Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: There in half the time: trying out a Mercury e-bike

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  • Moz,

    My impression from talking to Maurice at GlowWorm is that he's spent a long time badgering people in China to find decent suppliers, and their existing deal is the result of years of co-development of the bikes they sell. He's had a lot of poor experiences. So when you see a kit on eBay and think "heck, for $300 I could fit that to my bike"... you are setting yourself up for one of those bad experiences. What you get is likely to work, if you assemble it correctly and add the right bits that you didn't know you'd need. Well, it'll work, after a fashion, for a while. Probably. But by all means, if that's all you want from a bike, go for it. But as a word of advice from someone who has fixed far too many cheap, shoddy bicycle-shaped-objects in my life: have a second bike as a fall-back. Don't do this to your only bike, you will regret it.


    Also, for those of you starting out, bicycles.stackexchange is one useful resource and we will answer ebike questions. Please use the the search function first, though :)

    Full disclosure... I've known Maurice from GlowWorm for a long time and he's a friend. So I may be biased. But I'm also an engineer, and a cyclist, and I've built my own frames/bikes (www.moz.geek.nz/mozbike) and broken other peoples (the average rider can do 250W for 30s... in my 30's I could do 1500W for 30s... things break). I ride every day, and "taking the train" is my cop-out but still means riding 5-6km to the station. My main bikes does 5000km/year, rain hail or shine, and I expect it to "just work". So...

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    Would hauling cargo around (perhaps in a box on the carrier) make much difference in stability and handling and acceleration to the bike you trialled?

    Hard to say, but as I said, I had no problem quaxing with a full pannier.

    Amendment: I can see they have disk brakes – are they good?

    They seem so! I'm a total disc brake convert, btw. Damn the additional weight, I wouldn't have a bike without them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Moz,

    But as a word of advice from someone who has fixed far too many cheap, shoddy bicycle-shaped-objects in my life: have a second bike as a fall-back. Don’t do this to your only bike, you will regret it.

    I would note that Rode in Ponsonby declines to work on converted e-bikes and they're probably not alone.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    One of the advantages of a bike is that you can do most of the service and repairs yourself.

    So one question I have is how much does the added complexity of the e-bike affect the basic repairs/servicing?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    total disc brake convert, btw. Damn the additional weight, I wouldn't have a bike without them.

    Yep, I made the transition when they were expensive, but these days.... like you say, why wouldn't you have them?

    My commuter bike especially. It's all about "it just works" - disk brakes, internally geared hub, punture-resistant tyres, dynamo lights, whatever I can do. I'd rather spend the money now than spend the time on the side of the road, in the rain, at night, trying to fix something. Because you just know what when the "it's nearly as good and much cheaper" thing fails, it will fail at the worst possible time.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    And as a second question how reliable and robust are the e-bikes?

    Part of the joy of a bike is it's so simple* that there just isn't that much that goes wrong - add the electric assist and that simplicity starts to decline.

    *simple in the sense that most of the engineering is so well established and refined now that it feels simple

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    how much does the added complexity of the e-bike affect the basic repairs/servicing?

    My personal approach is that it's a bike and I can fix those bits. The electrics don't really get in the way except by making the bike heavier (the $40 Aldi workstand is going to be even worse with a heavy ebike than a lightweight road bike). If you can change tubes on a hub-geared bike you can do it on an electric bike.

    Anything to do with the electrical stuff I have a look for obvious things, then take it to the shop. Partly there's a few special tools that make things much easier, partly there's the risk of making an expensive mistake, and partly it's the impression I get that there's simple faults and time to replace something faults. The latter I can't fix, full stop. So if it's not simple, off to the shop.

    In the last 10 years ebikes have become established, solidly designed things. They just work. I get the impression from the kids at GlowWorm Sydney that 99% of their ebike repairs are bike mechanic stuff, the electric stuff is pretty reliable. But obviously you pay for that, their cheapest bikes are $AUS1800 or so. I suspect that if you bought a $1000 ebike you might have a different experience.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Logan O'Callahan,

    I quite fancy a bike with mid-drive, so the motor gets the benefit of the gearing when you're among the hills.

    To me, something like this mid-drive motor makes great sense:
    http://www.techbikes.nz/ebike-kit/

    It replaces your existing crank, and it has torque sensing instead of cadence sensing - so it just multiplies the power you're putting in. As it's already in the right part of the drive train this takes away complexity (no brake sensors or cadence sensors and their cables).

    I just haven't got the commuter need right now - but probably will by next year.

    Auckland • Since Jun 2016 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    Also, I rode the Gazelle electric assist bike a while ago and it was very nice. Just not twice-the-price nice compared to the Glowworm ones. You can definitely go further down the "clean up the cables" route and make it all look better integrated. But I'm an athlete, not an aesthete, so I look at it and go "meh, whatever".

    If I was going to spend more money I'd want something that goes faster instead. It annoys me that the assist has to cut out at 30kph, because for me right now the benefit of electric assist would be in commuting further in the same time. I can do the current 16km to work in ~33 minutes without sweating unduly on my lazy bike (a steel CX bike), but work is looking at moving ~38km away. If I could do 38km in under an hour by paying for an electric assist I'd be dead keen. But unfortunately that's hard. The mid-drive units that should be able to do that are all very carefully built to not work if the speed sensor is fiddled with. So we will probably have to move house when work moves, instead :(

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Moz,

    like you say, why wouldn't you have them?

    Feel, aesthetics, serviceability and weight, in roughly that order. With full acknowledgement that those aren't everyone's priorities (:

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to James Butler,

    Yeah, I became convinced after a very short time that disk brakes win on servicability. Both in the "service? I have to service these? I never realised" sense, and in the "oh, is that all" sense.

    The hoses on my Hayes hydros are the original ones from when I bought them in... 2001? I think they might have been bled once, maybe? My bleed kit has been used, but I'm not sure it was on the brakes I still have (I sold one bike that had them). I definitely had to put new pads in, I remember spending half a day looking through boxes of bike bits going "I know I bought spare pads".

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    And as a second question how reliable and robust are the e-bikes?

    Part of the joy of a bike is it’s so simple* that there just isn’t that much that goes wrong – add the electric assist and that simplicity starts to decline.

    I took my e-bike in for a checkup after a year, and there were no problems, and after two & a half years I took it in when the power failed on the way to work - that turned out to be a lose wire in the bottom of the battery case where it plugs to the frame, which the dealer fixed for free.

    Other than that, I haven't had a failure that required me to try to take the wheels off, but that looks a little more complicated than on my old bike.

    Re: Disc brakes:
    My wife dinged her front disc brakes putting them in a public bike rack that the front wheels slots into. I think she took them in to get replaced. As we weren't used to that fragility, we hadn't even thought to look out for the problem.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Stewart, in reply to James Butler,

    The 'feel' of disc brakes is WAY superior, especially a quality set of hydraulics. Weight difference is truly negligible, again quality is the key. And changing pads is a doddle, so not sure what the 'serviceability' issue might be.

    Pt Chev • Since Feb 2012 • 69 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Stephen R,

    Other than that, I haven't had a failure that required me to try to take the wheels off, but that looks a little more complicated than on my old bike.

    Compared to a regular bike, removing a driving wheel with a hub motor has one extra level of complexity - somewhere there'll be a cable connector, ideally weatherproofed, which you'll pull apart and later reconnect. The worst I've seen IMHE is three cable ties to snip off and later replace for a tidy job of securing the wiring back to the bike frame.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4590 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Richard Stewart,

    changing pads is a doddle, so not sure what the 'serviceability' issue might be.

    With an ebike it's likely that changing pads means removing the wheel, and that's a bit ugly. With v brakes you don't have to remove the wheel. The trade-off of changing pads more often, but more easily, might be worth it. Personally the second part of the tradeoff "and brakes that don't work as well, especially in the wet"... that's where I will go for disks almost regardless of maintenance. In my case, paying the premium for hydraulic brakes on my touring bike just so I don't have to change pads as often (an extra ~$50/brake seemed worth while).

    On my commuter it's five minutes in the workstand so I don't bother with hydros. And that's on a bike with a hub dyno on the front, and a Rohloff on the back. Albeit I find the Rohloff wheel removal no harder than with derailleur gears (which my lazy bike has).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Moz,

    If I was going to spend more money I’d want something that goes faster instead.

    Yes you don't get a faster top speed but you should still get there a lot faster because all the parts of your trip where your speed drops below say 20 kph you can use the assist to raise it closer to 30 kph. By using the assist to increase the low speed portions of your trip you should get a much better average speed.

    Unless you have a flat commute.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    all the parts of your trip where your speed drops below say 20 kph you can use the assist ... Unless you have a flat commute.

    Bart, this is hard. Being polite when you're ignoring what I've said before and assuming that I'm innumerate... that's hard for me.

    How about you do the maths and have another go? In order to cover 38km in an hour I can't afford to spend very much time below my current 30kph average speed without power assist. For every minute at 30kph I need to spend a minute at 46kph, and 46kph is hard going.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1176 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Moz,

    Being polite

    No worries Moz. I do realise you can't do 38 km in an hour without going over 38 kph.
    But I never said you'd be able to do it in an hour just that you'd be faster - unless you have a flat route with no low speed sections.

    Balanced against that is the extra weight of the bike which will lower your top speed. Either way if you need to do it in an hour you are gonna be sweaty.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    Compared to a regular bike, removing a driving wheel with a hub motor has one extra level of complexity - somewhere there'll be a cable connector, ideally weatherproofed, which you'll pull apart and later reconnect.

    Surely there must be a torque reaction arm somewhere which needs to be detached?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    If you're paying $2500 for the bike, paying for regular maintenance just makes sense. Of course minor tweaks can be done by oneself, tyres changed etc. But this thing is slotting into the space where a car usually goes, and it should receive increased diligence and professional care. You'll be doing big miles (for a bike) on it, and at high average speeds (for a bike). It's important that it's kept in good shape, considering just how vulnerable cyclists are.

    The economics to compare with are not those of a bicycle, they're those of a motor scooter. Would you try to fix the brakes or electrics on your scooter yourself? Not if it seemed difficult. This is your workhorse and you need it going tomorrow. You need it to pass muster at WOF time.

    Part of the joy of a bike is it’s so simple* that there just isn’t that much that goes wrong – add the electric assist and that simplicity starts to decline.

    This was quite a bit of why I'm back on pushbikes. I just don't find 10km a trip bad enough to endure the headache of thinking about batteries, and the few hundy that the bike is now worth means I don't have to make up reasons to ride it to get my money's worth.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10629 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to James Butler,

    Surely there must be a torque reaction arm somewhere which needs to be detached?

    I believe these are only really necessary on larger motors than are currently permitted on rego-free bikes. Most of my experience is with direct drive rear hubs with no internal gearing. Never seen a torque arm on one of those.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4590 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Richard Stewart,

    The ‘feel’ of disc brakes is WAY superior, especially a quality set of hydraulics. Weight difference is truly negligible, again quality is the key. And changing pads is a doddle, so not sure what the ‘serviceability’ issue might be.

    Imho, the feel is WAY WAY WAY superior. I remember doing a test-ride on a road bike a while ago and thinking the brakes were just ridiculous. Did not like at all after disc brakes.

    Also, being a normal person, I just have my brakes looked at during a periodic $40 service at Adventure Cycles.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I remember doing a test-ride on a road bike a while ago and thinking the brakes were just ridiculous. Did not like at all after disc brakes.

    When I first checked out e-bikes there were still a few models with front wheel v-brakes. Fortunately they seem to have pretty much disappeared. While I sometimes find myself holding back from overtaking a lycra lad out of concern for their feelings, I wouldn't be tailgating them if I had to rely on v-brakes.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4590 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I have to admit I haven't tried hydraulic discs. And I've never claimed to be a normal person - I like knowing I could repair/replace every bit of my bike armed with only a bottle opener and a toothpick.

    That said - if e-bikes had been more of a thing when I was riding from Mt Eden to East Tamaki and back every day, I probably would have bought one, discs and all.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Gregor Ronald,

    I bought that exact model in December 2014, after realising that the Christchurch easterly was destroying my enjoyment of cycling. In a year of biking (13km each way), I did 6500km - and filled my car 4 times.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 102 posts Report Reply

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