The poor UW–Madison professor with 6 kids (my father) had to be very frugal. Somehow, he got to know Mr. Schwinn, the president of the Schwinn bike company, and it was a rite of passage for each of the kids in our family to get a full-size single-speed narrow-tire Schwinn bike for the first Christmas after our 10th birthdays. For me, the year was 1950, which means I’ve been biking now for 72 years.
62 years later, after retiring from a 30-year career at NASA on the East Coast to Lindon, Utah, I was poking around a bike store in Lehi, Utah, in 2012 when I noticed two Cannondale electric bikes. The owner had picked them up at a trade show and they weren’t even for sale because there was no warrantee on the European bikes in the US. However, the owner let me take one out for a demo ride. A short distance from the bike store was a very steep bike trail. I was immediately sold on e-bikes. I quickly learned that e-bikes solve the three worst problems of bicycle riding: 1) Pedaling up steep hills, 2) pedaling into a stiff headwind, and 3) Riding too hard and getting too sweaty on a longer ride.
In 2004, I purchased my first of five electric bikes, an Emotion Erace rear-hub-drive with hybrid tires. Not long afterwards, I made my first complete Alpine Loop, starting at my house up the killer grade past the Sundance Ski Resort, over the 8000 ft summit, around Mt. Timpanogos, and back to my house on the Murdock Canal bike trail for a total of 40 miles. I nearly died the one time I did it on a regular road bike.
My second e-bike was a fancy Swiss Stromer rear-hub-drive mountain e-bike with front shocks and hydraulic disk brakes. My Stromer e-bike died after three years. I wasn’t willing to spend $2000 for a new battery and motor, so I abandoned it. My third was an iZip step-through mid-drive beach e-bike with no suspension. From that bike, I learned that mid-drive bikes let the motor take the mechanical advantage of rear derailleur, and the iZip bike climbs like a mountain goat even though it has only 7 gears.
At this point, I was looking for a mid-drive bike with full suspension and managed to snag a demo Bulls brand EVOFS AM 45 mid-drive Class 3 full suspension mountain e-bike at Salt Lake eBikes for only $3000. A Class 3 bike has motor assist up to 28 mph. The Bulls bike changed my life. I was soon riding 20+ miles per day practically every day in summer and winter and soon riding fairly difficult single-track off-road trails in Utah, Wisconsin, California, and North Carolina. The full suspension even makes riding on blacktop trails and highways smoother and more enjoyable.
Mountain e-bikes are quite heavyand I don’t like putting a bike carrier on my Tesla and lifting the bikes on for my routine rides. Therefore, I love riding right out of my garage. In a couple years, I put 8,000 miles on my Bulls bike before wearing out the motor. This is where the subject of maintenance rears its ugly head. In my first 62 years of bike riding, I barely spent a cent on maintenance except for buying inner-tubes and fixing flats. That brings up the issue of flats 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 specially designed the thorns there to go through bike tires. I fixed a lot of flats. I learned to never ride my road bikes off the blacktop and onto the grass and dirt where the thorns grow. I also learned that slime-filled inner-tubes greatly reduced the number of flats.
On my high-quality road bikes, I also learned about chain stretch. If you let your chain stretch too much, you not only need to replace the $20 chain, but you have also ruined the $100 rear cassette. You need to get a chain-gauge and learn how to use it regularly or have your chain checked every 1000 miles at your local bike shop.
On my mountain e-bike, I also learned the importance of chain lube. You need to buy a high-quality wax-based chain lube and lube your chain every 50 miles.
At 8000 miles, I had burned out the Brose motor on my Bulls bike. Brose is a very well-known brand of mid-drive e-bike motors used also on expensive Specialized e-bikes. However, from my experience and the expert advice of Kurt at IBB bikes in St George, Utah, they are not the most long-lived e-bike motors. Brose may have improved its reliability by now, but otherwise stay clear of Brose motors. The Brose motor on my Bulls bike started making funny noises when I was riding in Northern Wisconsin and finally quit on me. A 200-mile round trip to the nearest Bulls dealer in Escanaba, Michigan, revealed that the motor would need to go back to Brose on the West Coast for repairs. I estimated that I would be without my favorite mid-drive mountain e-bike for at least a month. It actually cost me 6 weeks and over $1000 to replace the Brose motor.
I couldn’t do without my favorite bike that long, so I came home with a wonderful Class 1 full-suspension mountain mid-drive XMF 1.7 sport e-bike made by Fantic. Class 1 bikes have motor assist only up to 20 mph, but they take much less effort to reach 19 mph than my Class 3 bike. This bike also had a drop seat and represented the new prevalent design of mountain bikes, with a 29” front wheel to go over large rocks and logs more easily. It also had no front derailleur, but now had a 12 gear cassette in the back. The bad news: I didn’t have time to shop around and the bike set me back $6,000.
I hadn’t learned my lesson about chain stretch, and the bike started skipping teeth on the rear derailleur cassette at only 2000 miles. By the time I took it in for repair, I needed a new chain, new front chain ring, and new rear cassette. The total cost was over $200. I surmise that with the new narrower chain to fit the 12-speed rear cassette, the chain needs to be replaced more frequently.
Derailleur and Derailleur hanger repair. Riding on a wooded single-track trail in Northern Wisconsin, I rode over a thick, short stick. The stick was propelled up into my derailleur and snapped off the derailleur by 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 which attaches 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 that you have one handy and don’t have to wait too long when you need it. The derailleur was also damaged by the flying stick, so I was again out over $200 for the repairs. At another time, not long afterwards, I broke off the derailleur by hitting a big rock on a single-track trail in St. George, Utah. Moral of the story: 1) Be very careful and ride only slowly over sticks on a wooded trail. 2) Be very careful not to let your derailleur strike a rock on a rocky trail or a log on a wooded trail.
Battery maintenance: How to make your battery last. Like electric car batteries, you will extend the life of your lithium-ion bike battery by keeping the state of charge between 20 and 80%. Unlike my Tesla, where I can set the charge limit to 80%, I am unable to do that with my bike battery. It is also a small 0.7 kWh battery compared to the 72 kWh battery in my Tesla, so replacement will cost only ~$800 compared to ~$15,000. Bottom line: I charge my bike battery to 100% regularly, but I try not to run the battery below 20% when I finish my ride.
Avoid cold weather battery storage: I leave an e-bike in Northern Wisconsin for the whole winter. Temperatures there often reach -20°F. Lithium-ion batteries may not do well when left at cold temperatures for a long period of time. I have had one e-bike battery that has survived multiple winters in Wisconsin without damage. I have had other e-bike batteries that have lost significant capacity over the winter.
I will be 82 years old this summer, and I have a joke: I have balance issues stemming from a water ski accident 5 years ago, so if I’m walking over uneven ground, I do a good impression of a 90-year-old. However, for some reason, balance is not a problem on my bike and the electric motor assist makes up for my weak legs, so I feel like a 20-year-old when I ride my e-bike.
No wonder I love riding my mountain e-bikes 16 to 22 miles at least 6 days a week year round. In the winter, I bundle up with snow pants, layer up with three fleeces under a yellow shell, put ski gloves on my hands and a balaclava under my helmet, and I just keep riding unless it’s raining or the temperature drops below freezing.
Bike Trail Maintenance
Recently, Three Lakes (Wisconsin) has been subjected to a couple severe wind storms. Many roads were blocked and there are fallen trees, limbs, and sawed up trees littering the sides of the roads. I have a 20 mile route that I love that has about three miles of single-track trails through the woods. That three miles had about 20 fallen trees blocking the trail. In Figure 3, you see me with my bike carrying a backpack with a bowsaw and a powerful set of branch clippers. In 5 trips, I have managed to clear about 18 of the 20 fallen trees. I can cut through trees up to about 6 inches in diameter with the bowsaw, and clip branches up to 2 inches in diameter. I definitely wish I could carry a chainsaw, because there are still two huge trees about 12 inches in diameter blocking the trail which I will have to walk my bike around until I can find someone who can carry a chainsaw on a bike.
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