Build a Head Rest for Your Recumbent Bike

About 2 years ago I decided I needed an head rest for my bike.  It’s just to reclined to ride without some kind of head and neck support.  I now ride 100% of the time with my head supported.

Finding a head rest if your manufacturer doesn’t make one or if you don’t want to spend or have to spend $75 to $100 is another story.

A head rest for me is something that supports the neck more than the head.  Some head rests are very uncomfortable when wearing a helmet.  The best way I found to get around this is to simply use a foam roll.  The photographs below are not the best step-by-step guide but I think most people will be able to look at them and get the idea. If you can get to a fabric store and a hardware store for about $10 in hardware, foam, and cloth you can make your own.

Basic Pictures of my Homemade Recumbent Bike Headrest

Recumbent Bike Head Rest Materials

Recumbent Bike Head Rest Materials

Recumbent Bike Headrest Mount

Recumbent Bike Headrest Mount

Recumbent Bike Headrest Cover

Recumbent Bike Headrest Cover

What’s needed:

1 to 1.5″ Wide x 12″ or longer aluminum bar.  Once you measure and cut to your specific application you can drill a bunch of holes in the bar to make it super light! You can usually get this as bulk stock at the local Lowe’s Hardware.  I couldn’t find it at The Home Depot in my area.  I’ve seen some people using spatulas and you could also use a ruler if it was just right.  This becomes the base you use to mount to your seat if it’s a hard shell.  If you have a soft mesh seat you will likely be able to attach either PVC pipe or clamp to the metal frame directly.  You can mount this to your seat using screws or you can just use duct tape.  My preference is for the duct tape that is designed not to leave adhesive on the mounting surface.

Okay so now you have what is basically a stick of thin aluminum mounted to your seat.  At the top of the aluminum you want to bend it over at a 95 degree angle (See Picture Above) leaving around 1″ pointing almost directly backwards and perpendicular to the seat.  This becomes the small area you can secure your headrest.  You can either drill a small hole in the 1″ part or you can just tie to it.

The headrest itself is very easy to make.  You take a pool float noodle and cut off a section about 6″ wide. Most of this stuff is super light weight and about 2.5″ to 3″ in diameter.  This becomes the interior cross section of your head rest.  Next you wrap this section with any kind of very flexible soft foam.  I took an old 1″ piece of camping foam and wrapped it to desired thickness.  You tape this on the ends or tie it off on the ends with a strap or string and you have a nice soft rounded neck pillow.

The next thing I did was go to the fabric store and purchased some soft synthetic velour cloth (Synthetic cloth wicks moisture).  I created a small bag to put my foam headrest in and tied it off.  Then I mounted this to the aluminum rod using 3/4″ strap I also picked up at the fabric store.  Simple, easy, and extremely comfortable.  I wrapped it around the aluminum bar and used safety pins to anchor the bag to the foam and to the strap.  This recumbent headrest  flexes nicely as you ride and doesn’t transmit road vibration into your head.

There are many variations on this method of mounting.  I chose not to screw to the seat because I didn’t need to, tape works fine.  Plus I have a seat bag that hangs on the seat so it would get in the way if it was screwed on.  Duct tape holds firm, and if you get the kind that doesn’t leave residue it’s easy to replace as it wears over time.  If you don’t have a sewing machine you can probably get someone at the local fabric store to sew up a small bag for you.

Electric Bike Motor Kits – What You Need to Know

Who wouldn’t want a bike motor when sitting at the bottom of a large hill?  Recumbent bikes are notoriously poor climbers.  Yes I know some are better than others, but over all having an electric hub motor on your bike can “erase” the pain of climbing the long steep hills.  But how do you know what you need and where to buy it?  These are the questions I’ve been researching now for several months.  Months you say?  Yes, months because finding a quality solution isn’t as easy as it should be.  Yes you can buy a kit from a number of online retailers, but how do you know it’s going to work and how do you know it will be any good?

Here is what you need to know about Bike Motor Kits

Please excuse the rambling thought processes here as I have a lot to write and little time to write and edit it.

Electric Bike Motors come in a couple of flavors.  You have hub motors which encase the motor inside the hub of the wheel, and you have inline motors which attach to the frame and need to be integrated into your chain system and bottom bracket. The advantage to the first is ease of installation, the downside is they are unable to take advantage of your bicycles gearing for more efficient climbing.  Hub motors are generally quieter in operation than a bike motor which attaches to your chain drive.  The chain drive as mentioned is a bit more noisy but can take full advantage of your bicycle gearing for climbing.

For my purposes with the design of my bike frame the hub motor is the only option.  Hub motors come in two style – Direct Drive and Geared.  A direct drive system is basically large copper wires wound tightly with magnets to create a motor. They are heavier than geared motors and they will not freewheel. So if you have no battery power your bike motor will drag against your pedaling effort.  I don’t like the idea of fighting the resistance of the motor.  However direct drive motors are very powerful and usually less expensive.  A typical direct drive bike motor will weigh 15-20lbs plus the weight of the rim, spokes, and tires.  A geared hub motor is about half that weight and doesn’t look so out of place.  In fact some geared hub motors can be “hidden” underneat disc brake hubs so your bike won’t look much different.

In the United States the legal limit for electric bikes is 20mph.  It’s my understanding that 750 watts of power driven from a 36 volt battery will be the maximum legal kit combination for the USA.  You can use 48 volts of power to most kits and the speed will exceed the legal limit.  In the UK and most of Europe I believe the speed limit is closer to 15mph, but they use kmh and I didn’t bother to check the conversion because I won’t be riding there any time soon!

So what should a typical person who just wants a little help climbing the hills buy?  In my opinion a geared hub motor.   The direct drive motors do not have moving parts like the geared motors, but in my opinion unless you want an electric moped and the additional weight, which will change the handling characteristics of your bicycle stick with geared.  But it really depends on you, your goals and your bike.  A good geared motor (more on what good means later) should last plenty long as long as you do not feed it too much power which can  burn up the gears.

Here is where it starts to get frustrating.  Electric bike motors are not made in the United States, or at least any that I could find.  They are all coming out of China, so there really isn’t much way to know what is good and what is not good unless you find an experienced dealer who is willing to stand behind these Chinese bike motors with a warranty and service program.  And for me that is a problem, because I don’t want to throw money at a no name Chinese product only to have it fail.  This is an even bigger issue with Battery Technology which also comes out of China.

I can not recommend any specific brand but BMC, Bafang, Ezee, 9 Continent, etc. are names you will see most often.  You can purchase complete kits from Bionx which is a Canadian company, but they do not make a geared hub motor.  And the Bionx kit doesn’t play well with those who want to mix and match parts – batteries, controllers, etc.  The Bionx system is proprietary… you wear out the battery then you replace it with one of theirs.  There are pluses and minuses to this arrangement, but I don’t have any plans to get into them here.  I should note that Trek Bicycles has an agreement to use Bionx systems on their electric bikes.

For my purposes I’ll be going with a front drive kit.  The rear drive kits are usually not dishable (This means the axles may not center in your back drop outs).  So what do you do then?  How do you adjust the brakes on your bike if you have V-Brakes?  Dishable wheels are important to bicycles if you want them to perform correctly.  You’ll also not have enough space to use much more than a 5 sproket freewheel, so you lose a lot of useful gears for cycling purposes.  If you only plan to ride electric this is not such a big issue.  But on a front wheel dish is not important as there is no sproket to consider.

Further considerations for electric bike motors are the rims and spokes.  Because these wheels can generate a lot of torque you’ll need to use a heavy duty double walled rim (550g is about the lightest you can go) with heavy duty 12-13 gauge stainless steel spokes).  Some of the better heavy duty double butted spokes from DT Swiss, Phil Wood, Sapim will work as well.  But here is the kicker – you won’t find name brand spokes or rims from any of the Chinese companies.  You find whatever brand they happen to be using… and the tolerances and spec’s are pretty crappy for bike components.  You roll the dice and could end up with a wheel that isn’t very true and spokes that are not properly tensioned.  Some distributors like e-Bike Kit will rebuild their kits in the United States which helps with these quality control issues.  This is a big deal if you are using V-Brakes as an untrue wheel is a huge problem.

Should you want to actually stop your electric bike motor while riding (I think most of us do), you need to make sure the braking options (disc or v-brake) will work with your bike.  This can be tricky with some Recumbent Bike handlebars which are not ideal for the brake cut off handles that ship with most kits.  Again these brake handles are of much lower quality than most of you will expect.  But when you are going down the road you should have an option to tap the brakes to disconnect the motor.  It’s a safety problem if you do not have a way to cut off the brakes – your motor will be running while you are trying to brake!  This is a recipe for crashing.

Mounting your wheel to you bike is another potential problem.  Many ebike motor hubs are machined with axles that are larger than the drop outs on your bicycle.  You may have to file your drop outs a bit to get the axles to fit.  I do not like the idea of filing rear bike drop outs – you mess up and you ruin the frame.  Another reason to use a front wheel drive system.  You ruin a fork drop out and you can easily (and for much less than a frame) replace the fork.

If your bike has “Lawyer Lips” (The notches on the sides of a lot of front forks which prevent the wheel from falling out if the quick release is not properly secured) are a problem for electric bike wheels, because you need a firmly secured axle or the wheel will spin out and damage both your drop outs and the wiring which comes out of the wheels.  Free spinning an electric motor because it is not properly secure is both a safety problem and a financial problem.  You do not want to damage those wires or your hub motor is toast!  So you’ll need to make sure you get “c-washers” (Axel Spacer Nuts) so your can torque down your wheel.  But how much torque?  Good question, as I have not seen a specification for torque yet, because I have not selected a kit although I’m leaning towards a custom built Bafang or Ezee hub on a Sun Rim with Sapim spokes.

Controllers and Batteries.  You could write article after article on Battery Technology.  I recommend you head over to Endless Sphere Forms or one of the other forms and do some reading.  Lithium batteries are lightweight and last a long time while delivering constant voltage at low weights, but they are also very expensive and they come in so many flavors.  You want a lightweight battery that lasts and performs over the long haul.  The most well known manufacture that I’ve found is “Ping Battery”.  These are custom built “Duct Tape” batteries and will cost as much as the wheel kits.  You’ll also need a controller to make sure the battery is not destroyed by pulling too much current, and to make sure the wheel gets the right amount of juice to propel you forward.  Again there are really no name brands here… you are on your own, so it’s best to find a dealer who has a good track record and talk with them.

This is not easy putting together an electric bicycle solution for your needs.  With each turn you find you need to know something else and it’s hard to get those answers.  For example:  You’ll probably want to use a torque arm, but which one?  And how many washers ill I need?  In what order do I assemble the washers?  What kind of electrical connectors should I use and will my battery connectors match the hub controller?  How long will the wires need to be, what gauge and how will I secure them to my bike?  How water proof are these wires and connectors?  What happens if I get water inside the hub wheel.

It just goes on and on, and it’s frustrating.  I wish the the United States of America would FIX ITSELF… start making things here again, take pride in what is being made.  I shouldn’t have to look to china to put something as simple as an electric motor on my bicycle, but that is the state of the Country today.  It is what it is.

Sorry for the rambling, I’m sure this is incomplete, but my goal here isn’t to offer answers to every problem with electrifying your bicycle, rather to open your eyes to some of the potential pitfalls should you choose to do so on your own bike.

Magazines and News

Recumbent Bicycle Resources; Keep up-to-date on the Industry.

I thought about putting this list in alphabetical order so it would look “pretty”, then I thought “no” it should be in order of priority based on what is popular.  Then I decided, a page like this should just exist in random order for those with the time to browse!  I’ve also thrown in a few personal pages just because I like them.

  • Bent Rider Online – An all around excellent resource published in online magazine format. You’ll find a little bit of everything – review of bikes, buyers guide, press releases, and an excellent message boards including classifieds. We don’t pretend to be what this site is – while our focus is to compile resources into one easy-to-use convenient place (so no resource is overlooked), the good folks at Bent Rider Online are jam packed with facts, figures and opinions based on years of experience with industry movers. Highly Recommended!
  • BR Zone – BRzone is the Spanish language magazine of recumbent bicycles and tricycles. Publishes news and interviews with manufacturers and shops. BRzone is also a magazine that talks about the lifestyle of recumbent users. It’s free and their frequency is about 3 times a year.
  • Recumbent and Tandem Rider Magazine – “Recumbent & Tandem Rider Magazine is the authoritative, informative and entertaining magazine for riders and enthusiasts of recumbent and tandem bicycles.” An excellent source of bike reviews and available for free at many bike shops, you can also subscribe or purchase back issues dirt cheap!
  • Recumbent Journal – (Archive Posted… but site is no longer updating).  A blog style site that has it’s own spin on what is going on in the World of Recumbent Bicycle News
  • Recumbent TV – Recumbent.tv (has been offline for awhile with a message they might be back).  This is a fun little site where you can watch videos of people riding their recumbent bikes and trikes
  • Recumbents.com – Well organized, easy-to-read online publication with a little something for everyone – FAQ’s, Classifieds, Forums, and a great list of Club Information.
  • Road Bike Review – Although not dedicated to recumbent bicycles there is a section where users may post their own reviews of the recumbent bikes they own or have ridden.
  • Velovision Magazine – “Velo Vision magazine, covering specialised bikes, cycling as transport and human power. It’s a quarterly dose of cycle inspiration.”
  • Ligfiets Plaza – Nah I don’t speak the language either, but you can figure some of it out!
  • Phred – Site takes you to a list of related bicycling forums and link lists including bikelist.org.
  • Cyclingsite.com – Maintains a page on recumbent bikes of mostly user opinion, but a fun read nevertheless.
  • Get Bent – Getbent.org is part personal site, part news site. Founded by Jose Hernadez (“I met Bryan Ball in the summer of 1999 and Co-Founded BentRider Online on January 2000), it’s focus is primarily on Florida recumbent cycling. Link redirects to server space hosted by “Bicycle Spot” dealer site.

Personal Recumbent Sites

  • Sue’s Recumbent Cycling Site – Fun informative with a very positive outlook. Sue’s site addresses some of the lighter side of the recumbent movement from a true enthusiasts perspective. Contains links to some interesting articles on the health benefits of recumbent

Miscellaneous

  • Bicycle Derailleur Adjustment – I don’t adjust my derailleurs often so I’m in constant need of refresher tips each time the need occurs. I’ve been visiting this site for tips for a couple of years now. Note: Sheldon Brown passed away earlier this year but the site remains working as of Sept 2008
  • Yahoo Directory > Recumbent Bicycles – Yahoo discontinued their Directory Listings Fall 2014.  Yahoo’s list of bent cycling links – be sure to click on the “Gear and Equipment” link for more listings.

Recumbent Exercise Bikes

Classifieds for Exercise Bikes & Equipment

Our site Recumbent Bicycle Source is really about Bikes you ride on the streets and paths, but somehow the Stationary Exercise Bikes always get mixed into search results and a lot of people end up her at the site when they are actually looking for Stationary Exercise Bikes.

Latest Reviews

Schwinn Recumbent Bike

Schwinn Recumbent Bike Models

If you are looking for a Schwinn Recumbent Bike you’ll want to shop around and also compare prices with Amazon.com.  Keep in mind that a Schwinn Recumbent Bike purchased from Amazon will likely have no sales tax in most states and often also features free shipping depending on the time of year.

Schwinn is an extremely well recognized brand in the Bicycle Industry dating back more than 100 years (Schwinn was founded back in 1895). So it’s not surprising that one would search for a Schwinn Recumbent Bicycle… however if riding is your plan, then Schwinn is not a player. But if exercise fitness recumbent bikes are what you are interested in they do have a small line up of well received recumbent exercise bikes.

Schwinn Recumbent Bike Lineup:

Review Link: Schwinn 240 Recumbent Exercise Bike

Bicycle Features:

BioFit™ Comfort

  • Seating system with padded ergonomic seat and dual-position lumbar support
  • Adjustable console and seat

BioDyne™ Performance

  • Perimeter weighted flywheel for a true road feel, and smooth, consistent workouts
  • Oversized stabilizers and levelers that are built-in for a solid workout platform

BioConnect® Feedback

  • 17 workout programs
  • Telemetry-enabled, integrated grip heart rate system
  • Schwinn Advantage™ workout tracking

Review Link: Schwinn 220 Recumbent Exercise Bike

Bicycle Features:

BioFit™ Comfort

  • Ergonomic pedal design with a 1 degree tilt to align your hip, knee, and ankle for efficient and comfortable pedaling
  • Adjustable console and seat
  • Convenient step-through design

BioDyne™ Performance

  • Perimeter weighted flywheel for a true road feel, and smooth, consistent workouts
  • Oversized stabilizers and levelers that are built-in for a solid workout platform

BioConnect® Feedback

  • 12 workout programs
  • Integrated grip heart rate system
  • 16 resistance levels

Review Link: Schwinn A20 Recumbent Bike

Bicycle Features:

  • Ergonomic seat design with secure adjustments for a great fit
  • 2-position lumbar support
  • Unique console design with integrated fan and control buttons
  • Comfort-designed grip heart rate sensors allow for natural hand positioning

A20 Performance features

  • Perimeter weighted flywheel for a true road feel, and smooth, consistent workouts
  • Fast and reliable electromagnetic resistance system
  • Oversized stabilizers and levelers for a solid workout platform

A20 Feedback features

  • 8 resistance levels
  • 6 fitness metrics, including Calories, Heart Rate, Speed, RPM, Time, and Distance
  • Integrated grip heart rate system for easy fitness monitoring

That’s the round up of Schwinn Recumbent Bike Models.

Recumbent Community Talk : Bike Forums

Bicycle Talk – Forums

You can add to this Recumbent Forums list by sending me information on active forums not already listed, including forums in Europe and other parts of the world. Sure this site is in English, but I have no problem posting links to sites in other languages.

  • BentRider Online Forums – Probably the most active Recumbent Community site. I believe the participants in this community are the most active and enthusiastic. Honestly these guys get my endorsement as one of the top spots to really get involved in Recumbent Riding.
  • Recumbent Riders International Forums – Recumbent Riders International Forum is to help riders find other recumbent riders in their own area(s) to meet up and ride with.  Offers FREE forums for any local recumbent bike groups that are interested in having a presence on the web.

Recumbent Bikes & Trikes for Sale

Rans Popular V-REX Bike

Popular Bicycle Classifieds (See Below for Ebay Listings)

  • Link Source 1:  Hostel Shoppe Recumbent Bicycle Classifieds (Update 2014:  It appears HS has stopped offering this service, probably just too much hassle… sorry).
  • Link Source 2:  Bent Rider Online Classifieds

There are other sources but so many of the ads we see are either way too old, or very suspicious looking.  Sure you can search Craigslist (Scam Central) and your local classifieds, but those pages number too many to list.

Bike Plans

Build your own Recumbent Bike or Trike

Contribute to this page by submitting links to sites you find that offer information on building recumbent bikes.

  • Steve’s Recumbent Bicycle Project – Listed here instead of on the personal sites because of the construction ideas and plans presented. Plus some excellent photographs of the bikes and process as he has built them.

See additional links in comments below.

Sticky: Electric Bike Conversion Kits – Electrify Your Recumbent

Update 2014:  I know there are a lot of repeat visitors to the site (I see it in the visitors logs) and I’m sure some of you don’t see the changes “behind the site”… I assure you they are there.

For some time I’ve been meaning to update the information here about converting your recumbent (Or any Bicycle for that matter) with an Electric Hub Motor.  There are also mid-drive options but I have not tried them yet as those in my budget area ($500) are not of the quality I would want to purchase and those that are – well lets just say they are the price of a mid miles low end used car!

It’s been almost 2 years now since I converted my Recumbent and then converted another bicycle just last spring.  I chose MAC hub motors for both bicycles.  For the recumbent I used a 350 Watt Front Hub Motor, and for the upright a 500 Watt Rear Hub Motor.  Both bicycles using the same 48 volt NMC battery will do 32mph on the flats unassisted (And that’s plenty fast for me!).  I chose the MAC motors because they are freewheeling and perform more like a bicycle and less like a scooter/moped.  They are also significantly lighter than most direct drive motors (Which cause a cogging effect if you ride without power).  And this effect while minimal, is still annoying to me.  I rode the original Chrysler Bicycle more than 10 years ago and didn’t want a lead sled.

After the conversion my recumbent went from 32lbs to 45lbs plus another 11lbs for the batter and a lb or two for the controllers and cables.

The process was not simple, but not too difficult for anyone who likes to “tinker”.  I could write an entire post just about doing each bicycle, but honestly that kind of stuff isn’t very interesting to me.  I know most people want to just ride and have fun so I’ll over the basics now and create a few links to “Trusted Suppliers” (Trusted in that I had no problem with them and they have a good reputation).

Here is basically what you’ll need:

A Kit or pieces consisting of the Hub Motor, Rim, Spokes, a controller, Wiring with fuses, and a battery.

These links ARE NOT commissioned, while I wish I made a buck or two for promoting them… I don’t, I do it because I shopped around as many places as I could and all points led back to Paul and Justin at eBikes.ca.  Paul is a battery expert and you definitely want his batteries!  I made a 45 electric assisted ride on my recumbent with my 350 Watt Mac motor and used 9.5 am hours out of 14 total . I still had battery to spare.  Prior to this battery (Which cost me $510 plus shipping) I was using 3 Power sonic 12 volt Lead Acid AGM Batteries each weighing about 9lbs each totaling 36 volts.  And while it worked my range was about 20 miles if I went real easy on them and they really altered the dynamics of the bicycle with all that weigh ton the rack!  Do yourself a favor and don’t buy a kit until you have a budge for the battery.  If “babied” the NMC batteries Paul sells should go 1,000 cycles (That’s 20,000 miles at 20 miles a ride) and last bout 5 years.  Think about that for a moment.  that would be roughly riding every day for 3 years or every other day for 6!  They may even go longer than that.  He also has LifePo4 batteries with a supposed DOUBLE life time of 2,000 potential cycles.  For me the extra amps on demand and lightweight made NMC the easy choice.  Paul will also match your battery to your motor with a pre-charge circuit and the appropriate fusing.

Now lets get back to eBikes.ca.  If you want to just purchase everything from one place and are not keen on waiting for China Post to get  your your packages (I waited about 6 weeks and China Post Tracking is HORRIBLE!!!) and the associated cost then you may want to consider eBikes.ca.  They have more options in parts and kits, and whether you purchase from Paul or Justin you definitely want Justin’s Cycle Analyst!  Not having a Cycle Analyst is like driving your car without a gas gauge.  If you know you are only going to go on short rides then maybe you won’t mind, but I find the information invaluable.

Batteries are a Challenge for eBikes.ca because of cost of shipping and access to raw materials (They do not build their own, while Paul is known for his batteries, which he builds because of good access to lithium technologies in China).  The shipping cost from either could be the same depending on where you life.  Lithium Batteries are hazardous so they require special shipping precautions and only a few carriers can do it.  If I recall I paid about $200 to have my battery shipped (Plus the cost of the battery) because the batteries can not ship ground.  Be sure you order a quality charger at the same time.  Paul recommends charging your NMC batteries to 90% to get the most life out of them.

This is getting a bit long and I’m kind of tired so I’m going to close down this update on Electric Bicycle Conversions… with this.  You may also want to contact Utah Trikes.  I was in there showroom this fall (2013) and they told me they were working on some electric products which may be available at this time in January 2014.  You may also want to do a Google Search for Lectric Cycles and read about their Bafang (8 fun) mid drive conversion kits.  And of course you can always drop me a note.  Please know that I get in excess of 600 emails per week (For this and other sites) and I don’t always see each and every one of them as this is NOT my job, and I have a limited amount of time to contribute to writing and testing recumbent bicycle stuff (But I wish I had more).  I do make a real effort to answer my emails though.

And below is the content I originally wrote for this page.  If you are going to buy from an American Company E-bike Kit and Ebikes SF (Illa) are about the best you’ll find. Buy your Torque Arms from Justin at eBikes.ca or Paul (He sells Justin’s Torque Arms) the Amped Torque arms are very “Fred Flinstonish” compared the high quality machining and fit of Justin’s. Honestly although it seems like these parts are expensive (And they are for some) the guys running these shops are not getting filthy rich.  There are a lot of Headaches with support and shipping and quality that have a way of eating into margins.

———————- Original Content Starts Here ————————–

I’ve been looking at Electric Bike Conversion Kits from every source I could find over the past several months.  And there are several options and nearly all of them come from China.  But you can find USA manufacturers who will warranty these Chinese Products.

electric conversion kit for recumbent bicycle

Electric Bike Conversion Complete Kit Example – Wheel, Battery, Controller, Brakes

The above pictured kit is and example of what you would need to convert your Recumbent Bicycle to electric assist.

You can choose a hub motor that is direct drive or geared depending on how far you ride and how much power you expect to assist you.  Some people want to pedal along while others want the motor to do all the work.  The Direct drive electric bicycle wheels are a bit heavier, but they will go a bit faster given the same amount of electricity (Which is a function of the coil winds inside the motor actually).  The geared motors are lighter, but the gears will wear out over time.  Geared motors will “freewheel” allowing you to ride like a regular bicycle with no resistance while pedaling.  Direct Drive wheels will create some minor resistance.  According to research done by Grin Technologies in Canada the amount of resistance is just a little less than you would experience if you were running mountain bike knobby style tires.

Nearly all the hub motors are designed to operate on standard 135mm rear or 100mm front Hub spacing.  I have not come across any that are designed to operate on Rear Road Drop outs of 130mm.

There are sensors you can add to your bicycle that will regulate the amount of power assist automatically as you pedal (Bionx does this), but most people will be happier with a throttle control.

Here are some basics you’ll need to know before you go electric.

Electric hub motors will torque the drop outs on your bicycle.  This can result in DAMAGE that can result in ruined frames.  So when you upgrade your bike for an electric hub motor you need to be sure that you purchase a quality TORQUE ARM.  The Torque arm if properly installed prevents this from happening. On super high power kits like those from Crystalyte you may want to run 2!  Also it should be noted that on direct drive systems where regeneration is enabled the amount of torque delivered the the drop outs is greater and torque arms are advised, even on back wheels.  The strength of your frame and fork drop outs is another consideration.

I believe most of us who ride recumbent bicycles do so for comfort and fun and are not looking to go 50mph!!!  At least I am not.  A 250-400 watt motor should provide plenty of ooomph on the flats up to the legal speed limit for electric bicycles in the United States (20mph). When properly installed this wattage should not cause problems with most drop outs.  If you are concerned about damaging your frame it is advisable to purchase a quality STEEL front fork and mount your electric assist motor on the front of your bicycle.

Battery Technology for Electric Bicycles

Lithium Manganese  LiMn2o4

The chemistry of lithium manganese oxide LiMn2O4 is not a good option for
EV applications, because of its poor cycle life, especially at elevated
temperature. In addition, the energy density of the battery with LiMn2O4
chemistry is the lowest one among all lithium-ion batteries, about 100 Wh/kg,
similar to that of Ni-MH battery. Therefore, there is no advantage to use this
chemistry in large format lithium-ion battery.

This is the Battery Technology used by Bionx:

“The BionX Lithium Manganese rechargeable battery is safe, stable, light, and extremely compact.”

I must be missing something here?  But it doesn’t make sense to me when LiFeP04 is available?  I believe it might simply because there are other factors like how much power can be delivered in a sustainable manner without creating voltage sag and the quality of the cells themselves.   If you can actually get 500 cycles from Lithium Manganese at an average distance of 20 miles per trip that’s 10,000 miles of riding enjoyment per battery.

Lithium Iron Phosphate  LiFeP04

Recently lithium iron phosphate LiFePO4 has been becoming “best-choice”
materials in commercial Li-ion Batteries for large capacity and high power
applications, such as lap-top, power tools, e-wheel chair, E-bicycles, e-car
and e-bus. A LiFePO4 battery has hybrid characters: as safe as lead-acid
battery and as powerful as lithium ion cells, with lower cost.

LiFeP04 is the technology that most kits are recommending due to it’s long cycle life and safety (Withstanding temperature changes as well).

Read More Here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_ion_battery
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_iron_phosphate_battery

PDF File: Lithium Battery Technology (Source: GE Batteries China)

Mounting on the front has the added advantage of being able to distribute the load of the wheel vs the battery. A geared hub wheel is as little as 7lbs.  Keep in mind when you remove your existing wheel you are taking that weight off the bike and adding back 7 to 8lbs.  So in effect you may only be increasing your bike weight by 4 or 5 pounds (Not counting battery or controller).  A lightweight lithium based battery (There are many technologies which I plan to write about in a separate article later) providing 10 amp hours can weigh as little as 10lbs.  The controller a pound or two.  So you can upgrade your bike to electric for as little as 15-20lbs added weight.  And that’s not much when you ride on the flats, and because you’ll now have the oomph you need to get up the hills it won’t matter on climbs.

A brief note about Power Usage: Amps x Voltage = Watts.  So a 400 Watt Motor that is drawing 36 Volts would use 11.1 Amps per hour… assuming a steady draw.  At least that is my understanding.  So a 10 Amp Hour Battery would give you about an hour of unassisted (No pedaling at all) riding on the flats if you drew it down to empty which you don’t actually want to do.  It’s my understanding you want to always leave at least 20% remaining with lithium technologies.  Again this is my understanding. And that same motor will give you a speed of 17-20mph on average for an average size rider.  Add your own pedal power and you can double or triple the range.  So if you are the kind of person that like to ride for an hour or two then this is the perfect option for you!

One major advantage of the geared hub motors over the direct drive (DD Motors) besides weight is that they freewheel when not engaged. So your bike rides more like a bike… on the flats you’ll probably not notice a difference.  A DD motor will add some drag when pedaling without power due to the coil windings.   Is this a bad thing?  Not really… depends on the motor kit you buy.

There is an excellent Forum called Endless Sphere for those who want to learn more.  Be advised most of the people on the forms are do-it-yourselfers who like to tinker.  I don’t… I just want a good easy to install kit that works and is warrantied.

Important:  Most rear wheel kits will NOT work with 9 speed cassettes… only a very few will, and I haven’t researched this enough to be able to name all the brands.  Most will work with a 7 speed cassette.

This is why I’ve chosen to go with E Bike Kit… inexpensive, complete, well designed Electric Kits that are warrantied by a United States Company for 2 years!  I have found ZERO complaints from their kits and they are well received in all the electric bicycle forums that I’ve read.  So this is why they get my endorsement.  And it’s not to be taken lightly as I’ve been researching this for the better part of a year.  There is no perfect kit, but these are really good and one of the least expensive quality options.

What about Bionx Electric Bicycle Conversion Kits?

Well this was what I thought I wanted to buy.  And they do make a fine kit.  The upside is it’s as refined as you’ll find.  The Bionx is a “Turnkey” solution.  One kit that goes on smoothly and looks nice.  The downside to this upside is the kit is proprietary – you can’t mix and match parts. If you need a new battery you need a Bionx.  And the same for the wheel. The warranty is okay (Standard 2 year… don’t do this or that to make sure you are covered), but not great in my view because if your wheel fails after 2 years you get to buy a new one… and it MUST be a Bionx.  With the other brands you can mix and match and find good hubs for as little as $160 and build up your own wheel with the rim of your choice (But it should be double walled and very strong).

I’ve read some good and bad stories in the Forms, but overall the company does seem to do a pretty good job of taking care of customers.  Bionx is the choice of TREK Bicycles – it’s what they use in their electric bikes.  I like TREK products, so I believe the Bionx may be a good choice for some.  But keep in mind that these are DD motors so they will have some drag when pedaling unassisted.  I believe a person who purchases a Bionx kit will want to ride with some level of assistance all the time… personally I don’t.

And don’t buy into the Regenerative Braking too much.  I’ve read this has the capability of creating maybe a 3% re-charge on a typical ride.  Sure it’s a neat idea… but not that practical.  Another neat idea would be to ride around with solar panels on our bikes so they would constantly charge… but again not real practical.

Again the Bionx seems to be the most refined product for Bicycles in that they are integrated for various levels of power assist and have the option to recharge their system while braking or riding in a “Training” Mode.  There is some question as to how useful the “Training Mode” really is… it takes a lot of power to regenerate the batteries on your own.  Perhaps some benefit on long downhills. But why pay so much extra for that feature when you probably won’t ever ride in training mode.  It’s just an electrical motor and a battery no matter how “techie” you make it.

Again If you decide to upfit your bicycle for an electric wheel be sure you know that the dropouts on your fork/frame will support the additional torque of the kit you buy. Some front forks, especially suspension forks do not have strong enough drop outs. Make sure your kit is for the correct wheel front or back

BMC, Crystalyte, EZee, BaFang, MAC and the Rest of the Pack

It’s my understanding some of the Crystallyte motors may actually be too powerful… my goal is not to turn my recumbent bike into a motorcycle I just want to go up hills! But they may be the perfect choice for creating a commuter bike where you have to carry cargo or a recumbent tricycle which tends to be heavier.  Keep in mind the Cyrstalyte Hub/Motor Combo can weigh as much as 23lbs before you get to the batteries. So you could easily add 40lbs to your existing bicycle!

BMC makes some nice motors, but I haven’t seen a nicely polished complete kit from BMC.  There are some dealers that are making bundles, so for you folks who like to tinker this may be for you.  For me I want the convenience of an all in one solution where parts have been tested and known to work together.  Plus I want a warranty… after all most of these kits are coming out of China and I don’t speak Chinese so I can’t pick up the telephone and get help… can you?  Maybe?

I am intentionally not covering Mid Drive Motors (Which attach via different methods to the drive train) because they are heavy and should probably be installed by a bike shop not an individual (Unless you are very mechanical).  Most will not fit on recumbent bicycles without special brackets and modifications. The upside to these kits is they work with your bicycles gearing and will allow you to climb some very steep hills.

Some of the kits like the $299 Currie Electric Bike Kit would not mount easily on many recumbent bikes by design… they are built for upright mountain bikes. The Currie product is inexpensive and it resides on the outside of the wheel.  I don’t think this would work very well for most recumbents.  The real downside however is the low cost kits use Sealed Lead Acid batteries which weigh a ton for the amount of energy you get out of them.

Miscellaneous Electric Bikes and Parts at Amazon

Amazon.com’s Electric Bike, Conversion Kits, Scooters, etc. – I’m including this link to this page so that those of you who are interested can see just how many variations of electric bicycle products are coming to market.  I read, but can not quote the source that Amazon’s Sales of Electric Bike related items is up a full 60x higher this year than last!  That speaks to the ever rising cost of fuel as people look for cheaper transportation alternatives.

Please comment if you have experience with converting a recumbent bicycle or trike to full electric or to hybrid part time electric. Tell us what you think?  What have you experienced? Again feel free to use the comments area to voice your opinions.  You’ll need to register to post a comment (I don’t save your email addresses, and I don’t send out any newsletters or product spam) because every time I have tried to leave the comment section open to the public without registration I get hammered with spam.

RideKick Push Trailer

Have you seen the RideKick Electric Push Trailer?

If you have or have not you’ll still want to read more of my opinions on what might make or break this product and this company.  RideKick in my opinion is a fantastic idea and a well engineered product (on paper anyways). The concept of pushing one’s bicycle brings to mind a lot of questions; first and foremost “Does it work”?  The answer to that is YES.  And here is why… the RideKick trailer connects directly to your rear wheel axle like any bicycle trailer.  So the force will be transmitted through the same mechanics as the freewheel or cassette on the opposite side of your rear wheel.  It just makes sense right?  Will it swerve or create problems in turns?  It doesn’t seem to from all the reviews that I have read.  And no I don’t know if it will break or tip over if you crash or tip over.  I haven’t ridden one yet!

RideKick Electric Bicycle Push Trailer

RideKick Push Trailer

So What is to Like About the RideKick?

Before I get into this further let me jump over to their site and grab the Specifications:

Dimensions:  24” wide x 39” long* x 16” tall  (60.9 cm x 99 cm x 40.6 cm)

Weight:  40 pounds with battery pack (Battery is 18lbs)

Cargo Capacity:  Rated to 75lbs

Motor:  500 watt electric brush motor

Battery Pack:  Sealed Lead Acid (SLA), 24 volt, 12 amp hour

Controller:  Microprocessor based smart controller

Hitch:  Quick Release

Speed Control:  hand-operated throttle

Maximum Speed:  19 mph  (20 mph is the legal limit in USA Federal Law)

Range:  Expected Distance 12-15 miles

Okay that’s the basics you can head over to RideKick DOT COM if you want a little more detail… but lets get into what I like about this product now.  This is a commercial product manufactured (As is my understanding) in the United States.  I’m sure they use components that are sourced outside the country as well, but the bottom line is you can buy one without sending your money off to China via Paypal.

I’m sick to death of no name sites pitching Chinese CRAP via Paypal.  I’m sick of visiting Forums and having some idiot “Chime in” about how they can buy a whole electric bike kit for $200. Great if they can do that then do it and shut the hell up.  The Chinese Crap you get off eBay may or may not work, will come with instructions you probably can’t read.  “For most pleasure ride connect left wire to wheel now”.  What? The eBay special will have a warranty and all you have to do to get your warranty service is pay $125 Shipping back to the factory in China and then another $125 to have it returned to you! That’s assuming you get the product you actually ordered after the month long wait.   Anyways enough hammering on the Chinese Crap, if you are the type of person that doesn’t mind buying complete junk with the hope that it will work then more power to you!

RideKick is NOT designed for the tinkerer, it’s designed for the recreational cyclist or commuter.  It’s a finished product designed for people who just want to ride and enjoy their cycling experience.  I’ve read hundreds posts on Endless Sphere and the people there don’t mind tearing things apart, soldiering, and rewiring.  They also seem to want to go 40 miles per hour on a bicycle.  I do not want to do any of those things, I just enjoy riding as recreation which is why I enjoy the recumbent community so much. What do you want to do?  If you are the Endless Sphere type then the RideKick is probably not for you.

I would also like to touch on the constant belittling by the Lance Armstrong wannabees that say “Why would you want an electric motor on your bike if that’s what you want then get a scooter”.  Well here is exactly why and I’ll give you an example.  My loop is 18 miles and it’s part city street and part bike path and has some wicked hills.  At the end of my loop is a 1.5 mile climb at 3-5 %.  I live in the Desert Southwest where 80 degrees at 10am in the summer is an abnormally cool morning.  So as I head off for my like I have a fair amount of energy… 15 minutes into my ride I’m dripping buckets of sweat.  I have to stop and stand up to let the heat dissipate off of my back and rehydrate.  By the time I get to mile 16.5 and look up at that last mile and a half climb I am asking myself why I chose to ride in this heat.  And that’s the time I want to push a little button and have a little device push me up that hill!

I see no glory in being Lance Armstrong.  I ride for fun.  And with an electric assist I will have a whole lot more fun and will WANT to ride more.  The human body (especially as we age) only needs 20 minutes or so of moderate exercise per day for health benefits.  Riding 18 miles takes me one hour and 15 minutes on average considering the hills.  I cruise the bike paths at about 18mph and climb hills at about 8 mph.  I do NOT need more exercise, I need more FUN!

I’ve looked at just about every bike kit and electric bike reseller in the United States that I can find online.  I’ve talked to many owners and probably frustrated them to death.  I’ve talked to “Reputable” dealers in China (Which is not an easy task) and that bottom line is none of them are selling a “Solution” they are selling parts.  I asked ebikes.ca which has an excellent reputation to build me a kit and they told me to just buy the Ezee Kit.  That’s nice.  But I don’t want a junk Chinese rim and junk spokes.  The Weinmann product may be quality in China, but I don’t like it.  Nearly all of the Chinese Rims are made with junk Chinese Steel spokes (No Name) and are assembled by factory workers NOT wheel builders.  A properly tensioned and trued wheel is essential!  The Chinese Solution is to use 12 gauge spokes which will not break and you don’t really true so much because they are so stiff.  But that creates it’s own problems with rims and stiffness.  These are scooter wheels NOT bicycle wheels.  I do not want to ride a scooter I want a bicycle with Electric Assist.  The RideKick does not interfere with your bicycle it enhances it!  And these “Kits” add their own weight and problems for riding those times when you do not want assist.

Side Note:  If you want a decent Chinese Manufactured eBikeKit backed by a USA Company I would suggest you buy from eBikeKit (Jason).  It’s the best bang for the buck, but not what I want.

Let me summarize some Benefits of the RideKick:

  • Simple installation – hook it on and go
  • Multiple bikes – get an extra adapter for each bicycle your ride
  • Folds out of the way for storage
  • USA Company so easy to acquire
  • 1 Year Warranty

 

Lets Talk About Potential Problems with the Ridekick

I’m worried that RideKick is not gaining enough momentum in the cycling community to survive as a company.  Google Searches for the product are DISMAL… less than a 1,000 per month.  The dealer base is very small at time even though it’s been less than a year since production so I expect this will improve.

SLA battery technology is KLUDGE KLUDGE KLUDGE.  And it’s not the weight in this case as the trailer is going to need some weight to get traction.  It’s the life cycles and the poor range.  You can’t make SLA any better than it is.  I know a whole lot about SLA battery technology and a fair amount about the Lithium technologies as I have read them to death.  SLA batteries do NOT last long if you discharge them beyond 50%.  So your 12 Amp Hour battery in SLA form is really an 18lb 6 Amp Hour batter.  At 24 volts you have 24 x 6 = 144 Watt Hours.  If you are riding on the flats with no head wind and using an average of 12 Watt Hours per mile with pedaling you are going to get 12 miles before the battery dies.  That’s it.  If you encounter any headwind that is going to go down, if you climb hills that is going to drop dramatically.  So the range simply is not there with SLA.  Contrast this to the soon to be released 20 Amp Hour lithium battery (Which you should be able to discharge to 20% remaining) or 16 effective Amp Hours available and your distance jumps to 32 miles with pedaling.  That’s a gigantic difference.  With most people wanting to feel “safe” out to 20 miles I just don’t see the SLA as a viable option.  Sure you could add another 18lbs to the equation and for people that live in areas without hills like Florida perhaps that is an option, but not a selling point for most people.

Okay so lets just figure that in order for RideKick to survive they are going to need a cost effective Lithium Solution (They know this). But what is cost effective for Lithium Technology imported to the United States?  If you use the AllCell (US Based – Chicago) model then it’s probably going to be around $750 for the battery!  Will RideKick be able to do the volume to bring the battery cost down?  Will RideKick choose a cheap Chinese Manufacturer (Probably but lets hope they can warranty the batteries). Seriously if you add in the Lithium Technology required to make the RideKick a successful product you DOUBLE THE COST.  At a retail of $1,400 these become a tough sell!  So battery technology and pricing is going to make or break RideKick.

What Else Can RideKick do to Make Their Product More Saleable?

The first thing they can do is convince the masses that their product is going to LAST?  How does one do that?  Do they offer an extended warranty option?  Perhaps $50 to $75?  Do they offer motor upgrades?  Do they offer custom painted models or special edition models?  I don’t know what they are going to do but here are my thoughts.

I’m not a fan of the brushed motors because I know the brushes are going to need replacement.  How many miles until they break down?  I think Ridekick needs to come clean on the life of these motors and have an option for Manufacturer servicing and refurbishment of the product.

I believe Ridekick needs to do with their controller what the Scanning Industry did with Personal Radio Scanners years ago when the FCC made it illegal to monitor certain frequencies. They built products that allowed users to source their own upgrade “crystals”.  If they did that then the burden of proof was not on the manufacturer, but on the end user.

In order to stay compliant with the law RideKick must adhere with the 20 mph limit.  But this is not to say they could not “over engineer” their controller electronics to handle more power.  The controller after all should run cool!  If you read the forums on electric vehicles motors and controllers can handle more power than they are generally rated for.  RideKick should comply with the law of course, but as an end user consumer I should have an option to upgrade by battery to 36 volt and the controller should handle the additional voltage.  People want to buy products that will do what they want them to do.  There is the law of common sense that says bicycles are not motorcycles and bicycle manufacturer products to work at bicycle safe speeds. But if  you want to sell product you have to meet the entire market and in the world of electric bicycles that actually includes tinkerers and modifiers.

I personally have no desire to ride above 25mph.  I don’t want to ever ride my bike at a rate that is faster than I can power it myself under ideal conditions.  And for me and my bike it’s 25mph.  For others it may be faster or slower.  I also do not want to push my components at their extremes.  If 19mph is the Top Speed then I don’t want to push full throttle to get there… I want to push 75% and be there.  Bottom line is I don’t want to be on the bleeding edge of what it can do with no headroom.

RideKick needs an information remote at the Handlebar like the Cycle Analyst.  Stopping your bicycle and getting off your bike and going back to the trailer to check how much battery is left is a poor solution.

I believe another way for RideKick to succeed is to publish their gearing and parts used (This may seen contrary to sales) so that the tinkerers can modify the units if they want.  Sure it would void the warranty, but that is NOT RideKicks problem.  When I had my automobile motor rebuilt they used a product called a “Heat Tab”. If the engine overheats the tab bursts and the warranty is void.  Controllers could be programmed or stickers used so that if modified the warranty is void.  This releases the Manufacter from warranty or liability, but gives the end user the freedom to do with the product whatever they want.  I like that idea a lot.  By publishing gearing it would be simple for an end user to source replacement parts (i.e. different size chain rings) for more torque or speed.

I’d like to see RideKick price the unit WITHOUT A BATTERY so the consumer could choose SLA or Lithium, or maybe even NiMH and not “waste” the money on the lesser technologies.

I’d like to see RideKick offer consumers a “Shell” version where they can source their own motor, controller and battery.  Or at least offer more options, I just don’t think 24 volt is heavy duty enough for the hills in my area that I would like to ride.  So offering me the option to buy a 36 volt or a shell that I can customize with multiple voltages or multiple chainrings makes the product infinitely more usable.  For planned trips in the hills I could pop in a different battery or I could put on a chainring for climbing.

When I first saw the RideKick I thought wow I could load that thing up with batteries and really extend the range, then I thought “I wonder if I would burn up the motor”.  So who knows?  If the trailer needs a certain amount of weight for better traction I’d load it up with a few water jugs and go lithium as opposed to using SLA and dreading the extra weight unpowered.  If I needed to lighten it up I could dump the water.  Sweet and easy.

I hope RideKick comes out with more color options.  I’m sure for some people bright and flashy would be in order (Especially for those who ride on city streets).  For my purposes gray is just fine, but I do not want to be a moving billboard for the product.  I attract enough attention on my bike already.  And while I know the attention is great for RideKick and marketing I at times get tired of talking to people about my bicycle.  I certainly don’t want to be asked constant questions about the trailer that I own.  This is not the same as demoing or reviewing the product; at those times I want the attention. But eventually I know it will wear thin.  Trust me on this one I’ve been fielding questions on my bike since I started riding it.  I’m not a Rock Star and I don’t want to be.  I often choose to ride at times I know the paths will be clears just for some solitude.

I see enormous potential for the RideKick and I do hope they make it.

If you are considering the RideKick don’t look just at the price.  Look at the enjoyment.  The price is nothing compared to the eBike Options (Which are much more expensive).  Recumbents are awesome and not needing to modify yours to get electric assist is the way to go.

I’m sold on the concept of RideKick.  I’m very excited.  I actually really want one.  But I will wait until the Lithium version is proven.  Right now they are so close to having this where I would pull the trigger.  But the speed limit, the unproven reliability for climbing, and the SLA technology just have me gun shy.  I’m also a little shy on the price with lithium… but who isn’t.

Well here is to hoping the volume goes up so the price can come down.  I believe the correct price point is $849 with 20 amp hour lithium.  Is there enough profit at that price point to warranty and support by dealers?  I don’t know!

RideKick

If you know anyone at Ridekick please ask them to publish information on the tires and how to change them.  What PSI do they run at?  Can you put slime tubes in them?  How much do they cost to replace?

Geez just publish the owners manual already in pdf format on the site!