This is a guest post from 70-year-old Bob Seible, who decided to build an electric bike that would be tough enough to meet his needs. As I have written in my Guide for Fat Cyclists, most bikes are only intended for people up to about 220 pounds. Bob is in a higher weight class that that, so he wanted a good, strong bike – and he wanted it to be electric as well. Also, he was working to a pretty tight budget. So, this is the story of what he did. I found it very inspirational, and I hope you do too!
Over to Bob:
At 330 pounds, I was worried about the stability of bike frames and the ability of any electric motor to put up with me. I have to add that I am also 70 years old with a vision handicap, too. Most people informed of my e-bike fantasies might roll their eyes or shrug your shoulders, but I had a serious talk with my doctor, who encouraged me to follow my wishes. Well, I have, and I am glad of it, too.
I live south of Denver along the North Platt River, where there are miles and miles of paved bike and hiking trails. The constant sight of cyclists roused memories of the 1960s when I owned the roads and foothills on my Schwinn Continental. I was 6’4”, 180 lb back then and that Continental, with her steel frame and rims, was the perfect bike for me.
I wondered if there was any such thing as a perfect bike for a “morbidly” overweight old man with macular degeneration … and some COPD for good measure.
I searched the commercial brands for a long time and watched e-bike reviews till I has seen about all of them. They were too expensive (for a fixed-income retired guy) or too dang flimsy looking. I had to do something if I were really to join the cyclists going up the trails past my door every day.
Giving up my driver’s license because of my vision problem was a major life-changing deal, and also explains my e-bike motivation a bit more. I gave up my driver’s license willingly of my own accord. I could no longer see what I needed to see on the road. However, the vision one needs to drive a 4,000-lb car at any speed is not the same as one needs to pilot a 70-lb. bike at 10 to 15 mph. I’m not blind: at its worst, macular degeneration destroys the small center of the retina, leaving all the surrounding peripheral light cells intact. I can see you fine, just not your subtle facial expressions, or fonts smaller than 40 pt. Curbs, potholes, rabbits, dogs, and little kids are very visible to me.
Isolation and dependency are the immediate effect of not being able to drive. An e-bike would help ease these two sad consequences IF I could find one right for me.
After a while I gave up on the commercial bikes and began looking at the do-it-your-selfers, the DIY guys. I was surprised at the cult status building your own bike has! It reminded me of the late 1950s and 60s hotrod motorheads and cyclists. There is definitely that feel about it but, then again, you have to be an antique like me to remember those fine days.
So, I started reading and learning. What better way of finding your perfect bike than building it yourself?
But could I still handle the tools and very small parts with my vision? At this point I decided to just do it and find out.
I planned it all out on paper and got a rough idea that I needed around a grand; I borrowed it on my life insurance and set down ordering what I needed on Amazon and eBay. I chose to go with a basic fat bike, a Mongoose Hitch, and a 1200 watt direct drive electric bike kit from Ebikeling. I also bought a 48 v 11.6 ah battery. This was almost my entire budget with just these purchases alone.
When the bike came it took me a while to discover it had a slightly twisted fork. I wondered what to do because I was already planning to buy an upgrade suspension fork. I went ahead and got another replacement bike. Meanwhile, I remounted the rear tire on the motor rim, and transferred the brake rotor to the rim. A dozen other upgrades came in while I waited for the replacement Hitch: new pedals, head and tail lights, a rear rack for panniers, other bike baggage needed for electronics, and on and on.
My mistakes: ordering on the cheap. I bought a bike tool kit for not much and got exactly that: not much. I bought a bicycle repair stand that couldn’t handle the weight of a motorized fat bike … totally worthless to me. There were little items like a brake-activated light … didn’t work. I spent maybe $100 on things that proved less than useless. Although, I gradually learned how not to shop on eBay. Generally, the cheapest will probably be worthless. Read reviews and look at the gold stars.
The replacement bike arrived and then I waited more than a month after that for the suspension forks. Mounting the rear wheel on the fat bike by myself and without a work stand was difficult. The installation of the new front fork with bearings and all went smoother than I thought. I had also ordered two Origin8 Supercell Wire Bead Fat Bike Tires, or so I thought. I really thought I ordered a pair of them but it was only one I had purchased. Oh well, I have a fine road front tire and a knobby rear tire. This will have to do and really doesn’t look that bad, IMHO.
After almost two months I was done, although I don’t think there is ever an end to the endless tweaking and fiddling with a bike. For instance, I discovered that the placement of the washers on the rear axle affects the way the disk brakes can be adjusted. I found out the difference between “post” mounts and “IS” mounts (with the new fork, I have both, post mount in the front and IS in the back.) I have learned how to adjust the derailleur, and how to properly tuck away all the messy wiring in my controller pouch.
I felt and probably looked pretty funny on my first bike forays in 50 years. But there was a strange familiarity and exhilaration about my first small trips around the block.
I’m not kidding, but the bike and me were learning about each other. Twice it just quit in the middle of the street; a problem with a short in the wiring due to the haphazard way I had jammed it all in the controller pouch. Fixed that. Then, my rear rotor came off, spitting out all but two rotor screws due to vibration and badly adjusted rear brakes. Fixed it and learned more about disk brakes. I finally got her running smoothly just this last week and I have been gaining confidence taking her out further and further down the bike trail.
My first real destination will be Chatfield Reservoir and some trout fishing. Maybe you can imagine the satisfaction I feel just in building my own transportation for myself. It is an accomplishment for me, something that I haven’t felt for a very long time.
Riding the e-bike is not as easy as I expected; the hills mean some work even with the peddle assist, BUT, those hills are very doable and exhilarating.
Another biker passed me the other day and shouted as he passed, “How’s it going?” These boys never say a word to anybody when you are afoot. I just had time to happily say, “Hey, okay!” Pretty insignificant, you might think, but to me it meant I was finally out there rolling down the trail with those I had been enviously admiring.
So, I am at the beginning of a good adventure here in my later years. I just hope I can keep on riding for a bunch more years!
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