Electric Commuting Bike

I need exercise, and bicycling is my preferred mode of exercise: you get a breeze, see the scenery change, and it is easier on my feet, which have had medical problems in the past.

I have logged several thousand miles on bicycles, mostly in my youth.  In recent years, it just hurts too much.  Specifically, I can't lean on my wrists and hands for more than about 40 minutes without tingling, pain, and numbness.  I can't lean on my hands.  This makes the Raleigh Supercourse racing bike I bought in 1970 superfluous.  

I tried to fix this by purchasing a touring bike with very upright positioning, and almost no weight on the handles.  Couldn't do it, even with all the extenders. It doesn't help that I have long legs, and need the seat up high for proper peddling.

Besides, they teach you in "back school" to maintain a neutral position in your back posture.  (Back school is the training they give you along with various treatment following back problems.)  Lumbar support is good. Leaning forward on a bicycle, it is hard to reach and maintain a neutral position.

I decided to do something about this after reading an article in the New York Times on a new breed of electric bicycles.  In their best form, a battery and motor assist you when peddling. They come with various rechargeable battery types, lithium ion being the best (God made lithium for batteries:  six to seven baryons per electron, and that electron has a whopping three volts.) Typical versions weigh about 20 pounds altogether, and supply 250 - 350 watts, about half a horsepower.  (Some are promising 700 watt versions, which is more than I want.) These things can help you reach up to 25 MPH for 20 to 40 miles. The coolest ones will charge the battery via regenerative braking.

"Why would you want an electric bike?"

My new commute is about twelve miles through some lovely country including Harding Township and Madison.  It has some modest hills, and a few narrow, somewhat winding stretches.  My concerns are:


Clearly, what I need is a recumbent bike. Alas, recumbents came and went a couple of years ago, and I missed it.  They are hard to find, especially on the east coast of the US.  There are quite a number mentioned on the Net, but recumbents are weird, and you really want to try them out.  It would be nice to have a local bicycle shop help out with all of this as well.

I tried three shops within a four hour drive of home, and all three were out of business.  Not good. So I tried Plan B: find one that seemed about right, and see if a local shop would order it for me. I chose Marty's Reliable up in Morristown and, for the bike, selected an Easy Rider recumbent from easyracers.com. It didn't seem to be too weird, had a nice seat and back support, and the right position for my hands. Marty ordered one, and I have ridden it for a few days.  

The bike is certainly low-slung, and it doesn't handle like the bikes I know and love.  It is long, and has small wheels with a sort of chopper front.  To turn, you lean more and steer less.  My early attempts at hill climbing had me wandering across the road in a sine wave.  I steer a bit like a young kid on a bike. But I had my first shot at the bike paths at Loantaka today, and it was great.  I am getting the hang of the steering, and it is especially great on flat surfaces.

There are some problems at this point.  On level ground I am typically using the third highest gear.  When going downhill, I can't peddle fast enough to add any energy.  This is not good, considering that the motor will increase the downhillness of the world.

It is unclear how fast I am going, compared to my old bike.  There's less wind resistance, and I am working more efficiently, I think.  Am I going faster?  Tomorrow I think I'll move my speedometer over to the new bike.

Dave suggests that the default gears are simply incorrect for the 20 inch rear wheel.  Certainly I want a larger front gear so I can still add energy when going faster. Marty should be able to help here.

The Easy Rider strikes me as a little small and flimsy.  I'd prefer something about 20% larger, perhaps with butted (not welded) joints.  But maybe they don't do that any more.  There are more expensive models in the line, which might be a better choice. It was possible to move the seat waaaay back, more than I needed for my long legs, which is good: the bike fits perfectly.

And what about the electric motor?  There are several brands out there, most of them small-time operations trying to keep up with this very popular idea.  (Hey Prius owners: this is a real hybrid!) I picked a top-of-the-line BionX, which comes out of Quebec.  The order is in.  The delivery time remains to be seen. I hope it is much less than a couple months, since we are having perfect weather for bicycling these days.


I can afford to spend a fair amount on this.  If the bike works out, I can beat the gut back and improve my health.  Our gym membership costs a lot, and I rarely use it. I am willing to spend thousands on this, if it is likely to work.  The Times article discussed a bike from Colorado that cost over $5K.  That's too much.

The Easy Rider is about $700.  The motor, fully loaded, with the best battery, is $1700. This is less than I originally expected, by a little bit.


This is the first web page I have prepared using TextEdit on the Mac, with rich text.  I have always used sam and created raw HTML by hand.  This was easier.  I hope it works out.