Workcycles E-Fr8’s? Really?

Electrische Fr8's-2
This is how stable a Workcycles Fr8 stands on the Massive Rack. Photo by Tom Resink, who also built these bikes.

UPDATE Fall 2015:
Over the last few years we’ve built hundreds of bikes with electric assist, mostly Fr8’s and Kr8’s, also a few Gr8’s and classic city bikes. We’ve tried different components and developed a reliable, effective system that we now sell worldwide. These bikes are still individually built and tested in our Amsterdam workshop, thus not yet factory options that can be purchased via WorkCycles dealers. We now ship our E-bikes all over the world though. The development is ongoing and we expect to replace the current front hub motor with a mid motor in early 2016.

About the current electric assist system:
The front hub motor is 36V x 225W with 30Nm torque. It is powerful enough to easily ride into Dutch winds and up moderate hills. This system would not be suitable for cranking, for example, a heavily loaded Kr8 up San Francisco hills.

The rear hub gearing with Shimano Nexus 8sp or NuVinci remains unaffected. The brakes are replaced by powerful and reliable Magura hydraulic rim brakes front and rear. The excellent standard B&M LED headlamp and taillights are powered by the motor battery.

Our system is not as sophisticated as the Bosch but it’s effective, smooth, durable and reliable, and (unlike the Bosch) it’s quite “future proof”. Parts can be replaced individually if needed and it won’t be obsoleted and unsupported in a couple years either.

E-Kr8:
The 13Ah battery is under the bench in the box. Though slightly less convenient than the battery in the rear carrier it makes the “E” part of the bike almost invisible and the battery is kept warm in the winter by young occupants. A passenger can sit on the rear as well.

E-Fr8/Gr8:
The 13Ah battery is custom built into a sturdy wooden crate on the front carrier making the entire system almost invisible. The rear carrier retains its full functionality.

Original artikle, as posted in 2011:
Yes, we are asked constantly whether we’ll build a Fr8 or other Workcycles bike with electric assist. The answer is basically yes and no. By no means are we philosophically opposed to the idea of adding a motor to our bikes. We are however very much aware of the many downsides so we generally advise against it unless the need is clear.

For handyman firm Buurtklusser in hilly Nijmegen the need for some help was very obvious. This particular Fr8 will have its Massive Rack frequently loaded up with 100+ kg of cargo and the giant newspaper panniers filled with packages. How would you like to pedal uphill with a total weight of 250kg? In case you’re curious check out their blog at Trapkracht.nl (“Pedal Power”)

Further these bikes will be operated by professionals so we’ve a pretty good chance they’ll be used appropriately and maintained properly. That’s very different from sending special bikes out into the wild with customers who may not have the skills for (or interest in) maintaining them, nor a suitable workshop in the area to turn to when necessary.

Advantages of electric assist:

  • Increases the realistic daily range of the rider.
  • Improves the rider’s hill climbing ability, especially loaded.
  • Can make a delivery bicycle more commercially effective.
  • Economic disadvantages of electric assist:

  • Increases the purchase price of the bike considerably.
  • Makes the bike much more maintenance intensive.
  • Bike becomes more sensitive to the elements and vandalism.
  • Increases the complexity of the bike, making it more difficult and expensive to service.
  • Expensive batteries and accompanying management system must be replaced periodically.
  • Almost ensures obsolescence and replacement issues in the future.
  • Subjective disadvantages of electric assist:

  • The “feel” of the motor management will never be quite as direct and natural as pedaling.
  • Some motors whine or make other noises.
  • Rider must keep track of battery range to avoid getting stuck unassisted.
  • It’s a bummer when the motor dies in the middle of a ride.
  • Electric Workcycles Fr8

    A similar bike was built for landscaping firm Gaia Hoveniers, also in Nijmegen. This bike will tow a huge and heavily loaded Surly trailer.

    The assist system in these bikes uses a heavy-duty, torque oriented, Crystalite motor in the front wheel fed by a hefty set of 36 volt Lithium Ion batteries. The motor’s operation characteristics can be tuned via a computer which is necessary for such a specialized application. A mini transformer allows the bike’s standard B&M LED lighting system to run from the motor’s battery and the battery and wiring harness have been neatly tucked away. Aside from the giant front hub the system is essentially invisible. Our electric systems are powerful, as robust as can be and no, not at all cheap. Just for reference these systems added about €1800 (including VAT) to the cost of these bikes and each few years a fresh battery pack of at least several hundred euro will be required.

    Our usual favorite Shimano rollerbrakes have been replaced on these bikes by the very powerful and reliable Magura HS33 hydraulic rim brakes. Why no disks? A rim is essentially a very, very big disk.

    The gearing is via a NuVinci infinitely variable hub which are proving to be very tough and pleasant to ride. It’s great in combination with the electric assist. I’ve had one in my own Fr8 for about half a year and really like it. In fact gear hubs just feel kind of weird to me now.

    All of Workcycles electric assist systems are custom installations. Because regular, specialized maintenance is necessary as well as the not infrequent tuning or warranty issue we only offer these systems to customers within the Netherlands.

    45 Responses to “Workcycles E-Fr8’s? Really?”

    1. nicolas Says:

      Out of curiosity, are there innovations that you feel could come on the scene in the next 5 to 10 years that make you think “yeah, I could build ‘standard’ e-assist Fr8’s with THAT technology”? Like, crank motors, battery innovations and/or standards, things like that?

      I’d entertain the notion of buying a pedelec if they weren’t all so dang ugly. Fat aluminium hunks of crap design. The only nice-looking e-bike I ever saw IRL was the Urban Arrow I tried chasing across Sarphatipark last time I was in Amsterdam, but that’s not the same kind of beast.

    2. henry Says:

      nicolas,
      It’s not really any technology we’re waiting for to build more electrically assisted cargobikes. It’s more that we’ve found it very difficult to source reliable, good working, decent looking equipment compatible with Workcycles bikes and their uses.

      A crank motor has the advantage of running through the rear gear hub to provide a more useful range but then it also brings along its own host of disadvantages: far bigger potential compatibility problems in the future, having to build special frames etc. Also the crank motors are mostly going to be built by big firms with their eyes on the mass market, not niche players like us. Thus few crank motors will offer the features and adjustability we need. I mentioned in another post that I spoke to Bosch at Eurobike last year. The sales guy actually turned around and walked away when I told him we build just a couple thousand bikes per year.

      The batteries now offer sufficient power density to go quite far on a battery of moderate weight. Unfortunately they’re unreliable, demanding of their users charging habits and extremely expensive.

    3. Todd Edelman Says:

      The European Cyclists’ Federation, Coliped and Colibi oppose a change in EU regulation which would permit two-wheelers with pedals and motors with higher than 250w output to be exempt from type regulations used for scooters and motorcycles… so – let’s be clear – are you saying that strict adherence to the law would make it possible to build this bike?

      See http://www.bike-eu.com/news/brussels-continues-to-obstruct-bigger-e-bike-motors-5295.html

    4. Todd Edelman Says:

      possible = impossible

    5. henry Says:

      Todd,
      Yes strict adherence to that law would make these bikes technically illegal except the EU has done little to define exactly what the limits mean. An electric motor isn’t like an internal combustion engine that simply creates a certain amount of torque at a given rpm under certain atmospheric and temperature conditions. The electric motor, especially one like this Crystalite that runs at well below capacity can be fed with more or less current by a controller. Practically any parameter of its operation can be adjusted in the software.

      But if one “tunes” the motor to operate at a constant output of more than 250W after frictional losses and some enforcing body were to measure that output on a dynamometer it would be declared illegal. It’s not difficult to do. The police in Amsterdam measure the power output of scooters on portable dynamometers; I saw one the other day at a roadblock near our home. Of course if the police were to get busy with such activities it would be even easier to circumvent the laws with a hidden limiter switch. IN any case I think we’re a long way from anybody actually caring what e-bikes are doing unless it’s one of those super fast German beasts.

    6. Todd Edelman Says:

      The problem is that the consumer who does not want to manipulate anything and does not know how – and would feel it is bad, etc. – is limited by the current regulation. As I have said before, all this means is that only “bike hackers” will be able to get an advantage.

      I don’t know how type-exempt two-wheelers get measured in the distribution system. One 250w bike is obviously going to be faster or slower than another one.

      ECF and partners want the existing (limiting) law because they believe too-high powered “bicycles” will threaten others on bike paths. The question is what will these people do otherwise? Will they drive cars, scooters (allowed on paths in NL) or do something else? It is important to remember that the typical private automobile can go way over the speed limits of most countries. This is actually good because a vehicle which starts to feel a little sketchy at 200km/h will feel stable at 130km/h. But most of these vehicles are driven at the limit (if there is good enforcement) + 10 to 20 extra km/h. So then, should it be a matter of local enforcement rather than an umbrella regulation on tuning?

    7. nicolas Says:

      Hehe, loving this! “if e-bikes are outlawed, only outlaws will have e-bikes! You can grab my e-bike from my cold, numb fingers! (cos I forgot my gloves this morning)”

    8. henry Says:

      That pretty much sums it up, or maybe more specifically:

      “If outlawed e-bikes are actually checked and enforced, only outlaws will have outlaw e-bikes!”

    9. Matthias Says:

      Now finally you use a Magura HS33! When i ordered my FR8 you refused
      to exchange the rollerbrake with an Magura HS33..
      Great!

    10. henry Says:

      Matthias, We only use the Magura rim brakes on Fr8’s in combination with the electric motor. Otherwise there’s no reason to do so.

    11. Mike Says:

      Does any know how the ECF, Coliped and Colibi square their opposition to allowing more powerful electric motors on bicycles, limited to the 25kph max assistance speed, with the fact that many people want more powerful assist up hills, if for example they are above average weight, or are carrying substantial cargo? How can these organisations support such a one-size fits all solution? If the motors are speed limited, how do such bicycles threaten regular bicycle riders on paths any more than the currently permitted electric bicycles? It doesn’t seem logical at first reading, based on what’s been reported here.

    12. Mike Says:

      That should have been – “Does anyone know . . .”

    13. Todd Edelman Says:

      Mike, higher-output motors would allow greater acceleration plus also many paths have a user speed average closer to 15 to 20km/h. So my view is that output has to be increased but it is really torque that is the issue. So how can a bike differentiate between high torque needed to take a heavier load up a hill and a high torque either needed to avoid a collision, or just “for fun”?

    14. henry Says:

      Mike, Todd,
      It’s definitely a question of tuning the motor controls and gearing for torque or speed but so much of this can be invisibly controlled with electronics that it’s largely unenforceable. I think anybody with a basic understanding of how these systems work, and of what characteristics various user groups need can see that the current ruling doesn’t work. Its one size fits all approach just makes legal electrically assisted bikes impractical for all who fall outside the standard “consumer” market as it now stands.

      But enforcing anything so invisible and easily modified here is a can of worms and further we all know that anything allowing more powerful e-bikes will be abused to create what are effectively fast and annoying e-scooters. So I have no easy answers here.

    15. Mike Says:

      I note that Todd Edelman’s last post has been edited. In the version I got by e-mail, he said he’d sent a message to ECF with the link to this discussion. Todd, did you ever get a reply? I totally agree that allowing higher torque is the issue – not higher speeds. That’s one reason why I’d only ever look at a crank-mounted motor, since they, I’m told, provide higher levels of torque and deliver the power through the gears, unlike hub motors. I must say that I guess the ECF staff don’t know anyone who is discouraged from cycling because of significant uphill stretches on their journey. I ride half way to work, then catch a bus to get past a river valley with a steep descent but then a long (less-steep but still a lot of work) uphill.

    16. henry Says:

      Mike,
      I edited Todd’s post at his request.

      A hub motor can be tuned to provide pulling torque or speed, but generally not both, at least not yet. Since a crank motor drives through the gears it can have a wider useful operating range.

    17. Todd Edelman Says:

      Mike, Thanks. I have not had a reply from ECF. I think that they felt that they had two options: 1 – Conservative, 2 – Danger.

      The debate has gone on for a long time – as all things regarding new proposed legislation – and I think it is almost certain now that the definitions and requirements for pedelecs will not change. I believe there was some argument that by keeping more restrictions on bicycles it would keep people driving, and that this would create more danger to cyclists than faster bikes. This would seem to be the case in places where bikes are not separated in different ways from motor vehicles. So then perhaps the unchanged law is biased towards places with better conditions for cycling, as they would not be affected so much by more cars as they would by faster bikes on the same infrastructure.

      But also you can put yourself in the mindframe of an automobile lobbyist: If I were one I would definitely push for bicycles to be as non-competitive as possible.

      Really, somewhere in the shadows is the Lord Palpatine http://bit.ly/sXAcxy of Mobility manipulating everything and us all.

    18. Mike Says:

      Hi Todd. Thanks for replying. To bad they didn’t deign to reply.

      One thing though: in my understanding, this question of the impact of “faster bicycles” is moot. I understood that ETRA was pushing for the lifting of the 250W cap on motor output, while maintaining the “assistance up to 25kph” aspect of current law. This would allow the electric bicycle to better haul cargo or assist heavy riders up steep hills, but it would only produce somewhat higher speeds than the low speeds currently possible in such uses. You wouldn’t benefit from the extra power over flat terrain, except, as you said, for bursts of speed say in overtaking – but still not over 25kph assisted. Am I misunderstanding? Is the “faster” sense being used to mean “faster up to 25kph” than a similar bike with a 250W motor would have been? Is this the ECF’s “faster bikes in the same infrastructure argument?

      Also, have you ever seen the ECF’s formal response to the ETRA proposal? Is it online?

    19. Todd Edelman Says:

      Mike, ECF might still reply…

      If you want to see precisely what they think I would search their website. I know that their website is being re-launched in about a week, and I don’t know if that will make this easier or harder.

      Electric-assist is tuned to make bikes faster. This may mean that people going 18km/h will be going 25km/h, and so on, and they can get to that speed quicker. I think it could definitely increase problems on bike paths etc, but if you have to do the holistic analysis. Will it get more people out of cars? Will it increase fitness levels? By being a kind of “gravity insurance” – in other words by enabling an entire bike journey just by helping someone get up one long hill on this journey – does it increase safety in the big picture? I would tend to answer yes to all of these, barring further evidence. It gets complicated, e.g. a bus journey which becomes a bike journey is mainly about improving fitness and the intangible joy of independent mobility stuff, but a car journey which becomes a bike trip does all that plus nearly eliminates all that pollution and so on. So I would guess that it is electric assist cargo bikes which will have the most positive effect on the environment, maybe per bike. This does not mean that people in flat or nearly flat places need to replace their normal cargo bike with a pedelec cargo bike — unless it is substituting for a car…

    20. Mike Says:

      Todd. I have read further into the ECF position. Their argument turns on their view that 250W – the existing limit – is about equivalent to the power of a competitive athlete riding a bicycle. Going beyond that, they argue, takes bicycles from being human-powered vehicles to being motorised vehicles. Not sure what I think of this. I can see the point, but the reality is that I have a big hill and a lot of lesser hills on one stretch of my commute to work. Regular cycling leaves me in a sweaty mess. A 250W electric bicycle struggles to get me up the hill. I would like more power, but I don’t want to be forced to go through registration, licensing and be forced to wear a helmet and stay out of bicycle lanes. Can that circle be squared?

      As for the speed argument, the difference between 18kph and 25 kph is well within the range of speeds you see every day for regular bikes – I’m not sure I see a huge security concern. And since current 250W bikes can already do 25kph on the bike paths, I’m really not sure why we’re talking about speed – even if electric bikes are tuned for speed instead of power – ETRA hasn’t proposed doing away with the speed limit for power assist.

      I think more powerful electric bikes will become a solution for mobility, but we may have to look at making it easier to license them and to allow member states to create exemptions that make sense for their topographies.

    21. Todd Edelman Says:

      ECF is wrong and their arguments are going to slow the increase of cycling. There is more risk with all the motors on the bikes and so on but this is way more than compensated for by the increased amount of cycling created by a well-thought out pedelec scheme. Every car trip turned into a social pedelec journey creates as much safety as the inverse of probably 1000 anti-social pedelec journeys. Do you all follow?

      I am going to see if there is a European organization supporting the rights of people of large/heavy stature, or any org which would have this group under their umbrella, and ask about taking this to the European Court of Human Rights. Let’s see how ECF responds to that!!

    22. Mike Says:

      Todd – ETRA – the European Two-wheel Retailers Organisation has been leading a push for allowing a more powerful motor under the exemption from type-approval. They’ve put together an association that’s supporting their position. You might want to look at ETRA’s website for ideas relating to yours. Good luck with that. It sounds like someone should organise a public debate on the issue and invite speakers from ETRA, and the ECF. What would be a good forum for this?

      Just FYI, type approval is the key issue at the Euro level. Luxembourg allows more powerful vehicles as long as their limited to 25kph under a definition that treats them like bicycles. But without exemption from type approval, no-one is going to build such a vehicle, as the costs make it uneconomic. Or so I understand.

    23. feddo Says:

      “Our usual favorite Shimano rollerbrakes have been replaced on these bikes by the very powerful and reliable Magura HS33 hydraulic rim brakes. Why no disks? A rim is essentially a very, very big disk.”

      But isn’t it cheaper to replace a worn out disk than a rim? In rainy conditions and a bit of sand/grit, rims tend to wear pretty fast under braking, no?
      Just curious as to your thoughts on this.

      PS: did you hear about Ultramotor?

    24. Todd Edelman Says:

      Check this out! http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=MC0dK42wOOA

    25. Todd Edelman Says:

      ‘Brussels’ Says Yes to More Powerful e-Bike Motors
      http://www.bike-eu.com/news/brussels-says-yes-to-more-powerful-e-bike-motors-5478.html

    26. Prof.Prodromal Says:

      I have been searching for a really strong but short cargo bike for every day use.

      But I need to climb steep hills and get off the bike with out tilting the frame to the side.

      I also need to sit up straight because of my carpel tunnel syndrome.

      See my blog for more info about what us worn out folks need.

    27. Prof.Prodromal Says:

      well I see that it is desirable to use a motor, but 250 kg is 551.155655 lbs and that is about the weight of a velomobile with large enough batteries to climb our hills…(16% grade) with only 100lbs over the average person.

      I did a years worth of research to figure out that it is not realy possible to build a leagal machine like this.

      Most hub motors are not viable for large weights, and the rest are illegal.

    28. Prof.Prodromal Says:

      In washington state the police told me that: “In the event of a serious collision involving an electric-assisted bicycle, it would then be properly tested and investigated for the aforementioned requirements.”

      That means a law suit by the person that runs into you, even if it is not your falt.

    29. henry Says:

      Prof.Prodromal,
      You’ve done the research but we’ve actually built bikes that are being used daily with good results. I agree that a crank motor has a considerable advantage in having multiple ratios by driving through the gearbox (the rear hub) but if you choose a hub to do function effectively at just a narrow range of speeds it can work just fine. In that regard the demands of a transport bike and a velomobile are radically different. The velomobile both sucks going up hills AND can be ridden very fast on the flats or downhill. The transport bike, on the other hand, only needs assist going uphill and never goes faster than perhaps 15km/hr.

      At least for now we’re only selling these bike in our own region so we needn’t be overly concerned with what the Washington State Police are treating them. But yes, if we begin selling them as production models throughout the world we’ll have to be much more attendant to the various regulations, laws, standards and liabilities.

    30. Prof.Prodromal Says:

      Could you please post some videos of the bike fully loaded climbing a 16% grade or at least 10%? Showing how SLOW it can climb the hills.

      And please be sure to state the grade of assent.

      But it should also show the bike with rider on the scales fist.

      And I want to see a clear photo of how vertical he rider is on the bike. It looks like the crank is a bit far to forward to sit up straight.

      Yes I rode my mtb for many years that way , but never could get enough power to the pedals.

    31. Prof.Prodromal Says:

      I hate word processors, they never get all the typos.

      washing state allows 1200 watts but only 20mph.

    32. Prof.Prodromal Says:

      I forgot to mention the reason to show how slow it will climb the steep hills; It will demonstrate how low your gears are, and how little energy it uses.

      Most people think about speed only, I am not interested in speed, I can’t stand it when people pass me just because I am moving at a reasonable speed. Usually carrying much more weight than they can possibly handle.

      I think that you can sell these in Seattle right now, if you can demonstrate what good hill climbers they are , and how little energy they use doing it. Please show a Cycle Analyst meter when climbing the hill.

      I hope you don’t have to go to the alps just for a steep hill.

    33. Heliolatrix Says:

      Are you aware that a motor must be run at peak effeciency RPM’s to get the stated HP ? That will take a very large gear reduction.

      AC induction motors have a wider peak effeciency RPM but cost more.

    34. Heliolatrix Says:

      I think it would be best if you paid a mechanical engineer with experience in transmission design to build the prototype.

      And just forget the use of the NuVinci hub gear, as it will only allow for a faster than legal speed. Also there is a minimum torque that the thing can take in.

      I am thinking that you will need a tow or three stage gear reduction that goes back to large sprockets on the other side from the cassette sprockets.

    35. jawnn Says:

      proper gear reduction is the key.

      3000rpm at 24 volts x (firts stage 3″/9″) x (second stage 3″/12″ sprockets on the rear wheel) x 2074.71 circumference x 60minutes x .621504 mi/km= 19.3mph

    36. jawnn Says:

      “crank-mounted motors, provide higher levels of torque” is not true, because the motor can not be slowed down to the pedaling rpm, with out loosing even more energy in the gear, it is not logical to tie into the drive train.

      You must use a two or three stage reduction, directly to the rear wheel on the other side from the sprockets.

      And with a 250w motor is will have to be a very slow gear, depending on the hill and weight.

    37. adam Says:

      Hi Henry
      We got the Fr8 and we love it. It’s a bit heavier than we expected and quite hard to get up hills so I put an electric conversion kit on and it worked out fine. The kit is an eZee 36V 14a 200w hub motor kit and it seems to give plenty of torque. Eg a hill which we struggle up in first gear in our Azor factory fitted bakfiets (185w), we cruise up in fourth gear on the Fr8. I have posted how I did the conversion on our blog for anyone’s interest:
      http://sustainaburb.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/workcycles-fr8-ezee-electric-conversion.html
      I think a factory fitted e-Fr8 would be great. It would be good to get the battery behind the seat post or under the rear rack to free up more space.
      It’s a shame you are so far away, I would love to test ride some other Workcycles bikes. In hindsight maybe we should have gone for a lighter bike (eg Gr8) considering we have the Bakfiets. Anyway, thanks for making such cool bikes, I look forward to seeing how the fleet evolves over time.

    38. Todd Edelman Says:

      Adam, that looks nice. But regarding the battery… it may be hidden but one can tell that this is an e-assist bike. So anyone who has a bit of time will guess where it is hiding. Is the battery locked?

    39. adam Says:

      Todd, no, it’s not locked. The battery does have a metal bit to lock it with, but it’s only really useful if you have a rack to put it on. I have been thinking this through and have come to the conclusion that if someone has to unscrew 5 screws to get at the battery, then they will probably get it no matter what I do. Mostly I park it at home or work where security is good, so there will be limited times when it will be vulnerable. That’s what I’m hoping anyway…

    40. Todd Edelman Says:

      Adam: Oh, I see, you charge it on the bike.

    41. adam Says:

      Yep. At the moment I need to lift the false floor to charge, but I’m hoping to put an extension lead to the XLR 3 pin plug. Then I’ll mount a plate to the exterior of the box and be able to charge without lifting the floor (which will allow me to screw it down).

    42. henry Says:

      Hi Adam,
      Thanks for putting the report and kind words on your blog. You did a nice, clean installation.

      We would like to offer a complete e-Fr8 (and other bikes) but thus far the parts we’ve been using in our conversions haven’t ben reliable enough. Most of the bikes have come back at least once or twice for some tweaking or a warranty issue. That’s not such a big problem when the bikes are in the NL but really not acceptable when we send it abroad. Perhaps we need to try parts from some more suppliers.

    43. adam Says:

      Hi Guys

      I finished the conversion. It came out pretty well, here’s the link:

      http://sustainaburb.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/workcycles-fr8-ezee-electric-conversion_29.html

      Cheers, Adam

    44. Mike Says:

      Hi Henry et al,

      This thread is years old. Have you gotten any further with the e-FR8 idea?

      I’m thinking (again) about getting a FR8, but the effort to climb the hills I deal with, especially when carrying cargo, make me want that extra help.

      I look forward to an update or a link to where this conversation has been moved to.

      Cheers,

      Mike

    45. henry Says:

      Hi Mike,
      Yes, anno 2015 and we’re much further in the E-Bike department. In fact we build them all the time and ship them all over the world now. I’ve added an update to the top of the post.

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