I have received hundreds of emails from people wanting to build a hybrid electric bike. I have a standard response that attempts to dissuade them, which seems to work pretty well: You will have to spend about $1,400 on parts, excluding the bicycle. When it breaks — and it will break — you will be on your own to fix it. If you are not a reasonably fit cyclist and expect this bike to perform like a scooter, you are going to be disappointed.
This generally takes care of the technically challenged chain smokers looking for a cheap scooter. I don’t hear back from most, other than maybe a thank you note. If you have to ask for help, you probably shouldn’t be building one.
I designed a battery holder for my bike that I can mass-produce in my shop and keep a small inventory on hand. If someone can convince me that they know what they are doing and just want a battery holder and parts list, I’ll sell them both via PayPal. This isn’t a business that I want to expand. I make these holders for the fun of it. It’s a hobby, like building birdhouses. As soon as a competitor shows up on the internet (and one may be there already), I’m out of the business. One guy who convinced me to sell him one blew a fuse in a battery a few weeks later and broke rule No. 1 when he came back to me for advice. Turns out that he didn’t know how to use a voltmeter, which means that he probably didn’t own one.
A potential investor interested in producing these bikes also approached me not too long ago. Rightly or wrongly, I think I managed to talk him out of the idea as well.
First, there are the liability issues. Any company producing a vehicle that puts flesh-and-blood customers in close proximity to half-crazed commuters trapped inside armored tanks has to be large enough to survive lawsuits.
The company would also need to be large enough to deal with repair issues, the way power tool, computer, and car retailers do. A competitor making the same bike in China would crush a manufacturer in the U.S. In short, the company would need to be large enough to open up factories in China. The existing electric bike manufacturers tend to fit that profile. They could sell a lot more bikes if they performed like mine.
Finally, this company would have to change government regulations. I imagine this is much easier said than done. Today, electric bikes (legal ones) must be mechanically limited to 750 watts and 20 mph. Imagine cars being limited to a 100 horsepower engine and a device that turns the engine off if you exceed the speed limit. Electric bikes are also banned from most bike trails. Government just doesn’t take biking infrastructure seriously. Saving the planet isn’t going to be easy.
I have built a few of these bikes for people I know, or officially, they built them with my assistance. The above picture is one of them. Building a bike now and then with someone while drinking beers is fun — building them for a living would be something else altogether. Interestingly enough, one guy took off with it before I could brief him on its operation and managed to disable it three times in a few days.
First he blew the fuse leading to the battery. I had deliberately installed an undersized one so he would learn to use the throttle carefully. Next, he didn’t realize that if discharged too far, the Dewalt charger would reject a pack as being damaged. When the charger rejected one, he rode around with just two packs instead of four, which doubled the current drain on them, thus blowing the 15-amp fuse in another. I managed to repair that battery easily enough, but he had to replace the other one when I determined that a repair wasn’t feasible. I feel like the repairman in my favorite movie, Brazil, who rappels into high-rise apartments to fix broken appliances. Not being licensed to do so, he is labeled as a terrorist and pursued by teams of heavily armed police.
I was riding along yesterday when I noticed a gaggle of teenage boys on a street corner. I thought I’d give them a thrill and goosed it while hugging the curb. I could hear the Doppler effect on their hoots and hollers as I crested the hill. Just planting a meme. Anyone interested in joining me in a Critical Mass ride can drop me a line at the email address listed with my profile.