The "Not on this trip" Converted Bike Fridays - Grampies' World Class Local Tour - CycleBlaze

October 11, 2021

The "Not on this trip" Converted Bike Fridays

My incidental mention of converting our Bike Fridays to use air flight legal batteries seemed to trigger a wave of interest, even though the conversion is a project for use in the next tour, not this one.  Questions have abounded, so I thought I would give a very brief into to the topic sooner than later - like, now.

Ebike conversion is an even geekier topic than general ebiking. What's more, ebike use has been seen to be a controversial topic in cycle touring circles. I am putting this stuff in here, but if you have doubts about ebikes you should skip on to soon read something about our gear packing and soon the  first actual World Class day of the actual tour!

Some insightful questions came from Trish Graham, and I tried to give the basic background to her in an email. I am reproducing much of that email below. For some the content will be trivial and for some gobbledeegook.  I am sure our actual experience with the conversions, when that happens,  will have a lot more tricky content to it. Let me know if you think you would like to see that, or if this material is quite enough, thank you!

The key to air travelling with an ebike is the "LiGo" battery, developed by Grin Industries in Vancouver.  Airplane regulations restrict lithium batteries on board to 100 wH each. A typical ebike battery is 400, 500, or 600 wH, hence the problem. But LiGo's are 98 wH. We bought 6 each. When you go on the plane, they are just a pile of not connected to anything 98 wH batteries. But at the destination they snap together like Lego and plug into each other. We bought bags to go behind the back seat, that can actually hold 10 connected LiGos, they say. Other than the LiGo's, the main electric parts for the bikes will be Bafang. Unlike Bosch and Shimano, the Bafang stuff is generic, meaning that it can plug into the LiGo's without problem. You could not put LiGo on an otherwise Bosch bike, for example.

Dodie and Max from the bike shop examine how LiGo's snap together, and what bag they could fit in to.
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About the Grin web site (ebikes.ca), Justin the founder is an engineer and he makes everything more complicated than it needs to be. That's why we sought help from our local bike shop. Also really only the LiGo batteries are unique to Grin. The other stuff, or stuff like it can be obtained lots of places

One possibility to  avoid questions of what motor to get  and where to place it, the drive train, the control console, etc. etc. is to find an appropriate bike locally  and to just adapt it to take the LiGo batteries. But most shops sell really slick ebike models with built in batteries and proprietary motors. So maybe the answer is to start with a nice regular bike and to ebike convert it.

I that light, there still aren't all that many parts to decide about. Here are some hints about each of them:

The motor can be one placed in either the front or the rear hub, or it can be a centre drive.  Bosch and Shimano have really slick very built in looking centre motors, but these are proprietary systems. Hub motors seem much simpler and more common on a retrofit. Between front and rear, we first chose front, thinking to balance the weight of the bike, but rear is closer to the batteries, and other parts, making for fewer messy cables strapped to the frame. With rear, the gears will definitely have to be derailleur, but that should not be a problem. The motor does not need to be big and strong. A little, nominally 350 watt motor is fine. Typically you get the motor already laced into a wheel, so what you end up actually buying is an electric wheel.

The motor laced into a rear wheel. Our cost for this will be $347 - the most costly bit outside of the batteries. The controller shown is about $250. Ebike parts are not cheap!
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The controller is a little box that talks to the motor and to the control console up on the handlebar. Sometimes the controller is built in to the motor so you don't see it, but normally you need to get this little box and it gets strapped on somewhere. Of course the connectors and the whole thing needs to be compatible with the motor and the console.

The console is the thing on your handlebars that allows you to control the assist level, and that gives you your speed, your battery level, distance travelled, current assist level, etc. The one from Grin, that they call the Cycle Analyst, is ridiculous - with twelve screens of data. But the one from Bafang, that we are getting, is very complete but also understandable.

The bottom bracket arrangement, where the pedals connect, requires a little thought. The system wants to see what you are doing with the pedals, in order to provide the correct amount of boost. In the simplest case, it only wants to see that you are pedalling, so then it will turn on the amount of boost level you have requested at the console. Next simplest wants to see that you are pedalling, and how fast. Both of these are called cadence sensors. We think these are lame. What we like is what the Bosch centre drives use - torque sensor.  With this, the system looks not only that you are pedalling, but how hard you are pushing. The harder you push, the harder it pushes. This gives the most natural feel

The battery. LiGo's cost about $175 each, so 6 come to over $1000. But that is the standard price, around here. We paid $1200 for the 400 wH Bosch  battery we put on Dodie's system when we brought her bike back from Netherlands, having had to leave the battery in Paris.

The throttle. You do not want a throttle! With a throttle, what you got was a scooter, not a bicycle!

As I was typing this, a friend came over, and I explained what we are trying to do, with these travelling bicycles and batteries. He responded with the reasonable question of why not just rent an ebike at the destination? To test this solution, I typed "ebike rental Malaga" into Google. The first thing that came back was ebikemalaga.es  These folks have a nice looking Dutch style ebike for rent  for basically 15 euros per day. So that would be 900 euros for a 60 day trip. 900 euros is about 1/3 the cost of buying or retrofitting an ebike. So if you had 2700 euros to spend, getting three tours from it might not be so bad? Dodie, I must say, hated this suggestion. She wants her own bike, fitted and set up her way, not some dumb rental. 

Comments anyone?

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Kathleen JonesInteresting geekiness there, Grampies.

I put a Tong Shen torque-sensing motor on my trike at the mid-drive. I’m pretty happy with it. At least I was, until my wife bought her own trike with a rear hub drive. She seems to get a lot more power from her 48v drive than I get from my 52v/750w drive. She also gets to keep all 27 of her gears whereas I now have nine. My 11yo trike looks very road-weary compared to her shiny-new trike.

About the throttle: My wife got one, and I say go ahead and get a throttle if you need one. At least in our case, you can’t just switch it into place and go. You have to manually hold it on for however long you need it. That keeps the e-assist different from a motor bike.

Can you tell me the weight of the LiGo batteries?
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1 year ago
Sue PriceVery interesting reading, Steve! One day we may have to give in to the siren song of ebikes (we see so many on our rides around town) and this makes the choices very clear. I agree with Dodie - I prefer my own bike that is set up the way I like it! Looking forward to seeing the finished products!
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Kathleen JonesThe LiGo's are 1.3 pounds each. They are 201 x 74 x 21 mm (whatever that means!). ok, ok, that's 8 inches by 3 inches by .8 inches.

For reference, a Bosch Powerpack 400 battery weighs 5 lb 11 oz. The equivalent in LiGo's would be 5 pounds 3 oz - so a bit lighter, somehow.
On the other hand the LiGo's need to go into a bag, which weighs something.
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1 year ago
Scott AndersonIt sounds right to me to buy your own bikes rather than rent when you arrive. And optimistic too - it suggests you’ll get more than three tours out of them! On the other hand, if you end up with multiple bikes scattered around the globe - one in Leipzig and one in Malaga for example - maybe it’s not the best model.
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1 year ago
Mike AylingSteve
This discussion is worth taking to a forum.
I am looking ahead to converting a bike friday or similar because of the low step through but as Kathleen wrote if you go the mid motor option you loose your front derailleur and range of gears.
Is that why you discounted the mid motor option?
Maybe ten years ago a bloke that I rode with installed a front drive motor. At that stage he could not disconnect the cables from the motor and this made a puncture repair more complicated as he had to work around the attached cable. Is this still an issue?
Of course I could spend more of the kids' inheritance and go Rohloff with the mid drive!
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Scott AndersonBy the time the Fridays are fixed up, we will have three pairs of ebikes. Just four more and we can locate one pair on each continent! But actually the idea of Bike Friday is to prevent that by being ultra portable.
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Mike AylingMike, we discounted mid motor because of the way Bike Friday folds. But yes, mid motor dispenses with your front derailleur, limiting your gearing. But with the motor on your team you generally do not need as much gearing.

Even my cheap front hub motored Chinese trike (an ebike of ours I never talk about!) has a disconnect for the power cable just beside the motor.

I read somewhere that ordinary internal rear hubs can fail under the load from a mid motor. If true, Rohloff would be the way to go. On the other hand Dodie's Reise Mueller came with an 8 speed internal Shimano hub that seemed totally standard for German ebikes, and it has worked flawlessly, except that it is a total bug to deal with when there is a rear puncture.
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1 year ago
Rachael AndersonVery interesting! It’s great you’re being the guinea pig for this.
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1 year ago
Al GordonLinda, my wife converted her Bike Friday Tikit, to a Grin front wheel electric assist the way you are planning. She absolutely loves it. I now with my NWT have trouble keeping up to her especially on the hills. The set up does add an appreciable amount of weight but because of the motor she does not notice it. It is a great set up.
Neither of us were geeky enough to do it ourselves so she returned it from Edmonton to Bike Friday for them to do the retrofit.
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1 year ago
Ellen LeeI am in Abbotsford and I converted 3 Bike Fridays, custom made touring bike & Brompton to electric assist. I had Side Saddles bike shop in Vancouver do the installs with the kits purchased at Grin Technology. I was fortunate to meet Justin in Shanghai in 2011 along with the owners of eZee bikes. The custom made I purchased on amazon.ca was a Bafang mid motor 500 Watts, plenty of power & it has a thumb control, just in case I need it. I haven't used it yet even on the hills I rode into Surrey. This motor is brilliant & I crank at 17 mph, fast. But LiGo batteries do not work with it. I have a battery with BMS and it works fine. Then the Brompton has the front wheel conversion with throttle too & torque sensor. And the 2 Bike Fridays which I tour overseas with all have front wheel conversions, one with a torque sensor and 1 with the basic PAS sensor. I have tested them all. Tuffy has the torque sensor which I set to basic PAS mode as I don't like working hard when I pedal due to my knee issue. Anyhow I pulled a 45 lb Burley Travoy trailer behind me using the 5 LiGo batteries and had 4 extra LiGo's & a spare 36V 15Amp battery as well. I managed 30 miles uphill for about 2 miles on level 6 while the whole ride was on level 3. I think it has well over 9 levels on the cycle analyst. The info on the CA3 is a bit of an overkill!!! Anyhow I disregard the panel & just ride. I made it home with a bit of power left. The one Bike Friday has a eZee 1000Watt front conversion motor which I had back in 2008 but it was compatible with the CA3 so I use it for commuting around town & it has the basic PAS sensor as well. The only problem with travelling with this bike is the front wheel isn't that easy to take off which is fine. So I use a cut up box in a big bag with wheels to get it to airport. Here is a link to my article I wrote for CGOAB: https://ebikes.topicwise.com/doc/?o=1mr&doc_id=22990&v=Ep
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Ellen LeeThanks Ellen, I will go read the article now, then I am sure I will have many questions.
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Ellen LeeHi Ellen, I read the CGOAB article. Your bikes all look so clean and nice!

I noticed in one case you basically disabled torque sensing and made it into just PAS. I see how one could do that, like in this Youtube with Justin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8caNICjbwU&t=51s at 2:34 of the 7:22 minute video. But Justin is also showing that you can control how fast the torque assist kicks in. Maybe better to adjust that than to disable torque assist?

It was worrying to read that in one installation the LiGos turned off when the assist level was changed. Did you ever learn why that happened? Are Ligo's in the habit of just turning off?

Finally, did you get much experience with carrying the 5 LiGo's on airplanes? Did you ever get a problem about them from Security?

Finally, from Dodie, what were the cases where LiGo was not compatible with the rest of the system? Was it a fundamental or a fixable-adjustable problem?
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1 year ago
Ellen LeeTo Steve Miller/GrampiesI haven't figured out why the touring bike doesn't like the LiGo batteries. I may ask next time I stop in at Side Saddles but right now it isn't a factor in my biking as I have many other batteries to use. I am not sure if it is the Bafang controller not reading the batteries or that it just doesn't like that each one is separate & connected in series??? Not sure. I could ask Justin too I suppose.
On the Bike Friday the LiGo batteries work fine, they do not turn themselves off. I find the LiGo batteries worked fine with my Liv bike and that is only throttle based. Also the Brompton bike worked fine with the LiGo's too.
I haven't flown with the LiGo batteries yet, I plan to take 6 next year to Europe. I saw an article with KLM that they allow 20 batteries under 100 Watt hrs on their plane and around 15 electronic devices. Interesting! So I will find out next June/July & let you know if Security lets me board!!!
I really don't like the feel of the torque assist, I did use it at first when I got the bike done and then I got the other bike done with basic PAS and decided I liked it better. So I had them turn it off. It is your preference. Since my knee has arthritis, I find it easier without it. If you can test a bike with torque and one with basic PAS first before you convert, you can choose which you prefer. The torque sensor is more expensive than just the PAS magnet but again the magnet is prone to break so.....???!!!
Oh yes, I like to keep my bikes clean!!! ha,ha,ha!
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1 year ago
Ellen LeeI also read that I could buy a USB cable for my Bafang mid motor kit on the touring bike to program the controller and set different parameters via my iMac, but right now I just don't feel like it. I may research that more before I attempt it and email the company to see what I could do. I am sure I could figure out why the LiGo's don't work on this bike. I will let you know if I ever do that!!!
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Ellen LeeAfter the past days of cycling on gravel and in the rain I am looking forward to cleaning the bikes and seeing if the brake pads need replacing.

Thanks for your kind comments about our blogs!
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1 year ago
Ellen LeeTo Ellen LeeHi, I fully charged my 5 LiGo batteries & went & took Teo for a test ride again. I had all the batteries on & it read 41.5 Volts on the panel. So I rode it and it worked fine. I think maybe when I tested it the first time I may not have turned all of them on, so that was the error on my part. So they do work!!! Oops!!! This is what happens when you get old, the mind goes....ha,ha,ha!!!
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1 year ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesWe are planning to have 12 LiGos between us. Turning them all on will be a chore!
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1 year ago
Michel FleuranceI am a passionate airplane modeler. A year ago I assembled a Bleriot XI from http://www.maxfordusa.com/manual/bleriotxi.pdf
fitted with lipo battery 2200 mAh, 3 elements 11,1V. Weight is 210 g. I stored these charged batteries for a year into a glass jar sealed with a lid. Open that jard yesterday and find out the battery has inflated, ready to explode. I am scared now with lipo batteries and airplane travels ...
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1 year ago