Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pietzo Electric Bike Part 1

While having breakfast one morning, I heard a short blurb on the News about an electric bike store in Burlington, MA.  I was intrigued enough to look them up on the web and connect with Nora Gildea, VP of Marketing at Pietzo. They were extremely nice and agreed to lend me a bike for a day.  Actually, almost 2 days because I picked it up on Saturday evening.

Not a very strong biker, I have always been curious about motorized bikes.  The weed-whacker, internal combustion engines have been available as kits for years.  Recently, the electric motor variants are entering the scene.  If oil mess and noise are for me cons of the IC engine type, lack of power and limited range are my concerns with electric motors.  Therefore, I very much welcomed the opportunity to test an e-bike for a day.

Pietzo makes several different models ranging from a 20” folding model to a 26” hybrid-type bikes.  The one I tested was a model called the Journey.  In part 1 of this blog, I am going to talk about the bike itself.  In part 2, I will write about my experience riding the bike from Lexington to Boston and back (for now, I’ll just say that Paul Revere would be jealous).

The Pietzo Journey is a handsome, modern-looking bike.  It is painted white with bright red lettering. I won’t go into every detail of the specification because it is available here: Pietzo Journey Spec

The Journey is equipped with a pair of caliper brakes which work quite well. In one occasion during my trip to Boston, I had to stop in a hurry. The brakes did not disappoint. Three Shimano gears in front and seven in the back give the Journey a total of 21 gear combination. The Shimano SIS index shifter feels plastic-y and was quite stubborn.  It was quite hard to shift from one gear to another.  Fortunately, with motor assist, I did not have to shift much at all.

As I am looking at this picture of the SIS index shifter, I noticed for the first time, that there is black knob at the thumb position.  Could it be that this is the button to press to shift up?  I was grabbing the lever to shift up and it was fighting me. Indeed, the Pietzo rep later explained that the button is for shifting up.  Sorry, my bad.

One entry in the data sheet of particular interest is the one that says Weight: 57 lbs.  As with any electric bike, the battery and motor adds to the weight of the bike and I suspect you won't find an electric bike out there that weighs in at less than 50 pounds.  If you are riding it, you don’t notice this weight.  It was when I picked up the bike by the saddle and tried to swing the hind wheel around, that I noticed the weight of the bike.   If you live on the 4th floor apartment and have to lug this bike up the stairs, you’ve got yourself not only a bike but also a set of weights.

The Journey comes with a very compact Lithium-Ion battery, the same type that powers most laptop computers. 

The battery pack mounts neatly under that rear cargo rack.  With a key, you can remove it and take it with you inside to be recharged.  The charger is a black plastic brick which is deceivingly very lightweight.  Indeed, a careful reading of the label reveals that there is nothing inside the box, not even electronics.

Charging the battery can’t be any simpler.  If you can charge a laptop, you can charge the Pietzo. The charging socket is on one side of the battery, covered by a rubber plug.  One minor concern regarding the protective rubber plug is that it is small and easy to lose.  The gas cap of most cars now comes with a plastic tie-down so you don’t lose it while filling up.  Not a bad idea to adopt.

There are two ways to operate the motor of this bike: power assist or throttle control.   A controller box located on handle bar left contains a master On/Off switch and a Mode button.

When switched On, the motor is ready for work.  The Mode button lets you select how much motor assist do you need which determines your speed.  To operate the motor without pedaling, a right-thumb throttle control is provided at the handle bar right.  My wife thinks that the controller box is too far for her finger to reach. She prefers the buttons to be closer so she can operate them without removing her grip.

The motor itself is inside the hub of the rear wheel.  It is a 36V 350W brushless motor with reduction gears.  As far as the fun factor, on a scale of 1 to 10, this motor is rated as 8.  At least that is what the engraving seems to imply.

The power assist mode is quite interesting.  Somehow it has to know that you are pedaling and therefore needing assistance.  It does this by using a force sensor attached to the bottom of the pedal crank.

The red rectangular box below the crank seems to be the pedal sensing device.  When you pedal, it sends a signal to the electronic control unit which in turn sends power to the motor.  How much power to apply is determined by your setting: low, medium, or high.

The Journey comes with a set of two keys.  One is to release the battery pack and the other is for ignition.

Ignition, you ask?  What part of the bike needs igniting?  Relax and rest assured that this is just a carry over term from internal combustion engines of old.  Think of similar archaic phrases like “dial this number” or “time ticking away.”  How many of you own a phone with a rotary dial or a watch that ticks?

Despite being heavier than a non-powered bicycle, when you ride the Pietzo, it still feels like a bike, not a moped.  Without using power assist, going up hill does take more effort.  But the point of an electric bike is power assist.  Even though you can operate it using the throttle control, the fun comes when you leave the throttle alone and pedal as you would any bike.  The motor then kicks in and gives you a boost.  My wife says it feels like being pushed by Superman.

Not far from where we live there is a street that goes up a very steep hill.  I am not able to go up that hill on my bike.  With the Journey, I was able to do it with little pedaling effort.  My wife thinks that power assist kicks in quite seamlessly and she has no problem with it even in her first ride.  She was also able to conquer hills that she would not be able to climb otherwise.

In the game of golf there is a handicap system that is used to enable players with different abilities play together competitively.  I am not a very good cyclist, but I do usually bike faster and farther than my wife can.  On a Pietzo, she can definitely leave me in the dust.  With the Pietzo, a lesser able cyclist can be on par with stronger ones.

Related Links:
Pietzo Electric Bike Part 2