes, after all), and check out the new additions and changes to the Kalkhoff ebike line of offerings.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The PDXebiker Retreat

The staff and I are taking a few days away from the blog for our annual retreat, so you may not see much activity for a few days. I know there have been other quiet periods, but at least I'm announcing this one ahead of time. In the meantime, keep your batteries charged and your eyes on the road!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The eBike Shelf: Effective Cycling, by John Forester

Effective Cycling, by John Forester, is a copious book that explores many angles of cycling and cycling culture.  Often lauded as the authoritative source for beginning riders as well as those with more experience, he posits that "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." From this starting point, he builds a convincing argument, supported with instructional tips and years of experience, about riding and integrating safely with traffic.  I still like separate dedicated bike infrastructure, but this book helped me think more critically about how I ride with traffic.  Though lacking in any content about electric bikes, it's a great general guide book, and a valuable reference source.

Review: Riding the Rest of the Kalkhoff Line

Sometime ago, I test rode the top-of-the-line Kalkhoff Pro Connect Sport for a week. I was impressed with its component mix, accessories, performance, and overall quality.  I was interested in trying the remaining models in their line, and I recently spent a sunny, if cool, afternoon test riding several models. Since the electronics and batteries used (the 250-watt 26 volt Panasonic mid-drive system) are the same across their product line, I was fairly comfortable that I could make a good comparison based on a shorter ride. Here are my impressions of the rest of their line:

Pro Connect
One step down from the Pro Connect Sport, the Pro Connect lacks the reassuring stopping power of the Magura hydraulic rim brakes.  It does feature a similar aggressive riding position but changes rear hub spec to the 8-speed Shimano Alfine hub; at $2,999, it is $400 less than the Sport model. At this price point, though, I think the upgrade to the Sport model is well worth the money. The Pro Connect is available in both a diamond frame and a "Wave" (step-through) version.

Tasman in "Wave" frame-way
Suggesting a slightly more upright ride, the Tasman is also outfitted with more comfort-related accessories, like a fully encased chain and a skirt guard on the rear wheel, as well as the hydraulic rim brakes. The Tasman retails for $2,799, and also comes in a diamond and Wave frame styles.

The Agattu is the comfortable around town cruiser, and is only available in Wave frame style.  Like the Tasman, the Agattu also features dynamo hub powered front and rear lights, as well as suspension seat post and gel saddle. It retails for $2,499.

So what's my overall impression?  I think I prefer the Tasman - it's got the solid brake performance, is nicely accessorized, and I prefer the riding style over either Pro Connect model. That said, they're all solid ebikes. This is all very subjective - the best way to figure out which one you prefer is to ride them all. To further the utility of an around-town bike, I'd suggest adding a security chain, and consider permanently mounting at least one basket.

Leander Kahney, "As America Implodes, The Bike Industry Booms" WIRED, 9/26/2008

Wired Magazine explores the popularity of ebikes as people increasingly look to alternatives to autos.

73 total comments:
14 positive
9 neutral
12 negative

Meet an eBike Builder: Dan Woodard,

Where the magic happens... (courtesy D. Woodard)
Some people think about ebikes are merely a form of transportation; some people just think about ebikes.  Meet Dan Woodard, the co-owner of ElectricBikeBuilding, LLC, and the prodigious producer of instructional ebike construction videos, found at He thinks about ebikes a lot.

After years in a variety of other industries, Dan's ebike career started with a Yuba Mundo cargo bike, which he converted using an Crystalyte hub motor.  This completely displaced his car usage; but Dan found it to be a less than ideal design. A constant tinkerer, Dan resolved to create a better ebike. Having just started a business, he really wanted to inexpensively create a better ebike. ""I'm on a tight budget, I can't afford a complete frame jig setup or expensive tools. But I find I can still build functional ebikes using simple tools, and a little creativity. I want to share that knowledge with others on my blog."

This magic happened...(courtesy D. Woodard)
His next bike, a mountain bike sporting 48 volt lead-acid batteries (read: heavy!) he found to be unwieldy due to battery placement.  His solution? Chop the frame, extend the rear triangle, and place the batteries there, effectively lowering the center of gravity of the bike.  The result? NoPonder, an ebike that regularly turns heads where ever it goes. During the NoPonder build, which is thoroughly documented here, Dan took some time off to attend a frame-building class at the United Bicycle Institute(UBI). "The instructors and quality of instruction was superb," Dan says, "I really enjoyed using their setup - it was a very busy two weeks."

This magic is happening...
Each of Dan's models clearly builds on his previous experience and learnings.  His current project, "Short Hopper", is a bike he's optimizing for, as the name suggests, short trips around town. He's designing it to be transit-friendly, fun to ride, and easy to maneuver around a bike rack. He's currently researching hub motors; I'm very curious to see what he eventually decides on.

An admittedly quiet sort of guy, Dan is as comfortable talking about the finer points of fork design, welding techniques, the sociology of ebikes, or his cats.  I've found his instructional videos to be of great value, clear and easy to understand, and I appreciate his subtle style.

Do you know anyone else out there building electric bikes?  Do you have a build you're particularly proud of?  If so, I'd love to talk to you about it.

SE PDX Sunday Parkways eBike Meetup: 11am @bestbuy in Laurelhurst Park

It seems we're running through our Sunday Parkways this year so quickly - it's hard to believe we're already rolling into Southeast Portland!

If any Portland ebikers want to meet up and take a lap together, let's meet at the Best Buy tent in Laurelhurst Park at 11am. If I don't see you there, I'll see you on the route.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Guest Post: eBike Pete on "Hey Avid Cyclists, Electric Bikes are OK!"

This is a guest post from Pete Prebus from Electric Bike Report. Pete is passionate about promoting the electric bike as a viable alternative to driving a car.  He has been an avid cyclist and bike commuter for over 20 years and is really excited about this new branch of the biking world.  Pete enjoys riding his electric cargo bike to commute to work and run errands around town.  Pete grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and currently lives in the bike-friendly mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona.  You can find Pete on Twitter and Facebook.

Are electric bikers “cheating”?  Should we consider them cyclists? If you’re an avid cyclist you may have pondered these questions or you may feel strongly that they are “cheating”.  I have been an avid cyclist for over 20 years and I can relate to some of these questions.  Overall  I think that electric bikes are great for the sport as well as they are one of the most energy efficient ways of getting around.

Electric bikes are a great introduction to regular cycling.  It seems that there are a number of people who think the idea of cycling is great, but when it comes down to it they may have tried it and been frustrated with how difficult it is to climb the hills and ride into a head wind.  They may have also tried to ride with friends or significant others who are avid cyclists and end up frustrated because they can’t keep up with them.  The electric bike is a cool way to get an idea of what cycling can be like with out having to worry about some of the strenuous obstacles normal cyclists have to deal with.  Electric bikes allow you to cruz up that steep hill and enjoy the quite ride on two wheels!    

Who knows, some people may end up getting into regular cycling after they realize how much fun riding a bike can be.  Once you get a taste of how fun and freeing riding an electric bike can be, it can lead to other more hard core things like.....wearing lycra!  Maybe not, but you probably see what I’m getting at.  Having more avid cyclists in the world is not a bad thing!

Imagine more people using electric bikes instead of driving their cars all the time.  I know there are a lot of tough commuter cyclists out there that pride themselves on riding in any kind of weather and dealing with the worst traffic.  I applaud you for that and I think it is great!  In you’re eyes the electric bike may not provide that toughness, but it is better than people driving cars all the time.  The cool thing about electric bikes is that a little power assist (equaling less sweat) encourages more people to ditch their car for a small trip around town or their commute to work.  The electric cargo bikes are a great way to take it a step further as a car alternative (replacement?).

Electric bikes also make it possible for people who cannot use a regular bike to enjoy cycling.  Some people may not be able to enjoy a traditional bike because of physical limitations and/or age.  Breaking down this barrier with a little help from an electric motor helps people enjoy the fun of riding a bike again or for the first time.

If more people become “E” cyclists, more people will be aware of the issues that all cyclists face on a daily basis.  Let’s face it, life as a cyclist can be a little tough sometimes.  If you are a road rider you have to deal with cars getting a little too close to you on the road or an angry motorist yelling at you for some reason.  If you are a commuter you have to worry about cars cutting you off as they speed ahead of you just to slam on the brakes and turn into the shopping center.  If you are a mountain biker you have to worry about trails being closed to bikes.  The more people who are part of the cycling world in one form or another the better, because there is power in numbers!

What this all boils down to is that electric bikes are a great way to get people into and excited about cycling.  The more people that are familiar with the cycling world the better.  Cyclists face many issues and having more people that understand and support cycling is a good thing.

Do you think electric bikes are good for the cycling community?   Do you have any points to add?  I’d like to hear from you.  Please leave a comment below!


Pete Prebus from Electric Bike Report

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: The OMSI eBike Charging Station

View of OMSI from the new charging station.
As first reported over at, OMSI, in cooperation with PGE, Sanyo, and InSpec Design, has installed an electric vehicle charging station, partially powered by solar power collected on-site. This is in addition to an existing 2-spot electric vehicle charging station immediately north of the Museum.

Weather-resistant outlet mounted to bike rack.
Located in the parking directly east of OMSI, the kiosk is easy to find.  There are 2 choices to lock and charge your ebike: there are covered (but not enclosed) standard bike racks, with weather-resistant 110v AC outlets located with 8-12 inches of the lock ring.  If you've brought your charger with you, it's a straightforward process to plug-in and recharge.

Secure off-bike charging.
The other alternative is a fully enclosed locker.  These closely resemble the lockers at airports or bus stations, but for one addition - 2 110v AC outlets inside the locker. These lockers are rented for 50 cents; when I inquired, OMSI indicated they hadn't established a time limit yet. There are 6 lockers - the top lockers in each group is signed as including a Sanyo charger, but currently they only have outlets.  Including the charger is an interesting idea - it's obviously a sales point for Sanyo, as if you've purchased one of their bikes you won't need to carry your charger with you.  The ticket sellers just inside the museum are happy to make change.  The lockers are approximately 12 inches square, so if you have a particularly large or oddly shaped battery, you may want to verify it will fit before committing yourself to using them.

Another potential ebike charging station.
An interesting opportunity exists in the parking lot directly north of the museum, at the previously installed LEV charging station. As the picture shows, there is a bike rack near these outlets, but trailing wires across a busy sidewalk isn't really viable. The addition of 2 staples in closer proximity to the outlets would help maximize the use of these outlets as well.

Upon hearing about the station, I was curious as to how well it would work in practice. Shortly thereafter, I found myself needing to make several stops downtown, and knew that the full round-trip distance was at the limit of my battery range. Unfortunately, I wasn't going to be at a single stop long enough to significantly recharge.  So I opted to ride in on battery power, drop the charger and battery in a locker, and continue my errands - under solely my own power, and a little over 10 pounds lighter. Business concluded, I returned to the kiosk to a full charge, and an easy ride home. I will admit, though, I was initially disappointed at having to pay for parking (isn't that one of the advantages of a bike?), but the added security of the locker, I found, was well worth it.

So barring errands, what are some other usage models?  In addition to my above trip, I could easily see this kiosk displacing driving downtown to see a show, for example, and a boon for waterfront festival-goers. Sure, you'd still have to walk or pedal a bit, but it will be lots easier than driving and parking.  In fact, I've used it twice this week already, but in that time I haven't seen anyone else using it.

Touring Portland with the Authors of "Carjacked" - on eBikes

I was lucky enough to get some time with Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez to ride around Portland recently.  The sisters are in town to promote their book "Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on Our Lives", and wanted to see some of the sights, as well as try out some ebikes. I was happy to join them.

We met at Pedal Bike Tours and rented a mix of ebikes. After a quick orientation to the ebike's operation and riding in Portland traffic, we were off.  An easy warm-up through downtown led us over the Hawthorne Bridge to OMSI, to check out the new ebike charging station.  By this point, Anne was already sold on the ebike as an effective (and fun) transportation alternative. Dan Woodard of Woodard Cycles, local builder of custom ebikes, joined us, and we headed back into downtown, and checked out Kalkhoff USA.

Catherine and Anne dealt with bridge lifts, the Broadway Bridge closure, and the constantly shifting construction for the Streetcar extension like pros. We headed into NE Portland, fortuitously happening upon a Sprockettes show. Catherine, the consummate anthropologist, was fascinated. Eventually, we prised her away from what may be her newest research topic, and continued to The eBike Store. A short visit here, and we returned downtown.

I was surprised to discover that we'd been gone almost 4 hours. We covered about 12 miles, and returned the ebikes with plenty of charge remaining in the batteries.

Catherine and Anne are presenting tonight, August 5, at Powell's on Hawthorne, at 7:30. Several ebike riders are planning to meet at the pub in the Baghdad Theater at 6, prior to their presentation.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

eBike Meetup for Carjacked presentation

Several ebikers are planning to see Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez speak about their new book, "Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives" at Powell's on Hawthorne and SE 37th, at 7:30pm.

Since we'll all be in the area, we decided we might grab a bite to eat or a beer at the pub in the Baghdad Theatre, starting around 6pm. Please feel free to join us!