Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Electric Assist: Some Basic Info

The picture at left is of my awesome, amazing bike. It is a Giant Revive (semi-recumbent). I wanted to post this picture of my bike (a) because my bike is super amazing and awesome and (b) so you can see that I have a bike powered by electric assist. Now, this is not at all necessary to be a bike commuter; in fact, my husband does not have electric assist on either of his bikes, and he uses his much more often. However, I have what is called an autonomic insufficiency, the onset of which negatively affected my exercise habits, and the presence of which causes other problems for regular exercise.  I don't want to spend a lot of time boring you all with the details of this medical condition, so I will just sum up the main problem: If I exert myself too much, become overheated, or become dehydrated, I am in danger of passing out (and the tipping point for this is much quicker for me than the average individual). Since the onset of this condition, I have been slowly building back up my endurance. Five years ago, I could barely walk 3 blocks without having to take a rest; now, I can go for a 45 minute walk, or perhaps a 5 minute jog.  But the consistent pedaling of biking - particularly up hills - can often be problematic. This is where the electric assist comes in.

Now, if you want to be a bike commuter, you don't have to have electric assist. If you are of average health, you can certainly build the endurance more quickly than I can (and I've noticed a marked improvement in just two weeks). But, if you DO have health issues, there may be ways around them. And the electric assist is one of those ways.

I love this little gadget!
So, what is electric assist? Electric assist systems integrate with your bike to add a "boost" to your cycling. When you have the assist "on," it boosts the power of every turn of the pedal. So for example, depending on the level you set the assist, your 9 mph pedaling becomes 10-12 mph of progress. In addition, there is a throttle you can press to go zipping off without even pedaling. (This is usually what elicits exclamations of "Aw, COME ON!" from my son when I fly past him on an incline.)

I believe there are a number of companies you can purchase these from, but we obtained our electric assist from BionX. The systems they make can turn virtually any bike into an "e-bike" - in fact, our system was on Don's Terratrike before it made its way over to my Revive. (He nobly sacrificed it for me) The battery is also outfitted with a light, which is great for safety. Also, an additional perk of having the electric assist is that I can see exactly how many mph I'm pedaling, and I can even track how many miles I've ridden (though, our system is stuck in km and we can't figure out how to get it to miles, so I have to do a conversion - or remain happily deluded). This is great for keeping track of calories burned, when I want to track those. For someone who is very concerned about tracking all of that stuff, this system would be a big help.

The battery for the electric assist.
So, there's the basic info on electric assist. For me, it was essentially the difference between going car-less and not going car-less. Because of my limitations, there's no way I would have been able to make the change so quickly. (Perhaps if I had done a slow change over a year.) If you are thinking about bike commuting, but you have some physical limitations - I would encourage you to check out these systems. And if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments - I'm sure I didn't cover all of the information!


  1. Thanks...admittedly I was curious about the electric assist. I'm enjoying your blog a lot...keep writing.

  2. Thanks! Will do! Hopefully I will be able to keep up with it once school begins.

  3. Have you tried this to switch from km to mi?

    1. The console has a few 'issues' - they all seem simple enough but the shop I bought it through was of very little help and when I was using it I didn't track my mileage anyhow.

  4. Truthfully, *I* haven't tried anything - my knowledge of this rests solely on Don's knowledge, and he said he couldn't get it to work. So, I will try this solution tomorrow! thanks! :-)