Build or Buy an E-bike?

Have you every wonder if it would be better to buy or build an e-bike? I have. So I built an e-bike using an old Cannondale road bike and a Bafang conversion kit. After I was done building the conversion bike, I used the lessons I learned to buy the most cost effective high quality e-bike that I could find at the time. Here are the results.

Cannondale Road Bike Conversion to E-bike with Bafang Kit

Conversion Kit

Motor: Bafang 750 watts

Class: Configurable as a class 1, 2, or 3

Battery: 840Watt Hour

Chainring: 1X 52T

Display: Bafang C961 LCD Display

Cost: $1,100 + Cost of Bicycle

Pros:

Prices – A Bafang conversion is a fraction of the cost even if a new bike is purchased for the conversion

Configurability – The Bafang can be configured as a class 1, 2, or 3 e-bike.

Power: The Bafang has a much larger motor and battery.

Factory Built Cannondale Synapse Neo 1 E-bike with Bosch Motor and Battery

Factory Built

Motor: Bosch Active Line Plus 350W

Class: Class 3 e-bike

Battery: 500Watt Hour Bosch PowerTube

Chainring: 2X 50/34T

Display: Bosch Purion

Cost: $4,725

Pros:

Gearing – The 2X Chainring with a 50/34T is a game changer for me. It gives a wide range of gears like my traditional bicycle.

Quality – The bike is designed as a system and fits seamlessly together.

Appearance – Likes likes a traditional bike.

Final Analysis: I’ve put hundreds of mile on both bikes and both are great e-bikes. So let your budget be your guide. The Bafang kit is very affordable but does need a little tinkering once in a while. The Cannondale Synapse Neo 1 with its Bosch system is a quality e-bike but considerably more expensive. In retrospect I should have used a bike with wider tires and disc brakes for the Bafang build considering its power, weight and speed.

Ken Whittaker


Garmin Custom Splash Screen

I wouldn’t think of riding my bike without my Garmin Edge. I’d be lost without it! No pun intended. Unfortunately, it is a small device that can easily be lost and is expensive to replace.

Just in case I do have the misfortune of loosing my Garmin, I’ve added my contact information to the boot up splash screen. If someone finds my lost bike computer and they have it in their heart to return it to me, all the information they need is displayed on the splash screen when they power it up.

Although Garmin doesn’t keep secret how to create a custom splash screen message, and they do provide instructions on how to create one on their website at Custom Message or Text on Start Up Screen | Garmin Support, it certainly isn’t a well known feature.

It is an easy process that all Garmin owner should do. Simply attach your Garmin device to your computer > Open the drive labeled Garmin > Open the Garmin folder > Open the file named startup.txt in your text editor > Follow the on-screen instructions to add your custom splash screen message and save. That’s it! Now if you loose your Garmin there is a chance of being reunited with your wayward device again.

Ken Whittaker


The Most Cost Effective Upgrade for Your Bike

Regardless of how much I spend on a bike, I immediately start looking for ways to improve performance.  In the past, I could always find a replacement component that would shave a few grams off the weight.  Unfortunately, that type of upgrade didn’t improve my performance much, if at all.  And in many cases the new light weight component was less reliable.  It just wasn’t a cost-effective way to improve performance.  However, recently after upgrading to tubeless tires I’ve had a noticeable improvement in performance.

Normally, I would ride a bullet proof tire like Continental Gator Hardshells to avoid flat tires. Although I rarely got flats with these tires, like most puncture resistant tires they have a high rolling resistance. After replacing my tires with Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL tubeless tires with a much lower rolling resistance, I gained a noticeable improvement in performance. In my case that is equal to about 10% of my average output of about 120 watts. See Continental Gator Hardshell vs Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL at bicyclerollingresistance.com for tire rolling resistance details. 

Although puncture resistant tires reduce flats, they can’t repair a puncture on the fly like tubeless tires. See Ignorance is Bliss. Tubeless tires are the best of both worlds, they are reliable and offer great performance. I don’t think you can find a more cost effective performance upgrade for your bike than tubeless tires.

Ken Whittaker


Why I Ride an E-bike?

While e-bikes might not be right for everyone, they are a super fun and easy way to get around. They also can help you do more and go farther than you ever thought possible on a bicycle. Here are a few reasons why I ride an e-bike.

Safety: I admit it, on my traditional bike I sometimes ride on less desirable roads with more traffic simply because they offer the shortest and flattest route to get to my destination. However, that all changes when I ride my e-bike. Now, with my e-bike I find I’m choosing routes that I really enjoy and feel safe riding because I’m no longer concerned about avoiding steep hills or adding additional miles to my route.

More Willing to Challenge Myself: With an e-bike I find that I’m more willing to challenge myself as a cyclist. In the past, I rarely pushed myself to my limits. Instead, I would always “play it safe” and leave a safety margin to ensure I had enough energy or strength to make it back home. With my e-bike I can push as hard as I like and I only need to ensure that my e-bike battery has enough juice to get me home if I fatigue.

More Range with Less Effort: With an e-bike I can ride at the same speeds and distances with less effort than a traditional bike. For example, in 2015, I cycled coast to coast across America on a traditional bike. Click here to read that story. Unfortunately, about a week later I was struck from behind by a car. Click here to read that story. Now in my seventies, while I am not sure if I could do that ride again on my traditional bicycle, I am very confident that I could still do it on my e-bike.

Energy Efficient Transportation Alternative: Many times I will opt to use my car over cycling because I don’t want to show up at my destination all sweaty. Since I can cycle with less effort on my e-bike I can avoid undue perspiration, so running errands on a bicycle is less problematic.

Speed: I generally don’t ride my e-bike much faster than I ride my traditional bike simply because I find that drivers are prone to misjudge my speed if I ride faster. However, when necessary, I know I can cover the same distance more quickly while the effort remains the same on an e-bike. This is particularly useful when bad weather is approaching or when losing daylight.

Wider Access to Cycling: I was recently talking to a women who had stopped cycling because she had a steep hill at the start right out of her driveway. She no longer has the capacity for the strenuous effort of that climb. E-bikes are particularly useful for older riders to continue riding while limiting/controlling the physical demands.

Ken Whittaker


How Much Power Does Your E-bike Need?

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

I am an average recreational cyclist and I usually only average about 100-125 watts of power on my traditional bike. Before you laugh, remember that I am a septuagenarian. And of course, that’s my average so there are times when I pound the pedals and produce more power.

The thing to keep in mind on an e-bike is that it is “pedal assist”. So the total power output is the combined power of the rider and the motor. In my case, my Class 1 – 350 watt e-bike and my 100-125 watts produce more than enough power to meet my day to day cycling need. In fact, it feels like I’m riding on a tandem with a pro cyclist.

Think about it, a well trained pro cyclist can produce about 400 watts of mechanical power for sustained periods and up to 1000 watts for short efforts like a sprint to the finish line (see Harnessing The Power Of The Peloton In The Tour De France -forbes.com). So, it only stands to reason for normal day to day riding on an e-bike you would not need more power than a pro cyclist.

So why are some e-bike vendors pushing large motors? Honestly, I don’t know. My guess is to help their product stand out among the competition with an uninformed buyer like I was when I purchased my first e-bike. Don’t be seduced by an overpowered e-bike. They are more expensive, heavier and consume more energy.

Ken Whittaker


Three Little Known Secrets to Increase E-bike Range

Go Tubeless

The first change I made to my e-bike was to yank the tubes out and convert it to tubeless. While I made the change primarily to reduce flat tires, I also benefited with reduced wheel weight and lower rolling resistance, which both contribute to saving watts and increasing range.

High Cadence

I am always amazed at how I can increase my power output and feel like I’m not working as hard simply by increasing my cadence. Yet to my surprise, the same holds true with pedal assist electric bikes. My Bosch motor has a sweet spot around an 85 rpm cadence that will provided the longest range if everything else remains the same. So pedal faster, not harder, and go farther!

Thermal Protection

I was shocked how my e-bike range was reduced during the colder winter months. While I don’t have much control over the outside temperature, I’ve found that keeping the battery warm can increase the range up to 20% or more. Adding a neoprene cover over the battery provides thermal protection that will keep the battery warm and maintain optimal performance during cold temperatures. Conversely, high temperatures also have a negative impact on e-bike batteries. When you do have to ride in hot or cold conditions, storing an e-bike battery at room temperature before starting the ride will also increase the range.

Ken Whittaker


E-bike Battery Care for a Long Life

Don’t Store a Completely Discharged Battery

Perhaps the quickest way to kill an e-bike battery is to completely discharge the battery then put the bike in storage. If the battery is completely discharged and left for an extended period of time it may become unrecoverable and may not take a charge. While a good battery management system should not allow the battery to become fully discharged, lithium-ion batteries self-discharge and lose their charge over time which could make the battery unrecoverable.

Don’t Leave the Battery on the Charger

On the other hand, don’t leave a battery on charge after it has reached a full charge. While most smart chargers will stop charging once a battery is fully charged, overcharging a lithium-ion battery can have disastrous results, like busting into flames. Once the battery is charged disconnect the charger. I set a timer to remind me to disconnect the charger when charging is complete so I don’t forget.

Don’t Store the Battery with a Full Charge

Similarly, don’t store a fully charged battery for long periods of time. Since I generally don’t ride my e-bike much in the winter. I discharge my battery to about 30-60% in the winter. It helps to improve battery life. If I do go for a ride, a 30-60% charge will generally give me enough juice to get me where I want to go and back.

Store the Battery in a Dry Place at Room Temperature

Finally, store the battery in a dry dry place away from direct sunlight at room temperature. The battery should also be recharged at room temperature. When transporting an e-bike it is important to remove the battery from the bike and store it safely in the vehicle. On a recent bike tour along the Florida Keys, I left the battery on the bike on the carrier on the back of my vehicle in the hot sun and through a rain storm. I was lucky that my battery made the trip without harm.

Ken Whittaker


What Does it Cost to Charge an E-bike?

Charging an e-bike battery may not cost as much as you might think. To find the cost you need to know the specifics for your battery and the cost per kilowatt hour from your electric power provider. In my case, my battery is 48 Volts with a 17.5 Amp hour capacity and the cost of a kilowatt hour from my local electric power provider is about 12 cents. Here are the three easy steps used to calculate the cost of charging my battery.

  • Determine Battery Watt Hours Sometimes the battery watt hours are labeled on the battery. In my case it is labeled 840 Wh. However, if I didn’t know the watt hours I could calculate it by multiplying the volts by the amp hours. I have a 48 volt battery with a 17.5 amp hours capacity which equals 840 watt hours.
  • Convert Battery Watt Hours to Kilowatt Hours A kilowatt hour is a measure of electrical energy equivalent to a power consumption of 1,000 watts for 1 hour. So, 840 watt hours is equal to .840 kilowatt hours or 840 divided by 1,000.
  • Determine the Cost of a Full Charge Take the cost of a kilowatt hours from your electric power provider and multiply the kilowatt hours of the your battery. In my case, a kilowatt hour cost about $0.12 multiplied by .840 kilowatt hours battery equals about 10 cents to fully charge a flat battery.

For those who prefer to just plug and chug the numbers into a formula:

It is good to know that I am only consuming a few pennies worth of electric energy each time I ride my e-bike.

Ken Whittaker


Choosing an E-bike Battery

I want to tour with my e-bike so the range the battery will provide is a very important factor for me. Unfortunately, e-bike batteries can be the most confusing component of the bike. For example, my battery is a 48 Volt, 840Watt Hour, 17.5 Amp Hour battery. But what does that mean? While Bafang USA Direct states that it provides, “Up to 840-watt hours for an incredibly long range,” that really isn’t much help.

E-bike manufacturers tend to focus on watt hours. However, range cannot be determined by simply dividing a battery’s watt hours by the watts of the motor. Range will vary widely based on many factors including type of bicycle, rider posture, total weight, tires, riding speed, pedal assist level, terrain, riding surface, prevailing winds, etc. So while my battery might provide power for an hour running full blast on throttle, it may also provide assistance for 100 miles or more on assist level 1. Only experience will tell the true range of my bike and battery.

However, I have found a very useful tool for estimating the range of a motor and battery combination. While the site is Bosch specific, it can provide an idea of what range a motor and battery can provide under various conditions. Check it out at https://www.bosch-ebike.com/us/service/range-assistant/ or click here.

Ken Whittaker