ELECTRIC MOTOR SYSTEMS
Lightfoot cycles are specifically designed to accommodate almost any electric assist system available on the market today.
The information on this (extensive) page can help you to understand better how electric assist systems work, and can help you select the system most appropriate for your model of cycle and your type of usage. Please call us if you have questions.
Virtually all electric assist systems consist of these 6 basic components: an electric motor, a battery to store power, a battery charger (plugs into a wall outlet), a controller (the 'brain' of the system), a throttle, and cables that link everything together. Some will require, in addition, mounting brackets and transmission components.
There are important differences between different types of systems, and these are documented below on this page.
To successfully use an electric assist on your cycle, you need to know a few basic facts about the system, and you need to be willing to pay attention to a couple items of simple maintenance. Please give us a call if you need more detailed explanations.
ELECTRIC ASSIST AND EXERCISE
Electric assist can greatly reduce the need to pedal. An athletic human can put out 100 watts of muscle power for several hours, or 300 watts for a few minutes. Power assists common on the market can provide 200 to 1000 watts, making them often much stronger than the rider. An electric assist's greater power can be used judiciously to supplement pedaling (especially for climbing hills) or it can totally replace pedaling (at least for the range of the battery.) You have to be disciplined if you want to get physical exercise with an assisted cycle.
Our mid-drive setups integrate the motor into the transmission in such a way that the motor doesn't replace the rider's power so much as magnify it. Such as system helps maintain the incentive to pedal, giving you the best of both worlds.
The beauty of the electric motor/battery assist system is this: when cruising on level ground the energy cost of pedaling a moderate weight system is very low, and, when climbing, the system pushes its own weight as well as that of the bike and rider.
A possible drawback of electric assist is that, after using it for a while, pedal-only bikes will seem slow.
TYPES OF ELECTRIC ASSIST SYSTEMS ON THE MARKET
Roller-drive type motor systems may be appropriate for the least demanding conditions. This type of transmission, with the motor spinning a small roller which pushes against the tire tread, may not work well in snow or rain, in sandy and gravelly conditions, nor with knobby or studded tires. Fenders interfere with the roller.
Hub Motor systems use an electric motor built into the hub of the wheel, either the front or rear wheel. Most rear-wheel hub motors hold a freewheel cog-set to provide multi-speed gearing for the rider's pedaling, but the motor itself is single-speed and cannot be geared down for climbing steep hills or pulling heavy loads. Rear-wheel hub motors preclude the use of shift-when-stopped internal-gear hubs. Some models do not accommodate disk brakes. Almost all Lightfoot bike, trike and quadracycle models will accept hub motors on any wheel, front or rear.
Single-speed Chain Drive systems generally use a motor mounted over the rear wheel of a bike, with a chain from the motor to a large sprocket on a specially modified wheel hub.
Multi-speed Chain Drive systems can be shifted down for climbing, or
shifted up for faster cruising. Though electric motors have a wide torque band
compared to internal combustion engines, they do have limits to how much they
can lug down before they "power out" or overheat; the shiftable drive is
much more adaptable to varying load and changing terrain. Shiftable
systems also help keep the incentive to pedal high, so that the rider is less
tempted to stop pedaling and let the electric do all the work.
OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS
Quality varies widely among systems on the market. More expensive systems usually are more weather-proof, have thermal-overload protection, have better electrical connectors, are more resistant to corrosion, and have better warranties and service. Poor quality systems may have few safety features and inadequate assembly instructions, leading to dangerous and expensive mis-wiring.
Batteries of Lithium Manganese and Lithium Iron Phosphate, when well made, are presently among the most capable, longest lived, fastest charged, least temperature affected, and most powerful (for their weight) batteries on the market, as well as the most expensive. Lead acid batteries are tried and true, though heavy, and they are inexpensive. For proper performance, a battery cannot be so small that it cannot provide sufficient power (amperage) when the motor demands.
Power of the motors used in assist systems typically varies from 200 watts to over 1000. Some systems, such as the BionX, offer selectable power levels, with levels as low as 75 watts. 75 watts will not push you up a hill by itself, but offers a very noticeable 'tailwind' push on level terrain, rationing power for many hours of riding. 300 watts will push a moderate sized bike and rider up a moderate hill with your pedaling assistance, and can help you hold 20 mph on the level. 700 watts will power almost any single-rider cycle past 25 mph with some pedaling. 1000 watts will power a tandem to 25 mph on the level with some pedaling, and a single rider to 30 mph if gearing allows.
"Pedelec" features (these 'pedal-electric' features are common on European systems) require that the cycle be moving at several miles per hour before the assist will kick in. For those operating in a hilly environment, this means that the rider does not have power assist at the moment when it is needed most--starting up from a stop on a hill. For riders in urban conditions, power is not available for the first few moments of pedaling, as when attempting to accelerate across intersections. Pedelec systems also are usually speed-limited to 20 mph in the USA, and 20 kph in Europe.
System voltage is usually 12, 24 or 36 volts. Higher power systems will use 48, 60 or 72 volts. Low voltage systems are generally safer for the home do-it-myself electrician; higher voltage offers higher efficiency and more power.
OBTAINING YOUR SYSTEM
In order to improve the affordability of quality electric assist systems for our customers, Lightfoot has chosen to no longer manufacturer or distribute electric assist systems. Instead we work to give our customers all the information needed to choose and purchase an appropriate system direct from its manufacturer.
It has long been our goal to make our electric assists both more affordable and easier to maintain. By removing ourselves as middlemen, and instead helping you to effectively purchase the right system for your application and budget directly from the manufacturer/distributor, we now better achieve both of these critical goals--much improved affordability and better long-term maintainability.
Lightfoot has been putting electric assists on our cycles for over a decade, and we have a lot of experience in what works and what doesn't. We know that certain sophisticated systems are needed for demanding applications, while simpler and more affordable systems may be adequate for less demanding jobs.
Some electric assist systems are available from their manufacturer as kits, and if you have a little mechanical and electric aptitude, can be installed by you. Other systems demand more knowledge and tools, and can be installed by Lightfoot. If you already have an electric system, and wish us to install it, you can ship it to us immediately after you order your cycle. Or, you can follow our instructions to select and purchase a new system, and have it drop-shipped to us while we are preparing your cycle. We will install and test the system, charging you an installation fee by the hour for the time required. When your electrified cycle then is shipped to you, it will be ready for you to get on and go.
The list of manufacturers of electric assist systems is at the bottom of this page. If, after reading through this information, you still have questions about what to order, please call or email us.
USING ELECTRIC ASSIST
CALCULATING RANGE: Conservatively; each 100 watt-hours of usable battery capacity should provide about 2-3 miles (3-5km) of pure-electric level-road cruising power.
The number of watt-hours in a battery is calculated by multiplying battery voltage X battery amphour capacity X the percentage of useful capacity (90% for Lithium, 40% for Lead-acid). Hill climbing uses substantially more power per mile; steep grades can easily triple or quadruple energy consumption. Coasting on downhills does nothing to regenerate electricity, but serves instead to rest the rider and conserve the remaining stored power. Regenerative-braking systems (such as in the BionX hub motor) can recapture a small percentage of the energy of momentum normally lost to braking.
USED AS ASSIST: (An example) By using the electric assist 1/3 of the time for moderate hill climbing, by coasting on downhills, and by providing the other 2/3 of power through pedaling, the electric power system can provide an assisted range of 5-9 miles per each 100 watt-hours of battery capacity. This type of assisted-riding is more feasible if the battery pack is lightweight.
INCREASING CAPACITY: Twice the battery bank will provide twice the range.
Lightfoot bikes (two-wheelers) comfortably carry one set of batteries, and a dual pair can be supported by a custom-made underseat pannier rack. Lightfoot road trikes easily carry a single set in the cargo pod, and can add a second set of lightweight batteries with no difficulty. Large batteries can be supported by custom brackets or cargo boxes. As a rule of thumb, you should get a larger battery capacity than you will absolutely need. This is especially important if using lead-acid batteries; they should not be drawn down more than 50% except very infrequently, and should never be deeply drawn down in sub-freezing weather.
NOTE: Batteries and Chargers usually are designed
as matching sets; a charger cannot be changed from one battery bank or system to another.
Weight of batteries varies by type and number. The 10 apmphour BionX LiMn battery weighs about 8 pounds. A 20-amphour 36-volt LiFePo4 battery weighs about 14 pounds, not including the weight of its container. By comparison, a 30-amphour 24-volt (a pair of 12-volt units) lead-acid battery pack would weigh about 45 pounds, though it would only have the same available power as the LiFePo4. Per unit of stored power; the Lithium battery weighs 1/6 as much and costs 4 times as much. A heavier battery is also going to require a stouter and heavier and more expensive carrying case/bracket.
(Lower gas prices at this moment--$3/gallon in the US as of 12-2010--have partially eroded the conservative cushions we used in these calculations, but keep reading. Recall that gasoline in Europe is generally 2.5X as expensive as in the US, so these numbers still work in many parts of the world where gas is over $7/gallon.)
To go further with this comparison, we can justly claim that meeting half of the cycle's power needs by pedaling (burning food calories, which in America are often "excess" calories) and the other half with electric assist, constitutes a vehicle that "gets 1600 mpg". (It has been calculated that, when one compares the caloric value of gasoline and that of food, the human engine gets 3000 miles per gallon.) Even with very modest amounts of pedaling, we can easily claim the attainment of 1000 mpg, and this number therefore can serve as a good rule-of-thumb for the efficiency of electrically-assisted Lightfoot cycles.
Case study--calculating energy costs for the BionX assist: The 360 Watt-hour capacity BionX battery can move a heavy rider (who is pedaling) strongly at least 25 miles (as our experience confirms) at almost 20 mph. At a conservative 10 cents per kwh for electricity, charging the battery once should cost 3.7 cents. Assuming a 15% charging inefficiency, we can calculate that a single fill-up actually costs 4.3 cents. This 4.3 cents assists us for 25 miles, as we have shown, or we assist it, since it may be providing the majority of the power used (depending on efficiency, weight and aerodynamics of the cycle being ridden) needed to travel at 20 mph. If we spend our $4 on electricity instead of a gallon of gas, we can charge the battery 93 times, which is enough to travel 25 assisted miles 93 times, which is to say; 2325 miles for the cost of a gallon of gas. This conclusion more than supports our rule-of-thumb claim of 1000 mpg for our electric assists.
CALCULATING LIFE-CYCLE COSTS: If we assume the following--that our motor system can serve for 20,000 miles, that a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery pack can maintain reasonably good efficiency for 1000 full discharge cycles, and that each full discharge provides 20 miles of travel--then we can calculate that both batteries and motor might serve for approximately 20,000 miles (though the brushless, gearless motor might last longer). The $1500 motor/battery set would then have provided each mile of travel for 7.5 cents. Total Life-Cycle cost per mile of the electric assist system then would combine 7.5 cents per mile equipment costs with 0.2 cents for fuel for a total per-mile cost of 7.7 cents. Since the battery system does not contain heavy metals, since the rest of the system is largely recyclable, since bicyclist impact on roads and infrastructure is minimal, and since we are using very minute amounts of fuel, we can assume that the external costs (which are borne by the local community, the planetary ecology and all world citizens, and not solely by the cycle's user) are very small, especially when compared to the very large externalized costs of automobile use. Total combined direct and external lifecycle costs per mile for an assisted cycle might total something like 10 cents, as compared to perhaps $1.50 per mile for automobiles (as calculated at Commute Solutions http://www.commutesolutions.org/calc.htmwhich demonstrates that cars have external costs much greater than their direct costs), giving us a per-mile cost for an 'electric bicycle' that is1/15th that of an automobile.
SOLAR BATTERY CHARGING
"I just spent a full day riding...(my son's
Lightfoot electric bike). It was a great day. (He)
now has 3300 miles (on his cycle). With some minor
fixes the bike has been a great bike for him. His
only means of transportation."
-- Rick H., TN
NOTE: WE CANNOT MAINTAIN YOUR ELECTRIC ASSIST SYSTEM FOR YOU. For trouble-shooting a malfunctioning system, you should first contact the manufacturer of your system, or their dealer/representative. For emergency repairs or help in analysis of a problem, you can contact a local shop with expertise in electric golf carts, electric scooters or electric wheelchairs.
are made of toxic materials (lead-acid and
nickel-cadmium especially) and all batteries (even
the benign lithium batteries) should be recycled at
the end of their life. We do not at this
time recycle batteries. Large lead-acid
batteries can be recycled at auto repair shops.
"D" cells as found in many systems can
be recycled at Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Radio
Battery Solutions (www.batteryrecycling.com)
recycles batteries. Check with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling
www.rbrc.org , and click on the
"consumers" icon for recycling information. The toxic materials
of some batteries are
well contained within the battery casing; please take care not to damage the
casing even if
they are no
For the most part, electrically assisted cycles are welcomed throughout the US and in most other countries. We have never had a customer unable to use their electrified Lightfoot cycle. There are limits on the power of motors, and there are restrictions under certain conditions and in certain areas.
The United States Federal Low-Power Electric Bike Law
HR 727, signed by President Bush on Nov 27 2002, specifies working pedals, one horsepower maximum, and a top speed of 20 mph under electric assist. There are a few states allowing 1000 watt vs. the 750 watts (750 approximately equals one horsepower), and a few allowing 25mph. However, the majority of states use the 20mph rule to identify a bike or trike under the low powered electric bike rule. If you max out at 25 mph, in many states that bumps you up to moped classification, requiring more equipment such as turn signals, rear view mirror, horn etc; some may even require registration. This law can be seen in The Federal Register / Vol. 68, No. 29 / Wednesday, February 12, 2003 / Rules and Regulations pages 7072 and 7073.
Excerpt: SECTION 1. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY ACT.
The Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2051 et seq.) is amended by adding the following:
`LOW-SPEED ELECTRIC BICYCLES'
SEC. 38. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, low-speed electric bicycles are consumer products within the meaning of section 3(a)(1) and shall be subject to the Commission regulations published at section 1500.18(a)(12) and part 1512 of title 16, Code of Federal
(b) For the purpose of this section, the term `low-speed electric bicycle' means a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.
`(c) To further protect the safety of consumers who ride low-speed electric bicycles, the Commission may promulgate new or amended requirements applicable to such vehicles as necessary and appropriate.
`(d) This section shall supersede any State law or requirement with respect to low-speed electric bicycles to the extent that such State law or requirement is more stringent than the Federal law or requirements referred to in subsection (a).'.
SEC. 2. MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS.
purposes of motor vehicle safety standards issued
and enforced pursuant to chapter 301 of title 49,
United States Code, a low-speed electric bicycle (as
defined in section 38(b) of the Consumer Product
Safety Act) shall not be considered a motor vehicle
as defined by section 30102(6) of title 49, United
State Variations From Federal Law
We do not guarantee that this information is accurate or up to date. If you know that any information herein is in error, or have knowledge of important details or exceptions to these regulations, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Motor vehicle license required (most of these states also require a helmet, possibly a motorcycle-rated helmet): Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Utah.
Minors disallowed: Arkansas (10 years of age minimum), Florida (16), Lousiana (15), Massachusetts (16), Minnesota (16), Tennessee (14), Washington (16).
Electric cycles illegal: Hawaii, New Jersey (on state roads), New York (on state roads).
Miscellaneous Restrictions: Texas (cycle
cannot weigh over 100 pounds), California
(1000 watt maximum), Colorado (1000 watt maximum).
The Canadian Power-Assisted Bicycle Law
The Canadian Motor Vehicle Act was recently modified to include a class of Power Assisted Bicycles.Federal Guidelines state that cycles with continuous motor power under 500 watts, which travel at speeds less than 32 km/hr, have no need for license or insurance on public roads.
Listed below is a selection of manufacturers and distributors that provide a product suitable for installation on a Lightfoot cycle. There are far more dealers of electric assist kits than are listed here; dozens can be found on the internet. The inclusion of a manufacturer in this list does not indicate that we necessarily vouch for their product or customer service, though we have tried to avoid including suppliers of what we know to be problematic product. We also have tried to limit our list to companies that have been around for a while and that seem likely to remain in business, serving their customers, for a long time to come.
Some kits we have tried in the past were of very low quality, having poor or no instructions, a tangle of unprotected wires, weak electrical connections and controllers that burned out within a few weeks. Certain battery 'specialists' sent us batteries that turned out to have a 50 -100% failure rate within the first month of use. Beware of the very cheapest systems. If we are sent a non-functioning system to be installed on your cycle, we will bill for time spent attempting to make it work. We strongly advise that you purchase only a system that has at least a multi-month warranty and a satisfaction guarantee. If you want to know our experience (if any) with the system you are considering, please feel free to email or call.
Batteries, if improperly wired or shorted out by touching the wrong wires together, can produce enough current to make lots of sparks and weld things together, along with melting your controller. If you are getting a system that is not prewired, and you don't feel comfortable about your ability to know positive from negative and series from parallel, we suggest you get a more complete kit, or have us do the assembly.
Almost any hub motor will work on a Lightfoot, as long as it has disk brake mounting holes. Hub motors need to have a 100 mm long front axle or 135 mm long rear axle, with a 10mm axle diameter, and of course need to have a wheel rim of the correct diameter for the cycle model they are going on. Some items in pre-packaged kits will be unnecessary for a Lightfoot installation.
If, after reading the information here, you still have questions about which system would be best for you, please give us a call.
BionX: A pedelec hubmotor system. We have installed a number of these systems, and in our experience, this is a good quality and dependable system. Appropriate for almost any Lightfoot cycle. Medium high price. Does not assist from a dead stop; the cycle must be moving 3 mph before assist kicks in. Can climb moderate hills with moderate weight, but not steep hills with heavy weight. If installed as a mid-drive (see below) the BionX will be geared and then can climb very well. Very efficient. Includes very workable regenerative braking. Includes integrated Lithium Manganese 10 amphour battery. Features a programmable controller which allows you to select the level of assist you are getting. The Proportional Assist option (pushes gently when you are pedaling gently; pushes hard when you are pedaling hard) is very nice for squeezing the most power out of the battery while preserving the incentive to pedal. Disk brake option. Very weather resistant throughout. The BionX kit is one of the easiest to install. It comes complete except for an 8-speed freewheel and disk brake rotor, which Lightfoot can supply. Order the most popular PL350 model for medium power and good range, or order one of their other variations if it is more suitable for your needs and if it is available. Also order a control cable extension to fit the system on the long recumbent frame. Dealers throughout the US, Canada and Europe. As a former dealer for BionX, Lightfoot may still have systems in stock, and has an information page for the BionX. http://www.bionx.ca/en/
EcoSpeed: A chain-drive system, designed to integrate into the transmission and drive the rear wheel through its multispeed hub, thus becoming a shiftable assist. We have installed several of these systems. Appropriate for almost all standard Lightfoot trikes and quadracycles, and can be used on LF bikes and Duo/Duettes with custom-modified frames. In our experience, generally a well made system. The systems we have installed lacked a shut-off key switch, which we would recommend for safety. The most expensive system we have used. Battery is not included and must be ordered separately. Ping batteries are available from EcoSpeed or direct from Ping (below). The EcoSpeed Mid-Drive unit is appropriate for use on Lightfoot cargo trikes designed for large loads. Excellent hill climber. Efficient. Order the Mid-drive 700 or Mid-drive 1000 system, along with a battery from EcoSpeed or from Ping. You will also need to order a custom bracket from Lightfoot for mounting the motor. A Cycle Analyst energy gauge to measure power usage is optionally available. Made in Portland, Oregon. http://www.ecospeed.com/
Electric Rider: Very powerful Crystalyte hub motors with complete kits of ER-selected components. Relatively low cost. Even their smallest motor can drive any Lightfoot cycle past the federal 20 mph speed limit. Their largest motors can dangerously over-power Lightfoot designs. Even though a single-speed hub, these have enough torque to serve as drive wheels for large Lightfoot cargo vehicles. These motors assist from a dead stop. Certain motor models offer reverse power. ER has service technicians on staff, and has warranties on all components. ER kits include: Crystalyte motor mounted in wheel, speed controller, key switch, 'connectorized' wiring, fuse, lead acid batteries, charger, throttle with gauge, wire ties, rack and battery bag. Very high motor power requires that you use a battery with very high amperage output; ER uses simple, reliable, low-cost lead-acid (very heavy) batteries, prewired and ready to plug in. High-voltage lead-acid battery packs may require extra-cost load floors. Hub motors are available spoked into 16", 20" and 26" wheels, either front and rear. The ER controller must be protected from water. Order the RoadRunner 36 volt kit for a 900 watt assist (their smallest). Order the Phoenix Brute 36 volt kit to outfit a heavy duty cargo vehicle. Specify a thumb throttle when you order. Ask for recumbent/tandem cable extensions. Assembled in San Angelo, Texas. ER is a sister company to EV Depot. http://www.electricrider.com/index.htm
Ping Batteries: A supplier of Lithium Iron Phosphate
batteries. These batteries are appropriate for use with chain-drive
(EcoSpeed) or home-made systems. Cannot be
used with integrated systems like BionX. Can
be solar charged if desired. One of the better
batteries we have used, and one of the better companies with which we have dealt.
Batteries do not come with a case; there will be a
charge if we supply a battery box. Order the
24 volt 10 amphour LiFePO4 battery for a
minimalist system (your motor/controller must be 24
volt), or a 36 volt 20 amphour LiFePO4 battery
for medium power and medium range (when using a 36
volt motor/controller), or 48 volt 30 amphour
LiFePO4 battery for maximum power and maximum
range with a 48 volt system. EcoSpeed
specifies 3 different configurations of Ping
batteries; they are listed on
this page. Availability has been around 4
- 6 weeks. Assembled and shipped from
HUB MOTORS USED AS A MID-DRIVE
Hub motors can be used (without spokes and rim) as a mid-drive motor on Lightfoot tricycles and quadracycles. This setup provides a shiftable-gear system, as the drive of the motor becomes integrated with the transmission and consequently drives through the rear wheel's shiftable gears.
As well, a very small motor (250 watt) can have its torque compounded by mid-drive placement to make a minimalist assist that is yet suitable for effective (though slow speed) hill climbing assist. A mid-drive motor placement also makes easier the creation of power-assisted full-time two-wheel drive.
NOTE: This must be a rear-wheel motor, and it must have disk-brake mounting holes.
We do not recommend a motor of over 750 watts for this application, as the transmission's jackshaft will experience excessive stress and wear with a larger motor. The motor must have disk brake mounts.
Lightfoot has to build-in the mid-drive system during construction of the cycle. There is a cost for the brackets, chain and sprockets needed to create the mid-drive.
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