Readers & Their Rides
By Karel Kramer
Editor’s note: Karel Kramer was Electric Bike Action magazine’s first editor, and not only does he still love to ride e-bikes, but he has owned a few of them over the years. While he has moved on to become the editor of Dirt Wheels magazine, Karel still reviews some EBA test bikes from time to time. He’s also gotten his wife hooked on them, too, and the two often go e-bike riding together.
Unfortunately, they recently had both of their bikes stolen, so they decided to get something that would better suit their style of riding. Where we normally cover custom bike builds in this feature, in this one, we’re covering the customization that a knowledgeable rider made to his and his wife’s bikes to make them perfect for the type of riding they do.
HOW IT STARTED
We had matching Haibike hardtails with one Bosch and one Yamaha, but after they were stolen, we decided that we wanted to upgrade to full-suspension bikes. Carol found hers from the Open Trails shop in Altadena. After trying a bunch of bikes, I was surprised that she picked a Haibike Xduro All Mtn 6.0 with 150mm of travel with 27.5×2.8 plus-size tires. The 6.0 comes with Suntour suspension and the Yamaha drive system.
Carol’s knees are least painful when she has the seat high. Even on her hardtail she had to jump off the seat when coming to a stop. The All Mtn is, naturally, even taller. It took her a little while to get used to the dropper seat that comes stock on the 6.0, but now she loves it. She loves the suspension as well, and the bike was competent enough that she even took up a little light off-road riding. Unfortunately, after tangling handlebars, her off-road routes came to an end due to the wrist injury she incurred in the crash.
“The combination gave me the riding position I desired and that my decrepit neck craved.”
On a ride to Ojai, we stopped in at the Mob Shop bike store to complain about the hand and wrist discomfort, and the staff came up with a Jones handlebar. It is higher (we already had a 2-inch stem extender on the bike) with more sweep. The Jones is a large loop, almost a half-circle. Bracing across the loop is a straight section that mounts to the mountain bike stem.
The Mob Shop expertly mounted the bar, fitted Ergon paddle grips to further ease the load on her hands and swapped the seat-drop lever to the left side. Now that she no longer rides dirt, it is extremely rare for her to use the left-side shifter for the front derailleur. The Jones front loop is ideal to mount a bottle holder and a small headlight for daytime visibility. After her crash with the other rider, we swapped from a hanging bell to one that she can ring at will with a small lever.
It was pretty clear that dirt was no longer in her future, but she wanted to keep her options open. Our local bike shop, BMEBIKES, dialed in a pair of Boyd Kanuga 29-inch wheels with new brake discs and a cassette, so she had a complete set of pavement wheels but kept her 27.5+ dirt wheels. The Maxxis DH tires her bike came with are great, but aren’t the best for rolling on the street. She opted for cream-colored Schwalbe puncture-resistant road tires with Orange Seal tubeless tire sealant inside the tubes. The difference in ride quality and traction on the road was vast, and the rolling resistance was greatly reduced. The 2.2-inch tires on 29-inch rims have almost the same rolling diameter as a 27.5+ with 2.8 tires.
While Carol was doing her test rides, I was experimenting as well. After trying some short-travel bikes and both 27.5 and 29ers, I found I liked the relaxed geometry of the Haibike All Mtn chassis as well. Being far more interested in off-road riding, I went for the All Mtn 8.0 with the Yamaha motor, RockShox suspension and Schwalbe Magic Mary tires. Both opted for more comfortable seats that are a little wider and better padded than stock, and Carol even has a gel seat cover over hers.
GETTING THE FIT RIGHT
Even with a size-XL frame, I have to run the seat very high, and that made too much of a reach to the handlebar for a guy beat up from 50 years of riding dirt bikes. I tried an adjustable stem, and it was fine on the road. In the dirt it flexed so much, I feared it would break. After I rooted around in the garage, I came up with an odd but workable combo that used an old motorcycle handlebar and an even older BMX stem.
A motorcycle handlebar is constructed from far thicker material than a cycling bar. After some mountain bike trails, I felt like the handlebar was so rigid that it was crumbling his wrists. Aluminum motorcycle handlebars have a strengthening crossbar. In hopes that I could continue to use the bar, I removed the crossbar. That allowed some added life into the bar, but it remains more than strong enough for cycling.
For a final mod for the 8.0, I wired a battery-powered headlight into the bike’s wiring loom that required dropping the engine out for access. The voltage is not quite right. The battery light has a red warning light on the back that illuminates when the voltage drops, and it is red all the time and hooked into the wiring. Nevertheless, the light has been wired that way for a year. It burns plenty bright for riding trails at night, and the battery drain on the bike battery is minimal.
KNOCKING OUT THE MILES
At this point we are approaching 2,000 miles on each bike. The batteries and Yamaha drive units have been completely trouble-free. On the road we can easily make 40 miles. We normally ride only bike paths that are removed from the street, so there isn’t usually more than 1,000 feet of climbing. We usually have at least 30 percent of the battery remaining, so we could probably make 50 miles with a little care. We replace the chain every 500 miles to keep the drivetrain fresh. Riding on the road you are in the smallest ring on the cassette a lot of the time. It is easy to wear those out to the point that the chain skips.
While Carol’s bike has been nearly trouble-free, I am using the bike off-road and have been a little tougher on it. I have been through more chains, and the tires usually last 400 to 500 miles of combined pavement and trail use. I went ahead and swapped the wheels over to tubeless using Orange Seal sealant. That has worked super well, but I need to add sealant every few months to keep the process trouble-free. After a year tubeless, I got some flats, so I pulled the tires off. The sealant has gradually cured to the inside of the tire. I had to pull a year’s worth of dried sealant out of the tires and start over, since the Maxxis Ardent tires still had ample tread life. I also replaced two cassettes in 1,600 miles.
Riding with knobby tires on the bike path got tiresome about the time Carol decided she would like her bike a little lower. Her 6.0’s spare wheels had the Maxxis Minion DH tire removed, and 27.5 Schwalbe large-casing, puncture-resistant road tires went on. That lowers the bike a bit without causing pedal strikes, and I got to have dirt wheels and road wheels. With the road wheels on both bikes, they look like trekking bikes but with travel that can handle anything the street or bike path throws at them. The ride is cushy and comfortable. Both bikes are comfortable for 40-mile pavement rides.
For pure dirt and mountain bike routes with lots of climbing, I am lucky to make 20 miles off-road before I need to charge the battery. Nevertheless, the bike is fun and capable off-road, with a riding position dialed in for a tall but somewhat decrepit old guy. Carol will not do road rides, but is always on the lookout for fresh bike-path routes that are long enough to challenge her. That means a minimum of 20 miles and a maximum (so far) of 40 miles at a stretch. Carol would like a low-step frame, but she has become too used to the ride and solid feel of the robust mountain bike chassis to go back to a bike with a lot of flex on the frame and components.
ELECTRIC BIKE ACTION MAGAZINE
For more subscription information contact (800) 767-0345