Easy Street Recumbents

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You do see the sledge hammerIt has been a while since I had a chance to talk over some new products in the shop. This may be old news to some. Sorry if some of this is “long attention span theater.” Just read until you are bored.

TerraTrike EVO-Bosch:  Last year, TerraTrike introduced their first version of the Rambler EVO, a trike with a factory-installed electric conversion kit. Despite a few rapid price hikes during its first months of availability, it remained a good deal on an electric trike. I had some disappointments with the design. Though TT created an elegant mounting system for the battery, we still didn’t have a frame that was really built from the ground up, ready to mount a battery like you see on more finished upright e-bikes. No biggie. I was concerned about the Falco motor they spec’d since, as a former Falco dealer, I’d had a few problems with these systems. TerraTrike used simplified, pre-programmed control software intended to avoid all the fussy fidgeting with motor parameters that ate up a lot of my time. OK, we’ll see. Once we started getting EVO’s out on the street, we had some complaints from big people with steep hills that the motor didn’t have the torque to get them up their worst climbs. Hmmph.

Lately, my greatest fears were realized and TT got reports of motor systems doing some unpredictable things. This was my experience from my days selling Falco kits. TT asked us to stop selling the EVO, leaving both them and us with expensive, but unsellable inventory sitting on hand.

But, good news… the revised EVO has arrived with a Bosch motor system. Like the Shimano STEPS system we’re seeing on ICE and AZUB trikes, this system replaces the crankset, not the rear wheel. This means you lose your front derailer, but with an electric assist your low gears are much less important. It gives greater low-speed torque, so for the critical business of getting you up the worst hills, it is better suited. Since it doesn’t affect your rear wheel, you have a greater number of choices in transmission. The new EVO-Bosch comes with a plain old 8-speed derailer, but we’re working on them to pair the Bosch motor with a NuVinci continuously-variable transmission which has proven to be such an effective combination with the STEPS systems we’ve sold on AZUB trikes.

Once again the price went up, since the Bosch system costs more than Falco, but you get what you pay for. We’re expecting a retrofit kit for the lower-priced Falco system so we can clear out our remaining inventory of that model, and I expect we will focus on the Bosch-equipped EVO’s. More about that as we start playing with the new systems. I wish TT had used STEPS since we know it better, but here comes another learning experience for us.

Bionx crumbles: I tried to stay optimistic about a revival of Bionx, our Canadian e-motor supplier, but I’ve lost heart. We’ve liquidated our remaining inventory, mainly to existing Bionx customers to get them reserve parts. Much like when BikeE went under 18 years ago, I’m reluctant to create new dependent customers, even at a discount. I want to support what I sell.

The big question is “what next?” We need a reliable e-motor conversion system.

  • I don’t see myself picking up Falco again. See my article on the EVO above. Hub motors offer great versatility, but I’m not looking to go down that path again.
  • With “mid-drive” motors like STEPS and Bosch delivering better climbing torque, and with bike component design catching up with this new innovation, I’m ready to embrace mid-drive motors. I was strongly resistant to earlier systems for recumbents that actually had the motor at “mid drive,” halfway back on the frame. I didn’t like seeing the motor, with all its torque and force, bolted haphazardly onto the frame of the trike in some place that the frame maker never intended for torque to be placed. Mounting the motor at the crankset makes sense. STEPS would be my choice, but like Bosch, it requires the frame to be built specially for the purpose of holding the motor. “No problem,” I think, since on most trikes nowadays that just means a re-designed boom, not a whole new frame. Unfortunately, the trike makers aren’t helping. AZUB will sell us STEPS booms, so no problem. ICE only wants to sell STEPS booms with new trikes and won’t let us do a retrofit. TerraTrike has thrown in their lot with Bosch. Hopefully I’ll be able to get Bosch TT booms for retrofits on newer TT models (no dice for Rover or older Tour models). Catrike has been keeping a low profile. They doubtless have something planned, but so far, they are no help.
  • There is a whole zoo of retrofit mid-drive kits, which is the most likely replacement. Bafang is the one most people are familiar with. These replace the crankset on any trike without needing special frame fittings. Currently, no company selling these is set up like Bionx was – which was to specifically support dealers like me. I can do like many online dealers do and track down someone in China and have them ship me a pallet-load of them, but that isn’t what I’m looking for. We’ve talked with some Bafang retailers about giving us a small discount and selling the kit for a competitive price, charging for installation (we never needed to do this with Bionx which sold at a more respectable margin). There are many other companies making similar things, but they are all sold direct to the consumer online. Several customers are waiting for me to decide on something, but I remain the same plodder I’ve been since 1996.

When I finally make up my mind, I’ll let you all know. But if I am going to sell a product, then I’m damn well going to support it. I’ve been fiddling with and using e-assist for nearly 20 years now, and I know about the range of quality and the problems which can arise. I’m not going to put my stamp on something without demonstrated quality and manufacturer support. More on this as it develops.

TerraTrike Gran Tourismo: TerraTrike’s new flagship trike is establishing itself as a popular model, as it should. It isn’t their most expensive offering, which suits me fine. TT has always been, in my mind, the trike for the masses and it is good of them to put their focus at a lower price point in their range. And best of all, the way the GT comes shipped makes it easy for us to offer a range of colors and spec level without having to special order. We can get you the GT you want quickly.

I’ve not much else to add about that. It is a good trike at a good price. You have to ride it to see if it is really for you, but offering that service is why we’re here.

Lightning Phantom: One of my favorite 2-wheelers has received an upgrade. The Phantom now comes with hydraulic disk brakes standard, as well as better tires. Yes, the price went up, but that’s how it always goes. On the flip side, I’ve still got some older model Phantoms and I can cut a deal. Talk with me directly if you are interested.

Adventure HD with STEPS: We’ve sold a few STEPS systems, but finally got a demonstrator model on the floor. This means we also have the scaled-up Adventure “HD” model permanently in the showroom as well. As an ICE demonstrator, we’ll be able to rent this out for people considering a purchase who want to see if it will carry them up that godawful hill in their neighborhood. I haven’t gone through and priced that yet, but as usual rentals would be 5% of retail for a 24-hour overnight rental, or 2.5% for an afternoon “get it back today” rental. ICE has gone insanely cushy on the Adventure seat. This company does nothing by half-measures.

More Electronic Gizmos: Mike Librik (me, that is) is this low-tech guy who just wants to see your bicycle run forever. He is not into sophisticated electronic gizmos, even though many of his customers are. So I hire people like Ron and Micah who are more gee-whiz than I am.

So it is with a sort of reserved professional enthusiasm that I tell you that new Cateye Sync lights can be synchronized and controlled through a smart phone app, or through each other. You can also monitor battery levels in the lights through the app. I’ll have to go get one of those smart phones some day. I’m still getting over buying the laptop computer. Never mind that SkyNet, or the Cylons, or the HAL 9000, can now turn off your bike lights from some satellite somewhere when you are trying to cross a busy intersection in the rain at 2AM during the lush rush. I’d better just let you call Micah and ask him about this.

Speaking of gee-whiz electronic gizmos, the Cycliq cameras (“cyclic?” “cycle IQ?”) have either a headlight (the Fly12) or taillight model (the Fly6), and they store the last few minutes of riding footage. Why do this? While we’d like to assure you that motorists and cyclists always co-exist in mature harmony, this isn’t always the case. If you are harassed on the road, you will wish you had some evidence, and now you do. Indeed, if you are hit by an irresponsible driver who then flees the scene, you really need evidence. Cycliq cameras also have a security alarm that will complain if the bike is moved with the alarm active, and it will “bluetooth” connect to your phone to alert you, if you are in range.

Well … I surprised myself.  Didn’t know I had that much to say about the newest gizmos, but there ya go.

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