Do not buy the eZee bicycle kit

The eZee electric bicycle kit is not ready for prime time. After going through two batteries and two complete wiring harnesses with six months, I can make that statement with proof.

Neither myself, the pros at my local bike shop, nor the pros at the New York bike shop where I bought the system can figure out why the system randomly supplies 100% power, 10% power, or no power at all when hitting the throttle at the base of a hill. What an expensive, frustrating experiment this has been. My only recourse is to have the NY shop try to repair/resell the system and recoup a small portion of my money. The eZee warranty sucks.

Lesson (re)learned: do not buy a complex product that is not fully supported by your local bike shop.

Thankfully, my local bike shop just started carrying the Bionx electric conversion kit. It is more expensive (ouch) and rear-wheel drive (I wanted front wheel, since all the weight on a longtail is in the back), but my only option at this point. Stay tuned for a review after we get it installed.

Singing the Electric Blues

Finally made time to diagnose what’s going on with my eZee electric hub system. Technically speaking, it is busted. Sucks to be me. I am an electrical idiot, so the advice of the eZee vendor of “use a multimeter and find the short” was more than a bit daunting. But that’s exactly what I did and successfully found…nothing.

So I called in a professional electrician (read: $$) to diagnose it and he too found nothing. Yet additional test rides produce the same frustrating results: you are pedaling along like normal, you hit a hill and engage the eZee system and you get…nothing. Well, actually, you get some rapidly blinking random lights from the LED, but nothing from the battery. Try it again in a minute and you get no lights but only 10% of the power from the battery. Try again in another minute and you get nothing from either the LEDs nor the battery.

All connections have been triple-checked and tested. Battery has full charge. And I’m on smooth pavement; no bumps. Frustrating to say the least.

So I’m back to my original ride (a 10 year old, street-converted, dual suspension Klein) and significantly less hauling capacity. Which leaves me with a bad-and-getting-worse experience with the eZee electric hub system. Not recommended.

I’m still under warranty, but the New York vendor is not being terribly helpful, partially because it is difficult to diagnose what’s going on with a system from afar. Hoping this does not turn into a case of Buyer Beware. Definitely make sure your local bike shop can support the system before you buy it (e.g. they’ve got a mechanic who is electrically inclined).

On the plus side, it appears the crew at Down Low Glow figured out they had a bad batch of components for their dual-tube system. The third set of replacement they sent appear to be working well. Kudos to Leif and their crew for not giving up. Recommended.

Hauling manure with a longtail bicycle

Using my new Wike DIY trailer, I hauled by smelliest load by far this weekend: fresh horse manure.

I built a set of “hot beds” to start seedlings last week from scrap lumber and Freecycle window frames. Hot beds are simply cold frames that have some heat source to warm the seedlings in the winter, allowing them to grow faster than an unheated greenhouse or cold frame.

I wanted to experiment with a non-electric heat source, which pretty much just leaves manure. Under the sloped glass roof of the hot bed, we now have 18″ of manure, covered by 6″of dirt, to provide plenty of extra heat for the vegetable seedlings to get a kick start on growing prior to Spring. We’ve got them located on the North side of our property, sloped to the south, to grab as much winter sun as possible.

The cargo bike and Wike trailer did great hauling this load, although the stable owner clearly thought I was nuts showing up with a bicycle to haul manure.

I’ve been testing the replacement eZee battery this past week; getting about 7MPC. Better than the previous 5MPC, but no where close to the claim 20-25MPC in the eZee documentation. Buyer beware.

Hauling stuff with a cargo bicycle…

…it sure helps to have an electric hub motor on the hills.

Finished building my new Wike Trailer Kit with salvage materials. The instructions it comes with are almost nonexistent, but Val Dodge has some excellent photo instructions on his blog.

I modified Dodge’s design a bit based on the materials I already had on hand, but the end result is similair: a 2′ x 4′ solid surface on which I can haul any number of big, awkward, heavy items. Not bad for the $130 kit cost.

This addition transforms my wood-paneled station wagon of a bicycle into a wood-paneled station wagon + U-Haul trailer that crisscrossed the US in the 1970s. Love it.

Trying to get it right

A short list of miscues so far in this car-replacement-bicycle experiment. Three examples of when I’ve failed and driven a car by myself.

  1. When i was sick and had to go to the doctor, who is over in the next town.
  2. Plugged in battery, but did not turn on charger, and my next trip required hauling stuff. Not smart.
  3. Lighting equipment failure, discovered right before a dinner party at night.

Several pieces of equipment have also had their miscues. While the Down Low Glow single tube has performed flawlessly as a rear light, the double tube cannot illuminate to full brightness on one of the tubes.

In the nearby photo, you should be seeing another bright orange glow near the kickstand at the bottom of the bike. The second tube on their double-tube simply does not illuminate more than 20%. 

The DLG customer service team has been responsive in diagnosing the ongoing problem; thus far we’ve tried both repairing and then replacing the original tube set. We’re now replacing the battery pack to se if that is the problem. Frustrating.

The battery for the eZee electric hub is even more frustrating. I can’t recommend this system right now as the battery, which promises 20-25 miles per charge, is only delivering 5MPC. A replacement battery is on the way, but even that is a frustrating experience as the US dealer required me to purchase it (another $450 hit) before they would ship it out. Presumably they will credit my account once they receive the defective battery back. Sure hope the new battery delivers the promised MPC.

The one good thing to say about the eZee system, which I suspect is the same for the other electric hub add-ons, is that I can I can average 23 MPH on flats and tackle hills fully loaded. That speed goes a long way for a car-replacement bike setup, as the timing of getting places in a small town is roughly the same as if you were driving.


Carrying kids on a cargo bike

I think we’ve finally got a good solution for transporting my seven year old to school safely on some major roads with a modified Bobike Junior child seat from Europe.

Luckily one of the guys at my local bike shop is handy with metal fabrication, as the base unit needed some significant reworking to fit on the Kona Ute acacia rack. Specific photos of the new base in the photostream.

The end result is a low profile child seat for a 50 pound kiddo, including foot pegs that swivel out of the way to access the saddle bags. Combined with the stoker bar, I just entered SuperHero status with my son. The other kids at school are pretty impressed when we roll up.

I’ve still got room on the rack behind the seat to lash on my cargo, and the panniers can still be loaded to capacity.

Next project: adding a front mounted child seat for child #2, a two year old.

How to ride a longtail with electric assist

My electrified Kona Ute longtail is the equivalent of a wood-paneled station wagon. Although at times I feel like the bicycle world version of a much larger semi truck. The electric Ute is stable at speed on straightaways, predictable in corners as long as you’re paying attention, and able to haul a significant amount of stuff.

Here’s the top 3 things I’ve learned thus far about riding an electric utility bike:
  1. Avoid braking; it means you’ve likely wasted human or electric energy to get up to speed.
  2. Conserve battery life; I’m only getting 5MPC versus the claimed 20 out of my eZee battery. It may just be defective; they’re sending a replacement now so this one can be analyzed. But in general, conservation is always a good thing. I try to use the battery in only three scenarios: climbing hills when loaded, getting up to speed quickly, and getting out of a tight jam quickly (like going from a stop to crossing two lanes turning left).
  3. Don’t assume; given that you travel and approach much faster than drivers expect you to with the electric assist, be careful on roundabouts, turn lanes, etc.
And a bonus lesson I’ve experienced: take advantage of being able to stop and talk to people, to watch the sun set and moon rise, and to truly experience the year-round weather. It is easy to do so on a bicycle and a good reminder of yet another reason bicycles are better for us than cars.

Speaking of weather, here’s my latest discovery which I now can’t remember how I lived without it: a ski boot dryer called DryGuy. You can use it year round to dry out your cycling shoes and gloves. It heats them up in the winter and can also blow cool air through them in the summer. Not cheap, but recommended.

Lessons learned from the Kona Ute thus far

Note the waterlogged mail. Clearly the zipper pockets on the 2010 Kona Ute saddle bags are not waterproof. Bummer.

And the panniers’ main cargo pocket does not fair much better. They pool water in the bottom of them, as it enters through the bag’s front gap while riding. I’m going to use a grommet kit to put in a drainage hole in each bag. We’ll see if that solves the problem, or aggravates it by allowing road debris to enter the bags from below.

Unfortunately, this also means I’m going to have to invest in a truly waterproof Ortlieb or Topeak bag to store my dojo gear. Practicing yesterday in a 30% wet gi was not so much fun. Actually, it was alot of fun, but a gi that is wet binds and slows you down pretty significantly. Which means you get hit much more often. Not good.

I’ve discovered that I put the thumb throttle for the eZee electric pedal assist on the wrong side. I placed it on the right since that where it was on my motorcycles. But for a bicycle, you do most of your shifting with your right hand. During typical throttle usage, I’m downshifting as I am climbing a hill. Well, that’s also exactly when you want to crank on the thumb throttle. Doing both at the same time requires more manual dexterity than I have. Will remedy this next time I need to tweak something on the bars or stem.

My car-replacement bicycle setup

For my one year experiment of not driving when by myself, I’m replacing the hauling capacity of my car with a longtail utility bicycle. More details here for new readers regarding what constitutes a utility bike and how I selected the 2010 Kona Ute as my final choice.

For more reading on bicycles recapturing a role as utilitarian people-movers, the person behind Cycle 9 wrote a lengthy but excellent summary on the Chris Martenson website. Recommended. Part IPart II

I used to commute by bicycle for years, so I have most of the gear and correct attitude to actually *want* to ride around in the cold, dark, wet winter here. But a bicycle that is replacing a car requires some unique gear. For me, it was simplest to begin with a new bike suited to the purpose. Here’s how I’ve tweaked my 2010 Kona Ute longtail:
  • eZee electric assist. While I was thinking originally about the Amped Bikes system, I went with eZee because I found a local dealer/installer. The only downside is the weight of the battery; darn heavy. Currently storing in one of the saddle bags, as it is too large to mount elsewhere on the frame.
  • Light & Motion Seca LED 900 lumens battery-powered light (rechargeable, not dynamo). My winter dark riding will be minimal since I can plan most trips between 10AM – 2PM, but I’ll use this as an always-on light during the day year-round.
  • Three Down Low Glow lights. One for the rear and two underneath to serve as side lights. Hip and functional. I chose the amber color to match the Ute bags.
  • Ortlieb‘s Office Bag 2 in black for laptop and other work items. Mounted at end of rack to leave room for (future) stoker kid near seat post.
  • Second matching Kona pannier bag (large) since the Ute only comes with one. Which is just plain silly. Why would you ride around with just one loaded bag, making you off-balance?
  • Brooks Flyer Spring saddle. Because they are so darn cool and so darn comfortable.
  • SKS Chainboard: this really is revolutionary. It’s the first chain guard to work with front derailleurs. Keeps everything cleaner. Will take a pro’s touch to get it adjusted smoothly, though. Useful review.
  • Replaced the standard Kona Ute tires with the relatively bulletproof combination of a flat resistant tube + Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires with a kevlar bead.
  • A Salsa stem plus Moto Ace handlebars. The standard swept back bars on the Kona Ute are incredibly uncomfortable. I got significant immediate pain in my left hand trying to adjust my grip to the extreme swept back position. I’ll reuse these bars as a stoker bar for my kids riding on the back, where the extreme angle should be a benefit.
  • Classic bell on the handlebars, along with a mirror.
  • Ergon grips. Awesome. Amazing. Going to put these on my wife’s bike, too. They even fit the grip shifter we put on to work better with the eZee throttle. Reusing the nice cork Kona grips on the stoker bar.
  • A waterproof Aquapac on the stem for my iPhone. I can listen to music while riding and easily see when I have incoming work phone calls. Pull to the side, hit the brakes, answer the phone, and suddenly I am “in the office”.
  • No water bottle cages. Using those areas to mount the bottom Down Low Glow lights and rechargeable battery pack. Will fuel up on yerba mate before I hit the road.
  • We eliminated as much extra cabling (brake, electric assist, lights) as possible to keep things nice and tight. But there are still alot more cables than normal.

Total cost was about $4500. About the same cost as many high mountain bikes, road bikes, and commuter/city bikes, but very affordable when compared to the cost of an automobile (vehicle, gasoline, insurance, maintenance). The fact that the price was kept affordable was due primarily to the $900 2010 Kona Ute, as the electric pedal assist kit and the lighting system were each $1200. Kudos to Kona for producing an affordable utility longtail bike; you guys rock.

There is another fellow doing a similair experiment named DirtDad. Check out his thread here on the electric vehicle technology forums at Endless Sphere. And the folks at Kona have an electric version of the Ute in the works. Perhaps we’ll see this as a 2011 model.

More photos in the little slideshow on the right. Click through to the Picasa site to view them in larger format.

Testing your bicycle awareness

A humorous (and effective) reminder to pass along to your non-bicyclist friends. Be sure to remind them that with Peak Oil, they will likely become bicyclists in the not-too-distant future. Whether they want to or not.