There was a time when I would post pictures of every bike we converted to electric. While that was fun and people enjoyed seeing the progress of their bike being converted to electric I eventually was exhausted by the amount of work it required. I have decided to post a few builds that I think others might find helpful and one type of bike that I have found interesting is the recumbent. So, first up is a Rans Stratus recumbent bike
The recumbent bike is one of the cycling industries best kept secret. These bikes are super comfortable, very safe to ride, are beautifully designed, are very adaptable, and have many different accessories available to make every recumbent bike a custom bike. Also...they are a great deal of fun to ride.
It is incorrect to think that recumbents are only for those who cannot ride a "normal bike." First, there is no normal bike. There is no "one bike fits all" and for that we are thankful. We can choose a city bike, road bike, mountain bike, downhill bike, race bike, time trial bike, comfort bike, fat bike, BMS bike, single speed bike, trike bike, and even a recumbent bike. All of these bikes have merit and each of them meets the special requirement of a specific rider.
Our choice of bikes are based on our own personal reasons. Some choose their bike for vanity and others for function. I hazard to guess that the majority of us choose a bike more out of vanity more than function. We purchase a bike that appeals to us visually. We may like the style, the paint, the lines, the name brand, the country of origin, all of these being important in our purchasing decision. Did you know that Bianchi Bikes has a patent on a color called "Celeste", also known as Bianchi Green? Bianchi is the only bike that can legally use that color and it has become a very attractive selling point. I know...I bought one because I loved the color.
Back to the recumbent bike. The first time I rode a bike I thought, "Wow." The first time I road a 10 speed I thought, "Wow." The first time I rode a mountain bike I thought, "Wow." The first time I rode an electric bike I thought, "This is absolutely incredible." And, the first time I rode a recumbent bike I thought, "Wow...I wish I would have tried one of these sooner."
Alvin Carpenter, CEO
The Rans Stratus is a very long recumbent bike that has always been popular among "bent" fans. What makes it stand out among other recumbents is its size. It is significantly longer than similar recumbents. Because of its length, it is easier to ride and it is far more comfortable. The length of the steel frame provides some flex that acts like a suspension. It is designed for long rides such as cross country trips and centuries. It might be noted that this bike has been on production for quite a few years and is still a favorite among long wheel based recumbents.
Because this is an older steel framed bike one of the things we will look at closely are the welded joints. We are looking for any cracks that may have occurred over the years. Also, we will be inspecting the bike for rust at critical points such as the drop outs. If it is surface rust we remove it and use primer to halt any future rust. Sometimes we need to scrape away the paint to see how deep the rust has traveled. Surprisingly, even on these older frames we rarely come across rust that has resulted in corrosion that has ruined the dropouts. The worst case scenario is we would replace the front fork if corrosion has reached the point that would make the bike unsafe. A new front fork is not very expensive and we would at that time replace the headset which would prep the bike for the next 20 years.
Every bike goes through three stages of cleaning. After the initial stage we get to take a look at the bike in a more detailed manner. Are there any parts that need replacing? Some things will be obvious such as the chain, shifter, derailleur and cables and cable housing. Sometimes we choose to rebuild a component rather than replace it if the component is of such quality it is worth rebuilding.
We noticed a fair bit of surface rust. Rust of this nature does not effect the integrity of the frame but it is advisable to clean the rust off and touch up the frame with primer. We did notice the cables were run on the inside of the handlebars and not on the outside.
Now that the bike is on the work stand we can get a better look at the frame, wheels, cables, cassette, headset,, derailleur, and shifter. On this bike we also have two chain tensioners.The first thing we check is the chain for wear. To do this we use Park Took CC-2 Chain Checker. This tool measures the wear on the rollers on a chain. A new chain measures at .25 and a chain that needs replacing measures at .75 and beyond.
This chain passes the test. This is fortunate as it is a very long chain and would require two new chains. A bike has what is called a drive train and it is composed of a front chainring, chain, and rear cassette. All three of these have to work in harmony and all need to be relatively in the same state of wear. For example, when you put a new chain on a bike that has a worn out cassette and a worn out chainring it will be noisy and never shift correctly. Sometimes all three have to replaced.
This cassette looks new but it had rust on the 8th cog. The back of the cog was worse than the front and it has to be cleaned to the point the chain can sit on the cog without sticking. We removed the cassette and placed it in an ultrasonic cleaning tank for six minutes then gently scraped the rust free of the cassette. The picture above is the final result. It may not work but we will find out once the motor is in place. Electric powered bikes place a lot more power on a drive train than any rider and thus the drive train of any electric bike needs to be set up spot on.
As you can see this tire is in like new condition with hardly any signs of wear. To inspect a tire the tire has to be inflated. A bad tire can appear to be a great tire while on the wheel and under pressure. That is why every bike that we convert to electric undergoes a proper inspection. Remember, electric bikes we build can go 28mph at a sustained speed. To go that fast on a bicycle means you need very good tires.
And there you go. Once a tire is deflated, squeeze the sidewall and you will be able to determine the health of the tire. As you can see this tire needs replacing. A tube can last for many years but not a tire. Tires are consumables and should be replaced before they become a problem. With a motor on a bike weight is not an issue so we always use the most thorn resistant tires we can find.
This is an older Sram 9.0 derailleur. These were very good components and this one is no exception. We will remove this derailleur, clean it, lubricate each articulating joint, apply grease to the threads and reinstall. One of the areas of concern is the jockey wheels. We clean each wheel and look for excessive wear. These wheels can last a long time but they do wear out. In addition, sometimes we find broken teeth on the wheels. These two jockey wheels are cleaned and ready to go for another couple of thousand miles. We rub in WD 40 to polish the body of the derailleur. Looks great when finished.
This is a special tool we use to insure the chainstay of a bike frame is not misaligned. If the chainstays on a bike are misaligned then the tires, chain, cassette and chainring will all wear out prematurely. In this case you can see that the chainstay is misaligned. By manipulating this tool we can align the frame. This can only be done with steel, titanium, and aluminum bike frames. Do not attempt to straighten a carbon fiber frame.
A derailleur hanger is the part that holds the derailleur. If a bike falls over and lands on the derailleur it will bend the hanger. The hanger has to be straight or the shifting will suffer. We find this hanger to be bent on most of the bikes we see at our shop and this bike is no exception. If the hanger is bent just a small amount at the center of the wheel that small amount turns into a large amount at the top of the wheel. This tools allows us to see the degree the hanger is bent and allows us to straighten the hanger by pulling (or pushing) the tool to straighten the hanger. This is a very important step as it is not possible for a bike to shift properly as long as the hanger is bent.
This is a tool we use to install press fit bearings in a bottom bracket shell but it also works to determine if a bottom bracket shell is square in relationship to both side. When a motor is installed on a bike it is important the motor sit flush and square on both sides and often the bottom bracket shell is not square. Under human power it is not that important (it is of course but not as important). If the bottom bracket shell is off kilter it can cause the motor to sit at an angle effecting the chainline and can also reduce the life of the motor due to the misalignment.
This is a very expensive tool and is used to "face" bottom brackets and head tubes. If your bike shop does not have this tool then find another bike shop. All new bike framesets come with instructions telling builders to face the bottom bracket shell because most are not square. Most important...never install a Bafang motor unless the bottom bracket shell is perfectly square.
These are chain idler wheels and they manipulate the chain in order to provide proper tension so the chain does not bounce incessantly. Whenever you have a long unsupported chain you will need some type of tension system. We removed each one of these wheels and cleaned and lubricated them and then reinstalled. If the bearings seize the chain would drag across the rollers eventually wearing them out. These rollers will need replacing soon. There are after market rollers made by Terra Cycle that run around $100.
As you can see this wheel is damaged. I soaked both wheels in WD-40 and then lubricated the bearings and the wheel spins fine. The shaft is damaged and this wheel will need replacing at some point.
These wheels are running smooth.The silver roller at the top was frozen. I was able to remove, clean, lubricate and reinstall and now all works well.
Before installing the motor you first see if the cables (brake and shift) that run under the bottom bracket shell will be impeded by the motor. The motor is placed in the bottom bracket shell then rolled forward until it rests on the bottom of the downtube. Sometimes the motor will come into contact with the cables. This cannot be allowed to happen for two reasons. First, a cable housing that is compressed will cause the cable to work poorly. If it is the shift cable then the bike will never downshift correctly. If a hydraulic brake line is crushed the rear brakes will not work. A second reason is in the future a cable will need replacing but it cannot be done because the the housing is distorted. When installing a motor always think of how the next mechanic will service the bike.
Sometimes there is room between the bottom bracket shell and the motor housing to keep the cables where they were originally. Other times you will need to fin a way to reroute the cables. On this bike it was a simple matter to lift the cables to the top of the bottom bracket shell. Note: Shift and brake cables must be secured by cable stops or they will not work properly. If a shift cable is not anchored it will flex as you shift. A shift cable is not designed to flex and when it does it will make for very poor shifting.
The brake housing is being held in place by a Zip tie. It is fine to use Zip ties to hold cables in place but they cannot take the place of a cable stop. Remember, a shift or brake cable cannot flex when the brake lever is pulled. Where does the cable stop go on the frame? Squeeze the brake lever and see where the brake cable is flexing. In this case the brake cable was flexing near the brake arm. That is where the cable stop will go. On the shift cable, shift the gears and watch for any flexing of the cable.
Now when I squeeze the brake lever the only thing that moves is the caliper arms on the brakes. Perfect.
Since this is a 68mm bottom bracket shell the motor went in without any difficulties. It is secured by two 6M bolts, a fixing plate, a M33 locking bolt, and a locking cap. Securing a motor is one of the most important steps in converting a bike to electric. It requires a minimum of 60Nm of torque and must be done very carefully. In the interest of safety to our mechanics we use power tool to provide the needed force required to secure these powerful motors.
The rim tape on the front wheel is different than the rim tape on the rear wheel. Rim tape serves a very important function. Rim tape is a material that is used to cover the protruding spoke nipples. These nipples can and will puncture a tube if not covered by a high quality rim tape. You can have the finest puncture proof tire and still flat from a puncture within the tire caused by poor rim tape.
In my opinion, the best rim tape is made of fabric. The most familiar name among companies that make fabric rim tape are Newbaum's and Velox. Rim tape is relatively inexpensive, easy to install and will last for many years. Race bikes tend to go with a plastic rim tape as it is lighter. There are many very high quality plastic rim tapes that are available. Rubber rim tape is used on all lower grade bikes because it is the least expensive. The problem with using rubber for rim tape is the rubber rim tape sticks to the rubber inner tube and when the tube is removed for replacement it pulls the rim tape off of the spoke nipples. If the rim tape is not reseated the new tube will soon be punctured. This does not happen with cloth rim tape.
It takes ten seconds to remove a quick release for inspection but it is rarely done. A bent quick release can mean a damaged wheel axle so we take this as a serious matter. Any bent quick release needs to be replaced and the axle needs assessment for damage. On this bike the skewers are straight as an arrow. However...on the rear we found the conical spring damaged. Is this important? Yes, but not for a reason one would think. These small springs help center the skewer to make the inserting the wheel into the dropouts easier. A damaged spring will come between the wheel axle and the dropout causing the wheel to set at an angle. A wheel that is not fully in the dropouts cannot shift through the gears smoothly. Damaged springs must always be replaced. Again, the cost is minimal and they are easy to install.
To connect the motor to the battery we use Anderson Powerpole connectors. These connectors have been in use since 1981 and are the gold standard in electrical connectors. These two small silver contacts are made of silver plated copper and are crimped on by a special crimping tool made for Anderson Powerpole connectors. Here is my point...these connectors are expensive (as they should be given their quality) and therefore there are counterfeit Anderson Powerpole connectors available at a third of the cost on the internet. How can you tell the difference? Look at the silver plated copper contacts on the authentic Anderson connector and then look at the counterfeit. There is a visual difference and it is easy to spot. The counterfeit contacts are thinner and made of a different material. The link between the motor and the battery is essential and therefore the very best contacts and contact housing should be used to insure years of trouble free riding.
Here is a picture of the Anderson Powerpole set. On one side is a 45Amp contact coming from the battery and on the other side is a 25Amp contact coming from the motor. Once the contacts are in their corresponding housing they are snapped together. Notice the small red bridge between the two housing. This is a locking bridge. Once the locking bridge is in place the whole thing is encased in heat shrink where it is make to water resistant. Note: We believe the locking bridge is very important and should not be excluded. That bridge will keep the cable from being pulled apart in the event the cable is snagged by the riders foot or a branch.
Typically, when building a bike of any sort it is the responsibility of the manager to have on hand every necessary part required for the build. It seems there is nothing worse than removing a bike from the work stand and setting it aside awaiting parts. Sometimes it cannot be avoided. In this case we have ordered a rear rack that is specific to the Rans Stratus Recumbent frame. We use the policy that if there is a part that is specifically designed for a specific bike then try to get that part and not adapt a different part to the bike. Too many times i have heard the answer to my question "Is this the correct part for my bike?" and the reply is "No, but it will work." There are times when we have to modify a part in order to finish a build but when a component designed specifically for our conversion is available we think it best to order and wait for it to arrive.
The good news is the parts finally arrived and the bad news is there are still missing parts. However, we now have the rack and the two idler wheels.
The installation of the rack took about an hour. One would think it would be a simple matter but it is never simple. The goal of installing a rack is to have it parallel to the ground. That sounds like it would be obvious but you would be surprised at the number of rack installs we see that are sitting at an angle. Also, make sure to always use nylon lock nuts and not a standard bolt. Nylon lock nuts are difficult to use when they are small but (5mm) but it is the only nut that will insure the rack will rattle.
Rack is on, idlers are on, and while we wait for the final parts (Stainless Steel rollers) we turn our attention to the final details. IMPORTANT: Always replace rusty nuts, bolts, screws and anything else that shows age and corrosion. Rust is an iron oxide that forms in the presence of moisture and oxygen and this process is accelerated in the presence of salt, or salt moisture in the air. Above is a picture of a rusty fender attachment bolt. Eventually the rust on the bolt will spread throughout the fork. It is a simple matter to replace the bolt and save the fork.
On the work area of every mechanic there is a tray of nuts, bolt, screws, washers, and spacers. These are parts that have come off other bikes, new bikes, on parts we used but kept the extra bolts, and dissembled parts...the point is, we paid nothing for nuts and bolts so be generous in their use. We replace every rusty or missing bolt from this tray. How long does it take to replace missing bolts on a bike? Not enough to justify charging our clients and in the end we get a much better finished product. To be fair, I understand the necessity to charge for speciality nuts and bolts and parts that need to be cut off requiring special tools, and an experienced mechanic.
This brake appears to have been installed in reverse. This is a V-brakes (also known as a linear pull or direct pull brake) and is a very powerful rim brake. I believe this is a brake that is used on BMX bikes and was produced by Speedline. The arms on V-brakes should be more vertical. On the one hand, perhaps we should leave well enough alone but on the other hand we have to, as a minimum, find out why these brakes are set up as they are. Products are designed for safety and efficiency and when these products are used outside their design parameters both safety and efficiency go out the window.
Mmmmm...the centering adjustment screws are missing. All rim brakes have centering adjustment screws that all the centering of the brake pads. Back to my tray of bolts, nuts and screws. I found two small stainless steel screws that can serve as adjustment screws and were able to center the pads.
And, there you go. It took longer than expected but one has to realize the incredible diversity when it comes to bikes. In discussion with a client I mentioned I had converted over one thousand bikes to electric and he said, "Having built so many it must be quite easy for you." I started to correct him but chose to just smile and nod. Bikes are like Rubic cubes in that each one is a complex puzzle. Bikes constantly change and these changes may be newer innovations, or in geometry, material, size, components, routing of shift and brake cables, bottom bracket standards, all of these effect how we will apply our method of conversion. One year we might be able to convert a make and model in eight hours and the next year that same make and model might take 16 hours to convert to electric. This bike, the Rans Stratus is a beautiful example of a well made bike, frozen in time, awaiting repurposing into a powerful electric bike.
This bike rides incredibly well. I have often said the recumbent bike is the least understood and least appreciated bike on the market. First off, on this bike, you notice the comfort, followed by the stability. The stability and balance is unaffected by the power of the mid drive motor. Being low to the ground has a number of advantages over a standard bike. For example, it is impossible to go over the bars in the event of a fall or crash. Even at the speed that can be generated by the Bafang 750 watt motor this bike remains inherently safer than a standard upright bike.
As I bring the bike up to speed I noticed that it accelerates quicker and maintains top speed easier than an upright bike. This due to the fact there is less wind resistance on both the rider and the bike. Being lower to the ground also also adds the sensation of speed that one would never get riding a standard bike.
This build took a little longer than planned but we were pleased with the results. Sometimes working with a bike that has seen a lot of use or a bike that may be a bit old, we can run into the problem of frozen nuts, bolts, stems, bottom brackets, crank arms and pedals. However, with this bike we were fortunate in that everything was professionally assembled by skilled mechanics in the past. Then there is always the question of parts. Recumbent bikes have a loyal ridership that tend to keep their bikes for a long time. Therefore there are companies like Terra Cycle and Utah Trikes and a few others that continue to make aftermarket parts for these bikes. We built this bike during the Covid pandemic, which caused a bike boom, which in turn depleted the bike industry supply of parts. This made it very difficult to find the simplest parts. In the end, the only part we could not source was a rear tire. Before the pandemic we had tires aplenty and now tires are as hard to find as a silver penny.