Monthly Archives: August 2010

Electric Motorcycles?!

At PHEW, we deal mainly in light electric vehicles like our bikes and trikes, but I feel like there are some interesting things happening in the world of electric motorcycles that should be mentioned. Much like the world of electric bicycles, tinkerers have been putting together electric motorcycles for a while now, but now there are some bigger manufacturers putting out serious, state of the art motorcycles that are even being used in competition.

Since 2009, the eGrandPrix has served as a venue for electric motorcycle builders to test their designs in competition, and a way for innovative new electric vehicle technology to be tested under rigorous race conditions.

Pictured above is the Motoczysz E1pc (like ‘epic’, get it?), which won the electric class at the highly prestigious TT motorcycle race at the Isle of Man in Britain. It was far and away the fastest in the electric division, and came in just shy of the course’s benchmark 100mph average speed.

While e-motorcycle racing is not the most purposeful step toward a low-carbon lifestyle, I see it as quite a significant positive step for all electric vehicles, e-bikes included. This type of racing draws more attention to the growing versatility that electric vehicles offer, and gets people talking and thinking about how they could use electric transportation.  Because of the competition inherent in such a sport, engineers and designers are going to invest heavily in finding ways to make electric vehicles faster, more efficient, and longer-lasting. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what develops.


E-Bike Conversion Kits

Although we have a wide selection of ready-made electric bikes here at PHEW, there are still customers whose needs aren’t met by factory e-bike models. That’s why we carry electric conversion kits for standard bicycles and tricycles by E-Bike Kit and BionX. These kits come with a hub motor that replaces one of your bike’s wheels, a battery, controller, and all of the necessary wiring.

E-Bike Kit is the more affordable of the two brands, and allows the choice of either a front or rear wheel motor. This is necessary on tricycles with two rear wheels and for bikes that have an internal gear or coaster brake on the rear wheel.  E-Bike Kit offers the choice of an affordable Sealed Lead-Acid battery pack or apremium Lithium-Ion battery for lighter weight, greater range, and longer battery life. These kits are controlled by either a twist or thumb throttle.

BionX is the most advanced electric bike conversion on the market, and with good reason. This kit features a rear-wheel motor with a sensitive torque sensor that measures your power output and applies a proportional level of assistance as you pedal. The effect is smooth, seamless pedaling assistance that feels like a “super-you.” There is also the option for a thumb-operated throttle control if you don’t want to pedal.

BionX also features a great user interface- the handlebar-mounted LCD display allows you to select four levels of pedal assistance on the fly, as well as displaying speed, distance traveled and assistance level. There are also four modes of power generation, where the motor adds resistance and you can actually add power back to the battery as you ride.  BionX includes regenerative braking as well, which switches the generating mode on when the brake is activated.

So if your e-bike needs aren’t met by the production bikes on the market, check out our conversion kits. Both kits that we offer have numerous options for different batteries, power levels, and control type so be sure to inquire. We’ll work with you to pick one that fits your needs and budget.

A Small Glossary of E-Bike Terms

Electric bikes aren’t all that complicated, but there are some terms that you should be familiar with to be an educated e-bike shopper or owner. Here are a few common terms that get tossed around frequently when talking about e-bikes.

Standard Frame refers to bikes that have the traditional frame shape with a high top tube, or as some people refer to as a ‘cross bar’ frame.

Step-Through Frames are frames with a lower top tube, made to facilitate easier boarding of the bike. This design is popular on city bikes and on many e-bikes because they are simply easier to get on and off of.

Sealed Lead-Acid Batteries are found on entry level electric bikes such as the eZip Trailz. They are generally heavier and last a shorter time between charges than other battery types, and the overall battery life (number of charges before the battery needs to be replaced) is shorter as well. The upside of SLA batteries is that they are less expensive than other types.

Lithium-Ion Batteries are found on mid- and high-end electric bikes. They are considerably lighter and have a much greater range than SLA batteries. The life of the battery is also much longer than SLA. They are generally more expensive to replace, however, so that should be considered when shopping for a bike.

Pedal-Assist is a form of power delivery wherein the assist is applied automatically while the rider is pedaling. There are usually varying levels of assistance that the rider can choose while riding to moderate the amount of power the motor uses.

Throttle Control uses a motorcycle-style twist grip to moderate motor power without requiring the rider to pedal. This is featured on a few of our bikes, but is mainly found on electric scooters.

Getting to Know Your Bike with Bike Collectives

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I was surprised at how many people commuted and rode bikes for pleasure around the city. Despite Philly lacking the extensive infrastructure that makes places like Portland, Oregon a cycling mecca, Philadelphians shrug their shoulders at the crowded, potholed streets and get on their bikes in increasing numbers. The downside of this is that our bikes often see the worst of what our streets can dish out: flat tires, wobbly wheels, and loose brakes and gears are a persistent problem for many riders.

While there are a multitude of great bike shops in Philadelphia, there are many simple problems that can render a bike unsafe or fully unrideable. Fortunately, many bike maladies can be attended to quickly and easily with a little bit of knowledge and some simple tools. A quick web search brings up many text and video lessons for simple repairs like fixing a flat tire, but hands-on instruction from a real, live expert is second to none when trying to tackle a new skill. There are a handful of free community bike co-ops and collectives in the city, the most notable being Neighborhood Bike Works, who operates a bike repair clinic called Bike Church, where bike owners do their own repairs under the supervision of knowledgeable bike experts. They also offer a women-only help day on Wednesday.

Mount Airy has a small bike collective just down the block from PHEW called the Mount Airy Bike Collective, which holds open bike help sessions on the first and third Thursday of each month from 6 to 8pm.

Since I have a wealth of tools and some bike knowledge, I’ve opened my own bike clinic at my home at 1426 Dickinson St. in South Philly on Mondays from 4-7pm. My goal is not to fix things for others, but to instruct bike owners to make repairs and adjustments themselves under my supervision.

While bike repair may sound daunting at first, most bike repairs can be performed with just a little practice and determination. Anyone who has been left stranded by a bike repair they are unable to perform can attest to the great value that some bike knowledge is worth.

I encourage you to seek out one of the bike co-ops mentioned above or search out bike repair classes in your area. During the winter, many bike shops hold classes that provide excellent instruction for reasonable fees. During the dead of winter, bike shop employees may even give you a quick, free lesson for free if they aren’t busy. Just remember to ask if they’d like something in return for their efforts. Beer, baked goods, or coffee are all recommended, and a great way to get great service from your local bike mechanic in the future.