Hanebrink: The Original Fat Electric Bike

November 14, 2012

The Hanebrink is an all terrain electric bike with a unique design and  some innovative features.  Most E-bike companies are not offering anything innovative or fresh. Most of today’s E-bikes consist of hastily converted bicycles, made up of all Asian components, and almost always a  hub motor in the rear, and shipped over in a cargo container from China. The Hanebrink is an American  breath of fresh air, a mid-drive bike (although strangely, the motor is a converted hub motor) with a totally different design that is mostly made in the USA.

At first when I saw the Hanebrink I thought it was built for just snow and sand riding. The more I learned about the e-bike, and now that I have gotten a chance to ride one, I realize it is much more versatile then I originally thought, and would in fact  make a wonderful guerrilla commuter. If Mad Max rode an E-bike it would be a hot-rodded Hanebrink at 96 volts…if I were to choose  an electric bike I would run from the Police on, it would be the Hanebrink on 96 volts.  It turns out on further questioning, company owner will build a customer an off road only 96 volt bike (or just a 48 volt bike) upon request (for a price).

The Hanebrink has the following unique and custom components, detailed below in pictures:


Custom Rims and Tires –  Hanebrink builds their own wheels and rims himself with the idea of strength and light weight. Although the tire, wheel combo looks heavy, wheels weigh only one pound, and a tire can weigh as little as 3 pounds depending on which tire the customer opts for.


Mid-mounted motor with double freewheel so the motor and rider run in series, so both use the gears

Hanebrink double freewheel allows pedal assist and 7-speeds, or an optional 14-speed transmission

The mid mounted hub motor works incredibly well. The system is silent and smooth.  The double freewheel works as it should.  The bike rides like a regular bike when not applying electric power.


The battery rack conveniently stows the LiPo packs under the rear rack so you have plenty of room to strap on extra baggage

The Hanebrink bike is for the most part made in the USA and assembled at its Southern California factory.  The Hanebrink made our list of the 10 most expensive electric bikes . Why so expensive? The Hanebrink has custom made frame and components that are fabricated in the US, not made in huge quantities. The Lithium-Cobalt battery pack is also provided by a USA pack manufacturer with a 2 year warranty.  The Hanebrink bike uses All Cell as its pack producer, which is the same people who make the Optibike pack. Expect a long lasting problem free battery pack in this package. I would highly recommend converting to 48 volts and getting the power and extra range associated. Although this option is not listed on the website, if you talk to the people at Hanebrink they can accommodate such requests.  I rode a 48 version of this ebike and it was nothing short of fantastic.


 Hanebrink Motor

Hanebrink is now using one of the new Crystalyte hub motors as its motor of choice. (read our review of the Crystalyte here) They are running the motor at a conservative 36V / 20-amps which should make this set up nearly bullet-proof .  For a little extra money you can run 36v 40amps (1200) watts but in this case you have to go with a larger battery  which will add to the cost. The more power you crank to this bike the funner it gets.  You can even go with 96 volts and use the Crystalite 5304 which is the same motor the Stealth Bomber uses.

The Hanebrink has been proven to be ahead of its time in two ways. It is an electric bike which can be ridden on the beach or snow, which thanks to the advent of the Surly Pugsley, there has been some recent  interest in that (read our story here), and also it has a mid-mounted hub motor inside the frame.  The round disc you see in the Hanebrink frame is actually a hub motor which is usually mounted inside the rear wheel on most bikes. The Hanebrink has its hub motor  spinning inside the frame, and powering the rear wheel through the pedal chain.

Basically, the mid-mounted hub motor makes the bikes rear derailleur double as a transmission for the hub motor. A hub motor, like all electric motors, is happier when it is spinning fast. This makes the bike both more reliable,  more efficient, and run cooler.  By adding a transmission, you can shift down when you need torque or if  you want to climb a hill.  This also allows you to keep the RPMs of the hub motor up high, thus keeping it in its ideal RPM range. What this equates to is a very efficient machine (despite its thick tires), especially for hill climbing and off road applications. The Hanebrink will beat most of its thin tired  hub motor counterparts in efficiency tests except when ridden on flat and paved surfaces.

The Optibike 850 (read our review here)  is also a mid-drive, but uses a much noisier motor built into the bottom bracket, and it is also an effective and efficient mountain climber. If you want an E-bike to climb steep hills off road you should be looking for a mid-drive bike like the Hanebrink or Optibike. There are very few mid-drive bikes commercially available which use the bicycle gears as a transmission, and they aren’t cheap.  (read more on mid drives here)

Why so wide?

Why is the Hanebrink so wide?  #1 it needs to be to accommodate large tires for that luscious fat bike riding, #2 if it weren’t so wide it would not be able to mount a full sized hub motor in the frame so nicely without interfering with the  crank arms.

The extra wide Hanebrink is in fact a brilliant design. Only recently have E-bikers started to catch up by building Surly fat-tired bikes for sand riding. Also, some DIY guys have decided that a hub motor in the frame is the ultimate solution for a reliable, powerful, super-efficient  and quiet hill climber. (check out our Super Charged Specialized story for an example).

Another benefit of the super wide tires, is the Hanebrink can ride over manicured grass without doing damage. It turns out the Hanebrink serves as a great golf cart for single golfers, and when outrigged with a trailer, can carry your golf clubs with no need for a kickstand.  Now, its a real asset that the Hanebrink has a low top tube  because you can easily jump on and off of it to take your golf shot.  The low gearing enables you to cruise around at a low speed. The mini-golf cart is a perfect application of the Hanebrink. One of the cleverest applications of an E-bike, that I have never heard of being done before.



Hanebrink ride quality

I rode a Hanebrink up a sandy, rocky and steep mountain pass while visiting Dan Hanebrink in Big Bear. I could think of no bike including the Optibike which could scale the same trail. The Hanebrink is really an all terrain vehicle.


The super wide tires give the Hanebrink an incredible amount of traction and a very solid feeling when riding off-road.  Terrain that you would usually ride around on a regular mountain bike, the Hanebrink can push right through it. Not only is it aided by the super wide tires, but also the low gearing allows you to crawl up steep rugged terrain, where as with a hub motor you have to get your speed up before the  motor really starts to hum. The batteries and components all seem well mounted on the Hanebrink, so it does not make any jankey noises even when going over bumps or jumps. The wide tires give the bike a nice suspended feel. The front suspension adds to the plush ride of the bike.

I like that the Hanebrink is a short bike with a 20” wheel. The low bike, the low strung weight, and the extra low top-tube makes the bike less cumbersome and a breeze  to get on and off of. Most electric bikes feel the heaviest when you are leaning them over to swing your foot around the high top-tube.  Also it feels safer when doing gnarly climbs or a rugged off-road trail, since the rider is low to the ground and can always put a foot down. The Hanebrink combines this low stance with a nice long wheelbase, making it extremely stable in all types of riding conditions, and easy to put a foot down if going gets too rough.

I was very impressed overall with the geometry of this bike as an electric off-road bike. The package has come together very nicely for Hanebrink. Not bad considering the Hanebrink started as a pedal bike. It really seems like this bike has been developed from the ground up to be an electric trail blazer.   Pedaling around a heavy, wide tired, no electric motor Hanebrink would get old really quick. But then when converted to electric, the fat tired E-bike makes suddenly a lot of sense.

The Hanebrink with its battery weighs in at a hefty 100lbs, heavier than most E-bikes. Although when riding it, this bike doesnt feel very heavy because of how low it is to the ground. It will feel plenty heavy if you have to carry this beast up a flight of stairs, so apartment dwellers need not apply.

Top-speed on the Hanebrink on flat ground  in top gear is around 20-MPH, but if you get my advice and request a hot rodded Hanebrink it can get much faster . The tires feel solid even at speeds over 30mph and do not wobble the way my Pugsley does at 30-MPH.

Riding with the motor running through the gears is quite a different experience, and takes some getting use to. You have to let off the throttle when shifting and pedal the bike into the right gear. The bike did make clankity chain noises here and there, but for the most part this E-bike system is as quiet as a standard hub motor. I really enjoyed being able to select an appropriate gear while riding, but for the most part I used just the highest gear when on flat ground or on downhill, and used the lowest gear when climbing.  It is easy to pedal assist this E-bike and despite the double free wheel set up, pedaling seems to not lose much efficiency. Because of the double free wheel, the Hanebrink free-wheels perfectly like a regular bike, something a Crystalyte-powered bike would normally not do (Crystalytes are known for having a lot of drag when pedaling unpowered).

While riding in the Southern California sunshine, we rode up on a rattlesnake doing full speed. If it weren’t for the awesome traction and hydraulic brakes maybe the Hanebrink would not have stopped in time, and possibly flattened the endangered  rattlesnake. We were able to get a snapshot before he disappeared into the bushes. The Hanebrink does not skimp on components and comes stock with Avid Elixir hydraulic brakes, one of the nicest brake sets on the market.


Hanebrink Build Quality


The Hanebrink is built like a tank, and looks, feels, and smells rugged.  It seems like it was built to be ridden and not goo-gawed over.



Hanebrink vs BMC Pugsley Sand Bike


What was surprising is that during efficiency tests, we found the Hanebrink to be extremely efficient when riding in hilly or off road conditions. In fact, in one test we rode a fat-tire Pugsley with a BMC hub motor vs the Hanebrink at the same speeds (without pedaling) up a 0.7 mile-long hill. We measured how many watt-hours each bike burned with our Cycle Analysts. Amazingly the Hanebrink burned almost half as many watt hours to climb the hill. The Pugsley burned 115 watt hours, and the Hanebrink 67 watt hours. This was an amazing result that I did not expect and  really illustrates the efficiency of the mid-drive Hanebrink, especially when hill climbing . Here is a pic of the Cycle Analysts side by side after the test…


Pugsley CA reading on left, Hanebrink on right with much lower watt hour burn on same ride


Also on off road hills, the Hanebrink blew away the front wheel drive Pugsley in pure hill climbing power. The Pugsley with a front wheel drive is awful for climbing steep terrain traction wise,  so it is not really a fair comparison, but it was fun trying. Check out this video on the same hill with both bikes, to give you an idea of how much more traction the Hanebrink has over the front wheel drive Pugsley. To make the contest difficult, we limited how far back from the hill the E-bikes could start, so they would have to climb the hill starting at a slow speed, a grueling test for a hub motor which likes high speeds:



Hanebrink and Sand Riding:

I own several sand bikes and have had much experience riding electric bikes in the sand. With the Surly Pugsley, I have to ride across soft sand just to get to the hard-packed wet stuff. The Hanebrink is the only bike I have ever ridden which has the capacity to ride easily on the soft sand on the beach. That is because it has 8-inch wide tires, it virtually floats on top of the sand. It is necessary to reduce the tire pressure for ultimate  traction when riding on soft sand. This is a drawback, because those big fat tires on the Hanebrink would be a bitch to pump back up, if you had to do so by hand when you were going from sand to road.

Check out this video of a the Hanebrink riding on soft sand on a Southern California beach:



Hanebrink Options:

The Hanebrink “as tested” (version 2) costs $7000 on the Hanebrink website.

Upgrading to a larger battery and more amperage and voltage cost extra and are well worth it. Since Hanebrink has only recently decided to offer these upgraded performance packages pricing is not yet available. Contact Hanebrink for more information.

At 1000 watts and above the Hanebrink is the funnest electric bike I have ever ridden. I am even seriously considering buying a 3000 watt version for myself which will be the first commercial electric bike I purchase since starting electricbike.com.



For an added $350 you can get an extra set of gears in the bottom-bracket,  doubling your gear range from 7 to 14. This is an upgrade  I highly recommend if you plan to use this bike for trail climbing or sand riding. The extra set of 7 gears are in the super-low range.

For an added $500 you get an extra 36V / 9.6-Ah of battery. Given how much this bike costs/weighs, the $500 won’t make much of a difference in weight or cost but it will double your range. The All-Cell pack the Hanebrink comes with is a very nice pack for the money. Hanebrink is not gouging you for the price of an extra pack like most of the other high-end E-bike manufacturers do.


The Hanebrink is an expensive bike, but you are getting what you pay for. A well-built USA bike with great performance, especially in off road conditions. This is a very unique bike, with nothing else on the market that compares.

Riding an E-bike such as this on the open beach is a real privilege that only a few us now enjoy, but by no means is this E-bike just a “snow and sand only” bike. It is a great commuter and all-terrain E-bike, and even rides great on the street.  I recommend this E-bike for those who find the high ticket price worth the added  freedom and fun this bike will give them.  Be prepared to spend the extra money that made and designed in the USA is going to cost you. The price is hard pill to swallow, but everything else about this fat boy says “sweet” (except its unkempt wires).

Please feel welcome to post your comments.


electricbike.com editor with Hanebrink and electric Pugsley

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.


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