Sunday, November 12, 2017

Long distance touring electric bike review: Pirez's Bafang BBS02

I know this is a motorcycling blog - one which I have neglected - but I want to share a review of my latest electric bicycle. The question behind this review is, can you make an affordable, reliable, long-distance touring electric bike? Secondly, who should you buy from. I answer these questions in terms of my experience.


So I did not buy a complete electric bike, rather I fitted a kit to a normal bike. This is still the cheaper route, and it allows you to build something that suits your specific desires. Furthermore it is great fun! I imagine that this is how somebody felt a century ago, fitting a petrol motor to their bicycle to make a motor cycle. There's still a pioneering feeling to making ebike, even though for people like me it's really a case of bolting together Meccano.

The motor I have used is a Bafang (or 8fun) BBS02B 48V 750W mid-drive, with two lithium ion 48V batteries, one 26ah, and one 20ah for back up. I bought all of this from Daniel Pereira at Pirez Electric Bikes & Stuff. The bike is a Reid Granite 1.0. But first, let's take a step back. This is my fourth ebike, and my second kit from Daniel. When buying my first kit from Daniel (for my third ebike) I wanted something legal for commuting through the city (i.e. 250W), which was reliable enough for light touring, and which had a warranty and after-sales service. As a friend of mine always says, "Buy well...but once!" My research convinced me that a mid-drive motor was the way to go for reliability, range, and torque. The Bafang is the most popular mid-drive motor, which means parts and know-how are no problem. So I narrowed my options down to two sellers in Australia, and decided that I would go with the one in my city of Melbourne: Daniel. That kit was a BBS01B 36V 250W with a 36V 14ah Samsung battery. I paired it with a Pashley Roadster 3 speed, for a hint of vintage motorcycle:


I commuted for a year and few thousand kilometres without problems, aside from a lose crank arm which once which, re-tightened, never came loose again. I have had no warranty issues, but I have found Daniel's service excellent, with him answering questions quickly and going out of his way. The battery gave about 70km to a charge. I did some light touring on this bike, for example from Melbourne to Warburton one year into ownership, where I climbed some mountains in the area and was greatly impressed by the power of the motor despite the limits of the bike's gearing. It was on that tour, however, that I realised that I wanted a more versatile bike, capable of dirt, with better gearing for mountains, and above all much greater range.

After some reflection it occurred to me that I might increase my range on my new project, by buying a bigger motor mated to 48ah batteries, and running it at lower power. For example I might use a 750W motor at one third its power, equivalent to 250W. Daniel was helpful with my questions and so I followed through on that design. I bought a new bike from Reid Cycles in North Melbourne, suited to both road and dirt touring, and spent a few hours putting it all together. As with the first kit assembly was easy, and perhaps foolishly - without adequate testing - I soon took a week off work and embarked on a long tour through the Wimmera and Mallee.

This is a ride I do once a year by motorcycle, so I was looking forward to seeing the beloved landscape in slower motion. The first day I caught an afternoon train from Melbourne to Castlemaine - there are bike spaces in the carriages - and rode the 20km rail trail across to Maldon. The trail itself is well worth doing even as a day trip: have lunch in Maldon and then ride back to Castlemaine and catch the train home. The next morning, however, at 9:45AM (good luck sleeping in the pub during a musical festival!) and after a relaxed breakfast in town, I pointed my new ebike north-west and began peddling. I had 180km ahead of me for the day, with an Air BnB booked in Murtoa that night, just outside of Horsham.



There are plenty of hills throughout the gold country, as there would be throughout the whole trip, and at 250W the bike handled them with ease. An electric bike is still a bicycle - you still pedal - it is not a motorcycle - however the motor removes 50% of the effort. This means that hills flatten out, headwinds merely slow you rather than exhaust you, and you cruise along the flat effortlessly at 25kph. And so I did. There was still effort involved, but it was pleasant at all times. I know what it is to do multiple centuries through these hills on a normal bicycle, something which I enjoy, however that is exhausting by day's end. Ebiking is not about sweaty achievements, it is about pleasure. It occupies a third space between my bicycle and motorcycle.

The day wore on, with me riding at 250W and about 20-25kph depending on the hills. By early afternoon I was sitting in St Arnaud having ridden 100km, with 80km left to go. As I sat there, sucking on a paddle pop, it occurred to me that I had used only a third of only one of my batteries...after 100km! Success, this is a bike that can be ridden for hundreds of kilometres in a day - many more kilometres than I would want to ride. 200km is my limit for sitting on a bike, and this ebike can achieve twice that if need be. Then, as I continued to lap up the sugary goodness of that paddle pop, another thought occurred to me: I could safely raise the power assistance, for a faster, easier ride. I said it would not happen, and yet here I was, seduced by all that power!

And so I turned west and raised the power to 500W. In this mode I had an easy afternoon, fatigued only by sitting in the saddle for so many hours. I cycled on back roads - this is the only way I enjoy being on roads on a bike - and cruised on and on without hassle. My speed was only a little faster, but it required even less effort. Eventually it was getting dark and I reached Rapunyup, only 25km for my destination for the night, and there, finally, at 160km, after riding at 500-580W for the last 60km, the 26ah battery ran out. So I hooked up the second battery and rolled happily into Murtoa.

The following days were wonderful, but I won't go into much detail. The next day I rode from Murtoa to Horsham, to Natimuk, then through the Little Desert National Park - which was glorious! - and up to Nhill for the night, close to the South Australian border. That was 120km, at 400W, at 20-25kph, using only the first battery. The next day, Tuesday, I rode 140km using the same specifications, from Nhill, through Jeparit, and Rainbow, to Hopetoun for the night. On the Wednesday I rode 140km, 120km of which was on the first battery (despite being in the Mallee, it was a hilly landscape, and I also put in less effort due to the heat and unshaded sun), and stayed with family in Nyah for two nights. The final day, Friday, saw only 35km down to the train at Swan Hill, which brought me back to Melbourne. I had planned to ride on Friday and Saturday, for 220km back to Bendigo, but I was put-off by the predicted 34 degrees on those straight roads lacking shade.


The motor and batteries cost me just over $2000 from Daniel, and you can fit it to any bike you want. Coming from motorcycles, this is an absolute bargain. My only modifications were Shimano ebike cranks, and soldering larger Anderson connectors between the batteries and motor, in both cases because of the demands I plan to put on the bike for touring. Would I do anything differently? Well, the Reid is a fine bike, but I may change to a plus tyre mountain bike with a more upright position and greater dirt capabilities, but then perhaps not - it is a fine basis for a touring ebike. I will swap the handelbars out to trekking bars because I want to sit more upright and be more relaxed, which you can afford to do when a motor is assisting you. But with respect to the kit itself? The motor and batteries are great. No complaints, they give me the confidence and inspiration to plan many more tours. Of course this little voice in my head says, what about a BBSHD 1000W, fitted to a fat bike, for silent long-distance dirt riding? We'll see....


In summary, for a little over $2k, plus bicycle, you can build an ebike capable of travelling many more kilometres in a day than you would want to do. I can plan any tour involving 200km days without any "range anxiety" at all. Of course that means not running the bike at full power, but 25kph is more than enough for me; I have a motorcycle if I want to go faster, and this is about absorbing myself in the peace and quiet of the landscape. I am a daily cyclist who enjoys getting out on my normal touring bike, so as mentioned I know what it is to be tired on a ride, and there really was none of that at any point on this tour. Nor did I feel the need for rest days. You can ride without exhaustion for mile after mile, until eventually your body just wants out of the saddle, but your legs and heart will be fine, as though you've taken a leisurely walk. This meant I could focus on being a tourist and taking pleasure in my surroundings.

My first ebike travelled 10km on a charge. I used to dream of greater possibilities, and today that's a reality. Affordable, reliable, long-distance electric cycling is here, now.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

First big bike

A friend emailed me these photos last night, of me and my first "big" bike from a decade ago, my Yamaha SR185 (after riding for years in the city on a postie).




That clothing, along with a helmet and 1970s gauntlets, was my riding gear. Below is a photo from one of my first rides into the countryside - you can see the SR in the background.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Bullet on Reefton Spur

A sunny afternoon, surprisingly little traffic, and putt putt putt through hundreds of kilometers of winding roads out east. Wonderful!



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Redesdale

Oftentimes I let the ride flow past, and into the past, without photos. But here are my two latest.

Today I rode to Redesdale for lunch on the Royal Enfield. I returned to Melbourne by a motley of routes, some sealed, some dirt.


It is Autumn, a wonderful season for riding. This is especially so on a Bullet. I meandered down this dirt road at 30kph, trying to absorb the space into myself, so that I might carry it within me like a light during the week.


Last Sunday I rode to Yea, then Ruffy, then to a friend's farm near Strathbogie. Again this was done on the Bullet. My new Royal Enfield is quite simply the best motorcycle I have ever owned. It is gutless, twice as tiring on day rides, and I worry about it in ways that I never do with a Japanese bike. But nothing else has the character, nothing else soothes the soul, nothing else gives abundant joy, like my Bullet.

I ate lunch at the Red Plate cafe while surrounded by bikes.




I made a friend on my way home:


Monday, January 26, 2015

Tasmania on a Royal Enfield Bullet, 2015

I dreamed I was back in an old job. The aggressive clients were more abusive than ever, and we therapists were more micro-managed than ever. I was looking at a large, wall-mounted screen, on which my every movement was numerically recorded and assessed for efficiency. And then a noise from a caravan outside woke me, and I realised I was in a different job, and was at that moment on holiday in Tasmania.

That was the first morning, after arriving the previous evening on the ferry from Melbourne. It was the beginning of a holiday which is now a yearly pilgrimage; you might remember this and this. The difference on the current trip is that I fulfilled a longing and rode a Royal Enfield, purchased  new and just in time for the journey.

I had woken from my dream in Somerset on the northern coast. It was summer but the day resembled a temperate winter as the joy of my single cylinder engine rang out across the hills. I wound through bend after bend west of Cradle Mountain. The air was crisp, the light soft, the world lucid and kind. Greener and greener it became, moving from farm hills to mountains which were dense with forest and ferns.



Later that day the land dried out by degrees as I descended the western mountains, out onto the undulating plains of the midlands. 


On and on, at dusk I arrived in Nicholls Rivullett where I would be staying the fortnight with my father and his wife. The Cygnet Folk Festival was in full swing and the town was transformed during those initial days. Soon it quietened however and I settled into my daily round, of motorcycling and reading and drinking coffee. Every day I would do this, enjoying the local roads many of which skirted the ocean.



I took along Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, a long novel which I read slowly over the span of the trip, finishing the day before I returned. It is full of delicious descriptions of food, eaten on lazy days by the ocean, a description almost of my own experience.


I would sit by the ocean reading this book, my bike beside me, local fruit in my napsack. Some days the sun shone, some days it rained, and on others a moody atmosphere hung - the sea dirty and frustrated, splashing at my feet.


I had intended to write, and did edit this older piece after the sad events just prior to my leaving, but mostly I lived the passive life. 

This is the view from my father's deck, looking across the mountains:


It changed from day to day as I drank red wine and read or thought or imagined.


I often sat on the Woodbridge side of the coast and watched the boats go by.




My God, the roads in this area are a joy to ride on a Royal Enfield. I felt perpetually in a scene from Heartbeat. Many of the roads are single lane and weave past farms. At times I had to dodge sheep, tractors, and encroaching black berries. Everywhere I stopped people came and spoke to me about the bike, many of them non-riders who loved its 1940s looks. 

One afternoon I sat against the church in Cygnet, reading my book in the shade. I took the photo below while sitting there, and it shows the main part of the town, which is more like a village. A fellow walked past and asked what I was reading. It emerged that he knew Murdoch through philosophy, which is also how I first knew her. He, Michael, then told me how he had been involved for many years in federal politics and diplomacy under Hawke and Keating including as diplomat to the international criminal caught in the Hague, and how he had become late in life a priest. On the same day that I arrived in Cygnet Michael did too, to commence at his new (and probably last) parish. All this was told to me as we sat on his kitchen chairs, which he had pulled onto the lawn as we spoke, and while drinking the tea which he brewed for me, and which we drank while sitting there in the sun, in an old rose garden.


I was to meet many different people. The next daywhile returning from Southport I wanted coffee. I pulled up at an olde English tavern only to find it closed. A girl on the verandah directed me in broken English to an adjacent building. It looked closed. I pushed open its heavy door and stepped into a wall of marijuana smoke and loud folk music. I had stepped into a den of French hippies. They were clustered in groups drinking, smoking, some playing pool. There was a bar which looked like a druggie's lounge room, and a barman who suggested he could boil an espresso coffee pot for me. He did, with a ten shot espresso pot, and handed me a pint mug filled to the brim with those ten shots.

On other days I did not ride but instead adventured onto the water. I canoed through Cygnet bay among moored yachts, and on another day journeyed out onto deeper seas.





But mostly I rode, read, ate and drank, my feet dangling over the edge of rocks above the waves.



On my second last day I traveled north through the midlands and finished Murdoch in an 1820s convict cemetery.



After consuming a wallaby pie for lunch, I headed further north via Bothwell and up through the lakes district. I was alone in this landscape and the Bullet motored along joyfully, never skipping a beat, making me happy in its pulsating beauty.


The landscape changes so much up here. The sky is pure, the landscape untouched and inviting.





From high up the valley below spreads like a map.



I stayed the night at the Poatina Chalet, a left-over 1960s lodge in a left-over worker's village in the mountains. This was the view from my bed.


A view which changed constantly:



In the morning it greeted me.


I spent my last day riding a loop which took me slowly back to Devonport and the ferry. I overtook tourists in the twisty mountains and the Bullet proved adept, the torquey engine pulling away lustily and sounding like a 1920s machine gun.




I caught the ferry in the evening. It was, as usual, a wonderful two weeks, which as usual left me wondering why I live in the city. I had put 2,500km on the Bullet, taking it to over 5000km, and it performed flawlessly. Why did I not buy one of these years ago. This is the best bike I have ever ridden.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Nyah, Christmas 2014

We make pictures in our minds, fantasies of future rides, and then we mount our machine and reality comes to resemble the picture. Of course it is a resemblance only, and only in the barest outline; the lived details differ from the initial image, but nonetheless it is the idea which brings the ride into being. I needed to go north. After a series of bad events at the end of 2014 - trauma and loss - I needed to be washed in silence and heat. The inexplicable and debilitating migraines I experienced just prior to Christmas were diagnosed as the result of heavy grinding of my teeth in my sleep - a new experience for me - such was the stress! So I spent Christmas Eve and Boxing Day on a motorcycle, riding my Kawasaki W650 through the burnt paddocks of the gold fields of central Victoria and then into the Wimmera, and finally the Mallee where I stayed at Nyah by the cool, silent waters of the Murray River.


I stretched the days out, choosing back roads and small towns. I purchased books in, and explored the buildings of, Dunolly.


Further along I discovered that the books had fallen out of my torn saddle bags. I retraced my steps but to no avail. Hopefully somebody has rescued a battered copy of Peter Carey's excellent True History of the Kelly Gang, which was purchased for a dear friend.

I stopped often.



This view reminded my, somehow, of Andrew Wyeth's painting, Christina's World.



On Christmas day I wandered about Nyah paying attention to old shop windows.


And sat on the river. In the afternoon that day I received news that a close friend had died. And so I spent some time here. There is a healing element in the slow heavy water of the Murray, which has seen so much and which brings life to these arid places.


On Boxing Day the W650 turned over 80,000km. I purchased it at 20,000km. It has been a wonderfully reliable bike, and I would gladly purchase another. As it stands I intend to keep this one for the long haul, rebuilding the engine when necessary. From all indications that 'necessity' may be in the distant rather than near future.


I stopped in Quambatook and peered through dusty windows into abandoned shops and garages, with their dust and pigeon shit and tales of other times.


At Korong Vale I composed this text to a friend:

There are no sounds in Korong Vale, save the wind blowing dust over rusty roofs, and crows in the distance. There's no milk bar, no general store or petrol station. Aside from a passing farm-ute every half hour, Korong Vale appears to have a population of 3, and they're not particularly talkative. Cricket on a TV is heard from behind a screen-door in the empty main street, which has buildings - mostly empty - on one side only, the other side being a paddock and disused railway. Which all together makes it incongruous that I am sitting in a Thai restaurant - the only customer - waiting for my prawn noodles.



Further south I stopped at the Melville caves,



and at the site where was found the biggest gold nugget ever, near Moliagul.


I continued ever southwards through warm weather, arriving toward evening back home in Melbourne. I would have to return to work for two weeks, but with the knowledge that a fortnight of motorcycling awaited me ahead in Tasmania. Motorcycling can be deeply therapeutic, when it is not simply joyful and exciting. My pleasure in it never seems to abate.