Electric Bike Maintenance: What I’ve Learned in 8 Years (Avoid the Mistakes I Made)

Poor UW-Madison teacher with 6 kids (my dad) must have been very frugal. Somehow he got to know Mr. Schwinn, the president of the Schwinn bicycle company, and it was a rite of passage for each of the kids in our family to get a Schwinn bicycle. full-size single-speed narrow tire for the first Christmas after our 10th birthday. For me, it was in 1950, which means that I have been cycling for 72 years now.

62 years later, after retiring from a 30-year NASA career on the East Coast in Lindon, Utah, I was snooping around a bike shop in Lehi, Utah in 2012 when I noticed two bikes Cannondale electrics. The owner had picked them up at a trade show and they weren’t even for sale because there was no warranty on European bikes in the US. However, the owner let me take one for a demo ride. A short distance from the bike shop was a very steep bike path. I was immediately sold on e-bikes. I quickly learned that e-bikes solve the three worst problems of riding a bike: 1) Pedaling steep hills, 2) Pedaling into a strong headwind, and 3) Riding too hard and sweating too much on a long ride.

In 2004, I bought my first of five electric bicycles, an Emotion Erace rear hub with hybrid tires. Shortly after, I did my first full alpine loop, starting from home up the kill incline past Sundance Ski Resort, up 8,000ft, around Mount Timpanogos, and back home. on the Murdock Canal Bike Path for a total of 40 miles. I almost died the one time I did it on a regular road bike.

My second e-bike was a rear hub drive Swiss Stromer mountain e-bike with front shocks and hydraulic disc brakes. My Stromer e-bike died after three years. I wasn’t ready to spend $2,000 on a new battery and motor, so I gave it up. My third was an iZip mid-drive beach e-bike with no suspension. From this bike, I learned that mid-drive bikes let the motor take the mechanical advantage of the rear derailleur, and the iZip bike climbs like a mountain goat even though it only has 7 gears.

At this point, I was looking for a mid-drive bike with full suspension and managed to snag a Bulls-branded EVOFS AM 45 full-suspension class 3 mid-drive demo mountain e-bike at Salt Lake eBikes for just 3000 $. A class 3 bike has motor assist up to 28 mph. The Bulls bike changed my life. I was soon riding over 20 miles a day virtually every day in summer and winter and was soon riding some pretty tough single-track off-road trails in Utah, Wisconsin, California, and North Carolina. The full suspension even makes driving on paved trails and highways smoother and more enjoyable.

Mountain e-bikes are quite heavyand I don’t like putting a bike rack on my Tesla and lifting the bikes for my routine rides. Therefore, I like to ride right out of my garage. In a few years, I rode 8,000 miles on my Bulls bike before the motor wore out. This is where the subject of maintenance comes to the fore. In my first 62 years of riding, I barely spent a dime on maintenance except buying inner tubes and fixing flats. This raises the issue of apartments in Utah. At this point I was riding one of my two road bikes, one an excellent quality Specialized bike and the other a Motobecane carbon fiber bike with Shimano Di2 electric shifting. My joke about riding road bikes in Utah is that God made the thorns there specifically to go through bike tires. I have repaired many apartments. I learned never to ride my road bikes on asphalt and on grass and dirt where thorns grow. I also learned that drool-filled inner tubes greatly reduce the number of flats.

On my high quality road bikes I also learned chain stretching. If you let your chain stretch too much, you not only have to replace the $20 chain, you’ve also ruined the $100 rear cassette.. You should get a chain gauge and learn how to use it regularly or have your chain checked every 1,000 miles at your local bike shop.

On my mountain e-bike, I also learned the importance of chain lube. You should buy a high quality wax based chain lube and lubricate your chain every 50 miles.

Figure 2: Me and my Fantic mid-suspension e-bike in front of our Tesla Model 3. September 4, 2021. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

At 8000 miles I had burnt out the Brose motor on my Bulls bike. Brose is a well-known brand of mid-drive e-bike motors used on expensive specialty e-bikes as well. However, in my experience and expert advice from Kurt at IBB bikes in St George, Utah, these are not the most durable e-bike motors. Brose may have improved its reliability by now, but stay away from Brose motors. The Brose motor on my Bulls bike started making funny noises when I was riding in Northern Wisconsin and eventually gave up on me. A 200 mile round trip to the nearest Bulls dealership in Escanaba, Michigan revealed the engine would have to return to Brose on the West Coast for repairs. I estimated that I would be without my favorite electric mountain bike for at least a month. It actually cost me 6 weeks and over $1000 to replace the Brose motor.

I couldn’t live without my favorite bike for so long, so I rode home with a beautiful XMF 1.7 Class 1 full suspension mountain sport electric bike made by Fantic. The class 1 bikes only have motor assist up to 20 mph, but it takes a lot less effort to get to 19 mph than my class 3 bike. This bike also had a flip-up seat and represented the popular new design mountain bikes, with a 29-inch front wheel for easier passage over large rocks and logs. It also didn’t have a front derailleur, but now had a 12-speed cassette in the rear. The bad news: I didn’t have time to shop around and the bike cost me $6,000.

I hadn’t learned my lesson on chain stretching and the bike started skipping teeth on the rear derailleur cassette at just 2000 miles. When I took it in for repair I needed a new chain, new front chainring and new rear cassette. The total cost was over $200. I guess with the new chain narrower to fit the 12-speed rear cassette, the chain needs to be replaced more frequently.

Derailleur and derailleur hanger repair. Rolling on a wooded single-track trail in northern Wisconsin, I rode a thick, short stick. The stick kicked into my derailleur and came off the derailleur breaking the derailleur hanger. Most e-bike equipment on an e-bike (brakes, shifters, suspension, etc.) can be handled and repaired by a regular bike shop. However, the derailleur hanger that secures the derailleur to the frame is a specialty item for that frame and must be ordered directly from the manufacturer. It would be wise to order one ahead of time so you have one on hand and don’t have to wait too long when you need it. The derailleur was also damaged by the flying stick so I again lost over $200 for repairs. At another point shortly after, I broke the derailleur hitting a large rock on a single track trail in St. George, Utah. Moral of the story: 1) Be very careful and only go slowly on poles on a wooded trail. 2) Be very careful not to let your derailleur hit a rock on a rocky trail or a log on a wooded trail.

Battery maintenance: How to make your battery last. Like the batteries of electric cars, you will prolong the life of your bicycle lithium-ion battery by maintaining the state of charge between 20 and 80%. Unlike my Tesla, where I can set the charge limit to 80%, I can’t do that with my bike battery. This is also a small 0.7kWh battery compared to my Tesla’s 72kWh battery, so replacement will only cost ~$800 compared to ~$15,000. Conclusion: I regularly charge my bike battery to 100%, but I try not to run the battery below 20% when I finish my ride.

Avoid storing the battery in cold weather: I leave an electric bike in northern Wisconsin for the whole winter. Temperatures often reach -20°F. Lithium-ion batteries may not work properly when left in cold temperatures for a long time. I had an e-bike battery that survived several Wisconsin winters without damage. I have had other e-bike batteries lose significant capacity over the winter.

I will be 82 this summer, and I have a joke: I have balance problems from a water ski accident 5 years ago, so if I walk on rough ground, I make a good impression of a 90 year old man . However, for some reason balance is not an issue on my bike and the electric motor assist compensates for my weak legs, so I feel like I’m 20 when I ride an e-bike.

No wonder I love to ride an e-mountain bike 16-22 miles at least 6 days a week all year round. In winter, I bundle up in snow pants, layer three fleeces under a yellow jacket, put ski gloves on my hands and a balaclava under my helmet, and I keep riding unless it rains or the temperature drops below zero.

Maintenance of cycle paths

Recently, Three Lakes (Wisconsin) was subjected to some severe windstorms. Many roads have been blocked and fallen trees, branches and sawn trees litter the roadsides. I like a 20 mile route that has about three miles of single track trails through the woods. Those three miles had about 20 fallen trees blocking the trail. In Figure 3 you see me with my bike wearing a backpack with a bow saw and a powerful set of loppers. In 5 trips I managed to clear about 18 out of 20 fallen trees. I can cut trees up to about 6 inches in diameter with the bow saw and cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter. I really wish I could carry a chainsaw, because there are still two huge trees about 12 inches in diameter blocking the trail that I will have to cycle through until I can find someone who can carry a chainsaw on A bike.

Figure 3: Me and my e-mountain bike with a backpack carrying a bow saw and mowers for trail maintenance. Camp Hasler in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. May 17, 2022. Photo by Fritz Hasler.


 


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