Shame on Thule for Neglecting Safety

Thule Bicycle Carrier Tail Light Mod

If you’ve read my posts Dress Boldly Conspicuous, Tiny Changes Can Produce Big Results or Be Eye-catching Flashy you know that I’m an advocate of being highly visible when I’m riding my bike. So it will not come as a surprise that I am just as passionate about safety when my bike is riding on the back of my vehicle in the bike carrier.

I’ve used Thule racks for years. They proved to be a reliable product for me, especially when it comes to transporting my heavier e-bikes. Unfortunately, while Thule has focused their attention on carrying bikes they’ve neglected safety. With my bikes in the carrier my tail lights are blocked by the bikes. As you can see from the picture, although the tail lights on my vehicle are lit they are barely visible. However, Thule has woefully neglected this safety issue in North America.

To correct this safety shortfall I felt it was necessary to add supplemental lights to my Thule carrier. Now in low light situations or inclement weather I feel more confident that tail lights can be seen. If you would like to see a post on the details of this do it yourself project please leave a comment below.

Ken Whittaker


Bafang E-bike Conversion Kit Design Deficiency

Its been about a year since I built my Bafang conversion e-bike and I still enjoy riding the bike. I am impressed with how powerful the 750 watt motor is and the range the 840wh battery provides. However, the Bafang conversion is missing one key feature that I’ve become very used to on my Bosch e-bike. That is a continuous range estimate on the control display. Without a range estimate provided by the e-bike system, you have to guess the range left in the battery based on your experience.

So it finally happened. I ran out of juice while riding the Bafang. I must admit it came as a surprise. I started the ride with 3 out of 5 bars displayed on the battery indicator. Three out of 5 bars means I should have somewhere between 40-60% of the battery’s charge left. However, after about a mile into my ride the battery dropped to 2 out of 5 bars meaning I had a 40% charge. Still, I wasn’t worried sine I was planning an out and back ride. I simply planned to turn around when, or before, I reached 1 bar. My plan was to use 1 bar going out and 1 bar to return. However things didn’t go as planned.

To my surprise, about 10 miles (16 km) out while climbing a hill the battery dropped to 1 bar. Only 10 miles (16km) on 1 bar? That was unusual. Still I wasn’t worried. I just turned around and headed home. If I used 1 bar going out the remaining bar should get me home. Right? Wrong! Only a few miles more while climbing a short steep hill the battery indicator started flashing empty. No way! I should get more than 15 miles (24 km) on a battery that was at least 40% charged when I started. Was the Battery Management System saving power to protect the battery from completely discharging? There was no way to tell. Not willing to take a chance on damaging my battery, I shut off the power and started pedaling my dead e-bike home unassisted. Luckily it wasn’t as hard as I expected. The motor didn’t add much drag and the additional weight was only noticeable on climbs. About half way home I turned on the system again. What was happening? The display showed 1 bar again and I was able to make it home on assistance level 1. In my opinion, not having a continuous range estimate is a BIG DESIGN DEFICIENCY in the Bafang system, especially when for some unknown reason the first half of a charged battery provides a lot more miles than the last half of the charge.

Ken Whittaker


7 Reasons Why You Don’t Want a Carbon Fiber E-bike

It is a bit of a paradigm shift when it comes to thinking about e-bike frames. It’s true that high quality carbon fiber bicycle frames are known for being light weight with lateral stiffness and vertically compliance. But, you have to ask yourself if that is important when it comes to an electric bicycle. In my case I wanted all those feature on my non-electric bike, but when it came to purchasing an electric I didn’t need or want to pay for these features.

Here’s why:

  1. Light Weight: The difference in bicycle frame weight is highly overrated. Since the difference in weight only accounts for about one or two watts of additional power, the reason bike riders lust for the lightest carbon fiber bicycle possible is to lighten the load when climbing hills. Similarly, the number one reason most people give for buying an electric bike is to make hills easier. Although you may need the lightest possible bicycle you can afford or an electric bike to make it up hills easier, you don’t need both. The lightest e-bike with a carbon fiber frame isn’t necessary when it comes to hills because the weight savings just isn’t significant when a rider is being assisted by an electric motor.
  2. Lateral Stiffness: In theory a stiffer frame is more efficient as less energy is lost to the frame flexing. This is most important when pounding the pedals because it can create energy robbing flex. However, since the rider is being assisted by an electric motor there isn’t a need to pound the pedals. As a result, there isn’t a significant energy loss by the rider due to frame flex.
  3. Vertical Compliance: When I think of compliance, I think of comfort. But handling is also a part of compliance. I find that tire size and pressure make a more significant contribution to compliance than frame materials. A wider tire with more air volume and lower tire pressure gives me a sure footed and comfortable ride. Therefore, a frame with tire clearance that will accommodate wider tires is much more important than having a carbon fiber frame.
  4. Durable: All other bicycle frame materials such as steel, aluminum, and titanium are more durable than carbon fiber. A significant scratch in a carbon fiber frame can ruin the frame, whereas a scratch in the other frame materials just adds character and to the story of the frame.
  5. Precision Engineering: Steel, aluminum and titanium are easier to precision engineer than laying up carbon fiber.
  6. Recyclable: Carbon fiber is not recyclable while the other bicycle frame materials can and should be recycled.
  7. Reduced cost: Carbon fiber frames are expensive to make and, as illustrated above, offer no significant advantage over other frame materials when it comes to e-bikes. The savings could be used for better components or just more money in your pocket.

The bottom line? Ask yourself if there are any real advantages to a carbon fiber e-bike. After careful consideration, I think you will agree that a carbon fiber e-bike is not worth the additional expense over other frame materials.

Ken Whittaker


How to program the Bafang BBS02 Controller

As I mentioned in my post Thumbs Up to Bafang!, one of the outstanding features of the Banfang BBS02 conversion kit is that it’s configurable by the user. Many changes like configuring the bike as a class 1, 2, or 3 and other basic features of the bike can easily be configured from the display.  However, with a laptop computer, a special USB programing cable and the Bafang Configuration Tool Software the Bafang motor controller can also be reprogramed by the user  to  improve the usability and performance of the e-bike.

My goal here is to only make you aware of the possibility of reprogramming capabilities of the Bafang controller.  Detailed instructions can  be found from other sources below:

  • However, be warned that reprogramming your Bafang system is not without risk. You can destroy the controller if done incorrectly.  So, read the guides  and do not attempt to customize your settings if you don’t fully understand what you are doing.  Proceed at your own risk.

Ken Whittaker


E-bike Range Test

Have you ever wondered how accurate e-bike range estimates are? To find out, I put my Bosch equipped Cannondale Synapse Neo 1 to the test. Assuming the initial estimate is based on nearly ideal conditions with a relatively flat terrain, I chose an out and back route along the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail, MD and Heritage Rail Trail, PA with a 1,237 foot elevation gain for my test.

Elevation on Range Test

With a fully charged battery and the assistance level set at Eco (lowest assist level) the Bosch system estimated that it could provide assistance for 126 miles (see photo on lower left). While I wanted to believe Bosch’s estimate, my route was only 80 miles, giving me a good margin for error. Hopefully, if Bosch’s estimate turned out to be overly optimistic, the shorter route would save me from pedaling a dead e-bike back to my starting point.

The Results? I was pleasantly surprised. After nearly 80 miles (78.60 miles to be exact), I had 3 out of 5 bars (40-60%) left on the battery and an estimated 49 miles remaining (see photo lower right) slightly exceeding the initial estimate.

In the final analysis, the initial estimate was very accurate. In fact, I have to wonder, with about 50% of the battery left, why I didn’t have another 80 miles of assistance remaining. My guess is that Bosch has built in a safety margin to keep the rider from running the battery until it’s completely dead.

Ken Whittaker


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: $3,799 – MSRP $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


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