Bionic Tandem Part 1

Adding electric power to our Hase Pino. For a few years we’ve been saying we would do it one day and this year feels like the right time.

pino_custom_totale
Here’s one that Hase did earlier, ours is pretty well identical with the hub motor at the front and battery+controller in a special luggage rack, click on the image for a blow-up

Why would you do that? Isn’t it cheating?
We are not as young as we were in the 1980s when we could cycle for miles in the Welsh hills. Isobel has just had a new knee to go with her new hip from a few years ago and I’d guess that our combined strength is around half what it was back then.

It really shows on group rides when we just can’t keep up on the uphills and when we struggle on the steep parts of long hills despite our ‘granny gear’ (although last year we got up the hill from Edale to Mam Tor with only three rests). So we need a bit of help but it doesn’t mean we don’t want to put in a good effort ourselves.

Is it reliable?
We’ve been waiting for a really good electric drive to come along. There’s a lot of rubbish out there as well as a few good products.

We knew that Heinzmann made some of the best bike drives but to make them strong enough and reliable enough their hub motors had gears that were very noisy. Hase also felt the same and had held back from using Heinzmann kit on their bikes until the new Direct Power system came along, with a silent (no gears) hub motor.

The Canadian company, Bionx make a similar product, also highly regarded but the Heinzmann is the only one that will fit front wheels as well as rear, having a Rohloff hub gear at the rear we only had our front wheel available.

Actually fitting the drive to the front wheel of the Pino is a great idea because the torque of the motor gives much more shove on a small wheel, effectively it’s in a lower gear.

How far can you go?
Range is always a question mark for cycle tourists, you don’t want to spend the last 15 miles hauling a lot of dead battery and motor up every hill. Members of the Tandem Club who had fitted electric kits said they were a real help as long as you only used the assistance when you really needed it, to save the battery for the end of the ride.

We talked to Joerg Heydt at Hase who felt that the Heinzmann kit could cover 60km (37miles) on a Pino and that felt as though it might be enough for us. We might ride further than that some days but I was planning to use it only on the uphills and only gently so we might be able to go further than somebody who kept the drive power turned on.

The Heinzmann kit has regenerative braking, one of the benefits of getting rid of the gears. Joerg, felt that we might get about 15% extra range from that but the main benefit was that it acts as a useful drag brake, limiting the heat build up in the disk brakes on long hills.

Heinzmann provides a very big 400 watt hour battery, one of the biggest on the market (they make an even bigger 500 WH frame-mounting battery but it’s too bulky for the Pino frame). One argument goes that you actually need a small light battery, one that’s easy to pull uphill and just there for when you really need some help. However the Heinzmann motor is a heavy item so a light battery would still leave you with a lot of extra weight and less to power it with.

Where do you get it from?
The obvious answer was to buy a kit from Hase so we asked JD Tandems to order one for us. Then we discovered that Hase were not supplying retro-fit kits yet, and will only do so when they are available with a pedal rotation sensor, rather than the more sensitive but more complicated torque sensor supplied at the moment.

We didn’t want to wait several more months and I rather liked the idea of a torque sensor. Joerg confirmed that it gives a more natural feel which experienced cyclists would appreciate. JD Tandems had some experience with fitting torque sensors and said they would help me to fit it (replacing the bottom bracket bearing unit with an electronically clever unit that measured the force you apply to the pedals).

So we tracked down Andreas Schroeer, the UK Heinzmann importer and he was able to answer some other questions we had. Once he had looked at a photo of a Pino with Direct Power fitted (that one above) he was able to explain how it would all fit together on our bike and how we would deal with the need to split the wiring when we transported the bike by car.

We also had to do some guesswork on the lengths of cable needed and I over-estimated some of it (better safe than sorry) so we have some cable coiled up at the front of the luggage rack. All stuff that would be much easier if Hase were supplying a dedicated kit. I suppose I could shorten the cables myself, I’m used to soldering and connecting basic electronic stuff, but as it need’s to be weatherproof it’s not wise to interfere with the factory setup.

On the other hand buying direct and doing much of the work myself saved quite a lot of money compared to having it supplied and fitted by the Hase Dealer.

Is it Easy to Fit?
Yes and no. I decided to do as much of the work myself as possible, mainly so I would know how it went together. The kit took around a month to arrive in the UK, then Andreas needed a few days to program it for our particular setup. As it was the first Direct Power kit in the UK he wanted to take time to ensure it was right.

He sent off the hub motor to JD Tandems, for John to build into a wheel, it’s basically a very big heavy hub for a spoked wheel, with the mountings for a brake disk. The spokes were extremely short and had to be made specially. Heinzmann will supply the hub already fitted to a 20″ wheel but I felt it was important to get John to build the wheel as he knows the bike very well.

The rest of the kit arrived at our house and I spent a few hours fitting it all together, apart from the torque sensor. It was pretty straightforward although routing the cables tidily required some thought and is still a work in progress.

Heinzmann supplied a new luggage rack designed to incorporate the controller and removable battery and I did some bodging to make it accommodate our Topeak MTX pannier trunk.

I also had to work out how to fit the Heinzmann display unit and the little three-button controller to the Pino’s unusual handlebars. I’ll go into more detail about all that stuff later.

Then I took the bike up to JD Tandems in Gargrave and it took about 2 hours for John to replace the bottom bracket with the torque sensor, including drilling a big hole in the BB shell for the sensor cable, plus fitting the wheel. There was a bit of a struggle because the brake disk didn’t seem to be correctly aligned and John had to do some shimming. The torque sensor took a while to fit, we had to remove the redundant original lighting cable which runs through the frame tubes and was jamming on the sensor unit and there’s some gentle persuasion needed before the sensor/bottom bracket unit will slight into the right position.

We plugged everything together, wrapped cable ties round everything in sight to make it temporarily secure and, after a small problem because the sensor cable wasn’t firmly connected (needed a stronger push than we wanted to give it), it was running.

I did a short test ride as far as the nearest hill and it seemed to be working fine, although the area immediately round Gargrave is quite flat, John had a go, having ridden other pedelecs and felt it was OK so off I went home although I was not confident that the regenerative braking was working.

Did it Do the Job?
We had a few days riding around our area of Sheffield which has a good mix of terrain. The regenerative braking was definitely not working and Andreas realised that there was a step in the programming that he had missed, I guess it’s not surprising in a brand new product and he promised to fix it and get the controller back to me very quickly if I could send it to him.

Otherwise we had a slightly worrying moment on our first two person ride when the drive didn’t start at the first time of asking although all the indicators on the display were OK, then it did kick in a bit later. The same thing happened once more after I reassembled the bike at the weekend for a bigger test ride, so we’ll need to keep an eye on that.

Anyway, the first three days allowed me to do a bit of a test on battery consumption. The distance covered before the battery indicator went down to 5/6 seemed to be about right for a 60km+ range and the drive did gave us a real help.

As others have said it’s more like a gentle push from a following wind than a big shove although turning the power up to the full three bars did give a much more perceptible help and made steep hills much easier. But the real test was to come that weekend, I’ll describe that in the next post.

So to Summarise It was a bit of a pain being pioneers with a completely new product, no reviews to help us understand what we were letting ourselves in for and everybody learning on the job, but it’s clearly a high quality piece of kit. Both Hase and Heinzmann have been very helpful and JD Tandems were great with the very flexible help I needed to get it installed. Buying it this way was cheaper than getting the kit from Hase but the Hase price probably includes a full installation service from the dealer so it’s swings and roundabouts.

I’ll follow this up with a test report from our (very successful) ride in the Black Mountains at the weekend and also give a lot more detail of the fine points of the installation.

Postscript 2nd May: The controller is back from Andreas and the regenerative braking is now working, in fact coming down the long hill near our house shoved the battery level indicator up a bar (it had only just dropped down).

Next Post in the Bionic Tandem story

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2 Responses to “Bionic Tandem Part 1”

  1. Jeff Frost Says:

    Point of pride, Bionx is CANADIAN!!!!!, was developed in the province of Quebec, and then purchased by the MAGNA corporation.

  2. chrisrust Says:

    Ouch! thanks for that Jeff, I’ve updated the post.

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