Readers & Their Rides: Forbes Black Commuter Bike

A French-inspired custom e-bike


Forbes Black

Forbes Black is a local engineer we met through the e-bike world, and his story of how he found his way into the world of pedal-assist bikes struck us as an interesting one. For Forbes, it all began back in 1982 when he was a student at Harvard earning a degree in comparative study of religion. At the time he was a top oarsman for the rowing team, but in a major re-orientation of his life, he decided to ignore both school and rowing and get into bike racing instead. 

From his days as an aspiring racer, he gained an interest in electric bikes; in fact, so much so that he went back to school and earned an engineering degree. In 2008 he took a job working for e-bike pioneer brand Currie Tech, as well as writing for EV World Magazine and Cycloculture (a bicycle blog). “I was into e-bikes before they were cool!”
he quips.

Eventually, his interest in e-bikes became so great that he decided to build his own e-bike to allow him to use it more than his car. Living in the Santa Clarita Valley, which boasts over 20 miles of protected bike lanes, Forbes knew he could easily run errands on a bike, especially with the virtually year-round good weather. He started his project bike almost a decade ago.


He wanted something sturdy that could handle the stresses of a big battery and motor, as well as his 6-foot-6 size, so he started with a Kogswell Porteur/Randonneur, which was patterned after one designed for French newspaper deliverers and luggage carriers. In fact, the French word “porteur” means “carrier,” and “randonneur” means “hiker.” It was designed for either carrying heavy loads or for going long distances, and there were different forks based on which the rider planned to do. To make the bike even sturdier, Forbes had a friend weld an extra top tube on the frame. 

For the motor, he chose a Crystalyte rear hub motor and laced it to the rim with really sturdy 10-gauge spokes. For the battery, he knew he wanted something that guaranteed long range, so he went with a 1-kWh lithium-iron phosphate battery from Ping. That battery chemistry is heavier than lithium-ion, but it has far less chance of burning down the garage when he charges the battery. 

The battery alone weighs about 20 pounds. At first he mounted that battery on a rear rack, but with all that weight from the battery and rear hub motor, the bike was unstable, so he put it on a front rack. It is mounted to the fork like the original French design versus the old English design that would be attached to the head tube. 

Since mounting that much weight on the fork negatively affected the steering, he’s currently working on a way to mount it inside the front triangle. Being an engineer and a tinkerer, he says the bike is always a work in progress. For Forbes, evolving his e-bike has become a fascinating and fun hobby and a truly creative endeavor. 

If you want a deeper dive into all the great things Forbes has been working on in the electric bike and electric vehicle world, where we get into the weeds a bit more about e-bikes, check out our podcast interview on the Electric Bike Action podcast, which is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.

And, if you have your own home-built project e-bike that you’re proud of, or know someone who does, reach out to us, because we’d love to feature them here.

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