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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Friday, May 27, 2016



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The second hundred miles (Fred's e-bike adventures continue)

I’ve done about 150 more miles on the e-bike since my first post (here), and I’m still pretty happy with it.

It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing --- er, pedaling; I’ll detail some smallish glitches below. But on the whole, it’s a good purchase, and I’m glad I got it.

Seat issues

Evelo has what they call a “Perfect Seat Guarantee,” where they offer to reimburse you up to $40 if the bike’s OEM seat doesn’t work for you.

Well, after the first 100+ miles, my butt was killing me. The OEM seat isn’t terribly narrow, but it’s very stiffly sprung; in fact it has no real springs, but uses very firm elastomeric discs to provide a small measure of cushioning. For me, it wasn’t enough.

So I ordered a new third-party seat that’s much more comfortable --- a bit wider than the OEM, with a more padded top, and with real coil springs beneath. Evelo processed a refund within two days of my submitting my sales receipt for the new seat.

I’m saving the OEM seat, and will try it again when I acclimate more to riding. But in any case, seat comfort isn’t an issue now.

Adjusting for rider height, inseam, etc.

Along with seat type, there are issues of seat height, seat angle, handlebar height, handlebar angle, and the distance between the seat and the handlebars: These factors interplay off one another, and have a huge effect on rider comfort and pedaling efficiency.

Alas, the Evelo owner’s manual barely touches on these --- the set-up instructions tell you how to make adjustments, but with little guidance as to what the adjustments should be. After some initial, unsatisfying trial and mostly error, I resorted to third-party web sites, which have excellent, detailed info on custom-fitting your bike to your body.

Along with the new seat, these changes make riding much more comfortable --- and with much better pedaling efficiency.


I had some squeaking from the front disc brake not only in stops, but even when riding along with the brakes nominally off. The Evelo manual warns of this, and suggests a break-in routine (basically, a long series of hard almost-stops) to cure the problem.

That didn’t help.

I ended up removing the wheel (a minor, tool-free operation) and adjusting the brake pull, the centering of the disc rotor, and the gap between the disc and the brake pads.

That worked, but there was almost no information on how to do this on the Evelo site: I again had to Google around on other web sites for how-to info, to make sure I was doing it right.

That leads to the next item.

Evelo’s web site and owner info

As you might guess from the above, Evelo could use a good content manager or web manager.

Their owner’s manuals and how-tos are good enough to get you going, but detailed information and updates are scattered across a variety of pages on Evelo’s site in pdfs, blogs, and web pages that you have to ferret out on your own. (I had to use Google custom searches to find a lot of the stuff.)

Some of Evelo’s informational material also appears to have been done at different times and for slightly different versions of the bike. (E.g. some minor bike control panel settings described on their site are not present on my bike’s control panel: I don’t know if they were in earlier versions but are now removed, or if they’re in upcoming versions.) This inconsistency means that once you’ve found the info you’re looking for, you have to adapt it to ensure it applies to your specific variant of the model in question.

And some essential information (for example: brake adjustments; optimal seat/handlebar set up; how to remove the rear wheel, with its extra push-pull cables for the CVT transmission…) seem to be wholly lacking --- at least, I couldn’t find it on the Evelo site. I had to dig info out of other web sites, and hope it applied correctly to my specific model.

A better content-management process would avoid this.

A minor battery repair

Boston’s streets can be more than a little rough, and after hitting one pothole too many, something came loose inside one of my battery packs. When I got home, I opened it up to see what was going on.

The battery case is a protective shell that encloses the actual batteries themselves; plus some wiring, plugs, sockets, and fuses. The actual batteries are glued to the bottom of the protective case with three strips of sticky-tape; and wedges with foam inserts to prevent side-to-side motion.

The sticky-tape had failed, so the batteries could bounce vertically inside the protective case. That was the noise I’d heard.

The batteries weren’t damaged in any way, but you don’t want LI-ion batteries bouncing around loose, so I re-secured them with a heavy application of silicone glue; letting it fully cure before I reassembled the protective shell.

There’s no more noise; the problem’s solved. But it probably shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Fender/light assembly

The front fender has a front piece, a back piece, the light itself, and a mounting bracket. The whole assembly is held in place with one bolt, which has shown a tendency to work loose.

It’s a minor thing, but if Evelo had included a small tube of thread-lock, this small annoyance would be avoided.

Battery range/ “Mileage”

In my initial post about the bike, I commented that Evelo’s range predictions looked pretty accurate. After riding for a while, I think they were actually conservative --- the ranges I’m getting far exceed their predictions.

Part of it is that my legs have strengthened. Part is that the bike’s now set up better, so I can pedal more efficiently. I’ve also learned to use the CVT “gears” better.

The upshot is that I’m getting really great range from a charge.

For example, Evelo says that the charge in a standard battery pack will give you a range of 20-40 miles (32-65km).

But on the ride shown in the photo at the top of this page (ride details shown below), after some 24 miles, I’d used only about 20% of the battery charge --- less than half of Evelo’s best-case estimates. And much of that ride was in city traffic, with frequent stops at lights, and sprints through busy intersections.

This higher mileage also probably explains why other electric bike sites sometimes claim up to 100 miles (160km) per charge for battery packs with similar capacity to Evelo’s: It depends on your assumptions about how the bike is ridden.

But I’m glad Evelo is conservative in its estimates: I’d rather be pleasantly surprised by more range than expected, than to go the other way.

Bottom line

Most of my complaints are minor. As a whole, the bike seems well-made, and still is a blast to ride.

So far, so good.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The first 100 miles are the hardest... (Fred gets an e-bike)

I got an e-bike a week ago; a mostly-pedal bike with a user-controllable electric motor assist.

I've ridden 100 miles in the last week and other than a sore butt, I'm really enjoying it.

I researched a number of e-bikes, and settled on an "Aurora" from Evelo (E-velo, if you will); they only make e-bikes. They're a Seattle/NY company.

The bike arrives in a flat pack, "95% preassembled." The instructions are adequate; the web site also offers videos.

About an hour or so later, it's beginning to look like a bike:

Here it is outside, and finished (and a little dirty, after a rainy ride):

You can see the motor next to the pedal; the battery is where the rear fender normally would be.

It's intended as a "pedal assist" bike; you select any of 6 levels of assist from 0 (pure pedal power --- a standard bike) to 5 (lots of help from the motor). The pedals don't turn by the motor --- you control them with your legs, as with any normal bike. But both you and the motor contribute to drive the chain and (through the transmission) the wheel.

Transmission? Yes. The bike has a NuVinci continuously variable transmission (CVT) that you shift by twisting a grip; no gears, no derailleur, no fuss. You also can shift while the bike is stationary, or in motion without pausing pedaling. With no fixed gears, you have (in effect) infinite adjustments available between high and low settings.

The bike also has front and rear disc brakes, front-wheel suspension, a front fender, and LED head and taillights.

There's a twist-throttle on the left handlebar. If you want, you can use the bike as an electric scooter (no pedaling), but that kills the range, and seems to defeat the purpose of having a bike. I like the electric boost when starting at stop lights in city traffic: it gets me going fast so I don't end up as someone's hood ornament (it's a heavy bike, what with the motor, battery and heavy-duty frame); once through the intersection, I then I switch to one of the pedal modes.

The control layout is very different from the motorcycle style I'm used to: here, throttle and front brake are on the left; shift and rear brake on the right. But it's been long enough since I've ridden that old habits rarely interfere. And I'm glad for my motorcycle experience, because it makes riding in dense traffic a bit less foreign.

(Still, being a relative tortoise among Boston hares is, um, interesting.)

Here's the control panel; I also added a smartphone holder, so I can use it for GPS navigating. (The control panel has a USB port so you can power a smartphone from the bike's main battery, if you need or want to.)

The control panel shows charge state (100% here); odometer/trip meter (then showing 43 miles/69km; you can switch between metric and Imperial measure); speedometer, PAS (pedal assist) mode, and how many watts you're currently using. 

I got the standard 250w motor (which can roughly double to 500w under brief heavy loads). The bike comes with a 36v/10ah Li-Ion battery; I also bought a spare battery to carry with me. (There's also  500w option, with bigger batteries.)

Evelo claims 20-60 miles on a charge and, and that seems reasonably accurate. The 20-ish miles (32km) would be with lots of starts/stops, hills, high-speeds, or otherwise relying heavily on the battery; the 60 mile range (96km) would be on mostly flat ground, at modest speed, with lots of leg power.

You won't be stranded if you misjudge power consumption. Set the CVT to a low gear, and you can grind your way home same as with any bike.

I've ridden most days this last week, and have put on 100 miles (160km): I wanted to make sure I liked it --- Evelo has a one-week trial in which they'll pay return shipping and refund your money, if you don't like the bike. 

But I'm keeping it.

I've done some long rides, like this 30-something mile loop (50ish km), to and along the Minuteman Bikeway, a former rail-bed converted to a trail (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minuteman_Bikeway): 


The museum car at the Bedford terminus of the trail; you can see the trail to the right):

A 27 mi/43km loop, including some of the Charles River Bike Path:

A rainy 10 mile (16km) ride to Mystic Lakes, where I'm a volunteer in tracking the annual herring migration:

Lunchtime rides along the Mystic:

Yes, my butt hurts. But so far, it's been fun.  :)

(The second hundred miles, here.)