Electric Electra (250W Review) / September 2014

I bought a beautiful Electra Amsterdam (an Original 3i model) last year, from a Hispanic woman who said she’d bought the bike for her husband who never really used it much. Though the untrue front wheel told a different story – don’t pull a fast one on me, lady! – I immediately fell in love with its faux-European style and accessories, like the dynamo-powered bullet headlight  and the generous rear rack. I perceived a potential in this bike that was accentuated by the heavy steel frame, fantastic padded saddle and the comfortable crank-forward seating position.

I cycle as my main form of transportation, and so upon looking at the Amsterdam, I hastily evaluated its potential for heavy road use. Electra is known for their Townie line of bikes, an absurdly comfortable but not particularly speedy series of whips.

The only speed-minded feature on the Amsterdam is the 700x38c wheels it rides on. The Nexus Inter-3 hub, mated to a 19 tooth sprocket and a 38 tooth chainring, is really very slow, especially when I’m lugging around a lot of weight on the back. To that end, I’ve installed some accessories that make it more commuter-friendly. For storage, I’ve installed a pair of Wald 582 Rear Folding Baskets and a basic Craftsman toolbox zip-tied to the top of the cargo rack. These add a lot of weight to the already voluminous steel frame, meaning an ESGE Double Kickstand was next on the list.

Finally, I installed a 250W front hub electric motor kit sold by Clean Republic, which I really want to talk about. Cycling is great exercise, but using it for transportation on a daily basis throughout Miami’s busy streets and my ten-mile-plus journeys can get a little tiresome. As sad as it is, Miami – and many cities throughout the US – grew up with, and have ended up being very friendly towards, the automobile, making bicycle commuting a doable but challenging alternative.

This inspired me to consider ways of hybridizing the aerobic benefits of cycling with the reliable power of an engine. I initially considered a gas-powered bike, but was turned off by the dubious legality of them on the road. I wouldn’t want to attract police attention on my way to work and school.

So, I turned electric. With a 24V 4.4Ah Lithium battery, Clean Republic’s Hill Topper kit lets me glide along at about 15 miles per hour for a little less than 10 miles without pedaling. With pedaling, the combination of the motor and the Nexus Inter-3 hub fitted with a 19T sprocket and 38T chainring can get up to about 20 mph before spinning out above 100 rpm.

The kit is a fantastic addition that can be installed on any bike with 24″, 26″ or 700C wheels provided the front fork is made of steel and can fit the size and width of the motor. It foregoes fancy pedal assist and throttle mechanisms in favor of a simple button that fully activates or deactivates the motor, which makes sense given the motor’s low torque (compared to beefier 500W and 1000W motors). You won’t shoot out from a standstill despite the lack of an adjustable throttle.

While the kit has simplified short journeys (e.g. my daily one to the Metrorail station), neither the Inter-3 hub nor the 4.4Ah battery are designed for long distances. Shimano’s Inter-3 hub is typically installed on cruiser bikes, and Clean Republic calls its 4.4Ah battery a “Lithium Sprinter”. My plans to transform the Electra into a versatile hybrid vehicle include:

  • adapting a 30AH 24V LiPo4 battery from http://www.pingbattery.com to the kit for increased range (around 60 miles)
  • replacing the Inter-3 with a Sturmey Archer X-RD8 8-speed wide-ratio hub, which (according to Sheldon Brown’s Internal Gear Calculator) can get up 30mph on its highest gear at just 60RPM!
  • replacing the rear rack with a Wald 535GB
  • adding a Wald 257GB Multi-Fit rack to the front
  • adding bright LED headlights while removing the stem mounted bullet headlight and dynamo

Let me know what you all think! More reviews coming soon.

Watch Your Argument!

In my International Relations class, a discussion about foreign cultures’ perception of Americans was held where a few students issued the famed ignorance claim,  which stipulates that other nations find Americans ignorant,  selfish and downright stupid. 

My response to the claim: these students should never forget that despite the exponentially expanding Chinese economy and other detrimental factors, the United States is and has been a strong world power that affords a large portion of its constituents very many freedoms and privileges, such as the freedom to pursue their own economic future and maximize their economic potential. The United States is often ranked less than stellarly in indices ranking its education, its output in certain manufacturing industries and more, but if there was an index for the highest availability of raw opportunity, my gut feeling and my own experiences here – as an immigrant that came as the age of six and is confident that I can accomplish most anything I want – nearly assure me that we would be number 1.

How stupid are we for being Americans, I might ask?