Hello Goodbye Kona Ute

Said goodbye to last year’s newly non-electrified Ute; felt good about it as it clearly went to a good home. Nearby photo is the new owner on his inaugural grocery run with kiddo in tow. Awesome!

And said hello to my new Electric Ute, the official new electric cargo bike from Kona. First impressions:

  • I like the pedal assist system (PAS). No more throttle, just a semi-smart computer that sense when you need assistance. It guesses correctly 80% of the time, which is a good enough trade off for me. I like the simplified setup of no throttle.
  • The PAS takes a bit to get used to if you are coming off a throttle experience, as you feel a definite lack of exact control for the timing of the power output. If you are coming from a normal bike experience, you’ll be thrilled the first time the PAS kicks in.
  • Great battery life (boy, I hope this continues). Made two trips back/forth to town on a single charge, with ample charge left.
  • Recharging is simple. With the lousy eZee kit, you really had to remove the entire battery to take to the recharger. On the Electric Ute, the battery stay in place and you simply plug in a cord from the wall.
  • The architecture is almost identical to the original Ute, just ~ 2CM taller. I’ll have to make slight tweaks to my stoker bars for my seven year old, but that’s it.

The only downside I can think of to the new Electric Ute is the lack of a front disc brake. I love everything else on this bike.

Highly recommended as a car replacement vehicle.

Kona Electric Ute, version 2.0

OK, time for a major reset from recent lessons learned.

I just bought the new Kona Electric Ute. It’s not yet in their catalog, but the Ute product manager – very helpful fellow named Mark – reached out after finding this blog and made the offer. The bikes arrived at their warehouse end of April and in my local bike shop today. He sent me this snapshot.

Going to swap out all my customizations from the 2010 model to the 2011 model and sell off the non-electric Ute, which is a great bike in its own right.

Finally, I can see a positive end to this journey to build a car replacement bicycle capable of hauling some serious loads up serious hills.

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.