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  1. #1
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    My test rides of several e-bikes in San Francisco--illuminating and some surprises!

    Today I spent 3 hrs test-riding ebikes in SF, having done tons of research on this board and elsewhere. The store is new (in this location), friendly, and knowledgeable, selling ONLY ebikes.

    Here are reviews based on an admittedly short test ride in each case, i.e. 15 min or so, but the ride included a 3-block-long steep SF hill, up and down of course:

    1. Kettler Twin: I love the comfy upright stable ride and had high expectations for the Panasonic in-line motor, but was disappointed. The gear shifting was not good on the steep uphill. The first time up the hill I had put the bike into first gear after starting the ascent but absolutely could not accomplish the ride after 2 blocks and gave up--and it turned out the bike was actually still in 3rd gear although it showed first gear. If we put it into proper gear before beginning the ascent, we could be sure it was really in first gear. But it seemed pretty weird that we couldn't be sure the bike was really in first gear when it said it was! Then when it was truly in first gear it was much more assistance, but not enough for me. It was still simply too much work for me to pedal up the hill. Because I have some medical restrictions I can't just treat this as a problem to be solved by sweat and time--I have to have a not-too-laborious ride. I guess these bikes are not made for really steep hills like we have here (someone on this board already warned me about this!). It's a really heavy bike, which gives it the stability I like, but just made it too hard to get up that steep hill. I did like the internal gears (is that what one calls it when you twist the handlebar to change gears and you don't have to be pedaling?) and the nicely covered chain. It only has 3 levels of assist which felt a little primitive.

    2. Kalkhoff Tasman: Very similar to Kettler, a little sportier. Same problems with shifting while riding uphill, and just not strong enough for 'our' hills and my reconstructed hips. Required even a bit more pedaling than the Kettler. I was really surprised by this, I had thought I'd be taking home a Kalkhoff for sure. My husband felt like you had to actually turn the whole front wheel of the Kalkhoff briefly to the side to get the gear shifting to work on the hill. All of this was totally not what I expected given what I had read on this board about Kalkhoffs.

    3. BH Emotion Volt (folding electric): After the lumbering Kettler, this was a peppy little thing that zipped off as soon as I started pedaling and made it up the hill much more easily, but not without some good effort on my part. I was surprised at how much I did like this bike. I was more nervous going downhill with those small wheels and I felt like I would not feel as secure riding the bike on the crappy street surfaces where I live. I liked this bike but felt like I'm more of a standard-wheel person. It's fun, about 42 lbs, pretty powerful, but not stable enough for me.

    4. Ohm Urban: This was great. It just breezed up the steep hill while I pedaled lightly along. It is not a light bike but felt like one when I rode it. Before trying it I didn't think I'd want a bike with a throttle, because I imagined it making the bike into something like a Porsche scooter, but the throttle was great--a subtle but definite boost up that steep hill. Also I LOVE the way the regenerative brakes totally slow you down when going downhill--I didn't have to touch the brakes while going down the very steep hill if I set the regen to highest power. This was a perfectly smooth ride, no problems shifting, no problems modifying assist level. I will still need to pedal to get uphill but it is totally doable.

    I have some small complaints about the Ohm, or at least things I preferred about the other bikes:

    a. Kettler's step-through was more comfortable for me; Ohm's big bulky battery in the step-through area (whatever you call the area between the seat and the handlebar post) makes me swing my leg around the back of the bike to get on and off. I have a slightly restricted hip mobility so this is a real thing, but I can manage the Ohm well enough. I wish the battery were just a tad lower somehow.

    b. The way to change gears is annoying--there are three gears to control on the left, 7 on the right, and you use thumb on one side to increase, finger on the other side to increase, it is just not intuitive to me. Clearly I just don't understand gears, but I figure this is just a matter of habit to learn. I also like the twisting/internal gears better, where you don't have to be peddling to change gears. But the gear-shifting is not at all intuitive and I like the simple twist model where you can see easily what gear you are in.

    c. Related point: on the Ohm you can't see what gear you are in very easily because the screen blocks the view of the right-hand gear indicator, and the bell on the left does that too. So I found myself pressing on right side and left and not sure what I was increasing or decreasing or how those are related to each other. And in fact, how ARE they related to each other?? Any tips on this are welcome!!

    d. The buttons for increasing and decreasing the motor's assistance level and for using the throttle are all small and too close together. Ohm should in my opinion make them bigger and more spread out for a more ergonomic and comfortable interface.

    Nonetheless we left with the Ohm, and I'm psyched to ride it around! I'll post a lengthier review in a few days if people are interested. I think the biggest learning-curve issue is figuring out how to use each of the three aspects of managing the power--the assistance level, the gears, and the throttle--and how to use them together for the right feel and most efficient power. Again, tips welcome on that.

  2. #2
    Senior Member profstack's Avatar
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    Congrats on getting the Urban. I'm getting an Urban in May when the 2012's come out. It's hard to wait.

    You will adjust to the shifting. For me, it's like my regular commuter shifts, so that is a plus. The step over on the Ohm is less than a normal diamond frame bike.

    You don't have to shift into the lowest gear going up a hill when using the 300% boost. You'll find the gear that works best for your strength.

  3. #3
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    Dammit, i couldn't get up the hill to get home. Pushed the bike for a few short, very steep stretches and then called my husband for a pickup. He was able to pedal it home the last steep stretch.

    So how likely is it that i can get strong enough to do this hill without ruining my Steel-reinforced hip? Do i give up and take it back? There is a less steep way i can try tomorrow but it is 5 Miles longer.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shouldbeworking View Post
    Dammit, i couldn't get up the hill to get home. Pushed the bike for a few short, very steep stretches and then called my husband for a pickup. He was able to pedal it home the last steep stretch.

    So how likely is it that i can get strong enough to do this hill without ruining my Steel-reinforced hip? Do i give up and take it back? There is a less steep way i can try tomorrow but it is 5 Miles longer.
    My neck is titanium. I bought my ebike to build myself back up after a spinal injury. It takes time but it is doable. If I may sugest, joining a spin class at the local Y or other gym can help a lot in the beginning. One of the advantages of spin class is one never gets stranded when you wear out.

  5. #5
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    The Ohm is a BionX hub system and doesn't surprise me that it didn't make it up your hill as you described it several posts ago. While you will gain some power in your body the more you ride if the bike won't get you home now, when you need it to be as easy as possible, along with getting to know the gearing and nuances of riding a bike I am afraid it won't be a good fit for you.

    I tried to tell you before that you will need to have a bike that meets the upper limit of wattage allowed in CA. (750w). If you can return that bike I would and do this instead:

    Go to a bike shop in your neighborhood and find a bike that suits your needs such as ease of mounting, disc brakes and even an internally geared hub, get a good one. If you get it close by they can help you maintain it also.

    Take it to the ebike shop I mentioned earlier tell them your requirements and have them outfit it with an appropriate hub motor, controller, throttle and battery. They are very knowledgable about doing this and will not steer you wrong and you already have found out that a hub motor and throttle will suffice for you, albeit a more powerful system.

    This option will probably cost you less than the Ohm did and will get you to the top of your street no problem. Work on your strength from there instead of trying to build it up on a bike that doesn't perform how you need it to and risk stressing your injuries further. If it doesn't do what you want it to you will not ride it.

  6. #6
    Senior Member 15rms's Avatar
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    The bikes you rode with an inline motor are both 250 watts. I have experience riding a recumbent with a Cyclone 500 watt. It has taken be up any hill in the Denver area I could throw at it. There is a bicycle shop in San Franciso that sells a cyclone powered Day 6 bike. Very confortble. I doubt you would have a problem going up your hill however if you did you could change the back gearing for an easy fix. Here is a link.

    http://www.ecomallbiz.com/treasurebiz/electricbicycles/

    If money were not an option you could go with Opti-Bike. I test rode one of those. I believe it will climb a telephone pole. Another high dollar option would be Eco-Speed. Lightfoot cycles sells a recumbent with a Eco-Speed. Really nice option.

  7. #7
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    I agree with Mabman. A nice torquey geared freewheeling hub motor perhaps - at least 750 watts nominal, spiking to over 1000 watts. Running on 48 volts. On the bike that is already perfect for you. Avoid cyclone. They are not good in the rain, and have plenty of problems with chain wear, overheating, moisture problems. Go with a hub motor. Most premade commercial ebikes are lame and overpriced, and have proprietary aspects, running on only 36 volts or even 24, with too small batteries. With a cheap conversion kit you will get much better value, and you will be able to fix problems with non-proprietary disposable parts like 35 dollar controllers, or 15 dollar throttles. The motors are very robust. You can spend the savings on the best battery you can find, like a Ping battery from China.

  8. #8
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    Ecospeed will put their system on any bike you want.
    Thanks for the great review. I have found in my research that most ebikes are made for flat areas which is strange because not many people need electric on the flats. I agree with Mabman and 15rms, bring the bike back because if it doesn't work to go up that hill, it is useless to you. That is the whole reason you needed an electric bike in the first place. There are bikes out there that can do this but probably not specially made ebikes. Instead look at add on units.
    By the way, internal gears don't like trying to shift while under load like going up a hill. You need to shift before you lose too much power to coast for a second while you shift.

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    Thanks everyone. And Mabman, yes you did tell me, and I appreciate your persistence, truly. I'll hit you up for more advice at the next stages.

    I'm going to give it another try today with the different, much longer route home that is supposedly less steep. I am even willing to push the bike for a few short stretches if the rest is doable. Unfortunately the route I took yesterday mapped on the gradient map as the least steep direct way home. The ride into work today was so fun, and it was amazing how the regen brakes really gave me 3 extra bars on the battery by the time I got to the bottom of the hill. If it doesn't work with the other route, and I'm not entirely optimistic, then I'll start studying the options with the 750 watt motors. I'm totally not a mechanical person so I was really hoping for an all-in-one setup. I'll write later today with the results of the 'other' route home.

  10. #10
    Senior Member profstack's Avatar
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    Wow, you must have some awesome hills there. Seattle is bad enough, but your town sounds tougher. Is the push-button unable to power you over the steepest parts?

    If the Urban doesn't work out, take a look at a couple of iZip bikes. The Ultra has a 500W motor and is pretty fast. It is spartan compared to the Urban, and about the same weight (without fenders/rack/lights/etc.).

  11. #11
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    Profstack, yes our hill is relentless. Long and steep. No wonder I never see anyone else on bikes on it, not even ebikes.

    I emailed the store and they phoned me back, concerned, and had some ideas. They think that the hub motor got overheated and shut off some of the energy, which is why it felt like the throttle made absolutely no difference to me. This makes sense because when my husband came to rescue me, I had waited around for about 15 min and then he rode the bike up a very steep last stretch with good effort but it was not impossible--and so perhaps the motor had then cooled off after the 15 min and worked for him.

    The store says that last year's model does not overheat as quickly and they want to bring it to me (about 18 mi from their store to my house)! Very nice service. They also recommended a new bike that is coming in, the Focus, which they say has the Panasonic motor but is much stronger. The owner suggested she bring BOTH bikes, and was very happy to accommodate my request that SHE test ride them on my hill before I try it myself. So they are quite committed to investigating my situation, I'm highly impressed.

    Then I did try the much longer, less steep, way home, and it was ok, I was worried about overheating the motor so I only used assistance levels 2-3 most of the time although I would have preferred to use 4. But it was a nice ride and I made it home. It was just too long, 70 min and 10 miles, most of it a slow, gradual uphill climb, whereas really my house is only 3 miles from my work.

    I see all these good points, as Mabman and others indicated, about starting with buying my ideal bike and then adding a higher-wattage motor, but I'm just so UN-interested in dealing with all the decisions, mechanics, things I don't know about and don't want to bother learning. How much do I have to know or think about to get a system that will work together, be easily maintained, and do what I want it to do?

  12. #12
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    That is why I suggested Ecospeed. They will equip your bike and it will be the same as if you bought it with the motor on it. The reason I recommend Ecospeed is it is the one motor that is powerful enough and no hassle that I have personally tried. They have been in business for quite a while so probably won't disappear if you need help someday.
    There may be other places that have a strong enough motor and no hassle but I never found them. I don't like hub motors because of our steep hills and controllers were always shutting down (like yours) or were flimsy wiring that could be broken easily, etc. Fine for someone who wants to fool around with stuff but I wanted to just ride it.

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    But Ecospeed is $3K! I phoned with them, very helpful, but is there really no less expensive motor that will work? I like the regen brakes as a way to slow myself down, too, so I'm not oppose to hub motors if they are strong enough to get up the hill and not overheat.

    And then I'd have to decide what bike to get, a whole new range of decisions, oy. On the phone he recommended a Rans (never heard of it and don't want recumbent) and a Breezer (also never heard of it, but what do I know?). But then we're getting up toward a $5K bike. I'm ok with $3,500 but FIVE K is too much. Or isn't it??

    What hub motor with regen brakes would work for me, and on what bike? I'm still hoping my SF store can bring me something that works.

  14. #14
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    Contact ebikes.ca (Grin Technologies).

    www.ebikes.ca

    Sell ebike parts. Excellent ethical supplier of ebike hub motors, controllers (regen), and home of the world famous "CycleAnalyst".

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    Yeah, I looked at that ebikes.ca website a lot. I am daunted by that simulator--I don't even know what I'm simulating and what the various choices mean.

    From what I can tell, eZee wouldn't be strong enough, it's only 400W. You can get a 48V battery. but it's not really made for that. I think it is throttle only, but I like pedal-assist for the half of my commute that is mostly flattish. I don't understand what a geared hub is vs. direct drive, but I think I like the latter better because it has regen, which I like for STOPPING ability, I realize there are controversies on this board concerning battery issues, but I like how it slows me down. Then again, I'm beyond the limit of my competence in even trying to talk about these things, so I might not know what all this means.

    ebikes.ca sells the 9 continents but seems to rate all of it pretty badly, I don't get it. It sounds like you need to fiddle with them to make them work, which is definitely not for me.

    Crystalite rear 750, as shown by ebikes.ca, is heavy. Seems to have good power. No idea what caliper distance is. I can't figure out what a Hall signal is, seems to be a wire that doesn't work when wet. No idea how I would know what controller I need, or if I even need one.

    Is LiFePo the same as LiPo, which people say catches fire?

    All of this, plus the question of BMC (geared hub, no regen, that's all I can figure out) or the very expensive ecospeed makes me wish for an integrated system that just works and doesn't require so much knowledge on my part.

  16. #16
    Senior Member 15rms's Avatar
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    shouldbeworking try some possibility thinking.

  17. #17
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    That's why Ecospeed is so expensive but reliable. I think factory built ebikes are just maybe finally starting to get to be useful for more people. I think they were being built by people who thought they could make money by selling junk as novelty bikes. The kits put on regular bikes have been far better for power, speed and distance but also take more knowledge to understand. LiFePo (lithium iron phosphate) batteries don't blow up or catch fire.
    So if none of the ebikes you try work, then spend more time learning about add on kits.
    Rans make a crank forward bike that allows you to touch the ground with your feet while seated and is considered a semi-recumbent. He was probably thinking about your hip issue. Go check out Rans bikes. I have one of their recumbents -sweet bike. They make airplanes so they know what they are doing.

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    So today I wanted to test out the theory that the problem with my direct, very steep route home the other day was that the motor overheated and so cut power, which was why the throttle seemed to give me no help. I mapped about 6 variations on how I can get home going up my hill without the 5-mile detour (which is in fact doable and a pretty ride but adds 45 min to my trip home). I was optimistic, because I felt like I have learned to manage the power in the bike better and understand even how to keep the motor as cool as possible by using less assist and more gear help. And I am a little stronger.

    I decided to try a way home that has two medium-short, very steep stretches but a rather long stretch of flat/slope in between so that the motor wouldn't overheat. So I would just need to throttle my way up for short spurts. I even stopped for a few minutes at the bottom of the first big ascent to be sure motor was cool.

    No go. Throttle seemed to be nonexistent. 4th level assist was not enough. Called husband for another pickup. He has indicated he doesn't want to do the pickup anymore, so no more experiments for me.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what the bike shop brings me next week to try but am not optimistic. I guess the next step is to consider ecospeed (as Crackerdog suggests) or BMC or Crystalite. If I even want to pursue this. I didn't own a bike here for 10 yrs, so I guess I can go back to bikelessness, or go to plan B and get a folder for errands in the flats and get picked up in a car for the big hill home.

    But it has been a few great days of biking. I just can't see keeping a very expensive bike that can't be used for errands and easy commuting because my only way home (normally 3.5 mi) requires a 5-mile slow climb detour.

  19. #19
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    I hate to say that you are asking at the wrong place; but, the experts in this hobby are at endless sphere. It sounds like the issue is the final hill. To meet your needs you may need a custom build. The good news is that a custom build is within your price range.

    There are two directions that a custom build may go. The first is the simple application of more power. The factory built e-bikes are limited by the lowest, permissible, legal power and top, unassisted, speed restrictions. A custom build may exceed the power and limit the top speed through a governing device like the cycle-analyst. Another dirrectoin a custom build may go is to use two hub motors (this is because you have ruled out the eco-speed mid-drive due to cost). One of the primary reasons for two hub motor solution is to control, and spread, the heat buildup on long hills; exactly the situation you are facing. There are also other, lower-cost, mid drive solutions that a custom builder may be able to discuss with you.

    I know you have expressed that you want an "off the rack" solution; but, those solutions may not meet your needs. Many custom builders can also provide you with a high quality solution that will provide years trouble free transportation. The simple facts are that e-bikes are the cutting edge of local transportation devices; however, the operative word here is edge. You may need to work with a builder to find the best solution for you. Again, I recommend that you ask these questions at endless sphere. You have an expert level problem, go to the experts.
    As a nation we still continue to enjoy a literally unprecedented prosperity; and it is probable that only reckless speculation and disregard of legitimate business methods on the part of the business world can materially mar this prosperity. Theodore Roosevelt, Sixth Annual Message, December 3, 1906

  20. #20
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    RobertC
    Not ALL factory ebikes are limited by the lowest permissable power and speed.
    MADE IN USA Eplus 1000W which has seperate thread on this forum can be bought as a kit or complete ebike.
    It can achive 85Nm /Newtonmeter/ of torque max and it is massive torque , most remarkabele on 36V system.
    I regularly achive 30mph on flat, no wind, 66kg myself/sorry Canada/ with some peddaling and climb any hill I want.
    Eplus is display of efficiency /this what ebike should be about/ and I've never seen more than 1080W drawn by Eplus system from battery, anytime.
    Design and built in USA /electrical part of it of course, somebicycle brand name components are China-made of course but no China-brand parts on this ebike
    I doubt China-brand electrical components can provide years of troublefree..., no way, they are quality nightmares.
    And yes if you are electrical person you can build and ride China parts ebike for years because you know how to patch up system and rebuid it.
    Last edited by powell; 04-06-12 at 11:18 PM.

  21. #21
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    Powell, could you post some links to that bike? I also can't find the thread about these bikes. Thanks.

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    I think Powell is talking about e+ bikes, but the website seems to be broken and electriccyclery.com doesn't have them anymore, so maybe they are out of business? Looks like a great bike, 1000w.

    I'm getting some recommendations on another forum for Mac motors and 9C 2180. Insights welcome.

    I have a new last resort in mind: I've been riding the long detour to get home up a slow, gradual grade, at about assist level 2 or so, but a friend who rides pointed out that he does that ride pretty easily with his light 17-lb bike. So if no e-bike works, I can get a nice light road bike and do that ride sometimes to get home, when I'm not in a rush and want the exercise. Not ideal, but it would be a lot cheaper.

  23. #23
    Senior Member profstack's Avatar
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    My test rides of several e-bikes in San Francisco--illuminating and some surprises

    That 17-lb bike will likely cost more than the e-bike, and you will be the only motor it has.

    Is your Urban a 2011 or 2012 model. The new ones are lighter and with greater range, and I don't think they are available yet in the USA. The motor hub on the new ones has a different pattern on the surface. I was told the new ones have better battery management, which might mean less chance of overheating, but I could be blowing (electrical) smoke all over it...

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    The Urban I bought is the 2012. It is a tad lighter than the 2011, but my bike store says the 2011 has a bigger coil in it (?) so overheating is less of a problem than with the 2012.

    Again, my hills are exceptional. The least-steep direct way home has a lot of 12-17% grade and one spot with 23%. If we were talking about a 7% grade the Urban would likely have worked.

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