Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘UrbaNext

The Bicycle Diaries: Episode 13

with 3 comments

UrbanX-wheel-full

I know that this wheel is no longer being sold under the name UrbanX – or even UrbaNext – but that does not mean transactions are not continuing. The company which sold two to me has evaporated. Leaving me one wheel which simply does not work. And another that continues to frustrate me. However there are still plenty of pages available on the internet from websites which seem to have simply accepted the claims made by its makers untested. So my purpose in writing this is simply to re-issue warnings that I have made to an earlier diary entry which I keep updating but is maybe not being noticed as much as a new post.

Yesterday I took the bike out on the Greenway. It has been sitting in the locker for the winter, but the weather was so nice, and my partner was quite happy to ride her bike now that its electric wheel has been removed. I was quite surprised to find that the battery had held its charge all this time. I first did a short test along Valley, just to make sure everything was working properly. As expected the control started working once I reached 5 km/hr (based on the reading on the app) but kept on working even if the speed dropped below that provided that I did not come to a complete stop. I was even able to get the speed control on the app to work in motion and there is a real difference between the three “gears”. But it isn’t easy to hold the control down and change the bike’s gears. On the level that doesn’t matter. On a hill – such as the one up from Valley to Arbutus along King Edward Ave – it matters a lot. Once again I found myself getting off the bike and pushing. Even when the wheel is turned off it acts like a brake. The bike is much heavier with the wheel and its battery and that is all on front axle. That isn’t a good place to add weight. Pushing that bike up the hill was not fun!

If an electric assist bike is going to be useful, getting moving from rest on a hill must be the most important task. This wheel won’t do that.

On the return downhill ride on King Ed the app speed read 12 km/hr – even though I was keeping up with traffic which must have been much faster. The wheel under power does not hold back as it does when turned off. But it also doesn’t regenerate either if you did want a decellerator. It does happily bring me home on the flat Valley Drive – no pedalling, and I did not even press the throttle. But the wheel does get hot. It is impossible to pull the battery out from its housing when it is hot. So I left it in overnight. I still cannot budge it this morning. You have to hold down two tabs on the top of the battery while pulling back evenly. The battery case is smooth and there is nothing to get a grip on. You also need to have the wheel secured against something so you are not pulling the wheel over too. It is a lousy design ergonomically.

My conclusion is that while an electric assist bike is a worthwhile idea, the reality needs more than can be provided by purchasing over the internet from a Chinese company. It is cheap for a reason, and its very cheapness ought to be warning. Most ebikes and conversions come out to be more than the ~$500 I spent on each wheel. Buying from an established retailer a bike made (or adapted from) a reputable manufacturer is a lot better bet than KickStarter or IndieGoGo.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2018 at 12:27 pm

The Bicycle Diaries: Episode 12

with 2 comments

Where I live there is only one flat route out of Arbutus Village park – north west along Valley Drive. In any other direction there is a hill. In fact to get up to the Arbutus Corridor I have to get off and push. So when I saw a crowd funder for an electric wheel, that provides assistance when cycling, I decided to take a chance. It has taken six months from making my payment through KickStarter for the first of two wheels to arrive. I got one for myself and am still waiting for the one for my partner.

In the intervening period the name of the project had to be changed from UrbanX to UrbaNext.

Via Kickstarter the team reported

We received notification from BMW Auto Group that our product name UrbanX was too close to their venture fund called URBAN-X which focuses on helping emerging and start-up companies in the fields of technology and design for urban environments. You can read more about the program here. Despite our best efforts in researching our product name, we were unaware of similarity to their program and program name. The program does seem very cool in its mission to work with small businesses and help fund new innovation in urban environments.

KickStarter provided regular project updates and this video about installation

So that all looks pretty straightforward I thought. Once my wheel arrived, I unpacked it and took it down to the basement. Taking off the existing front wheel is easy, but the new wheel was a real problem. Some time ago, after renting a very comfortable bike in San Francisco, I had my Trek 800 upgraded by fitting suspension forks and a sprung saddle post. The forks were simply too fat to admit the wheel properly – and the bracket for a disc brake got in the way of inserting the battery. I took the bike with the wheel to West Point Cycles in Kerrisdale, and they replaced the forks (no suspension) and installed the new wheel for me. I then spent a while hooking up the cables and installing the control and the phone carrier – as the functioning of the electric wheel is controlled through an app. No, that installation video does not mention that – but you do get an instruction manual with the wheel. That includes a QR code for the app which is called iMortor. If you go to YouTube you will see other videos about iMortor and another UrbanX user called Edgar Cornejo who has made a number of youtube videos about his experiences.

I first tried out the new wheel in our underground garage. That really did not get me enough space to get up to speed (5km/hr), and I also missed the point that you are supposed to hold the throttle open for ten seconds, while pedalling, to get the motor to kick in. My next trip was to take the bike up to the Greenway by the hill on King Edward Avenue. This gave me enough distance to get up to speed and to hold the throttle open for long enough – and I knew the motor had kicked in as I did not have to get off and push. The app allows for three speed settings, and all of my first trip was in speed 1. The ride up to Kerrisdale by the Greenway is actually not a problem for me, I just gear down and keep twiddling. This time I did not have to gear down. As long as I was pedalling the bike kept going – and that seemed to be true even when I let go the throttle. I tried other speeds too, but that is not so easy when trying to hit the very small button on the app while moving.

Of course, no-one needs help to ride downhill. What is missing from the UrbaNext is a regenerative brake setting, which could act as a retarder and recharge the battery. Not only that but as I was in speed 1 and the app and motor was stilled turned on even pedalling downhill on King Edward, hoping to keep up with traffic, all I could manage was 12 km/hr.

Today I decided to venture further afield, so I added a bottle of water and some Cliff bars to the pannier and headed south on the Greenway to Burrard, hoping to use the new bikeway across the bridge. The east side of the bridge was closed by barriers, and a sign instructing “use West walkway”. I rode wrong way in the bike lane – and noticed that there might have been room to ride in the vehicle lane if I had been daring enough. Then down Beach Avenue and round Stanley Park (via the Chilco Loop). By now I was getting used to riding with and without assistance. In fact there were times when, with the throttle closed, I wished it was not “helping”. Equally there were times when I was below the 5km/hr when help starts and I would have appreciated it much sooner!

I had a pleasant break near the Lumberman’s arch, with a view of the Lions’ Gate Bridge and some charming company. By the time I got to the Second Beach pool, the lights on the control box were showing red – or 30% of capacity. So I stopped using the motor by simply hitting the off button, hoping to conserve power. The bike was much heavier, thanks to the wheel and its battery, but there also seemed to be significant rolling resistance when there was no power available. Given the lack of regenerative braking I found that puzzling. By the time I got to Cornwall, I decided I had had enough, and waited for the #2 bus. Getting the bike on the bus wasn’t easy before the new wheel. Now it was beyond my ability unaided. Fortunately a very strong young chap who was passing offered assistance, and the bus driver got out too! I had taken the phone off the bike to use the transit app to find out how long I had to wait, so I just shoved the phone into my pocket when the bus arrived.

The #2 was short turning at 16th Avenue, so the driver was not pressed for time, and told me she would help me get the bike off. What with the ratchet on the bike rack’s bracket and the weight of the front wheel I was very glad of her help.

I set off home along the familiar nearly flat Valley Drive route, and just out of curiosity flicked on the throttle to see how much power was left. Amazingly the bike took off like a rocket. There was no phone controlling the app – I had taken it off the bike, and hit the iPhone’s power off button reflexively when putting it in my pocket. I even stopped pedalling altogether and the motor actually accelerated! I used no muscle power at all to get home, and in fact did a lap of honour round the garage all unaided by pedalling!

It has taken only an hour or so to recharge the battery. I should also point out that getting the battery out of the wheel is in itself no mean feat. It really helps to wait awhile for it to cool down first. Then you have to hold down the two top latches while pulling evenly on both sides.

As I was an initial funder through KickStarter I paid $800 – plus $200 shipping – for two wheels. That is considerably cheaper than other electric assist bikes – or wheel conversions. However you only get what you pay for – and while others are expensive they can also be installed for you. Their offered range is considerably greater than the UrbaNext. They do have a facebook page and currently offer the wheel at $319. If you click on the Shop Now link on that page it takes you to IndieGoGo – where the “60 second conversion” claim is repeated. Sorry, that 60 seconds is not actually possible. Even if your front forks do fit first time! Allow at least an hour to set it up properly.

POSTSCRIPT 1

I should have mentioned that I got the 350W version: there is also a 250W which is a bit cheaper.

POSTSCRIPT 2

The second wheel did not turn up until we were off on our cruise. When I got back I fitted it to my partner’s bike. I was alone at the time, and did not have her phone. So when it came to test the installation I used the wheel without setting up the app. In retrospect that was a mistake. There are a couple of steps in the set-up process, and one of them is what the makers refer to as a safety device. As mentioned above you have to be pedalling and above 5km/hr to get assistance – but since I had not set up the app, it worked straightaway. But only once. It seems I burned out the control – and now I am waiting for a replacement. It is also the company’s advice to use the app downloaded using the QR code from the manual. There are other iMortor controlled devices out there and the app gets adapted to suit each one. Download iMortor from somewhere else at your peril.

POSTSCRIPT 3

There is a good article on City Lab – which looks at the Copenhagen wheel specifically – and bike conversions in general. I really wish that I had had the opportunity to borrow a tester first!

POSTSCRIPT 4

The replacement control arrived at the end of January. I replaced the control on the bike, and checked that the battery was fully charged. When I pressed the red button on the new control box, nothing happened. No lights at all. Needless to say the bluetooth connection through the phone did not work either. I sent an email to Urbanext – delivery failed. I tried using their facebook page to contact them: its content has now been removed.

So while I have one working bike the second cannot be made to work. I have removed the wheel and the control and put back the previous front wheel.

And we will eventually go shopping for new electric bikes.

By the way when I bought the wheel, it came with a one year warranty. That is printed in the user manual. The manual does not have any contact information in it. The installation video remains on YouTube, but there has never been any contact information provided there.

This report relates to a message you sent with the following header fields:

Message-id: <47DBBDE5-2017-4E5D-A597-558E7127B8B5@me.com>
Date: Thu, 08 Feb 2018 13:18:31 -0800
From: Stephen Rees <redacted>
To: UrbaNext Wheel <info@urbanxwheel.com>
Subject: Re: Problem

Your message is being returned; it has been enqueued and undeliverable for
3 days to the following recipients:

Recipient address: info@urbanxwheel.com
Reason: unable to deliver this message after 3 days

The QR code in the manual points to a Chinese web site that hosts the iMortor app essential to the wheel operation. There is no longer an English version of the app available there. As noted at the end of Postscript 2 there is a version of iMortor on Google Play but that is not designed for this wheel (so far as I can determine). It should look like this screenshot

fullsizeoutput_26aa

 

The second wheel has now been sold.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 3, 2017 at 4:58 pm