UK Censors, after being subjected to 10 hours and 7 minutes of literally watching paint dry in Charlie Lyne's "Paint Drying," were overheard saying, "It wasn't that bad. It could have been footage from one of Hillary's campaign stops."
Cell Phones vs Electric Bikes
In another bit of news, an electric bike is not a cell phone or laptop. One of these categories gets old beyond just the batteries, and one of these categories would remain perfectly useful indefinitely, were it not for battery packs dying (like this BionX battery from 2008).
iFixit is a company that does teardowns of shiny new tech devices, many of which are rather difficult to repair. The vast majority of people don't seem to mind, and talk about how repairability is an obsolete concept, and besides, the device is slow and crufty in a few years anyway.
The same is true of other forms of transportation - a car from the 1940s or 1950s is still quite capable of running safely and at speed on today's roads, and bicycles from the 1920s or 1930s are perfectly useful today (a bit heavier than modern bikes, though I don't think today's carbon fiber bikes will be rolling in 2116).
The problem is that keeping an electric bike from 2008 (or earlier) running can be very, very difficult. At best, if it's been used a lot (awesome!), the batteries are worn out from age and use. More typically, the batteries are totally dead from sitting off the charger for 6 months or a year (or three). This wouldn't be a problem if replacement packs were available, but they're not. Seriously. Go try to buy a new pack for a Trek Valencia Ride+. Or a Schwinn Tailwind. I'll wait. They look like this.
Options for a Dead Battery
- Scrap the bike. Accept that you purchased a bike with a 3-5 year lifespan, and when it's worn out, you junk the whole thing. Or replace all the expensive electric bike parts with new, also expensive electric bike parts. Or just scrap the electronic parts and be left with a less-than-ideal bike for non-motorized use. I think this is utterly absurd, but it's depressingly common.
- Try to find "new old stock" batteries that still work. They exist, but they're often not in great shape either - at best, they don't have cycles on them but they still have years on them. Good luck.
- Rebuild the battery pack. This is what I do. This is what Trek and BionX are making a very difficult process, and Schwinn has made basically impossible.
- Bypass the battery pack at some convenient point, and hook up external batteries. This is what some other people try to do. Depending on the system, it can work, but the BionX systems require opening the pack to do this, which can be very difficult. This also requires internal batteries that hold a charge. It's a valid hack for capacity loss, but it's not a safe fix for dead batteries.
Keeping Electric Bikes RunningIf you, as a designer of an electric bike, don't think anyone will want to keep your bike running in 5 years, then you must think it's a piece of crap, and you should ask yourself why you're selling it in the first place ("But Crowdfunding!" is certainly an answer, if a rather slimy one).
The Schwinn Tailwind pack? Forget it. They won't even talk to you. Schwinn tells you to call someone who has nothing to do with building Schwinn's batteries, and Toshiba tells you to call Schwinn. It's totally abandoned by everyone involved in making it, and it's got an oddball battery chemistry as well - lithium titanate, with a fancy, sophisticated BMS that nobody knows a thing about (except that they end up reliably not working).
I understand that the manufacturers are worried about liability, or lawsuits, or something. Knock it off. If it fails in warranty, it's your problem. If it fails after that, it's someone else's problem, and if you think your product is any good at all, it's likely that they'll want to keep using it. Don't get in their way.
Requests to Electric Bike Manufacturers
- When designing your packs, consider that they are a finite lifespan item on a bike that can and should last radically longer. Consider end of pack life rebuilding when you're designing a pack.
- Provide full technical information on your packs when you no longer sell them. If you're not selling them, you can't lose out on sales from third parties rebuilding, but you can make customers happy with your brand going forward.
- If you build a "kill switch" into your BMS for low voltage conditions, document how to revert it once the cells are replaced. "Use the proprietary software random users cannot get" is not an acceptable option here.
- Don't design to prevent owners from using a third party battery pack in the long term. It's fine if you don't interface properly with it, but at the very minimum, don't refuse to operate without the provided battery pack. I should be able to put "Volts & Amps" across a set of terminals and have an operating electric bike.
Thoughts for Buyers
If you're stuck with a dead ebike, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. I care about keeping older stuff running, and I'm slowly building my list of packs I can successfully rebuild. If you've got a pack I don't know, I offer a nice discount on the first rebuild of a new type, if I can rebuild it.