Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ed becomes Eddie

Spring is in full swing! Which means that my pollen allergies that I never had but somehow got them only 3 years ago, have entered their most annoying phase. It also means that I had to disassemble my old Schwinn, clean it, scrape off new rust that showed up this winter and replace the chain. This year I also have to do a major rear hub overhaul since it's performance has been very erratic recently (I often could use only 2 out of 3 gears). For now, Schwinn sits still, and I use Ed as my main transport vehicle.

It's short for the Xtracycle Edgerunner, that I (very) briefly reviewed last year. I really like that bike. It carries a bunch of groceries and my kids with no problems. It's comfy, it's quick to accelerate and it's actually fairly lightweight - for a cargo bike, of course. However, my main complain about Edgerunner is it's best feature - the tiny rear wheel. That small, 20" wheel definitely helps loading up and hauling lots of cargo. Keeping that weight down to the ground makes Ed more stable and less top-heavy.

At the same time, the small wheels means much more torque so acceleration is quick - something you wouldn't expect from a cargo bike. On a flat bike path, you won't need to switch from the largest chainring at all.

But the tiny wheel creates a problem - it doesn't have enough inertia to keep this large bicycle moving. Yes, it does accelerate quickly but at the same time it takes some significant effort to maintain speed. Obviously, I'm very biased. I compared Ed to my other bikes, all of which use 28" wheels and are not cargo bikes. They are about 3x lighter than Ed and roll on narrower tires. But even my rusty Schwinn with its 3-speed hub rides easier than the Edgerunner. It's not faster (in terms of top speed), it's not quicker to accelerate, but it's easier to roll, thanks to its large wheels.

All I wanted is to keep Ed's quick acceleration, cargo capacity and low center of gravity but make it faster, easier to roll and easier to ride uphill (Like that 10-13% grade in front of my house).

And this is how Ed became Eddie.

There was one good way to do it - go electric. I already had a chance to test Bionx electric assist motor on a bicycle and because my first impressions were very positive I knew that sooner or later it would be a good addition to my "Slowrunner". Back in February I found a good deal for Edgerunner Bionx motor kit (P350DX, 48V) so I couldn't wait any longer. Ed gained an "E" becoming Ed-E, or Eddie.
Eddie - my electric Edgerunner

Why electric?
I mentioned that many times. In short, Arlington is located on two large hills with its main street in the valley between them. I live on top of one of those hills and running any errands means riding my bike downhill to the town center (easy) and back home uphill (much harder, especially with kids and full grocery bags). Edgerunner works very well for these trips and in general, climbing these hills is possible even on a fully loaded bike, thanks to its low gearing, but it's neither pleasant nor fast. In fact, due to the 10-13% grade and weight of the bike, it's a hard work.
That's why e-bike in my area makes perfect sense. The times where I would feel more like driving to my destination happen less often. I can take my bicycle instead. However, to be honest, in my case electric Ed is not a full car replacement. Many errands are still better (easier and faster) to be done by car.

The second reason why I wanted to turn Ed into Eddie I already mentioned above. With such a heavy bike (especially loaded with cargo) e-assistance is very helpful even on a flat bike path. It simply gets you to your destination faster.

You may think that sounds like cheating and in a sense, it probably is. But it doesn't mean you can stop pedaling with Bionx system on board. It doesn't turn your bike into a scooter - more on that in a moment. While I would likely never consider e-kit for a "normal" bicycle, I can see that e-cargo bike does make a lot of sense.

Bionx kit came in a large box that felt surprisingly lightweight - probably because I was expecting the whole system to weigh much more than the specified 14lbs (close to 7kg). Now, 14lbs isn't lightweight by any means, but if you're concerned about your e-bike weight, you shouldn't simply look for one anyway. A few more pounds added to big Ed really don't make much difference at this point.
Not easy to take a good picture of the hub motor on Eddie. It's hidden behind the panniers and the disc brake.

The removable battery sits in its own bracket. Fortunately, Edgerunner comes with braze-ons for Bionx battery brackets on the down tube.

The kit comes with full installation instructions and all the hardware required to properly mount it on the bike. The process was very straightforward. First move the tire and disc brake rotor to the new wheel, install the new wheel on bike, then install battery bracket and the battery. Next comes throttle and the computer console. While the console was easy to attach to handlebars, throttle installation requires some more time. One has to remove right grip and brake lever to place the throttle between the lever and the shifter. I found this position to be the most comfortable one, even though my handlebars look very crowded right now.
Lots of stuff crammed at the right-hand side: disc brake lever, throttle, shifter and G2 console.

One of the last things to do is to run all the wiring along frame from G2 console to the battery and then the hub motor.

Finally, in order for regenerative braking to work, a tiny magnet has to be secured to the brake lever. It senses position of the lever and once brake is activated console puts the hub motor into a regeneration mode (level 1). This is actually the only complain I have about Bionx kit. The regen mode is very effective (but more on levels 3-4). It can slow down my heavy bike to a crawl. But the way it has to be configured is not very user-friendly and tricky at best. Because my hydraulic disc brake levers don't have any large, flat surfaces to glue magnetic sensors to them, I had to be creative to figure out how to make the whole thing work. The distance between both magnets has to be very small, otherwise hub motor will be running in constant regeneration mode. Because the right hand side of handlebars was already busy with brake lever, shifter, throttle and the Bionx console, I planned on putting the magnetic sensor on the front brake lever (left side). Unfortunately, the way all connectors are designed, Bionx expects you to install the magnet on the right hand brake lever.

After trying different positions for the magnet, I finally got it to work but then it turned out that the sensor likes to slide, randomly putting the system into the regen mode. To be honest, instead of spending more time trying to make it work, I simply removed the magnetic sensor altogether. This means that I don't have automatic regenerative braking on my bike anymore but I can still set the motor to brake manually (using throttle buttons). It's actually simpler this way.

Let's discuss now what Eddie can do, although it may be better to list what it can't do. It can't ride without recharging for the whole week and it can't ride in assisted mode faster than 20mph (32kph) because that's the legal restriction (the motor will simply cut off above 20mph). Other than that, it's unbelievably awesome!

Going 15mph up the 10% grade? No problem. Accelerating up the hill faster than a car? It can be done. Saving 15 min. on my usual work commute? Yes, riding 10 miles to work takes me now 45 min. instead of the usual full hour.

Adding Bionx system to my cargo bike truly transformed it into a go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle. Eddie can do everything a regular Ed can do (a lot!) but does it easier and faster.

Speaking about speed, e-assistance surely gives my heavy bike a nice boost, yet at the same time I don't feel like I'm cheating. In fact, riding assisted Edgerunner still gives me a good workout so I quickly realized that Bionx system is pretty smart indeed and it won't turn your bike into an electric scooter. That's all thanks to the system's torque sensing capabilities. Sensors built into the rear motor hub detect how much force is applied to pedals and increase the assistance level when I push harder or disable it when I simply coast on my bike. This means that Eddie is still a bicycle and there is only one situation when it turns into a scooter - when I press the red throttle button. Only then hub motor will give me the maximum available power, no matter whether I pedal or not. That is useful when restarting the heavy bike from full stop or going up a short, steep hill.

I'm not going to review the entire Bionx kit in great detail here, as you can find many other reviews on the Internet anyway. But let me just say that in terms of performance the system is impressive. It comes with 4 levels of power assistance where level 1 seems to be barely noticeable (It helps overcome the weight of the system and the bike a bit), level 2 is best suited for 90% of your daily riding, level 3 gives you a good boost up most hills, and level 4 is just damn crazy - it turns my 60+ lbs bike into a high-speed pursuit vehicle. All these levels can be set via the throttle or directly from the G2 console. The console also offers some basic functions such as a speedometer, odometer, clock, etc.

Bionx system obviously has some limitations. I mentioned the maximum assisted speed already. The more important one is the maximum assisted range. According to the manufacturer, with a 48V downtube battery I have, there should be enough juice to cover a 40-50 mile range and I found out that this was indeed the case. With a fully charged battery I can ride for about 45 miles, using level 2 assist mode 90% of the time and levels 3 and 4 the remaining 10%. Then it takes about 4-5 hours to fully recharge the battery.

Because Bionx has 4 regeneration modes built in as well, I wondered whether one can realistically recharge the battery while riding the bike. The short answer is no. That's because regen settings are very effective in slowing you down to a crawl. On level 4 I can slowly roll down a 10% grade without using my brakes at all. That means that only on regeneration level 1 I can try to ride the bike, other levels being simply too resistive. But then at level 1 regeneration effect is too small to have any significant impact on battery charge. The only way of recharging the battery while riding the bike would be rolling down a (very) long, steep hill with regen mode set to level 4. In other words, it's not realistic.

Eddie is clearly so much better than Ed. It's a lot of fun to ride, even heavy loaded. My kids love it and overall, Eddie does a really good job as my family minivan.

The only problem is that you can't buy electric Edgerunner with Bionx from Xtracycle anymore. They used to sell them last year but for 2015/2016 they came up with another Edgerunner, with a center-mounted Bosch motor instead. Whether it's much better than the wheel-mounted Bionx motor, it's hard to say. For sure, I can easily convert my Edgerunner back to non-electric, should I ever have to go this way. It's something you can't do with 2016 electric Edgerunner (it uses a special Bosch kit-only frame). But you can still add Bionx to your older Ed on your own. It's not difficult at all!


  1. YES!!!! I agree on all your points. I wrote up a similar review after riding with the Bionx system on my Boda Boda after I hit 1,000 miles. I have one small bit of advice on the magnet on the brake lever, which is that you can superglue it to the underside of the brake lever. Ferris Wheels in JP installed my system and did that, and it stayed put for a long time. It fell off once and needed to be replaced, but has now been again stuck with crazy glue for the past several months (700+ miles). Here's a link to the post:

  2. Thanks for the write-up about Ed's transition into Eddie. Glad the new setup is working out for you.

    One point of clarification: you can still convert any non-electric 2016 Xtracycle EdgeRunner to electric with a BionX kit.


  3. Excellent review! I came very close to going with the Bionx for my Xtracycle, but I have some 25% grades that hub motor can't handle, so I went with a Stokemonkey. I love it for that aspect, but for ease of installation and weight, I would have gone with the Bionx. I do wish I had that regenerative braking though! My bike doesn't have disk brakes, so I really go through the pads descending that 25% grade. The regen braking would take care of it, but it wouldn't get me up the hill, so somewhat of a Catch-22!! (Forgot to add, when I climb that hill my 100lb wife is sitting on the back and two dogs are in the trailer.)


  4. I compared Ed to my other bikes, all of which use 28" wheels and are ...