What a year 2015 has been! Many things didn’t go the way I had expected them to go, but there were some very important developments, and we are here to spell them out for you.
Pics of vintage bikes?
In the header pic, the one on the left is the famous “Penny Farthing” (the name is a reference to a large coin and small coin from England). This style of bicycle was also called a “High wheeler” and an “Ordinary” (in case you want to Google more info on them). The pedals were fixed to the axle, so if the wheel was turning, the pedals were spinning. That also allowed the rider to apply back-pressure on the pedals to slow down, and many of these also came with a “spoon brake”, which is very weak device and was pressed onto the tread of the tire. It looked similar to the rubbing pad used on the wheel of a horse-cart.
They were quite a revolution at the time, but it was quickly apparent that they were only useful to young athletic men. They had a simple and robust construction, but the way to get a bike to go faster was to make the front wheel as large in diameter as possible. Of course, that diameter was limited by the length of the average leg on the athletic young men of the day.
High wheelers enjoyed success for many years, but inventors everywhere pondered that there must be a better way. In a very short amount of time, bicycles went from the example on the left, to the bicycle on the right. An Australian inventor made the “Kangaroo”, which looked similar to the high wheeler, but used a chain and sprockets to get a 2:1 ratio, which allowed the same high speeds, but with a front wheel that was only half as tall, and was also less likely to flip over forward when you tried to sudden stop.
Then in 1884, A British man named John Starley made the rear wheel a little larger, and moved the pedals to the center of the bicycle, with the chain and sprockets driving the rear wheel. This was the original Rover “Safety” bicycle (a reference to crashes when stopping on a high wheeler). However, it was still a fixed-gear bicycle, and as a result, it was common to get a running start and then fling your leg over the bike, which meant the rear wheel was kept to a smaller size than the front wheel. The front wheel was reasonably large in diameter at 36-inches, and that smoothed-out potholes in the bad roads of the day (it used solid rubber tires). Less than a year after patenting the original Safety bicycle, Starley patented the 1885 version, with the wheels being closer in size (the front wheel being 30-inches in diameter).
Just a short time later in 1888, John Dunlop from Scotland patented pneumatic tires for bicycles, which was a huge improvement over the solid rubber tires previously used, because of the bad roads and the lack of any suspension on common bicycles. The bicycle business was booming everywhere (cars were expensive, and rare) and city-dwellers had no place to house and maintain horses or wagons (if they could even afford to buy and feed a horse). Harmon Moise patented a freewheel in 1895, and that added fire to the already burning hot bicycle market. In 1897 alone, there were over two million bicycles sold in the United States, not including the rest of the world! (US population in 1890 was only 62-million)
Why am I taking this little trip down memory lane? The biggest allies of electric bicycles should be pedal-bicyclists, and yet…we are still seeing a great deal of push back from the bicycling community. E-bikers are often called “Cheaters”! I assume that this is because they feel we are violating the purity of the entire concept of the bicycle. Apparently, everyone must only be either a bicyclist who is a wonderful person, or…an evil scoundrel who drives a car.
I propose a phrase of our own…“I am cheating (on my car)“
From 1884 to 1895, it took only 11 years for bicycles to go from an oddity that only tall, young, and athletic men could enjoy…to something that men and women, young and old, people from every country…could afford and use to transform their lives for the better.
2015 has been a milestone year for ebikes like no other previous year, here in North America. In spite of a slow economy, and also low gasoline prices…ebikes are really taking off. 2016 is an election year, and if the economy improves, and fuel prices go up…North American retailers of ebikes and kits will not be able to keep up with the demand.
Amazing new battery packs
The most important story of 2015 is batteries. Adding a hubmotor kit to a bicycle remains the most affordable way to get an ebike (although European factory ebike manufacturers are working hard to establish a foothold here, shown here at Interbike), but the selection and prices of kits and hubmotors were already very good last year, and there are very few areas where kits could be significantly improved.
Battery packs, however, were the biggest holdup in getting non-ebikers to take the plunge. Bicycles don’t have a lot of volume on the frame into which you can locate a battery, so ebike battery packs are fairly small. Two years ago, even expensive packs did not provide high amps, and…if you wanted to compensate by going to higher voltages, doing that would require many more expensive cells (by increasing the “series” count), which increases the physical size of the pack, without a significant improvement in range.
In 2015, a lot of great new cells finally became available to ebikers. Now, even a relatively small battery pack (that is easy to fit onto almost any frame), can have high performance, or very long range. Also, there is now a great selection of triangle battery packs from a variety of vendors.
This is all good news for customers, and many people who had previously been holding off…are now jumping into the ebike world.
In the interests of full disclosure, electricbike.com and Luna Cycles are both owned by the same person, Eric. That being said, the question then becomes…when Eric started the Luna Cycle store this year…is it news? Has it had an effect on the ebike market in North America?…The answer is YES!
Luna provides a US-based retailer who supplies battery packs in rectangle and triangle shapes, and customers can buy packs made from 25R, MJ1, 30Q, 26F, 29E, PF, and the Tesla “B” cell. You can choose a soft-side pack, a cylindrical bottle battery, the popular dolphin hard case, and the new slender shark hard case. Options include a digital voltage read-out, and a USB port to charge your smart-phone or GPS.
I know that all of that just sounded like an ad, but…thousands of new ebike customers felt it is news, and I do too.
Ever since Bafang introduced the BBS02, its sales have grown every month. It had growing pains the first year, but last year they upgraded the controllers from six FETs to nine, and then upgraded to a higher-quality “3077” FET. That meant that customers could actually run the unit at the rated 25-Amps without it overheating.
The BBS02 continues to be our number one recommended kit for street commuters who have hills to struggle up. However, Bafang could not help but to notice that many off-roaders were enjoying the BBS02 on very steep off-road trails. When the BBS02 is pushed hard and is sometimes used when the bike is not in the proper gear…it can get very hot, even with the upgrades from last year. This year, they introduced a version that was designed for that exact job, the BBSHD…(HD= Heavy Duty)
The motor is the same diameter, and uses the same laminations. But, it is wider, and that extra width provides more power, and more copper mass that can take more amps. The standard BBSHD version fits very well on 100mm wide bottom brackets, without needing to use special off-set crank arms.
It has a 30A rating, which doesn’t sound much more powerful than the 25A used by its smaller brother. However, the BBSHD will run cooler at 30A, compared to the BBS02 when it is run with frequent peaks of 25A. Fatbikes and some high-end off-road bikes use a 100mm BB, so the BBSHD would drop right in. The recommended 52V X 30A equals 1560 watts of power.
I have to give credit to Pedego as a pioneer in using color-matching rims on their ebikes. A few years ago, their polling showed that female customers wanted more color selection, and more color-matching (or color-contrasting) choices. In 2014, Vector and Sondors both made news, and both also happened to use a variety of colors in their rims. In 2015, colored rims are everywhere.
Rims are one of the few places where custom builders can really accessorize their creation. The pic below shows a rim (Pic courtesy of Thomas Foster) that has had a “dip” applied, which is a technique with an exciting range of possibilities. There are also off-road examples using forest “camouflage” patterns.
E-bikes on Kickstarter and Indiegogo
The Sondors fat bike had an effect on the ebike industry in North America like a nuclear bomb. Their Kickstarter campaign raised over six million dollars. It was based on the premise that if you make tens of thousands of a product, you only need to make a small profit off of each unit to survive. There were many claims that even with bulk pricing direct from China (no middle-man wholesaler), it would be difficult to make any profit, and perhaps…the Sondors might be a scam.
Today? they are behind schedule, but…they have really started to deliver the fatbikes to customers. Hundreds of them so far, and the quality of this simple initial model is actually not bad.
Don’t quit your job to jump into your own kickstarter just yet! It looks like Sondors may have actually pulled it off, and are making profits off of up-selling customers on accessories and after-sale upgrades. Surviving by that method is a gamble, but…we will keep an eye on that.
The reason it is news, is that…it really opened the eyes of a lot of entrepreneurs to the possibilities of kickstarter campaigns and also electric bikes. The Sondors fatbike provided more free advertising to the North American public than any other effort previous to that. Last year, the biggest paid advertising campaigns I had seen were from Pedego, and many people still didn’t know that electric bikes even existed.
There are other crowd-funding campaigns for ebikes, and one company that started this way in 2015 is Biktrix in Canada. I am very bullish on these guys, keep an eye on them.
Fatbikes, and mid-fat tires
Last year, at the Interbike convention…I talked to a lot of bike shop owners who were happy to sell fatbikes and fatbike accessories, but…they sounded certain that it was a temporary “fad” that would die soon. This year? they just keep getting more popular every month.
I have a theory. Most mainstream bicycle industry insiders and customers don’t personally like fatbikes, but…people who have not been on a bicycle since they were a kid seem to LOVE them. Their followers grow in numbers each month, and the data defies analysis. If you want to dip your toe into the waters of the fatbike world, the best place to start is with our friend Karl at electric-fatbike.com…He has a strict “No Bull Shit” rule. Read a little there, and you’ll see what I mean.
Also, last year…there was a big gap in the readily available tire widths. There were several selections around 2.5 inches, and then…a lot of selection for fat tires around 4-inches or more. In 2015 I saw a sudden increase in street and off-road tires using a 2.8, 3.0, and 3.5-inch width. I have seen them referred to as “mid fat” tires, but…whatever you call them, I like it.
If you want to keep an eye on new developments, you can sometimes find interesting new stuff in our “Custom Build Gallery” ebike features. One thing that kept coming up in 2015 is that: in spite of all the buzz and the new products in the “mid drive” category…many builders who ride on streets and want to be able to keep up with cars (or get out of their way when danger occurs) still like the simplicity of large direct drive hubmotors.
Not only was that an interesting development, but a new player has grown in popularity. A company called Quan Shun (QS) that makes large electric scooter and motorcycle hubmotors, has started to alter and sell their products to work for ebikers builds.
The Monster Cromotor is still very popular, but the QS (model 205/50H V3) is capable of a little more power, and is developing a following in the hot rod electric bike world.
Endless-sphere member Neptronix stumbled across these, and took a risk by buying one for evaluation. It is a simple direct drive (DD) hubmotor, and the motor has a 35mm wide magnet ring and stator. This is the widest that a hubmotor can be made, where it still fits into common 135mm wide drop-outs, and also still allows the bike to have a 7-speed sprocket cluster.
Freehub Cassettes are more expensive, but also allow 8, 9, and 10-speeds worth of sprockets to be mounted. In the middle-weight DD hub category, buyers are price-sensitive, but also want a lot of power available when they are blending with street traffic between 30-MPH and 40-MPH (48-64 km/h), and for those reasons, I anticipate the larger DD hubmotor market to continue to use a 1, 3, 5, and 7-speed freewheels…because freewheels are thinner and cheaper than freehub cassettes.
Currently, the most popular 35mm wide DD hubbie is the Crystalyte H35-series. It works fine at its rated power, but…when hot rodded, it can get very hot, and the axle has sometimes broken when abused (high watts + regen+ potholes at 40-MPH). The Leafbike 1500W labeled motor has two benefits that makes it a contender that is moving up in popularity.
The axle is much stronger, and also…the factory has begun making the stator with the thinner 0.35mm thick laminations, instead of the common 0.50mm. Thinner lamination dramatically reduce the cogging (magnetic drag) when the motor is off and the rider is only pedaling. Also, the thinner laminations reduce any eddy-current heat that the stator experiences, which allows the rider to use more amps without overheating the hub.
I was shocked at Interbike to find out that upgrading to the thinner laminations costs less than $10 per motor. Why isn’t everyone doing this? Currently, the Leafbike 1500W (actually capable of 52V X 50A = 2600W), uses a thin steel stamped stator support. If they upgraded that (for a small fee) to the desirable thick aluminum stator support, the motor would be a little heavier, but the additional heat-absorbing mass would allow more peak amps to be used.
There is currently no North American dealer for these (but I don’t expect that to last long). If you want one, you have to order direct from Leafbike. Ask for the temp sensor to be factory-installed and also to add the thicker 3mm motor phase wires.
MXUS does have a 28mm wide stator motor with the thinner laminations, temp sensor, fatter phase wires, and the thick aluminum stator support, but…they have been resistant to producing a 35H version of the V2…
Sooo…between these two similar hubbies, MXUS isn’t making a 35H stator version, and Leafbike isn’t making a thick aluminum stator support yet. I wonder who will blink first?
Every year, there are a few new developments that are the timeline equivalent of baby steps towards a slightly better product or some new thing. Ferro Fluid is a HUGE development that has come completely out of left field. It allows direct drive (DD) hubmotors to run cooler, or conversely…it allows a smaller DD hubmotor to run bigger hub amps without overheating.
Geared and DD hubmotors have a poor heat-shedding path from the hot stator coils to the aluminum sideplates. When an ebike is at a stop, and then begins accelerating…you will draw the max amps that your system can provide for a few seconds. Once you achieve a stable cruising speed…the amps will slide down to the level that maintains your speed.
In this operational profile, the stator gets pretty hot for a few seconds, and then spends the next several minutes cooling off to being just warm. We recommend that the core of a hubmotor stay below 200F/93C, in order to avoid any damage. If your hubbie stays completely cool under all conditions, then it might be larger, heavier, and more expensive than necessary for the job you are loading it with. But…if its temporary peak internal heat gets close to 200F/93C, then you are risking damaging it when you tackle a long and steep uphill on a hot day.
Ferro Fluid (FF) is a liquid with microscopic particles that are attracted to magnetism, and that means when a small amount is inserted into the insides of a hubmotor, it naturally spreads out and is held in the air-gap between the permanent magnets of the rotor, and the stator coils. As a thin liquid, it adds very little drag to the spinning rotor, but what it accomplishes is that is forms a thermal bridge between the hot coils in the stator and the outer aluminum shell of the hubmotor.
Justin from Grin Tech in Vancouver (Canada) has built a wind tunnel to test various hubmotor heat-shedding methods. Someone sent him some FF to test, and the results were so good that Justin has started a more comprehensive testing series to exactly measure the performance envelope of FF. Somewhere around 500-RPMs, the FF experienced enough centripetal force that it creeped outwards away from the magnetic gap, but…as soon as the motor was slowed to below 500-ish, the magnetism pulled all of the FF back into the proper location.
This is relevant because a geared hubmotor spins 5 times faster than the wheel, due to the internal gearing. Also, a geared-hubmotors stator has a double layer of insulating air inside the side covers. Both of these facts mean that FF will not be helpful for geared hubmotors. A common 26-inch wheel traveling at 28-MPH (45 km/h) is spinning 365-RPM’s. But on a geared hub, the motor is spinning over 1800-RPM’s. This means FF works great for DD hubs, but not for the geared hubmotors.
Endurance testing is going on right now to see if any issues arise after months of running FF in a DD hub, so you can be certain that we are keeping a close eye on this. Previous efforts at cooling mods were only useful for racing hubmotors. Ventilating the sideplates with holes to let the heat out…also lets road grit into the inside of the motor. Adding ATF as a coolant seems to always lead to an oil-leak. Both worked well, but FF looks like it will be better than either one of them.
Interbike 2015 in September
When I attended the Interbike convention in 2013 and 2014, it was getting bigger each year, and 2015 was no exception. Ebikes are very big in the European Union (EU), where gasoline is around $8 a gallon. Even though expensive factory ebikes are not yet selling very well in the US, the manufacturers have realized that they need to “get their foot in the door” here.
The pic above is from the outdoor demo, and the indoor portion was HUGE! This year it has become noticeable that manufacturers are spending serious money on advertising and developing dealer relationships. You have only to take a look at “Electric Bike Action” magazine to see what I mean.
This year, they finally had a large indoor track for test rides. I think it was a big success, because free test rides are the single best way to get bike shop dealers and customers to start buying ebikes. I can’t emphasize that enough.
Missing In Action: TDCM/Xiongda
Last year, I saw two great ideas that I had very high hopes for. The Xiongda 2-speed hubmotor, and also the TDCM hubmotor which is a simple DD hub with an Internally Geared Hub (IGH) inserted into its center.
An IGH (like the popular Shimano Nexus series) only has one external sprocket, and the internal components form a multi-speed transmission where popular models have 3, 5, 7, 8, and even 11 speeds (The expensive Rohloff has 14-speeds!). With the TDCM DD hub, the lack of an external derailleur and common stack of 7 sprockets means that the internal stator could easily be as wide as 45mm, while still allowing the axle shoulders to fit into the common 135mm drop-outs found on millions of existing bicycles. I thought they would immediately be very popular, but I didn’t see them this year, and I haven’t found any bike builds with it on the forums. TDCM, please call me!
The Xiongda design is still maturing, but I thought that even in its current state, it would spur some exciting new developments. If I had some investment capital, I would take part in developing a larger Xiongda 2-speed hub for the USA market.
Custom Build Gallery
Even if I wasn’t reporting on ebike news, the custom builds are close to my heart. I wish I had time to write up one build a week. However, in the very small amount of time I have to write for electricbike.com, it pains me to have to pick only one to write about when I have some time off from my job. But, for 2015…here they are.
Zlatko in Croatia designed an on-road/off-road beast, the CBM
Matt used TWO Astro motors to convert a Motoped to electric
Hellcat Cycles in New Zealand reminded me of how much fun vintage bikes are
Marks Phatrod is a street dragster with awesome style
This moped in Austria was given a second life as an electric off-roader
Australians never fail to provide new custom builds like this street rod
Previous custom builds can be found in the indexes (just like this one) that are located in the 2013 and 2014 end of year reviews, linked below
2014 year in review
If I got something wrong, or…I left out an important development, write it down on the back of a $100 dollar bill, and send it to “spinningmagnets”, cell 41, Kansas state prison for the mentally ill.
Or, you could private message (PM) me at endless-sphere.com, my username is…(*sips beer)…spinningmagnets
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, December 2015