FAQ

How long does the conversion take?

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I hear this question all the time only it is phrased a bit different. Our clients ask, “When do you think it will be ready?”  It would be a simple question to answer if all bikes were alike. The problem is they are not. Believe it or not, once a bike comes into our shop for conversion to an electric bike it may take anywhere from one to three days to complete. The reason for this is we work with the principle of, “No bike is finished until it is finished.” We never violate that principle and we never rush our work. When I asked one of our new mechanics try a few combinations on that cable routing until you are satisfied, he replied “most shops it is rush, rush, rush, your shop may take some getting used to.” This week, 3 of the new arrivals I quickly glanced over and thought “should not be too difficult.” The reality was each of the 3 bikes required 24 hours of shop time. However, each bike left the shop in perfect condition. One bike left with a lifetime guarantee that the battery we installed 2mm from the chain would not move!


So, the following question we hear is, “How do you make a profit if you spend 3 days on a build?” The answer to that question is simple and obvious: You do not. That is the way all businesses work. Sometimes you make money and sometimes you lose money. What we derive from the financial loss is the gaining of experience of building very difficult electric bike projects. It is because of our experience in converting all manner of standard bikes to electric we have become the largest electric bike conversion company on the West Coast.

What are Rivnuts and how do you install them?

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Rivnuts are small (5mm-6mm) threaded insets that are similar to those that are used on a bike frame to attach a water bottle cage. Some bike frames have a few and some touring bikes can have 10 or more. Rivnuts are used in many types of industries such as automotive and aviation. We use aluminum Rivnuts on aluminum frames and steel Rivnuts on steel framed bikes. To install Rivnuts takes special tools and experience in their use. 


Rivnuts are used when we install a motor brace. This done by installing the motor, attaching the motor brace, inverting the bike on the work stand, marking where we will drill, then removing the motor in preparation for the drilling and setting of the Rivnut.


First we drill a very small pilot hole to test the thickness of the down tube. If the material is satisfactory we proceed to step drill until we reach the size hole that will accommodate a 5mm inset. We then place the Rivnut on a device that will be used to place the Rivnut on the frame. If this is performed incorrectly, the Rivnut will spin in the frame. If spinning does occur and it cannot be remedied by further tightening with the installation tool then the Rivnut has to be removed and try again. If...the hole becomes enlarged greater than 6mm then do not go any further. Do not attempt to drill a second hole! At that point find another method of securing the motor.


The installation of Rivnuts takes the proper tools and experience. 

Why do you spend so much time cleaning bikes before converting them?

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We go through a three step cleaning process for three reasons. First, while cleaning your bike we are inspecting your bike. We are looking for anything that might make the conversion of your bike to an electric bike unsafe. We look for hairline fractures in the frame, loose or broken spokes, out of true wheels, bent frames, cracked dropout hangers, front fork drop outs, and many other things that might cause a problem once under power. The second reason is it does us little good to convert a bike to electric and have it shift poorly due to a rusty chain or a derailleur caked with grime. We want you converted bike to perform as if it were new. The third reason cleaning is important is because we want you to be pleased with the overall final product

Why does the BBSHD 1000 motor only work with 48v batteries?

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In 2019 the Bafang Motor Company in Suzhou China, changed the firmware on their BBSHD 1000 watt motor to no longer run on a 52 volt battery. The reason for this is the 52 volt batteries were damaging the controllers in the motors causing premature motor failure. In addition, battery manufacturers are requesting all sellers of the Bafang BBSHD to no longer use their 52 volt batteries on the Bafang 1000 watt motor. The battery manufacturers were not pleased being blamed for the motor failures. 


UPDATE:

We have been notified by Bafang (January 2020), that they are now producing their BBSHD 1000 watt motors to once again run on 52 volt batteries.

Should I charge my battery to 80%?

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It is a popular notion among electric bike enthusiasts that charging your battery to 80% capacity will increase the life of the battery. Is this true? Will taking my 48v 17.5Ah battery and charging it to 80% increase the life of my battery a whole whopping…something or other? Does it double the life of my battery? If I only charge my battery to 80% will it last 36 months instead of 35? The answer to this is simple: Who cares.


Why would I purchase a 48v 17.5Ah $600 battery that will give me the same range as a 48v 12.5Ah battery? In fact why would I purchase any battery only be told, “This is a really good, long range battery, that will last a long time…unless you charge it over 80%.” Oh my…I just purchased a battery that is a great battery with the caveat it is a crappy battery unless I use it at 80% of its potential.

At Island City Bikes, in Alameda California, we build electric bikes. Every day a client will walk through the doors with the same question, “How far can this bike go on a charge.” We have never been asked, “How long will this battery last if I only charge it to 80% of its capacity.” People inquire about range first and foremost because that is the most important fact regarding any electric vehicle. It is well known the number one factor preventing people from purchasing an electric vehicle is range anxiety.

Will charging you eBike battery to 80% make it last longer? Again, who cares. I never drink 80% of a glass of good wine, I never watch 80% of a good movie, I never read 80% of a good book, and I never….run out of battery life on a good ride on a sunny day because I always charge my battery to its maximum.

Do mid drive motors break chains?

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Chains break when force is applied greater than the weakest link of the chain. Every bike chain has its weakest link. This weak link sometimes will snap when an average rider is climbing a hill on a standard bike. Or, it may snap when a very heavy rider is pedaling hard up a steep incline. It is not the fault of the chain but it s the fault of the rider. When you break a chain your bike is sending you a message about your riding style. The chain is, and should be, the weakest point in the whole drive system. If your chain was super strong then instead of the chain snapping, the rear derailleur would be torn free from the rear hanger. It is a lot less expensive to replace a chain than a derailleur.


The same is true of the mid drive motor. If you break a chain you need to take a look at your riding style. For example, when you are climbing are in a low gear making it easy for the bike to climb? Or, are you in a high gear and the bike is lugging up the hill? If, at a dead stop, do you take off using the throttle while in the highest gear (smallest cog in the back)? A properly ridden mid drive electric bike will never snap a chain unless the chain is defective. We have built hundreds of mid drive electric bikes and have seen only one snapped chain. It snapped because the rider was heavy and he took off using the throttle while in the highest gear.  Under those circumstances the chain did exactly what it is supposed to do...snap before greater damager is done to the motor, rear derailleur, and derailleur hanger.

Rim Brakes or Disc Brakes

This is a brake caliper where the rotor was being pushed against it instead of the pad.

In 2015 I was the first racer in the Northern California Nevada Racing Association to race with disc brakes. Prior to every race I had to call the race director who in turn would call the USAC officials to gain a determination for me to race with disc brakes. Today it would hard to find a racer that does not use disc brakes in road races in the NCNCA. In racing, disc brakes provide two advantages over rim brakes. First, disc brakes keep heat from the tires on high speed technical descents. Secondly, disc brakes perform better in wet conditions. Disc brakes have their place in racing but do they bring any benefits to the electric bike rider? If so, do the benefits outweigh the negatives? 


Have you noticed all electric bikes have disc brakes? The thinking is that since electric bikes are heavier and can go faster they need disc brakes. A mid motor electric bike adds about 20 pounds to a bicycle. Does that mean anytime a cyclist gains 20 pounds they need to switch to a bike with disc brakes? Of course that is a ridiculous notion. The other argument is that electric bikes can reach speeds up to 28MPH and thus need disc brakes. In bike racing we would descend at speeds over 50MPH and rim brakes provided all the stopping power needed. 


The only reason electric bikes have disc brakes is public perception. This perception is not a result of marketing by electric bike companies but rather a perception by the general public. People have come to view disc brakes as superior to rim brakes when it comes to slowing or stopping a heavy and powerful electric bike. However, this is simply not the case and the use of disc brakes comes with many drawbacks. 


The first drawback to disc brakes on an electric bike is the cost. A bike with disc brakes costs around $125 to $500 more than the same make and model with rim brakes. The price depends on the choice of hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes. A bike with disc brakes require a wider frame, special hub, rotor, caliper, pads, hydraulic lines, hydraulic fluid, special brake levers, and a disc brake specific front fork.  


Another drawback are the brake pads. Brake pads on disc brakes wear out very fast! When these pads wear out it means a trip to the bike shop for replacement. Replacing brake pads in a disc caliper is not that difficult but for most riders it is an imposing task. If you have a heavy electric bike with disc brakes you can go through a set of pads every month.


 

Rim or Disc Brakes Continued

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Brake pads on all new bikes are called resin or organic pads. These pads are very soft and because they are soft they are also very quiet. Bike shops are quite aware you will not sell many on the concept of disc brakes if they squeal loudly each time they actuated. 


Organic pads on an electric bike will be gone very quickly. Metallic or sintered pads last longer because the resin compound in the pads are infused with bits of metal. These pads will last longer but they will squeal loudly in dry weather and even louder in wet weather. Also, they wear out the rotor (metal disc) much quicker than the resin pad. 


Rotors are more often bent than straight. 90% of all bikes we see, including new bikes, have bent rotors. A bent rotor means it will rub against the brake pad making a noise. We can adjust to get the rub out but in doing so you loose braking performance. The only cure for bent rotors is to use a very thick rotor like they do in automobiles and the weight of such a rotor would make it very unappealing. 


Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of the disc brake on electric bikes is the caliper. The caliper is the part that compresses the pads against the rotor. A hydraulic caliper is self-adjusting as it moves both pads at the same time and therefor the pads wear out at the same time. A hydraulic disc brake system requires no adjustment of the brake pads. A mechanical disc brake caliper, like the Avid BB5, has a static inboard brake pad that has to be adjusted by hand on a regular basis in order for the brake to function. This caliper is used on many electric bikes because it is very inexpensive for manufacturers to install. Failure to adjust this inboard brake pad will result in wearing the pad down to the point where the rotor is now coming into contact with the caliper! We see this far too often in our shop.


Rim brakes have been slowing and stopping bikes for over a hundred years. Rim brakes are easy to adjust, inexpensive, can lock up the wheel just as fast and secure as any disc brake, last a very long time, offer many choices of brake pad material, and there are no bent rotors, misaligned calipers, leaky hydraulic lines, or squealing pads, to worry about. 


The purpose of all brakes on any bicycle is to be able to come to a controlled full stop. Rim brakes do fine under this rubric and will do so without all the downside of disc brakes. If you currently have disc brakes on your bike they will be more than adequate with the provision you keep the brake pads adjusted and you are aware of their state of wear. 

Rim or Disc Brakes Continued

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A few concluding remarks on rim brakes. Problems with rim brakes are easy to spot, easy to diagnose, easy to correct and easy to replace. Here is a picture of a V brake, rim brake, with a bent pin. Even with this bent pin the braking power of the bike was was unaffected. The cost to replace both front and rear brake arms was less than $40. New brake shoes are less than $10 and will last over a  year. To know if you have adequate brake pads on a rim brake all you have to do is look at the brakes. If you have disc brakes it is very hard to know how much brake pad remains without removing the wheel, and then removing the brake pad from the brake caliper. 


Yesterday a man brought in his electric bike for service. He was telling me how much he loved his electric bike and that he uses it to commute every day to work. I noticed the rim brakes on the bike and said, "You ever have any problem slowing or stopping you bike with those rim brakes?" He looked at me like I had just ask him a trick question and said, "Non whatsoever."


In conclusion, if one always rides in a safe and controlled manner, both rim and disc brakes will provide adequate stopping power in all circumstances. 


Charging the battery

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Here are some of the steps in charging you battery:


Every battery we sell will come with a charger. When charging your battery for the first time be sure to charge it to 100% of its capacity. The battery can be charged while on the bike.


Step 1: Plug charger into the wall outlet. This will prevent a spark when you plug the charger into the battery.


Step 2: Insure the battery switch is in the off” position.


Step 3: Plug the charging cable into the battery.

At this point you will see a small red indicator light. When charging is complete this light will turn green indicating the charging process is complete. If you are not using your ebike charge the battery up at least once a month.


The best indicator of state of charge is on the side of the battery. There are three green lights and one red light. When all four are lit (three green and one red) the battery is fully charged. 


Caution:

Never let the battery or charger get wet while charging.

Never charge a battery unattended.

Never charge a battery overnight.

Always use the charger that came with the battery.

Be careful to never drop your battery

Do not charge at temperatures below freezing (32F).

Keep away from children

Why does my battery spark when I plug it in to charge.

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To keep a battery from sparking be sure to turn the battery off before charging. Always plug the charger to the wall outlet before plugging in the charger into the battery. Sometimes, even after following the above steps, a spark can occur. This spark will not damage the battery or the charger. 

Are eBike batteries made in China reliable?

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China is the number one producer of lithium ion battery packs in the world. They use the highest rated 18650 cells available including Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and LG. The number one reason why Batteries from Asia rarely fail is because they invest millions of dollars in manufacturing and testing equipment. There is not a single producer of electric bike batteries in the US that comes close to the volume and quality of eBike batteries produced in Asia. The future of electric cars depends on these same factories for the production of high-quality batteries, including Tesla. 


We explored the possibility of building our own batteries, here at Island City Bikes, but concluded that no matter how much we spent in manufacturing and testing equipment we would never be able to even come close to the quality and reliability of the batteries of those in Asia. Last year we sold hundreds of electric batteries and the failure rate of those batteries was zero! It was not luck of the draw…it is because we purchase our batteries from a company that produces thousands of batteries a month and has millions invested in manufacturing and testing equipment.  

Who do you buy your batteries from?

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Excellent question. For a full answer please read my  article on "Who built your battery?" For a short answer, Unit Pack Power has been suppling us with batteries since we first began building electric bikes. It is a very large company producing over 100,000 batteries a month. The failure rate of their batteries  is almost zero. As far as we are concerned you would be hard pressed to find a better battery anywhere at any price. 


What are the three classes of eBikes?

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The picture above provides the simple answer. When we build an electric bike we let our client choose what class they would like the bike to fall under. Often, our clients choose class 2 because they would like a throttle. However, they may not like the 20 mile per hour limit. On the Bafang system the user is allowed to remove the speed limitation from the motor vis the display on the bike.

What is "Hot Rod" Programing

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All 750 watt motors are legal for road use regardless of programing. Every Bafang 750 watt motor is rated at 25amps for its controller. It comes from the factory set at either 25 or 24 amps. To increase the power of a motor you would have to increase the amps of the controller which is not possible to do. However, you can decrease the amps. A motor that is set at its factory setting is called "Hot Rod" and a motor that has had its amps decreased is called, "For street use."

 The whole idea of Hot Rod programing is a marketing gimmick that is well known among all sellers of Bafang motors but only practiced by a few. 

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