Sunday, June 28, 2015

Electric Bikes for Commuting in the Greater Seattle Metro Area

Last updated 25 June 2015

This document is intended as a somewhat living document to describe why electric bikes are awesome for commuting in the Greater Seattle Metro Area, and why you should consider one!

Yes, it's long.  There's a lot to be aware of.

I’ve linked to vendors and products here, but please don’t take them as the only options.  They’re just things I’ve personally used (or friends of mine have used) and am familiar with.  There are many, many valid options!

Also, please note that most of my suggestions are geared towards a daily commuter.  I'm not interested in building 60mph weekend toys.  I'm interested in boring, reliable, "daily driver" grade bikes that can get people around legally with a minimum of maintenance and drama.  This guide also assumes you want to build your own, though at the end I touch on a number of prebuilt bikes and things to consider.  Many of the same considerations apply to building your own and evaluating a prebuilt electric bike, though!

My Seattle Eastside Daily Driver

What is an electric bike?

It’s very much like a bicycle, except it’s electric!  More specifically, it’s a bicycle (with working pedals) that includes an electric (very specifically electric) motor.  Anything with a gas motor does not count here, and is legally something different.

Why are they awesome?

The hills around here suck to climb (in the majority opinion - some people love them), and traffic sucks.  In warm weather, you typically end up hot and sweaty, requiring a shower at both ends of a commute.  In cold weather, after bundling up enough for the cold and rain, you end up hot and sweaty inside the layers, requiring a shower at both ends.  With an electric motor, you have a vehicle that ranges somewhere between providing a light assist up hills (often referred to as a “hilltopper” setup), and one that is capable of hauling you the entire commute distance on motor/battery power alone.  I prefer the second type.

In addition, you're allowed to use bicycle lanes and pedestrian overpasses, so you can bypass the stopped traffic that is a frequent feature of this area.

Want to know more?  Dive on in!

How is that even legal?

The law!  Washington is actually a bit nicer than most states in allowing up to 1000W (most states limit electric bike power to 750W).
Specifically, RCW 46.04.169 defines an electric-assisted bicycle (working pedals, under 1000W, 20mph cap on motor assist):
"Electric-assisted bicycle" means a bicycle with two or three wheels, a saddle, fully operative pedals for human propulsion, and an electric motor. The electric-assisted bicycle's electric motor must have a power output of no more than one thousand watts, be incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than twenty miles per hour on level ground, and be incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power alone is used to propel the device beyond twenty miles per hour.
As far as things you can and cannot do on an electric-assisted bicycle, RCW 46.61.710 says: “Stay off the sidewalk, don’t go on limited access highways, and obey other signs.  Otherwise, you’re a bicycle, act like it.”  Selected parts of the code:
(3) Operation of ... an electric-assisted bicycle on a fully controlled limited access highway is unlawful. Operation of ... an electric-assisted bicycle on a sidewalk is unlawful.

(5) Subsections (1), (2), and (4) of this section do not apply to electric-assisted bicycles. Electric-assisted bicycles and motorized foot scooters may have access to highways, other than limited access highways, of the state to the same extent as bicycles. Subject to subsection (6) of this section, electric-assisted bicycles and motorized foot scooters may be operated on a multipurpose trail or bicycle lane, but local jurisdictions may restrict or otherwise limit the access of electric-assisted bicycles and motorized foot scooters, and state agencies may regulate the use of motorized foot scooters on facilities and properties under their jurisdiction and control.
Realistically, this means means "Don’t be that person."  Doing 40mph down the Burke Gilman trail on Saturday is a bad idea for a multitude of reasons.  It’s also illegal in King County.

King County Code 7.12.295.E covers King County Recreational Trail use, and you should be aware of the fact that electric bikes are not legal on the trails.
A.  No person shall travel on a trail at a speed greater  than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.  In every event, speed shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with others who are complying with the law and using reasonable care.  Travel at speeds in excess of 15 miles per hour shall constitute in evidence a prima facie presumption that the person violated this section.   
E.  No motorized vehicles shall be allowed on King County trails.  For the purposes of this section "motorized vehicles" means any form of transportation powered by an internal combustion or electric motor.  This includes but is not limited to automobiles, golf carts, mopeds, motor scooters, and motorcycles.  This section shall not apply to wheelchairs powered by electric motors, or authorized maintenance, police or emergency vehicles.

Now, with all that out of the way, it’s reasonably unlikely that anyone will stick an ammeter on your battery to verify power consumption unless you've already screwed up a lot, but if you’re radically exceeding the legal power limits, don’t be an idiot.  Nobody is likely to complain if you’re pushing 1500W to climb a steep hill at 13mph in the rain, but if you're riding a 60mph 6kW Endless Sphere Special down the Burke Gilman, you're probably going to piss people off and get the cops called on you.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

One other interesting thing to note is that Washington law (nor any other electric bicycle law I’m aware of) doesn’t specify anything about how power is measured - it just says, "1000W."  Is it peak theoretical electrical draw?  Peak mechanical output?  Sustainable continuous electrical or mechanical power?  There’s some wiggle room for creativity, but if you’re finding yourself having to be creative to a cop or judge, you’ve made a series of bad decisions somewhere along the line.

Seattle Area Considerations

If you live in the Seattle metro area, you are most likely intimately familiar with the two issues here: Traffic, and parking.  Or, you work from home.  The streets can resemble parking lots much of the day, and parking lots can resemble a ship packed with cars for transport.  Realistically, we have too many cars on the road, and too many cars for the parking in many areas.  An electric bike bypasses both issues cleanly.

You can use bike lanes, pedestrian walkways over highways, the Cross Kirkland Corridor (perhaps not legally, but... it happens - see "don't be that person" and avoid peak trail traffic times), etc.  This allows for smoothly and effortlessly blowing past dozens or hundreds of stopped cars on your commute, every day.  My 4.5mi east side commute takes somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes, depending on how I hit the lights.  Driving ranges from 20-45 minutes, though it’s probably been worse lately on some days (if I were to have made the epic mistake of driving).

A lot of local companies have bike cages, locker rooms, showers, etc.  Even if your company doesn't have showers, part of the perk of an electric bicycle is that you don't get sweaty, so you can just ride in your work clothes, or change quickly in a bathroom when you arrive.

Avoiding Getting Wet

It rains here.  Yes.  You might get wet.  Yes, you'll hear people all over say, "Oh, I'd commute on bike, but what about the rain?"  Getting wet still beats sitting in a car on I-5 or I-405, doing 3mph, wondering who crashed into who up in Everett.  Traffic out here seems worse than usual whenever it's raining.  However, there are solutions to keep you dry!

You will need full-length fenders (see below) for both of your wheels.  Much of the moisture doesn't actually come from the sky, but gets kicked up by your tires from the ground - and fenders do an amazing job of keeping that off you (as well as the nasty grit that builds up on the roads out here during the winter).  If you're willing to wear some waterproof gear (which is remarkably inexpensive), you can keep quite dry in the vast majority of weather conditions.  Combine this with a dry change of clothes in a waterproof bag or backpack, and it's far less of an issue than most people think it is.

Some suggestions for "staying dry" from various people include:
Gore Bike Wear
Shoe covers (though most bicycle shoe covers assume you have clips)

An alternate solution is "Layer, get slightly wet, and dry stuff at home."  Waterproof gear is really nice, though.


For the Seattle area, with all the hills, there are two motor and drivetrain choices you should consider (and many you should not).

In my opinion, the best option is a brushless, geared hub motor in the rear wheel.  This type of motor has a compelling blend of torque, top speed, light weight, and a slight bit of stealth (most aren't much larger than the brake rotors, though they do have a distinct gear whine when running).  Be sure that you pick a motor with good axle seals - some of the cheaper geared motors do not do a good job of keeping water out, which is very important for year round commuting out here.  BMC makes good motors, and the HPC Thunderbolt (a rebadged BMC) is a good motor for this area.  Expect to spend $500+ on a motor/controller combination for something decent.

All of the geared motors on the market today have a one way clutch such that the drag when they are not running is no more than a standard freewheel setup.  You can’t do regenerative braking with them, but otherwise they’re great, and they put out a lot of torque, which is essential for hill climbing.

Another decent option (though I do prefer the rear hub motor) is a mid-drive motor, which transmits power through the chain from the front sprocket.  If you do go this route, strongly consider an arrangement with a simple straight chain line and an internally geared rear hub or CVT-style rear hub.  This is a popular arrangement among many of the crowdfunded bikes.  The downside to this system is that a lot of power is going through the chain, and chain stretch/sprocket wear will be accelerated.  Combine this with the normal grit and grime of daily commuting, and you have to be very on top of chain wear or you'll destroy sprockets in a hurry.  This may be acceptable, but a rear hub motor transmits power directly into the rear wheel, so stresses on the chain are reduced.  Additionally, a high quality geared or CVT rear hub is very expensive!

Direct drive hub motors are better suited to high speed running, and while they do have regenerative braking capability, the weight and generally lower torque make them less well suited to this area.  Most DIY builds won't bother with regenerative braking anyway, and the amount of energy that can be recovered from a bicycle and rider descending a hill is minimal.

You should get a brushless motor - period.  The old brushed motors are not nearly as efficient, and don’t handle sustained high power as well (they overheat).  Get the motor and controller as a pair, as they will work best together.  A sensored motor (with hall effect sensors for position) is a bit smoother and more efficient than a sensorless motor - you should go with this if it's an option.  Most geared motors have sensors.  The advantage of sensorless motors comes when you want to push several thousand watts of power, which is not useful for commuting.

Don’t bother with a front hub motor.  The front fork is not designed for taking any significant amount of power, and failures of the fork due to motor stress are ugly and painful.  While you can run 200-250W on the front without too much trouble, that’s not enough for the terrain in Seattle.  Pushing beyond that starts getting hazardous - you run the risk of front dropout failure.  You can work around this somewhat with torque arms, but the rear hub is a better place for a motor.  In addition, on wet roads, a moderate to high power front hub motor will cause wheelspin on uphill starts.  Cool, perhaps, but not useful for getting you anywhere.

Around here, a peak power output around 1000W is nice.  That will carry a bike and rider most places without requiring pedaling, and hills only require a small amount of additional energy from the rider.  If you are rolling particularly heavy and/or towing a kid trailer, you may want to add a bit more power (1200-1500W) or consider a mid-drive system.

Throttle?  Pedelec?  Huh?

There are two common systems for making an ebike "go."  The first is a throttle on the handlebars.  This is totally separate from the pedal system, is typically the control system of choice for DIY builds, and you thumb or twist the throttle to go.  It's really slick!

The second system is a pedelec (pedal electric) system.  In this system, the bike determines that you're pedaling, and adds appropriate power.  Some monitor how fast you pedal, others monitor how hard you pedal.  In general, the ones that monitor how hard you're pedaling (torque sensing) will be nicer to ride.


Get a lithium-based battery pack.  Period.  Lead acid, nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and other older battery chemistries are simply not worth considering anymore.  I’m a huge fan of Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) for a daily commuter, as it’s a quite safe chemistry (not prone to catching fire when abused), and the cycle life is measured in thousands of cycles (with a cycle being a full discharge, so you generally won't go through a full cycle per day of commuting).  The voltage during discharge is also quite steady as the battery drains, which means you have constant power available throughout the commute.  They’re a great battery for a reliable commuter ebike.

There are plenty of other lithium chemistries out there, many of which are more energy dense than LiFePO4, but they usually have a significantly lower cycle life/calendar life, or are significantly more hazardous to deal with.  However, lithium battery chemistry continues to advance quite rapidly, so what is true in 2015 may not be true in a few years!

Typically, commercially built electric bicycles will use one of the more energy dense chemistries.  They're usually just fine, though the pack may or may not last more than a few years of daily commuting before needing a rebuild.

Please don’t build a hobby lipo based battery pack.  Ever.  Yes, they're cheap.  Yes, they're powerful.  Yes, they have a disturbing tendency to catch on fire and emit long, powerful jets of flame.  The thermal runaway temperature is very low (130C-150C, typically), and when they decide they're unhappy, they go from very normal looking batteries to an aggressive fireball in a hurry.  There's absolutely no reason to run a battery chemistry this dangerous on a daily commuter, especially if it will be charged at work or at home.

If you're buying your own pack, you will want to size your pack for your commute range.  A throttle-powered ebike will typically draw 25-35WH/mile (watt-hours per mile - a measure of energy), and a pedelec bike will typically draw 15-20WH/mi (since you have to pedal, it's harder to be lazy on them).  If you size the pack a bit larger than this metric indicates, you'll have excess capacity for lighting, running random other places after work, and will still be fine as pack capacity decreases over time.  I like to make sure my pack can work for a round trip commute, as carrying a charger is annoying.

Note that the above numbers are fairly general ebike numbers for typical commuting speeds, and should be applied to any crowd funded bikes that promise absurd ranges with tiny battery packs as well.  If the math doesn't add up... they're probably being "excessively creative" with their range numbers (or have range calculated assuming minimum assist, and a world class cyclist in the saddle).  But, if someone is claiming a 70+ mile "range" on a tiny battery pack, be suspicious.

Voltage is somewhat up to your desires and needs.  I suggest either 36v or 48v, as lower voltages require a lot of copper to make good power (amperages are very high), and higher voltages require more specialized controllers.  In general, the higher the pack voltage, the faster the bike will go.  I’m quite happy with my 36v pack for commute duty.

I've been incredibly happy with my BatterySpace pack.


Get a rugged mountain bike frame for ebike use.  The motor puts a good bit of power into the bike frame, and as rolling resistance doesn’t matter as much as on a pure pedal power bike, the somewhat wider tires are well suited to year round commuting.  You can go with front and rear suspension if desired - I like front suspension, but found rear suspension to be a bit overkill for a commute (though really comfortable).  You don’t need an incredibly expensive frame, but get something more than a department store frame.  A recently built steel or aluminum mountain bike frame is a good starting point.  It may not be a good idea to use an older frame - welds can degrade with time and stress.

Weight isn’t a big deal - you have a motor.  A heavily built downhill mountain bike frame is quite well suited to the demands of electric commuting - the frame is designed to take abuse, and hitting some of the potholes or road work around here at speed counts as abuse.

Be sure the frame is designed for disc brakes.  See below.  You really, really want them around here.


Get fenders.  End of discussion.  The more of your wheel they wrap around, the better they are.  You want something as tightly fitted as possible to eliminate side-spray.  If the front fender does not drop down far enough, get some of the "Seattle mud/rain flaps" sold at most local bike shops (they'll know what you mean) to extend fender coverage further down.  This helps keep the spray off your shoes.

The rear fender should be a wrap around fender covering 180+ degrees of wheel.  The standard mountain bike "spray guard" fenders that are a good distance away from the wheel are almost worthless, and your back/backpack will be coated in a uniquely disgusting mix of water, grit, and oil.

Your local bike shop should be able to help you out with fenders if you ask - they're (hopefully) staffed by year round bike nuts, and should have a really good idea of what works and what doesn't.

If you're on the east side, Woodinville Bicycle is an amazing shop.

Chain & Gearing

For a bike intended to be a full time electric bicycle with a powerful motor, you don’t need a full range drivetrain as you would without a motor - even with the hills.  A large single front chainring is more than sufficient for the pedaling you may do.  As a reference point, my bike with 26" wheels has a 48 tooth front chainring and an 8 sprocket 12/34 rear freewheel.  I spend most of my time in 5-8 on the rear, and only drop down below that for really steep hills (Tolt Pipeline Trail out of Woodinville, as a specific example).  The chain is a bit crossed up when climbing in a low gear, but I’m not putting massive amounts of power through it frequently, so I’m not terribly concerned about it affecting chain life.

The advantage of this unusually tall gearing (for a commuter bike - yes, I know, you road bikers run like a 100 tooth front chain ring and a 12/3 rear cassette) is that I can contribute meaningfully at normal cruise without having to spin incredibly fast.  It also simplifies the bike somewhat.  If you build a throttle controlled electric bicycle, using a twist grip shifter mounted "backwards" on the left bar allows you to shift the rear without having to let off the throttle.  It feels weird for the first mile, then you get used to it and it's fine.

If you’re only adding 200-300W to a bike, you may want to just keep the normal gearing as the motor won’t affect performance as much.


Go with hydraulic disc brakes.  Front and rear.  Two piston (or more).  Trust me on this.  You’ll be rolling fast on a reasonably heavy bike, and dealing with some good hills around here.  Rim brakes don’t work well when wet, and also grind the rim of your wheel to destruction when the wheel and brakes are covered in the standard winter grit.  Cable operated disc brakes are OK, but need more frequent adjustment.  A dual piston hydraulic setup gives great stopping power, and requires less adjustment.  Be aware that you may need to ride the brakes slightly if it’s raining to dry them out before expecting full braking power, but you won’t have the same "complete lack of braking" problem of rim brakes.

You may go through brake pads rapidly.  I suggest learning to change them yourself - it's not hard.  Failure to change the brake pads in time can not only land you in a dangerous situation with very limited braking, but you can also destroy your rotors.

Go with the largest front disc the forks can safely take.  A heavy ebike is running on the high end of what bike disc brakes are designed to deal with, energy-wise.  Larger rotors will take longer to fade and will give you better stopping performance.

If you find yourself fading the brakes regularly, consider changing pads.  Koolstop makes some electric bike compound brake pads that, so far, seem excellent.  They don’t fade nearly as quickly as normal pads, and I’ve gotten enough heat into my rear rotor to blue it somewhat without brake fade.  This is genuinely impressive performance from a set of pads!

Lighting & Neon

You cannot be too bright.  People assume that bicycles move slowly, even though you’re not going to be moving slowly.  More front lighting helps, and the best trick I’ve found to help reduce "idiots pulling out in front of me" is to have two strobing lights, mounted at either side of the handlebars (just inboard of the grips).  The distance between them helps people judge speed more accurately than a single center light.

Another very useful suggestion for commuting is to wear a single color neon jacket or shirt, and have a clashing neon helmet cover (also of a single color).  This stands out as it's very unnatural, and doesn't hide in the shadows like a more complex pattern will.  Pay attention to how far away you see cyclists, and the ones in solid neon will reliably pop up much further away.

One advantage of an electric bike is that you have a huge battery pack available to power lighting.  There are companies that now make lights specifically designed for electric bikes - they are really bright, and are designed to run on a wide range of input voltages (often 12v-100v or so).  The power draw on modern LED lights is minimal, and the lighting is excellent.  I suggest at least 1000 lumens on the front, and more is better for commuting in the dark winters here.  The strobes should be in addition to this lighting.

Behind you, at a minimum, you want a flashing red light, and more is better.  However, rear visibility is slightly less important, as you are likely to be moving faster than traffic in many situations (or be on roads without much traffic).  A large triangle reflector on your back or backpack can more effectively make you visible to traffic approaching from behind you.  A neon helmet cover helps here as well.

If there are legal limits to how much front lighting a bicycle can have, nobody has complained that I’ve exceeded them yet.  Let me know if you accomplish this.

Every now and then you see a bicyclist lit up like a circus.  There’s a reason people do that around here.

A final consideration is that, on occasion, your battery pack may end up flat.  It's a good idea to have a front and rear light powered by a different battery, just in case.  Bike Blaze makes some good front lights that last forever in strobe mode, and eBay has a lot of cheap battery powered rear bike lights for nearly nothing.

Wheels & Tires

Your wheels should obviously fit your bike frame.  26” mountain bike wheels are a common size, though I understand they’re becoming somewhat less common on newer bikes.  Most places selling motors offer an option to lace up a rear wheel with the motor, and this is probably worth doing (as it involves custom length spokes).  Go with the strongest rear wheel offered as an option unless you like replacing spokes/wheels - the speed and weight are very hard on wheels.  Thicker spokes are better, and this is another reason to have the company that sells you the motor lace things up - they typically use thicker spokes than your local bike shop.  The spoke pattern can also have a significant impact on durability, and the motor vendor is well suited to knowing what works best.

Be aware that the wheel size significantly affects the final gearing for the motor.  Larger diameter wheels will give you more speed, but less hill climbing power.  There are simulators you can play with to give you an idea of what certain motors will do with certain wheel sizes, and this is worth doing.  For what it’s worth, the HPC Thunderbolt motor with a 26” wheel, running on 36v, is a great combination around here.

For the rubber bits, go with rugged road-focused commuter tires (these typically have some sort of kevlar armor belt).  Don’t ride on pavement with an off road tread pattern (knobbies).  For year round commuting, pick tires with grooves to channel water - it helps keep the rubber and pavement in contact.  Keep your tires properly inflated.  Thick tubes filled with some variety of sealing goop are also nice.  The weight doesn’t matter for the tires, since you have a motor, but flats are very annoying if you’re commuting (especially with a motor - it takes longer to swap a tube out).


Top design speed is somewhat up to you, but I would argue strongly that a top speed of 20-25mph is reasonable (and mostly resembles legal).  If you look up home built electric bicycle articles and guides, be aware that many people (*cough*Endless Sphere*cough*) focus purely on speed, and end up with some truly absurd creations that are not particularly good commuters (or safe, or legal as an electric bicycle, or... etc).  Bicycles, in general, are not designed with very high sustained speeds in mind, and pushing a mountain bike geometry to a cruise speed of 40+mph, while possible, is stupid.  A top speed of 20-25mph stays within a reasonable approximation of the law, and within reasonable limits for a well built bicycle frame/brakes/wheels/etc.  At least for my commute, additional speed is not particularly useful, but climbing hills at 15+mph is incredibly useful.

If you intend to exceed this speed significantly, you’re probably not building a commuter bike, but a bicycle-based electric motorcycle.  I can’t help you with this since I don't know anything about it.  Try not to die or light anything too important on fire.


By most standards, ebikes are really heavy.  It’s easy to add 20lbs of motor/battery/controller/lighting, and heavy wheels/tubes/tires add weight as well.  The good news is that it doesn’t matter!  A motor covers a multitude of bike sins, weight included.  I generally focus on getting the most durable components for a commute, instead of caring about weight.  This is a slightly odd view for people who are used to nice bicycles, and also to bike shops.  Just keep reminding anyone asking about weight, “I have a motor.”  You’ll be happier with a heavy and durable bike for commuting.

If you are planning to stick your bike on the front end of a bus, be aware that the King County busses have a 55lb limit for the bike racks.  A powerful, long-range ebike will very likely exceed this (but if you’re building a powerful, long-range ebike, you’re probably not planning to take it on busses).


A very nice ebike can be built for under $3k.  If you have a bike to convert already, or have a short commute/no huge hills, this can be significantly less.  Speed costs money.  Range costs money.  Reliability costs money.  Safety costs money.  How much of each do you want?

Build vs Buy

If this all sounds like a pain to you, but you still want an electric bicycle, you can pay about twice as much and buy a very nice electric bike built by one of the companies that builds such things.

Stromer builds some nice ebikes.
The Specialized Turbo series is impressive.
There's EasyMotion.
Currie Tech builds some nice stuff.
And the list continues.  There are a lot of companies building very nice electric bikes that work well for commuting.

If you want a totally-not-even-pretending-to-be-street-legal monster, you can’t beat Stealth.  They build electric dirtbikes with pedals.

If you want a nicely integrated kit to add to your own bike, BionX makes some nice options.  The BionX D500, Next-Gen Electric Conversion Kit may be worth considering, though for $2500 you can do a lot more and have a good bit more power if you're willing to do some of your own work.

Seattle has a number of local electric bike shops - check them out!

Crowdfunded Nonsense and Other Absurdities

There are a lot of crowdfunded bikes right now on various crowdfunding sites.  Be very cautious.  Some of them look too good to be true.  Some of them promise impossible things (mostly regarding range and charge times).  Some of them are toys, and won't hold up to daily commuting duty (or are simply absurd, unless your commute happens to take you down the beach).  None of them that I'm aware of, so far, have delivered anything resembling what they promised (the few that have delivered had significant changes in the design, and the rest are promising delivery Really Soon Now Totally For Realz).  There are a lot of legitimate companies with very solid offerings that you can get right now, and if you want to commute on an electric bike, it's a good bit wiser, in my opinion, to pay the money to get something tested and known, from an established company that offers support, than to risk some unknown fly-by-night vendor that may or may not offer an actual support once (if?) they ship the bikes.

Wheels (Copenhagen, FlyKly, and probably more to come)

I’m not a big fan of the "wheel" systems that are fully integrated into a wheel.  Putting a hot motor in the same enclosure with lithium batteries isn’t going to do good things for battery life, and the rather proprietary nature of the systems means that replacing parts or batteries in the future may be very, very difficult.  It's a set of engineering compromises intended to either optimize for the one thing that doesn't matter (installation), or, more cynically, to get a lot of press coverage.  I don't think they'll make for long lived commuter electric bikes.  And, no, I don't particularly care that my bicycle can commute with my smart phone.  I want my electric bicycle to just go.

Random Other Comments

Anderson Powerpole connectors are awesome for power wiring.
Go big on the wire.  Resistive heating of wires and connectors is not useful.  Power delivered to the motor is useful.  When in doubt, go bigger rather than smaller.
Get a bar end mirror.  They’re great.  Seriously, you need one if you're commuting on anything.
Consider buying the frame and parts separately.  If you’re converting an existing bike, you end up replacing a lot of things.  I have a lot of spare parts around from my various builds.

My Daily Driver

This is what I take back and forth to work on a daily basis.

Questions?  Comments?  Improvements?  Your commuter?

Please, leave a comment below!  If it's something I'm missing or a correction, I may delete the comment after I make the change to keep the comment section from growing too large.


  1. Russell, I've been cruising your blog and share many of the same ebike convictions. I was hoping I could describe my bike commute to you and you could recommend an ebike solution. I already have a mtn/hybrid bike that I would like to convert (A Diamondback Sorrento 90's, looks like this:$_86.JPG) My commute is 12 miles each way, with a 223ft elevation change. I do the commute once a week on a road bike averaging 15 mph. I would like to do it more often. I figure the ebike would get me out there 4 times a week. I am very price sensitive and want to replace as few parts as possible. I am not afraid of putting something together (eg. I have lots of soldering experience). What would you recommend?

    1. One of the random kits out of China is well suited to that type of conversion.

  2. The motor wreaks havoc on your spokes. Check them every few months and re-tension when they're loose.

  3. I am glad to read this post; this is truly a good site. Once again thanks! Jimmy

  4. Awesome blog. I work at Propella Electric we saw your Reddit post and would like to talk with you about blogging for us. Please email us at

  5. Thanks for sharing this great article! That is very interesting I love reading and I am always searching for informative information like this. carbon fiber bicycle rims

  6. Hey, Your blog is awesome. I have been reading through for a few days now but wanted to post.

    Basically, electric bikes are not allowed on trails but you are saying that as long as we behave and do not act & ride like a jerk, we should be ok. I have to commute through kenmore area and taking the burke gilman trail is much safer than taking the bothell way. I am on an electric bike which only has pedal assist - no throttle mode. I am wondering if I should get on to the trail or not. I can happily obey the 15 mph speed limit posted on the trail.

    1. I no longer live in Seattle, so I can't offer any particularly current advice, but, yes. Don't be a jackass on the trails and I doubt anyone will care during commuting hours. I wouldn't ride an ebike on the Burke Gilman on Saturday afternoon with all the lycras out, but morning/evening? Just keep your speed to something sane and don't ride a 5000W 45mph monster.