Creating a Cycling Family

Tom and the Electric Bike…

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2008 at 3:02 AM

By Darren Ohl, Service Manager-Hutch’s Eugene

Electric bikes: What are they for? Do they work and how much do they cost?

Steam Bike

A steam powered bike?

Well the first question is easy enough. They’re for riding. They are for that person who has trouble making up to their house at the top of Chambers. Or maybe for your mother who remembers the long bike rides in Willamette Valley, but she has trouble keeping up with you on your weekend ride. Maybe they are for people who perhaps thought they could no longer go for a bike ride at all.

 

Tom walked in…

 

I recently met Tom (named changed for privacy) at Hutch’s who had come in looking for an electric bike.

He suffered some medical complications that had taken away his ability to ride a normal bike and wanted to see if the electric bike Hutch’s carried would work for him.

Hutch’s carries Giant’s current version of an electric bike, called the Twist Freedom DX.

It’s a heck of a name.

When I first heard that Giant would be “reincarnating” their electric bike line I felt a wave of skepticism settle over me. I had sold previous renditions of their motorized bikes in the past and they hadn’t worked out to well.

 

But after a closer look including sending Len, our shop manager, off to Giant to look at the bicycle and how it’s produced I’ve really warmed to the idea.

 

Looking at past renditions of the motorized bike might clue in as to why I had some hesitations. Even further more it might be worth a look at the history of the motorized bike as a whole:

 

They started at the turn of the century. A time when the country was fighting over AC or DC based electrical systems. Bicycles were mostly of the later variety then and are now as well. They did not, however, have any reasonable amount of mileage.

 

A little heavy...

A little heavy...

Even though their rebirth in the 90’s saw a large amount of small companies producing electric bikes or electric bike kits the reality was that they just weren’t a very viable option for the bicycle to marry the electric motor.

 

Often times they would advertise long ranges but in reality the rider was lucky to get half of that advertised mileage.

Other kits would often be so heavy they would void warranties from the original manufacturer of bicycles. This eventually led to most bicycles manufacturers to list in their warranty literature that any motorized adaptations now outright violate the warranty conditions of any of their products.

 

In today’s market a lot of electric bike options haven’t changed much. The biggest change is the number of companies that are producing their own bikes in response to manufacturers rejecting adaptations to their bikes.
The problem now seems that these companies are simply buying bikes from overseas and retro fitting their motors to them. The problem I’ve witnessed from this latest version is that these bikes are still being retrofitted and nothing is done to fortify the bike to handle the additional torque and strain that happens when motorizing a bicycle.

Not to mention replacement parts and repairs often can’t be carries out by the people selling the bike, including some bikes shops selling those versions.

 

So for Tom the electric bike option began to look quite complex. He had been visiting store after store where sales staff were either ill informed or not interested in their electric bike offering. When Tom stopped in at Hutch’s I have to admit I didn’t have the best understanding of the models we carried either. But I had recently become quite eager to learn.

 

So do they work?

 

Giant has been dabbling in the electric bike market for over ten years. They have an understanding of what the customer in this niche wants out of their bike but also an understanding of what a bicycle manufacturer can produce in a safe bicycle.

 

 

A couple of years ago Giant took a failing electric bicycle line back to the drawing board and realized the first problem was they were producing electric motorized bicycles. So the Hybrid Bicycle was born.

What’s the difference?

Well and electric motorized bicycle means it has a throttle independent of what a bicycles proper motor should be: the rider. A Hybrid Bicycle refers to the marriage of the bicycle, the electric motor and the apple powered motor, the rider.

So they set out to produce a bike that fit these three criteria and also hoped to handle the objections this bike often times brought with it.

Customer support: Giant decided that a dedicated product line of replacement parts and technical training at the shop level would be necessary to make the bike successful. They also opened a new factory dedicated to producing just this bike and all its parts in order to feed the market with enough products to sustain it.

Reliability: A big problem with a previous model was the range of the battery. Giant re-engineered their battery system for the bike. Now the bike holds two 26-volt lithium-ion batteries with a claimed range of 75 miles. Giant has also engineered their batteries to have a total of 600 charge cycles for each battery. This gives the bike a range of 90,000 miles before a battery replacement is needed. The average lifespan of a regular bicycle is about 100,000 miles (it’s much longer with Hutch’s once a year full rebuild service!).

Safety: The bicycle is advertised as a top speed of 17 miles an hour. However we’ve found that the average speed is pretty good too. 15 miles per hour the bike hardly feels like any work at all. Try pressuring this bike up past 18 and you’re in for a real workout.

The electric assist of the bicycle works in response to the rider pedaling. There is a sensor in the pedaling assembly that can sense whenever the slightest amount of pressure is applied to pedals and the appropriate amount of power responds from the motor to assist the rider pedaling the bike. As the rider speeds up the electric motor assists the rider less. So at around 17 miles an hour the motor stops assisting the rider all together.

Will the bike go faster than 17 miles an hour down a hill? You bet, is it safe to go that fast on a bicycle? You bet. Especially on this bicycle due to the relaxed geometry and riding position this bike will feel stable and responsive at any speed. And with a bulked up and custom frame and reinforced braking area the bike will also be able to handle stopping the rider in a safe manor as well.

Service: Giant has rolled out its most comprehensive service program ever. A program more involved than any other bike it has ever, and currently produces. They’ve literally written the service book on electric bicycles. A two-binder service manual shipped out to every bike shop selling their bicycle. They have also produced spare parts for each bicycle in the line so that a supply of spare parts can be provided should the need arise.

Giant Twist Freedom DX

Giant Twist Freedom DX

 

 

They’ve also improved the compatibility of their bicycle with regular bicycle parts. Can you replace the current fender set with a more Oregon-friendly fender? Yes, you can. How about a trunk bag to carry your commuting supplies? It fits right on the rack, standard. Tires? Any 700c commuting bike tire will fit. (Including those super flat resistant Specialized Armadillo tires) Lights? Yes. Handlebar bags? Yes. Want a different seat? Yes. Change the handlebar? Yes. Replacing brake cables, shift cables, inner tubes, chain, brake pads and spokes? Yes. Want to put on a different pair of pedals? That too.

So how much is it?

 

When Tom came in to my asking about electric bikes I had a little bit of an idea about what would work. After a little bit of research and sending him out on a couple of test rides we both learned it was a great match. Comparing the price tag at $2000 with other bikes at about half the price might seem tough. However The fact that it’s the only electric bicycle on the market with a real bicycle service department to back it up it seemed like the right fit for Tom.

Tom’s disabilities may never be cured by this bicycle but they can at least go away for a couple of hours while he rides up and down the Willamette river with his family, and whenever he needs any help with that bike we’ll be waiting.

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