Sunday, November 12, 2017

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

I know this is a motorcycling blog, but I want to review of my latest electric bicycle. The question behind this review is, can you make an affordable, reliable, long-distance touring ebike?

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 can imagine how somebody felt a century ago, fitting a petrol motor to their bicycle to make a motor cycle. There's a pioneering feeling to making ebike, even though in my case it was like 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 it is my second kit from Daniel. When buying my first kit from Daniel (for building 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 once!" My research convinced me that a mid-drive motor was the way to go for reliability, range, and torque through the mountains. The Bafang is the most popular mid-drive motor, which means parts and know-how are readily available. 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 motor cycle:

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.


  1. Great report! Did you use front panniers to balance the weight of the battery?

    1. Thanks George. Yes, that's why I placed the panniers at the front. There was no negative affect on steering, and the bike felt well-balanced.

  2. Inspiring report, thank you. I hope soon to emulate your rides but in uk. BTW, I ofen use large double panniers on the front. Seems to give 'on rails' stability.

  3. Great report. Thanks! I am considering an electric bike and I am considering one of Pirez's 750W models. Your report answered most of my questions, but I do have one remaining question:

    When a 750W bike is set at 250W is it street legal?

    1. Thank you. No, it's not street legal. One consequence of that is that I no longer commute on the bike (my commuting is on shared paths) - a collision with a pedestrian would be bad, but many times worse on an illegal vehicle! - although I commute on a normal bike anyway for the sake of fitness.

  4. Thanks for such a fabulous read. I stumbled across your report by accident and I was suddenly taken back home riding with you, I was sorry it ended. I’m in Sydney now but born in Horsham and raised in Nhill. I know the roads well. Thanks so much

    1. Thanks Brendan! I've since moved to Maryborough, built a better bike, and hope to get out that way more often. Great country!