6:30 AM at the crack of dawn, on one of the most rigorous road climbs in the United States, a group of electric bikes raced up to the top of Pikes Peak, in a race that Optibike has claimed as king for many years. In less than 25 minutes, just as the sun was peeking up over the mountain tops, Optibike had lost its throne. Two trikes and one hub motor bike had beat Optibike to the top. First and second places went to FFR Trikes, 3rd Place Adam Griffin’s liquid-cooled 9C hub motor custom build, followed by an Optibike in 4th.
FFR Trikes lugged two trikes on the 25-hour trip from North Carolina. Both trikes were powered by Astro motors and custom gear reduction systems designed by Matt Shumaker, and both trikes are stock trikes that are for sale to the public on the FFR website for 6-8 thousand dollars, depending on configuration. This would be the first electric bike race that FFR Trikes would compete in. Both trikes had 48V / 50-Ah LiPo batteries (a huge 2400 watt hours) and were powered by a single 5 pound 3220 Astro Flight motor that’s the size of a large coffee cup. The trikes have a single gear and depending how that single gear is set up, it can do 35 to 55-MPH on flat ground.
The lead trike driven by Tommy Ausherman had a custom-designed active air-cooling system for the motor and it averaged 32-MPH for his 24 minute run, an amazing average given that the grade is motor-smoking steep. The 2nd trike was driven by Jesse Lee, and finished just a minute behind Tommy. When the trikes arrived at the top, they still had more than half their battery packs left. In fact, the winning trike rode the 12.4 miles back down the 4,700 feet of elevation and handed the keys to a 3rd FFR trike rider who got to joy-ride up and back down again without recharging!
The trikes have a tremendous advantage in this kind of race since the heavy battery weight is kept just a few inches above the ground, and the trike with its 3 wheels actually corners much better than an electric bicycle, allowing them to take sharp corners faster than the two-wheeled bikes. Pikes Peak is an excellent test of the durability of an electric bike and the capacity of its battery packs. Electric bikes until recent years have been notoriously unreliable hill climbers, and there are only a few commercially available bikes capable of climbing a mountain. Optibike and FFR Trikes are among the few proven platforms for this kind of climb.
Concerning Adams 3rd-place custom E-bike…it may come as a surprise that he chose a direct-drive hub, since experienced E-bike builders have shown how well geared hubs (like the BMC) and the efficient non-hub bottom bracket drives have performed (like the Focus Jarifa). They continue to be a good choice for hills that are average in their steepness and length. But for a brutally steep 26 minute non-stop climb of death…Adam decided that he needed a 111V system using LiPo that was limited to 23-Amps by his Cycle Analyst (more amps = more heat), plus…he added oil-cooling to transfer heat from the stator-coils onto the large aluminum side-plates. He also swapped-in wires that had high-temp Teflon insulation, and inserted a temperature probe to keep track of how close he was getting to frying something.
How steep was the 26 minute climb? Adam chose the 9C with a slow-winding, a 2810 (28mm wide magnets with 10-turns of wire per coil). On flat land, the 2810 using 111V can provide 40-MPH, but on Pikes Peak he was running an average of 28-MPH. Adam hit 50-MPH on the dowhill riding back…he could’ve gone faster, but he didn’t want to die, since many parts of the road don’t have a side rail!
More on Adams bike and build can be found in our story Crushing Pikes Peak with a Hub Motor.
Here is a map of the 12-mile race course:
In 4th place, the lead Optibike averaged 22-MPH and finished the race in 32 minutes 18 seconds…8 minutes behind the lead trike. Keep in mind that this bike had a quarter the wattage output as one of the trikes, putting out 1000-watts vs 4000-watts on the trikes. Optibike claims that this bike used only 500 watt hours on its entire trip to the top (about 40-WH per mile) which is an impressive feat in terms of efficiency.
Electric bikes on Pikes Peak has been a story of Optibike-against-the-rest-of-the-world for a number of years. In the last 3 organized Pikes Peak races, Optibike entrants outnumbered all the other competitors combined. Pikes Peak has been an Optibike-dominated event for several reasons. First, the Optibike is an amazing mountain climber, and until a few years ago was the only commercially available bike that could even attempt a 20-mile climb like Pikes and survive. Second, Pikes Peak is in Optibike’s backyard. So whereas most competitors would have to drive 20 or more hours to compete at Pikes, Optibike headquarters is only a 2-hour drive away.
Optibike started calling itself “king of the mountain” in 2007 when Optibike front man Craig Taber climbed to the top, the first electric bike to do so. Optibike had effectively captured the Peak, the equivalent in the e-bike world as the first man up Everest. The owner of Optibike, Jim Turner, even announced a reward of $500 to any rider that could match the accomplishment on a non-Optibike electric bike.
For years no other electric bike tried, but…as home builds became more and more advanced…the $500 reward silently disappeared from the Optibike website.
Then in 2010 an “Assault on the Peak” bicycle race was organized with an electric bike class. In the first race, only a handful of electric bikes competed: a Panasonic-powered Kalkhoff Pro Connect Sport, a BMC-powered home build, a hub-powered Izip, and a small fleet of Optibikes. The Optibikes finished 1st and 2nd, and other than those bikes only the Kalkhoff made it to the top–but way behind, mixed in with the regular pedal bikers.
In 2011 Optibike entered 7 bikes, including a brand new Optibike model, the “off-road only” 1100R. Optibike finished all seven bikes and placed 1st through 7th. A very dramatic win. (read our story here about the Optibike win) Only one other bike finished, the RunAbout Cycles Astro-powered bike (read story on Astro bikes here) ridden by Josh Kerson.
For 2012, many were hoping that there would be a good showing of electric bikes in the DIY scene like the ones on this list: (10 fastest electric bikes). However from the outset it was clear that this would be a totally different race. A new organizer was announced, and it did not seem like they wanted an electric bike class. The race was chopped in half from 24 miles to 12 miles. Brutal forest fires plagued the mountain sides close to Pikes Peak just weeks before the race. There was a lot of confusion as to whether E-bikes would be allowed…and even if the bicycle race would take place at all.
For this reason the 2012 e-bike race turnout was far less than expected.
The electric bike race consisted of the following 8 bikes:
FFR Trikes – 2 trikes using Astro motors
Adam Griffin – 1 custom 9C hub motor build
Optibike – Four 1100Rs and one 850R
Here is a video of highlight footage from the Pikes Peak race compiled by FFR Trikes: