The Electra company is most well known for their Townie line of frames, which uses their “feet forward” posture. Last year they retailed a factory electric version with a 2-speed hubmotor. This year they have upgraded that option with the well-known Bosch mid drive.
The Original 2015 Townie Go!
Two years ago, we wrote about the new SRAM E-matic 2-speed hubmotor system, which at the time was only available on the 2015 Electra Townie Go!
That system was designed for the 16-MPH pedelec laws in the European Union (EU), and so far has not been selling well in North America. It was fairly uncluttered, since the torque-sensor was integrated into the hub, and did not have a hand-throttle option. The only separate element to the electrical system is the battery, since the controller is also integrated inside the hub.
Standard frame and step-through versions
The Electra bicycle company was formed in Vista (Southern California) in 1993. The two founders are Benno Bänziger from Switzerland, and Jeano Erforth from Germany. They felt that there was a market for a high-quality cruiser bicycle, especially one with an upright rider posture, like they had seen in Dutch commuter bicycles.
Riders need to have an appropriate amount of leg extension, and if the seat is located directly above the pedals, then riders will have to touch the ground with only the tips of their toes, when they come to a stop. A distinctive feature of Electra bicycles is how steeply sloped the seat-tube is. This way, when a riders height is taken into consideration during the adjustment to the seat-height, the seat is also automatically adjusted for the riders leg-extension.
Electra Townies are probably the most well-known “Comfort Cruiser” bicycles. Athletic-themed bicycles typically position their riders with a more “leaned forward” posture, which places some of the riders upper body weight onto their wrists. Although doing that is more aerodynamic, there are many riders who still prefer a more casual riding experience, which originated in relatively flat “beach culture” communities.
The Electra company has done a good job of reducing the wiring clutter around the handlebars as much as is reasonably possible. The removable dashboard module has a fairly large screen, with large and easy-to read numbers to indicate the riders speed, distance traveled, and the status of the battery.
If you spec a band-brake, a roller-brake, or a drum-brake, the frame doesn’t need to have any integrated mounting elements, such as a welded disc brake caliper mount. The Townie Go! uses dual band brakes, and the distinctive slotted aluminum disc is only there to absorb and dissipate heat.
This style of brake is not well-known in North America, but it does have some strengths. It typically works quite well in wet weather, and also in sandy beach climates. Plus, roller, drum, and band brakes require very little adjustment over time, so they are known for their reduced maintenance needs. As much as I feel that this style is adequate for the rear brake, I would have preferred that the fork have the welded caliper mounts so that it would be easy for dealers or customers to upgrade to a hydraulic disc brake, so that buyers had an option.
If someone wanted a front disc brake, the current model would require that the entire fork be swapped-out for a different one. The general rarity of 90mm drum brakes seems to be because of their higher weight, compared to V-style rim brakes, or even common disc brake systems. However, drum brakes are well-regarded in the heavy “pedicab” market, so performance would be more than adequate for higher speeds, and long descents.
In the pic below, you can see that the battery used by the Townie Go! has a hard case that has recently come to be called the “shark battery”. You can also see how some of the wires and cables are routed through the frame tubing. The Townie Go! is a comprehensive commuter with factory-installed fenders. It also has a front headlight and rear tail-light that are powered directly from the main battery pack.
The 2016 Townie Go! uses the respected Shimano Nexus Inter-8. I have been a fan of Internally Geared Hubs (IGH’s) since I was young, in applications where they are appropriate. The interior mechanism couples a narrow planetary 2-speed with a robust 4-speed gear-set. The 2-speed provides either a direct-drive upper range 4-speed, or a 1.53:1 reduction for the low range.
We recently wrote about Internally Geared Hubs. They are slightly heavier than the common derailleur (with a derailleurs’ external sprocket stack), but…many riders appreciate that IGH’s are known for lower maintenance needs, and also that they can be shifted while the rider is at a stop. This is handy if you are forced to unexpectedly stop when you are in a higher gear. If you had a common derailleur, you have to start spinning the rear wheel (which is in a high gear at the moment) before you can change gears to the right one.
If you are interested in a street commuter that is not quite as expensive as the Bosch-drive Townie Go!, There is a new company in Canada called Biktrix, and their “Stunner” model has a similar posture. It uses the Bafang BBS01/BBS02 mid drive kit. Although the Bafang unit uses a speed-sensor (as opposed to the more sophisticated torque-sensor on the Bosch), the Bafang unit is also capable of more power, dependant on which model and system voltage is chosen.
Feet Forward options
If you are interested in building a street commuter with some of the same features as the Townie Go!, there are other frame options available as a starting point for around $400 each. The bikes listed below all have a fairly large frame triangle, so they can use the popular Dolphin or shark battery cases. If you want very high range, these frames will also accept large triangle battery packs in a triangle bag. They also have the relaxed casual posture that beach cruisers are becoming known for.
First is the KHS Manhattan Smoothie, and just after that is the Firmstrong CA-520. I have seen both of these frames used with Bafang mid drives.
Last is the Electra Lux Cruiser, shown below. I must warn anyone who wants to attempt to mount one of the popular BBS02/BBSHD mid drive kits that…the motor will have to be rotated downwards, near the ground. Or…it can be mounted with the motor upright, inside the triangle. Mounting it inside the triangle sounds wonderful, but…doing that requires a huge dimple be made in the seat-tube and the down-tube. The tubing on this bike is aluminum, however…it is surprisingly strong, and fitting the BBS-series of drive there is very difficult.
I only mention that because the Electra Lux has the riders’ posture that fits me , so I bought one for myself…so I am intimately familiar with it. It has a “fat tire” option, a front disc brake option, and also a dual disc brake option. I plan to upgrade the front disc brake to a larger disc with a hydraulic caliper, since I often commute in traffic at 30-MPH (48-km/h).
The standard Electra Townie can usually be found for around $400, and they are one of my most suggested donor-bikes to make a street commuter. The Lux is longer than the Townie, and more expensive ($500-$700). It has a 1-inch head-tube format (which limits front suspension fork options). The Townie uses the more popular 1-1/8th inch head tube, so a wide variety of suspension fork options can be pondered, from mild to wild.
Thudbuster or Suntour NCX
I have owned both the Cane Creek Thudbuster, and the Suntour NCX suspension seatpost. They both work wonderful, and either one would be my first accessory purchase for a hardtail street commuter frame.
Most bicycles embrace a rider posture that leans the rider forward. Doing so can efficiently allow the rider to shift their body weight left and right on the pedals, as opposed to a recumbent (where the rider is leaned onto their back). When a recumbent rider is in the situation of riding uphill, they must use only leg muscle. Also, by leaning the rider forward, their body position is more aerdynamic. However, it also puts some of the riders weight onto their wrists.
The upright posture on the bikes listed above is being found to be more comfortable for many new bicyclists. However, it does focus any road-jolts onto the riders spine, such as hitting an unexpected pothole. For this reason, I strongly recommend a suspension seat-post be the first addition to anyone of these commuters.
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, June 2016