A few years ago, there were very few selections when it came to electric bike kits. Now, it seems there is finally a kit for every type of build that you can imagine. So what’s next?…Style! Personalizing your ebike to match who you are, and what you do with it.
This article is not about anything practical in ebike design. It’s all about FUN!…it’s about how your ebike looks, and about how it makes you feel. The reason this facet of ebikes has been on my mind is that…some of the kits that are out now are very easy to install, so new ebikers don’t have to learn a lot about electrical components to be able to have an ebike.
Turn-key factory ebikes are starting to add “some” variety of style to their line-ups (like the Vintage Cycles Cruz), but…they can’t stray too far from the median average of public taste, or they risk having a lot of unsold ebikes. This means that a builder adding a kit to a bicycle that they already like, will usually be the best route…if you are a creative personality, and you want your ebike to really stand out.
What style is the best style?
Fashion is what everyone is doing, style is what you do.
Your style doesn’t have to be outrageous, but…it can be. Style means putting together something a little different than normal, to show what YOU like. This means that the thing that one builder loves…it’s the same thing that another builder hates!
There is no “best” style, there is only YOUR style. If you have a vision in your head that you absolutely LOVE?…don’t let anything slow you down or hold you back. When you post pics of the finished product, be aware some responders will laugh at it…and others will say that it’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen. Just remember, the only opinion that matters is YOUR opinion. You may not be able to afford a customized car or motorcycle, but anyone can afford to customize a bicycle. Then, making it into an ebike with a kit is another way to create and add something truly useful to your life.
The ebike below is the Italjet Ascot, and I fell in love with it when I researched it to write our article on it back in September of 2015. This type of leather saddle was made famous by the Brooks company. There is a wide variety of leather grips and also chrome teardrop headlights to choose from that are similar. This style of fork is sometimes referred to as a “Monark springer”, after the bicycle from the 1940’s that made it famous. If you are shopping for a Monark springer style of fork, do a lot of research. Some will have a mount for a disc brake, and some do not. The strength and quality of the different manufacturers varies widely, so beware.
These tires are 26 X 3.0-inch Kenda Flames, and they come in a variety of colors.
For a frame to choose, notice that there is some space between the vertical seat-tube and the front of the rear tire. This indicates that there is some “stretch” to this frame, which makes them a little more stable at higher speeds. One frame that is similar is the aluminum Electra Lux Fat 7D.
If you want a steel frame (which is much easier to alter and weld onto), the Felt Bixby is steel. Most Felt frames are aluminum, but the Bixby is steel. There may be other viable candidates, but these two are the first that come to my mind, if you want to re-create a bike from this era of style…
I was really knocked out by the “Mental Manno” when I wrote about it back in December of 2013. It is a retro motorcycle themed ebike with 2WD, and full suspension. It was designed by a brilliant engineer named Zlatko Vidic from Croatia, who consults at Zelena Vozila.
This style of fork is called a Girder. It is a very strong suspension fork from the early days of motorcycles. When the front wheel hits a bump, the fork moves up inline with the fork tubes. If you read the Mental Manno article, it has the contact info, so Zlatko can build a Girder fork to your spec, or even an entire Mental Manno frame.
Turn of the Century “Board Trackers”
In January of 2016, we wrote about the “Juicer” ebike, which we gladly refer to as the “King of the Board Trackers”. Between the year 1900, and the economic depression of 1929, there was a phenomenon of spectators watching the early motorcycles racing on a track that was steeply banked in the curves (so riders didn’t have to slow down in the turns) and they were paved with wooden boards. Motorcycles that won, would have proven their durability under race conditions, so these were very popular for the manufacturers and spectators alike.
There are several styles of suspension fork from the era that are distinctive, and I have also seen turn of the century themed bicycles with a “leaf spring” fork.
If you want to re-create a board-track racer like this, you could contact David Twomey to assemble a turn-key ebike made to your spec, or you could buy a steel “loop” frame from Worksman Bicycles, and build it up the way that YOU like…
This is the style category that almost always evokes a LOT of passion. It seems that some builders LOVE them, and others HATE them. Whichever you are, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
One unusual thing about the custom Basman in the pic above is the “Leading Link” fork. I have seen this style with two forward mounted compression springs (which is a fairly normal fork layout, shown), and I have also seen them with a single tension spring in the rear (that pulls longer when the fork hits a bump). If they are dialed-in to the weight and loads of a specific bike, they are reported to not have any “dive” during hard braking.
Back in December of 2015, we wrote about a Basman frame built by Matt Parks from Australia. This frame style was designed by Bas Pruisscher, from Project 346 in the Netherlands, and it won a custom build contest. After that, the Ruff Cycles company (from Germany) licensed the design, and I have been seeing a LOT of custom builds using this frame.
I have recently seen some Chinese copies of this Vanguard Zeth stretch cruiser. It was designed for a “build off” and won. Notice it uses a “cantilever springer” fork. The bottom of the steerer-tube (inside the head tube) has a pivot, and the suspension uses a rocker motion. When the front tire hits a bump, the front tire actually moves up and forwards, just as the front of the spring (on top) moves backwards. This style works best on a bike with a slack head-tube angle.
Look closely at the saddle. If you like this reproduction of that vintage style, search for “Hairpin bicycle saddle” on Google images.
If you like having your feet being flat on the ground at a stop, this frame has just about the lowest seat you can buy…along with the bike frame just below!
There’s a phrase that says…”there’s no accounting for taste”, and that means that if you like something, there’s no way to change the mind of someone who hates it, and vice versa. The ebike in the pic above is using the “Hard Time” frame from Ruff Cycles. To me, this is beautiful, but is it practical? Hell no! It’s all about the style, baby…
The bike above has a “triple tree” solid fork with a dual crown.
Looking over the chopper section, I noticed that most of them have a lowered chainstay, and this is an interesting feature. Of course you can add a large rear hubmotor, but…if you choose to use a mid drive (like the Bafang BBSHD or the Lightning Rods big block), the chain might wear out faster than normal. With the frames that have a lowered stay, you don’t have to break the chain and re-attach it to swap them out. You can order a new chain to a certain length, and it slips right on, by simply loosening the rear axle and moving it forward a bit.
Plus, in these “open-triangle” frames, you can mount the mid drive inside the center of the frame triangle. Not to mention that these huge frame triangles will fit just about any size of battery you can imagine. One option to consider is the Luna Cycles “Killer Whale 48V hard case battery pack.
If you like these wild custom chopper ebikes, you need to check out Fabrizio Bellagamba’s facebook page “Extreme Bicycle Electric garage”. I noticed that there are a lot of custom builds there using the Ruff Cycles Porucho frame.
Also, if you like hot rod chopper ebikes, we wrote about Marks Cromotor Phatrod back in August of 2015.
If you like the fat tire look, there are several brands of tires that have been seen on these “retro” cruiser bicycles. The Boa-G 26 X 3.45, and Hoggy-G 24 X 2.45. The Nirve Fat Ass 24 X 3 inch. The Schwalbe 26 X 2.35 Fat Frank (in various colors). The Felt 24 X 3 Thick Brick (also various colors). The Kenda 26 X 3 Flame also in 24 X 3 Flame (in various colors). The Duro 26 X 3 Soul Stomper tires. And last, the Duro 26 X 3 Beach Bum.
I just found this awesome cruiser (in the pic above) from Lee in Vancouver Island, Canada. The frame is a Nirve Switchblade…The gorgeous battery box was hand-built, and it’s covered with a carbon-fiber wrap, and decorated with a Maltese cross, which was popular in the 1960’s southern California surfing culture.
Vintage “Tank Bicycles” from 1930-58
Young men everywhere back in the depression years had almost no hope of ever owning a car, but just about everyone could eventually own a bicycle. The Bikes from this era were built very strong so they could last. Many of them came with two horizontal top tubes, which made it easy to add a small single-cylinder gasoline engine, similar to the “Whizzer” mopeds. This way you could buy a bicycle as soon as you could afford it, and then add an engine later on.
Even if you never intended to ever add a real engine, there were deluxe versions of bicycles that were popular, and they often had features that were reminiscent of the classic vintage motorcycles, and they came to be called “tank bikes”
The faux “fuel tanks” on these bikes often held a useful storage compartment (along with batteries for a headlight), but…their greatest appeal to their proud owners was simply the “motorcycle style” it imparted.
In 1946, WWII had recently ended, and the new “Jet Age” had begun. Rockets were also being studied by every major nation, and it was speculated that humans could go into space soon. This stirred the public’s imagination in movies, TV programs, and also in automobile and bicycle style. The late 1940’s and the 50’s were awash in jet and rocket style. The Bowden Spacelander is a bicycle that made a splash in the news, but was initially unsuccessful in business.
The prototype was made in England from hand-formed aluminum panels, but when they went into a limited production (in the United States), it used the newest “miracle material”…fiberglass! This material doesn’t rust, it’s not electrically conductive, and it can be designed so that it’s very strong while still being fairly light.
This style never caught on, but…nobody can argue that it looks just like any other bike!
The Elgin Bluebird has flowing lines and lots of curves, and when I was looking at pics of vintage bicycles, this one stood out as a definite influence on the bicycles that came after it.
If you like the classic vintage bicycles from the era in this section, the best website to look at them is “Dave’s Vintage Bicycles“. There are many hours worth of pictures and reading there.
Elgin was a sewing machine company, and they decided to add a high-end bicycle to their catalog. They designed a very upscale bicycle, and hoped that consumers would confuse their company with the luxury watch company that was also named “Elgin”. The Elgin sewing machine and bicycle company eventually stopped making bicycles in 1910, but…in 1935, Sears revived the Elgin bicycle name to promote a luxury bicycle model that they wanted to retail. The pics above show the tank and fender-mounted headlight from this elegant 1935 Elgin Robin.
Earlier (in 1927), Charles Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic ocean in a single-engine airplane, the first to do that flying non-stop (instead of using a boat-plane that stopped to refuel, like others had done). The next two decades featured an adventurous aircraft theme just about everywhere you could imagine. The “aero” theme that was popular at the time was even carried onto the teardrop side-plates of the pedals!
There are too many interesting frames to post pics of, so here are some links to some exceptional examples:
1891 Union Full suspension, “leading link” hairpin tension-spring fork
1896 Eclipse, a back-pedal rear-wheel spoon brake
1898 Stoddard Cygnet (“Swan” in Latin) The large rear loop in the frame flexes to act as suspension.
1902 Pierce, the fork is made from leaf springs, plus a short-stroke rear suspension (with a steel leaf spring between the crank and swingarm, instead of a pivot)
1910 Pierce chainless, shaft drive, concentric swingarm pivot
1917 Columbia model 400 leaf spring fork
1938 Huffman Twin Flex (the factory had recalls, which led to Firestone changing suppliers to Colson, leading to bankruptcy for Huffman, which later became the renewed “Huffy” (The Twin Flex is the premium example of the “long tank” theme)
1930’s Colson Imperial, art deco rear rack
1934 Schwinn Aerocycle, tank and headlight are a “streamliner” with an aircraft theme
1936-40 CCM Flyte, dramatically curved steel frame elements act as springs, front and rear
The owner of this bike is calling it the “Elgin Decoluxe“, and as soon as I saw it, this bike totally knocked my socks off. It has tons of style, that is reminiscent of the “Art Deco” vintage era.
It’s actually a ladies frame, which is easier to find than the more desirable “male” vintage frames. The builder is making the fiberglass “tanks” to use, and also to sell to other restoration enthusiasts. Many of the male frame bikes from this era had tanks as an option, but…these new tanks are made specifically to convert a variety of different ‘step through’ frames into stylish vintage cruisers. The decorative “3-row” horizontal trim pieces are totally hand-made custom elements.
This bike is featured in the website “Rat Rod Bikes“, and was built by Jim Henderson (AKA “The Renaissance Man”). It’s not an electric, but…it shows the kind of style that an average builder can accomplish if they are passionate, and put in the time and effort.
There are probably too many of these to list. I’ve only chosen the “Pi Cycle” as an example because…it’s actually quite functional, in spite of it’s radical shape. Sadly, they are no longer in business, but…their legend lives on.
You can say that you love the style, or…that you hate the style. However, one thing you can’t say is that is has no style.
Modern Body Panels
There’s no way to precisely define “modern”, but…here are two ebikes that have made a serious attempt at using vacuum-molded body panels to make something that is distinctive in its style.
The Qoros eBique is an exotic that we wrote about back in 2014. The side panels and tail-light boom are the most obvious styling touches. The facets on the rear swingarm may not seem to add much, but I feel they are a subtle but effective addition, and they seem to be similar to the swingarm on the recent HPC Revolution.
The BESV company in China is a standout example of a bicycle design that retains much of the “socially accepted” bicycle style, while still adding a few elements to bring some creativity and modern style to their look. The body panels on the LX1 shown above (and also the JS1) manage to stylishly hide the wiring while being light, strong, and rust-proof.
Lightly styled modern electric bikes
The Leaos is a carbon-fiber frame, with significant interior engineering to make up the deletion of the conventional top-tube and seat-stay
The Miele Evox (shown below) is from Canada. It doesn’t “scream” style, but they did put some effort into giving it’s shape a certain graceful “flow” that I find to be very engaging. It is only a mild-assist street-legal power system, but I felt is was one of the more attractive ebikes at the 2015 Interbike convention.
The Elby (shown below) also isn’t a “screaming radical” when it comes to design, but if you want to stay fairly mainstream, there isn’t a whole lot that you can change on a bicycle. I felt it did a reasonable job of adding some elegant curved shapes to the basic ebike “step-trough” frame.
The Coast Cycles Quinn (below) isn’t even an ebike, but its unusual frame is advertised to be able to hold a large briefcase for some city office-worker. Of course I immediately realized how it could hold a large and common rectangular battery pack without any modifications. That being said, it had a certain “Swedish” flavor of style to it that I found to be subtle and very appealing.
When Peugeot decided to make a hybrid car, they also decided that they would make an electric bike as a very affordable way to help promote the new hybrid, since Peugeot has a long history of producing high-end bicycles. The pic below is the Peugeot eDL-132. It has a carbon-fiber frame that houses the slim battery, a belt drive (instead of a chain), and a mid drive motor. The French have sometimes cared more about style over performance, but…this is one ebike that has both.
Whats next in ebike style?
There’s no way to tell. Style varies from one place to the other, and from one year to the next.
Chopper styled ebikes have been popular in Germany and Russia the last few years. Vintage styled ebikes have popped up in the UK and Italy. I also noticed that bobber motorcycles have been gaining popularity in recent custom motorcycle shows, so I think that there “might be” some bobber ebikes seen around here soon (it all depends on what custom builders put together!). Styling influences can come from any direction, and from completely unexpected sources.
One thing is for certain, the more that ebike builders see about special projects that have a great style, the more creativity we will see when they decide to build one for themselves…
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, July 2016