My (failed) electric bike experiment


I love cycling. I love the idea of it being able to go almost anywhere under the power of your own two legs. And, I love the notion of purity that cycling has – it’s a low emission, human-powered, do it yourself form of transport – except when it’s 08:00 in the morning in the wet season and it feels like it’s 42 degrees already and you’ve just finished night shift. That’s when the romantic vision of cycling disappears and the wet, sweaty, uncomfortably hot reality sets in. So, it was conditions like this that lead to me considering, and eventually purchasing an electric conversion kit for my bike.
I purchased the kit from a mob in Perth called Solar Bike. A mate had previously purchased a kit from there and had been really happy with it, and with the after-sales service he received. So, I made the decision to purchase a kit, but not just any kit. I went for the 500w motor kit. I wanted to pull my trailer when it’s laden with fish after a successful morning fishing the incoming tide (that’s never actually happened to me).
I was so stoked when the kit arrived. I’d been eagerly anticipating it’s arrival for ages and when it finally arrived I wasted no time in fitting it to my Crosstrail. I charged the battery as I fitted the remaining components to the bike. When the battery had sufficient charge, I connected it up and…nothing. Not a sausage. Bugger all. After an email to the guys in Perth, I got a phone call and we worked through the issue and found that two wires had been connected back to front and that solved the issue. Woohoo, I was mobile! The first thing I noticed was the weight of the bike. I must have added at least 12Kg with the battery and huge motor on the front wheel. “Never mind”, I told myself, “look, you’re doing 38 Km/h and not pedaling!”. I was soon lost in the ecstasy of (almost) silent electric travel. Zooming to work and back by day, and charging it up from my solar powered auxiliary battery setup in my Hilux, I felt green as.
Then one week, I didn’t ride and the battery ran down, just enough power was left to get me to work, but the ride home was awful. My legs, now used to flying along under electric power, were once again called into service, only to find that not only were they no longer up to the task, but there was an extra 12 Kg to push uphill as well. Only then did I realize fully what I’d done. I stopped riding as it was no longer the rewarding and enjoyable form of travel that it once was. The bike gathered dust, and I, ironically injured my shoulder at work again and couldn’t ride for months anyway.
So the down-time I had from cycling has done me good. I came close to selling my bike, blaming it as the reason I wasn’t riding anymore until I had the opportunity to take my other bike for a ride the weekend after I was given the OK to take my arm out of the sling. I enjoyed the ride immensely. “This is what it’s all about” I said to myself. I had that old feeling back (not the sore arse, the other one). Could I experience that feeling again on my Crosstrail? I resolved to strip my bike of all of the electronic components and take it back to how it was when I enjoyed it the most. Guess what? I love cycling again!
For me, there are two major things here that I have come to realize. The first is that if you cycle anywhere, even if it’s once a week, you are being green. It’s pretty difficult to produce any pollution doing it. Adding an electric motor kit to your bike is a very un-green thing to do and makes a mockery of your attempts at doing something positive. Most of the kits are made in China where the pollution created by the manufacture of these kits far outweighs any green good I’ve been doing over the past few months. In reality, I just need to do more single leg squats to build my legs up if I want to cycle home after a night shift.
Secondly, and this partly ties in with the first thing, I didn’t give the “negative” aspects of this purchase any thought. Further to this, I chose a totally unsuitable size motor that, along with the rest of the system, made the bike heavy and quite un-enjoyable to ride. A smaller kit would have done the job without changing the feel of my bike too much.
I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m completely against electric bikes. For some people they are a necessity as their options for independent transport are limited. And, importantly, the retailer of the kit have nothing to answer for here, I just want to make that clear.
In the end, it just wasn’t for me.


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