A design opportunity is emerging for a long-distance electric vehicle that weighs more than a bicycle but less than a motorcycle. Ebike hobbyists are leading the way.
Last September I made a 240-mile journey by electric bike from Ithaca NY to New York City and back. The trip was not that remarkable in itself. No records were broken; there were no physical or mental challenges that needed to be overcome. In fact, that was the point of the journey: to show that a long-distance journey by electric bike could be easy and enjoyable. Part 1 of this series compared long-distance bike and car travel in general. Part 2 described the trip itself in detail. This Part 3 describes the modified touring bike I used to make the trip. What’s surprising about my bike is not how technologically advanced it is, rather the opposite. My bike is an electrified steel frame Nishiki Cresta touring bike from 1982 with a BMC rear geared hub motor.
Troy is very casual about his epic 4,400 mile journey. Last year he noticed that the current Guinness Book of World Records for longest motorized bicycle journey was just over four thousand miles. He knew his bike could go that far. He knew he could go that far. He had his wife’s support. So he set out to break the record.
There’s been a lot of press lately about an incredible-sounding new ebike product called the FlyKly Smart Wheel. We see gushing headlines such as “This Smart Wheel Makes Cycling in the City a Breeze”, “Effortless Pedalling Through Our Cities’ Streets”, “Keeps You Looking Fly”, and “This ground breaking invention just may be about to revolutionize commuter cycling forever”. The Smart Wheel is an electric hub motor similar to other hub motors that have been available for over a decade, but with a twist: the motor and all the electronics and batteries fit inside the wheel. Furthermore the wheel is controllable through a bluetooth connection to a smart phone. This connectivity enables some interesting features like a speedometer that appears on your handlebar-mounted smart phone, a way to lock the bike electronically, and a way to track your bike if it’s stolen. Pretty cool, but is the Smart Wheel too good to be true? Is it just hype? Decidedly no, it is easily for real. I’d say for people who haven’t yet tried an electric bike, this product will easily live up to the hype. Ebikes in general are impressive; this product is doubly so. And even for those of us who have been using electric bikes for years,
“On June 4, 1896 in a tiny workshop behind his home on 58 Bagley Street, [Henry] Ford put the finishing touches on his pure ethanol-powered motor car. After more than two years of experimentation, Ford, at the age of 32, had completed his first experimental automobile…The two cylinder engine could produce 4 horsepower…achieving a top speed of 20 mph (32 km/h). Ford would later go on to found the Ford Motor Company and become one of the world’s richest men.” —Wikipedia
I’m gradually reducing my car dependance. I enjoy traveling to meetings, hauling groceries, and taking my kids to their dental appointments all on my bike. But one of the few remaining compelling reasons for using my car is to carry adult passengers. For a variety of reasons my adult friends and family do not feel comfortable hopping onto my longtail cargo bike. Can bicycles ever fulfill the role of carrying adult passengers? I believe they can, and (like Henry Ford) I’ve built an experimental vehicle to test my conviction.
Today’s article comes from a guest contributor, Shawn McCarty of Venice, Florida. Shawn is an avid cyclist who has completed bike tours through various parts of the United States and Europe. His blog (aworldspinning.com) has some nice photos of his European adventure. And his custom electric cargo bike is amazing!
If you have biking facts, photos, or a story you think our readers would enjoy, let us know. We’re interested in presenting a variety of topics and points of view as we build our biking community.
Here’s a little photo essay about my family’s bicycles. I’m proud to say that we use our bikes a lot. Each bike is tailored to its user: I drive a cargo bike capable of carrying passengers and cargo long distances; my wife drives a slower and lighter but more stylish bike; my 11-year-old daughter Thea and her friend JJ drive bikes tailored to their 2-mile drive to school. (My son Jasper, aged 15, resists having a bike. He pretty much walks wherever he needs to go.) Ithaca is hilly, so it’s important for a utility bike to have an electric motor. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years experimenting with electric bike motors and other accessories. Maybe you can benefit from my discoveries.
The Aqua-Xtracycle is a do-it-yourself amphibious electric cargo bike. This video shows how it works, and the photo gallery below shows a bit of our development process. In a future post I’ll describe how you can make your own Aqua-Xtracycle.
Caution: shop talk blog post intended for do-it-yourselfers. For my recent 240-mile journey I created what I call my “trip batteries”—batteries that I can attach to my bike to augment my regular batteries, but that I don’t intend to carry around on a daily basis. As such, the main design criteria for these batteries is that they be inexpensive. I don’t want to pay the big bucks for a battery that I only use once in a while. The obvious choice is SLA (sealed lead acid) batteries. These are the same kind of batteries used in cars, and the technology is almost 100 years old. E-bikers out there may poo-poo this choice of battery. After all, compared to my lithium batteries, my SLA batteries are heavy (20lbs vs. the lithium’s 15lbs), not quite as powerful (600wh vs. the lithium’s 720wh), don’t last as long (300 charge cycles vs. the lithium’s 1,500) and they are dumb (that is, they don’t have a battery management circuit board in them to prevent human error from damaging them, although most controllers provide the necessary protections). But they are cheap. I can put together a 10ah 36v battery for about $120 versus a 10ah 36v battery for $600.
A couple of weeks ago I set out on a 240-mile journey from my home in Ithaca NY to the New York Yearly Meeting (a Quaker gathering) in Silver Bay. Silver Bay is a resort on Lake George in the scenic Adirondacks. My vehicle of choice: a Surly Big Dummy cargo bike equipped with a Stokemonkey electric motor. I had made this journey last year covering the distance in three days. This year I planned to tackle the distance in two days, going 120 miles each day.
Last year my strategy was to charge my batteries en route using three solar panels supported over the rear of my bike. The solar panels were helpful, but couldn’t generate as much electricity as I needed. This year I upgraded my bike to use two 36-volt LiFePo4 batteries in series (for 720 watt-hours), and for this trip I carried an additional pair of 36-volt SLA batteries (for an additional 600 watt-hours). All of these batteries together weigh about 70 pounds.
I purposefully limited the amount of power my bike could draw from the batteries. My 72-volt system can easily push my bike over 20 mph, but at that speed my distance would be limited to about 60 miles. However, if I kept my speed between 10 and 15 mph I could get a full 120 miles out of my batteries, though I would have to be in the saddle 12 hours.