Ecospeed Electric Bike Assist

I don’t normally geek out about bicycle technology, in particular electric bikes, and definitely not recumbent bicycles. But I was taken enough by the Ecospeed electric bicycle system to want to share. Last week I was visiting with an old and good friend, Tom Moxon, who now lives in Porland. He does electronic controller design for Ecospeed and has a recumbent that is outfitted with one of their kits. Tom talked about the system, let me try out his recumbent, and took me to visit the Ecospeed design offices where I met the founder Brent Bolton. Brent is tallish and bubbles with happy enthusiasm. He’s also really sharp, having formerly worked as an Intel engineering and has now choosen to follow his passion. Tom is equally sharp and geeky when it comes to electronic design.

Ecospeed sells a kit that you add on to existing bikes. Their kit works on about twenty different bikes. These are mosty recumbents, but lately they’ve introduced a kit for diamond frame (traditiional bikes). The motor + battery combination puts out over 700 Watts or up to 1200 Watts continuous, depending on battery voltage, and the batteries last 30-40 miles (50-60 km).

We went riding with Tom, with me on my race bike and Tom on his recumbent. Tom mostly used the electric motor to zip him up to speed from the many Portland city grid stops, foregoing the unbalanced moment you get when you start a bike from a stop, and saving his legs from the acceleration from zero. Thereafter he mostly pedaled, then would pull on the throttle for uphill sections of road.

Tom easily kept my pace and was able to go faster, looking out to see if we were keeping up. I’ve got bike racing strength in my legs and on a few occasions we did head to head street racing up a couple of blocks of incline. A strong cyclists can put out in the neighbourood of 300W continous, with bursts more then double this. With this strength I could challenge Tom for a bit, but after less then 100 metres had to give in. Tom was easily able to keep the uphill sprint pace, then sustain it.

Performance wise these bikes is therefore pretty impressive. Put this on what is legally in the U.S. classified as a bike and this means you can go on all sorts of trails and places not accessible by car. Brent says on a mountain bike the Ecospeed system is really impressive. You have such even application of force that you carry easily up steep, gravel roads and can ride on fat slicks where you’d normally require knobby tires to climb.

The system is fairly pricey (I think around $1200), but because of the power of the system you can and should not be using an expensive lightweight bicycle. So what you spend on this system you can easily save by getting a heavier, cheaper upright or recumbent bicycle. It can actually be quite liberating to stop worrying about weight and be free to think of utilitarian features like luggage capacity and the like.

Think of this as a practical commuting alternative to a scooter or motorcycle. For city commuting such as in bicycle-mad Portland I could really see using this system. Tom normally uses a combination of pedaling and motorized travel, but if he doesn’t want to show up at a meeting sweaty he just uses the electric power. With the power that this system puts out you can easily sustain 50 km/h without pedaling.

I’m not sure if an Ecospeed system will enter my life anytime soon. I may be too much of racing purist while also being too lazy to pedal when I know I can kick in an electronic throttle. But I can see two immediate applications. One is on a mountain bike, to enable me to go farther on the trails I love but that are too far to complete from home. The other is if I ever enter back into a situation where my commute to work is too long to be able to ride both ways comfortably each day.