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Bike-with-Boost Experiment


In August 2008 (Premium Unleaded hit $4/gallon) I sold my convertible and bought a kit to add electric assist to my bike. Two months from that decision, I had zero regrets! And bonus: In that time span I lost 2 inches from my waist. I haven't settled into a routine yet but I'd guess I ride about 15 miles a day average. Some days as little as 6 miles and some as much as 35.

The kit is made by BionX, a Canadian company. It is a "peddle assist" system. The motor is in the rear hub. It senses the amount of effort the rider is exerting and assists accordingly. On hills and against the wind it rocks! You can choose to use throttle-only for 20-25mph on flat ground. I weigh about 175 lbs.

I liked it so much I bought two kits. Now friends can join me!

How much did this cost me?

Bikes alone, pre-electrified:

The Blue Bike: I paid $519 + tax for the Bicycle (Trek 7.2) @ Bicycle Sport Shop on South Lamar close to Barton Springs Rd., a "Trek" brand with mid quality name-brand (Shimano) parts and fairly light weight for a hybrid (mountain/street) bike. See down below for all the add-ons.

The Green Bike: I paid $360 + tax. Trek 7100 Multitrack. See down below for all the add-ons.

BionX kit
(I now have 2 of these so friends can ride along)

$1,675 for the Bion-X 350PL Kit

Motor: 350 Watt nominal power motor with 750 Watt peak
Nominal torque: 10 Nm; Maximum torque: 32 Nm

Battery: 9 amp-hour 36V Lithium Ion. Charge from empty in 3 hours.

Estimated 4 cents to charge. Using $4/gallon gas price and 10 mile no-peddling range, this comes to 1,000 miles per gallon. Note: BionX claims 15 miles of throttle-only riding but I find in real conditions it is more like 10 miles. Of course, I have removed the speed limiter and I have changed the default assistance levels to give *much* more assist. My range is significantly reduced but the power is fun!
Kit ordered from Alien Scooters on South Lamar. These guys do maintenance and are very friendly.

BionX makes a 500W motor.
The 350W motor is better climbing hills while the 500W motor can move you faster on the flats. Right now it is not easy to get the 500W motor unless you live in CA.

Codes to remove speed limiter, change assist levels & sensitivity, diagnose problems, etc.
Alternatives / Competitors

OHM XS 700 all-in one BionX-based bike

$3,450 @ Alien Scooters
Same 350/750 W motor as the kit I bought. But 9 amp-hour 38V Lithium Ion battery instead of 36V. Torque is slightly less than mine: 7/25

For a bit more, you can get the XS 750, which has same torque as my bike (10/32) and a 12 amp-hour battery.

E+ Bikes

NEW INFORMATION: These E+ bikes are using NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries. That means "last generation technology". Not obsolete but... close. The battery in the front wheel is 20 lbs! (compared to the 8 lb. Lithium Ion battery in the BionX bike). E+ is developing a Lithium Ion version estimated to be ready some time in 2009.

Start @ $3,495 for entire bike, 750 Watt motor, 9 amp-hour 36V battery.
If you want the 1000W bike, you pay an extra $600 on top of the $3,495.

The E+ Cruiser and Mountain Bikes
come in 750W and 1000W versions.
If you go for their highest end model, looks like you get:
- 1000 Watts (BionX is 350)
- Torque: 85Nm (BionX is 32Nm)
- 30 MPH top speed (BionX is 25 after hack)
- Claimed 20 miles range with no peddling (BionX is 10-12, hacked for extra power and speed)
- Battery is in front wheel hub for lower center of gravity and better balance
- approx. 75 lbs compared to my 52 lbs blue BionX bike.


~ $50 for strong lock @ Bicycle Sport Shop

~ $230 for Better padded seat, seat-post shock absorber, longer neck-that-holds-handlebar with extra joint, and lights for night riding @ Bicycle Sport Shop.

Super comfy seat for blue bike.
"Moon seat" for the green bike. I'll report after giving it some time.

"Armadillo" kevlar tires (GET THESE!), tire liners (barely helped), and thorn-resistant tubes. Wanting to be very sure I don't get a flat in the middle of nowhere. I was getting flats left and right before the kevlar tires. Often "pinch flats" from just going off a curb. The Kevlar tires require almost double the air pressure so they ride more rough. But it took about one day to get used to that.

~ $160 for front shocks (RockShox brand) for the blue bike. I could only find one type of shock-absorbing forks that would fit this bike since the bike is made to have solid front forks. Ordered through Bicycle Sport Shop.

$89.99 for Shimano Sora 52/42/30 170mm front gearset for higher speeds with less peddle speed. This is on the blue bike.

Solar Backpack
and THEN, after ordering the backpack online, I heard on some other site that Office Depot sells this item. I needed a backpack of this size- and bonus- it has solar panels to charge my cell phone during long rides.
MORE: I've cut the outer flap off, that holds the solar panels and battery. I've modified the flap so now I can easily clip it to my other, more comfortable backpacks. So far it works great!


August 7, 2008 (Day 1)

What a JOY riding this bike!

For those who didn't see an earlier post on this topic: I sold my Mustang and purchased a second bike (hybrid mountain/street bike). Added a $1675 Bion-X Electric Motor & Lithium Ion kit from Alien Scooters on South Lamar. Today was my first day with the modified bike.

It's like riding a normal bike but always having a tail wind... See, you can choose from 4 main modes using the controller on the handlebars:

(A) Full on use of throttle with no peddling (you can do this in conjunction with any of the assist modes below);

(B) Assist mode (with levels 1 thru 4) where the motor adds power to make peddling much easier. Level 1 is very little assistance while 4 is most assistance from the electric motor;

(C) Neutral where it's exactly like a normal bike; or

(D) Regenerative (4 regen modes) where peddling is a bit harder because the motor is acting like a generator to charge the battery as you ride. These modes are great for when you are going down a steep hill and you want to keep it from going too crazy fast. Or I guess if you want to get an extra hard leg workout from a ride. It's real nice to see it charging the battery using this energy!

Oh! And no matter what mode you are in, using the back brake causes the motor in the rear wheel to act like a generator to charge the battery. Yep, regenerative braking like in the Prius.

So with all the riding I did today I am finding that (B-4) is what I use most while switching to (D) for steep downhills. I just LOVE watching the little meter on the handlebars show the battery is charging when I hit the brakes, as I'm running over small animals because I'm looking at the control panel instead of the road.

Not only is it FUN but also inspires more confidence in many situations where cars are involved. Like I find in my day-to-day bicycle riding that sometimes I'm "acting like a car" in that I ride on the street in the middle of a lane (not often), other times I'm acting like a pedestrian by riding on the sidewalk. And other times I'm riding on the side of the road, hoping cars will pass me but not hit me as they pass. So with this motor, in slow moving traffic I can ride along with the cars without slowing them down. I can much more quickly cross the street. I can go up hills much faster. I can jump from a stop light or stop sign, 0 to 25mph MUCH faster, thus getting out of cars' way. It's safer AND liberating at the same time! Can you tell I'm jazzed? :)

I can feel it changing my perception of bike riding! I suddenly feel passionate about this mode of transportation and BONUS, I'm getting exercise! It takes the painful parts out of bike riding and adds a ton-o-fun!

August 13, 2008

Today I walked my bike into Lowe's Home Improvement store so I could find a flat piece of metal I'm going to drill holes into... [snip details] ...move battery off rear rack and into the space where the water bottle goes.

The Lowe's guy who I asked to help me find stuff took a look at the battery and said, "Oh I don't like to see batteries on bikes. That's cheating. I ride my bike without assistance." I replied, "Did you ride your bike to work today?" He said, "No. I drove my truck." I said, "This is my only form of transportation." He said, "Oh wow. That's OK then."

I still felt misunderstood. Like maybe he assumed I don't peddle. I pretty much always peddle. I almost asked him how many miles he rides a week so I could make some kind of case like, "OK so you ride 50 miles a week unassisted. What if I ride 150 miles a week, assisted but if you factored out the assisted miles, it would still come out to 85 miles. Isn't it better that I ride more?"

But I didn't say that. I thought, "This is an opportunity to practice letting go of wanting to convince someone of seeing my way."

June 12, 2009
Both bikes run fine & strong. No issues (except that I now have a scooter). Come test drive.

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