2022 - The Year Of The Solar E-Bike
Well, it’s obvious that this blog is not monthly, or even quarterly … maybe one day. In the meantime, we’ll just use it when we need to in order to share company updates! Happily, here’s a long overdue update after a couple years of feeling too busy to do this type of thing. Thanks for checking this out. You can continue to follow our story on Instagram (@solmobil), Youtube (Sol Mobil) or the FaceBook group (called SolMobìlia) in between updates like these.
- Sun Trip California Meetup 2022
- Sushil Reddy, the SunPedalRide, Completes >6,500 Mile Journey Across The US On Solar Bike Built At Sol Mobil!
- Electric Stein Trikes Are Coming To The USA
- Updates on the Organic Transit ELF
- Introducing Sol Mobil TV
- Our Bamboo E-Bike Is Getting Closer To Reality
Hi all, and thanks for checking us out. We believe, and are not alone, in thinking that 2022 is shaping up to be the year of the solar e-bike. 2020 and 2021 became formative years for the still-new electric bike industry, which experienced much better growth than previously expected due to the unique economic and social conditions created by the unfortunate COVID-19 situation. Once supply chains can get back to complete functionality, hopefully with even better resilience than before, we’ll start to see public acceptance of e-bikes like never before. And that’s exciting.
But don’t take our word for it, come see for yourself! Things are looking up. Come out to an event! Get an e-bike! Borrow your friend’s e-bike, then go climb whatever mountain you can most easily see the top of at that moment! Make your Piña coladas on solar power this summer with Sol Mobil. But most importantly, don’t hesitate to do something, anything, if you are curious at all about e-bikes or solar. Here are a few of the most important company updates we have at this time.
1. Sun Trip California Meetup 2022
After several years of consideration, and two visits to France (for the Sun Trip Tour 2017 and 2019), we were finally able to bring the Sun Trip Organization to the USA. Though this week-long trip, starting and ending in the Bay Area, isn’t exactly the coast-to-coast solar e-bike race we envision the full Sun Trip America event to be one day, it is just the starting point we need in order to build support and momentum towards the full event in 2023. If you are located on the west coast, and are interested in meeting up for this event, or something similar, contact either us or the Sun Trip organization for details.
2. Solar e-Bike Adventurer Sushil Reddy Completes >6,000 Miles On A Solar Electric Cargo Bike Built At Sol Mobil
Photo credit to Pete Prebus over at Electric Bike Report. You can view his whole article about their trip here.
One of the builds we are most proud of from 2021 is the solar bike we assembled for world famous adventurer Sushil Reddy, who used it to ride over 6,500 miles across the US this past fall. I first met Sushil when I attended the Sun Trip Tour 2017. Since I was the first and only American to participate, and not many of the participants spoke much English, Sushil and I rode the majority of that trip together, and have since stayed in touch, always talking of the possibility of collaborating again in the future.
Well, he finally made an opportunity to have what’s called the SunPedalRide USA, after years of planning. Sushil has previously received a Guiness world record for longest distance ever traveled on a solar e-bike, traveling thousands of miles across India in 2016. Since then, he’s had additional SunPedalRide events in places like France, Iceland, and the USA. This time, they started out right from the front door of our shop in Winston-Salem, NC, and proceeded towards Greensboro before heading to New York. After that, they headed towards Chicago, then Montana, then northern California before heading all the way down that long state, then all the way back over to Houston, the final destination. Now, we’re just trying to decide who should go out there and ride it the rest of the way back to North Carolina! At this point, it only makes sense to complete the loop!
Sushil’s teammate on this trip, Louis Fourzan, is a friend of Sushil’s and lawyer from Mexico. He was riding a really nice Reise & Muller e-bike, with Bosch mid drive, loaned to them by Dr. Gregory Maasen, founder of E-Bike Lovers in Washington, DC. Gregory is an incredibly exciting individual who is currently working on a bike tour project of his own: to travel the Lincoln highway route on his e-bike (an even nicer Reise & Muller). Every Dutch boy with an ebike’s dream, apparently :). We hope everybody tunes into Gregory’s tour website during that ride, and if you’re in the DC/Maryland/VA area, to the community group E-Bike Lovers as well.
Electronics we used on Sushil’s bike:
- Grin All Axle Hub Motor
- Baserunner Controller
- 6x LiGo battery modules
- Cycle Analyst v3.1 w/torque sensing PAS
- Cycle Satiator
- Genasun GVB 36v waterproof MPPT
- Two SunPower 50w flexible solar panels mounted in our plywood panel racks.
- Cycle Analogger w/GPS
- 5v converter
Over 7,000 miles and counting on the solar bike, in less than a year, without any big maintenance issues. If one of our bikes can keep up with the Reise and Muller, that officially means it doesn’t suck. Well, here’s the little stuff that did happen, if you’re curious:
- Controller came unplugged after the bike was apparently lifted over a big tree on the first leg. Easily fixed by plugging it back in, just needed to find the plug.
- Bottom bracket torque sensor crapped out somewhere in Montana I believe, though the bike still worked using the throttle. We sent a replacement, and a local bike shop installed it without any problems. It may have gotten too wet. Apparently it rained a lot the whole week before that happened. We’re not currently selling this particular torque sensor until we find the root problem with them. After all, that’s what trips like this are all about.
- The Reise and Muller needed its derailleur adjusted a few times due to all the torque from Louis riding it all day like it was his job! This was also not a problem for the LBSs they encountered on their journey.
The solar panels were mounted on custom solar racks we made by cutting Baltic birch plywood on the CNC machine, then painting them black. I first saw wooden racks used on the Sun Trip. They told me, in a heavy French accent, that 'aluminum is too weak, but steel is too strong. wood is perfect,' and after messing around with it a good bit, we actually agree. They held up better than I thought they would, though afterwards, the paint looks bad up close and could use touching up. We’re taking notes for next time. He completed the trip on around 30-35% solar power, which is great considering they finished in January, and the bike only had 100w of panels. You can imagine doing the whole trip on solar if your bike had more panels, and/or it was the summer. The main drive system was sponsored by Grin Tech, another company that is involved with the Sun Trip!
3. Stein Trikes Electric Wild One is coming to the USA!
Last year, we began selling what we believe to be one of the most refined, high performance full suspension recumbent trikes ever created: the Stein Trikes Wild One. It is the only non-electric trike on the market that uses double wishbone front suspension, and because of this, has 4” of independent travel on each tire, each one riding on an adjustable air shock.
Each one is hand made in Serbia by a small team of skilled machinists and welders. But we would argue, what with their red, white and blue Stein trike being one of the most popular color options, that these guys have an American attitude as anybody when it comes down to it. Robert and Viktor, of Stein Trikes, can be seen in an interview online, where they give a quick look of their factory and explain the reasoning behind the design of these amazing machines - which are also available in fat, tandem, and handcycle configurations. They, along with the US importer Stein Trikes US (https://stein-trikes-us.com/), are awesome to work with, always responding to input from the dealers quickly, and willing to make design changes to the trikes to satisfy any desire that may come up. They also offer a huge selection of different paint options, which really adds to the customization of the trikes. We are planning to take delivery of one of the first electric Wild One trikes ever created, to be delivered within the next couple months - then put solar panels on it, of course! Maybe even give it a nose job, since it needs headlights too! Up until now, we offered these trikes along with our conversion kits, but now we have a more ‘turn key’ option as well. Plus it’s a mid drive! Stay tuned for more on this, as we’re really only getting started with Stein Trikes!
4. What the ELF?
If you’re reading this, there’s a chance that you may own, or have heard of, the Organic Transit ELF. If not, it’s basically just an electric trike, but custom designed in order to feature a fully enclosed body w/solar roof. It really helps with aerodynamics, visibility, plus adds the ‘cool’ factor that makes the ELF truly memorable. It turns the ‘ebike’ into more of a ‘micro car, which allows people to bike who otherwise may not be comfortable getting out on the road on a regular e-bike. It was the first solar powered e-bike on the market when it came out in 2013.
Organic Transit filed for bankruptcy in 2019, so in the fall of that year, we began repairing ELFs in addition to the other e-bike repair work we already had coming into the shop. We quickly learned that there were many ELFs in need of repair, even though they only built around 850, because the company before only offered very limited repairs. I, Ryan, had taken a job with Organic Transit for a short time right after graduating college, and was uniquely familiar with its construction, so for us, it was a little simpler to navigate than a typical bike shop. That, plus the fact that we have a loading bay & lots of space, are the big two reasons that we fell into the role of ELF parts & service provider after OT closed its doors. Many bike shops are well equipped to service the ELF, maybe even better than us, but simply can’t fit it through their front door, or don’t have easy access to the right electronics.
We’re now able, after almost 3 years of this, to take in a ‘dead’ ELF, snip off everything electrical, then just wire up a Phaserunner controller directly into the ELF’s existing motor, which is usually still operable. Quickly, and without too much drama (… anymore …), we then have it running, in super quiet FOC (field oriented control) mode, with smooth power roll on, hall sensors and everything. We then replace all the 12v wiring as well to make sure the relays don’t cause any problems. We call this Jailbreaking your ELF. This process also works for most other e-bikes, even ones with internal controllers like Bionx or Stromer. At some point this spring we will follow with some sort of guide that allows you to easily adapt these controllers to your existing motor. Lots of information can already be found about this process here and on Grin Tech’s website.
The Phaserunner, from Grin Technologies in Canada, is head and shoulders above any other e-bike controller we can get our hands on for many reasons. We’ll say simply that we use it because it’s impossible for us to kill in normal operation. If setup properly, too much power or moisture will not break this controller. While other controllers, even ones like Kelly or Infineon/Grinfineon are great, they aren’t quite as good as the Phaserunner, which didn’t exist when the ELF first came out in 2013. It even has ‘walk’ and ‘cruise control’ modes, in addition torque sensing pedal assist, and even solar power monitoring, which we feel really add to the overall ride experience. If you then build the motor into the rear wheel, or get a new one pre-built, instead of mounting it centrally as before, you can get the benefits of regen and reverse mode too, which we now recommend for all ELFs due to increased reliability. This is ok, since the Phaserunner has a setting called ‘virtual freewheeling,’ which enables the motor to use a tiny amount of current in order to mimic the operation of a freewheel whenever the motor is spinning freely. It’s such a low amount of amps, usually 0.2-0.5 amps, that you won’t notice a decrease in the battery capacity from this, but it is nice to not have to replace the freewheel & chain on the motor side anymore. The other setting, field weakening, is also worth experimenting with: using a high amount of field weakening, around 20 amps, we were able to up the top speed of a normal ELF from 20mph to over 25mph. That’s a huge gain considering we did not touch the battery, or anything mechanical like the gear ratios, which are the typical ways people seek top speed improvements. Field weakening does, however, lower the controller’s efficiency.
Many of you also know that a company, called Sun MicroMobility, purchased Organic Transit out of bankruptcy, which was formalized sometime in early 2021. Sun MicroMobility LLC is owned by Petrosun Inc., in Phoenix, AZ. On the other hand, Sol Mobil LLC is a small company owned and operated by yours truly, plus a lot of help from friends & advisors! We mostly say that so people don’t confuse us with them, especially since the names are so similar. No, we didn’t buy Organic Transit, we just sell e-bike parts that fit on ELFs, do repairs, and own a few ourselves. I did assemble around 6 new ELFs in the short time I worked for Organic Transit, mostly at a facility in High Point, NC. More recently, we also assembled two brand new ELFs for Sun MicroMobility for R&D purposes. We’re just a small, raggedy group of millennials who really know how to fix these bikes, and truly enjoy riding the snot out of them until they need to get fixed again. That’s the main reason we like fixing them!
What is happening with the new ELF now? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. What we can tell you, however, is what’s happening with the old ELF. While we don’t make every part that the ELF uses, we can help you get the electronics all straightened out, plus provide some of the necessary parts that do wear out over time, such as windshields, brake parts, etc., as well as fun custom parts such as wood floors and other reinforcement parts. We’re working on offering a couple more things, such as steering arms, antlers, and fenders, but to be honest, I’ve been working on this in my spare time for the last two years, and the progress in this aspect is slow. When we actually do have new parts available, they will be listed on the website once they’re in stock. When one of these new parts is made available, we will let you guys know!
We are not a contract component manufacturer, and we’re not Organic Transit. We are just a couple e-bike nerds that can help you get your electronics straightened out. Designing and making new parts for the old ELF is a rewarding process, but that process takes a long while, especially since our main focus is on customer repairs & sales of our new e-bikes. Last year, Chris the ‘ELF Guru’ moved down to Winston-Salem from Boston, and he’s been a big help to have around the shop. This poor guy has been given 5 ELFs for free over the last few years, but lacked the components and know how to be able to completely fix them up. Until now. He's brought all his ELFs with him to North Carolina, all on one trailer. At the same time. It was quite a sight!
Yes, we stopped in Brooklyn for a pizza. How can you not? There are 8 bikes in total on this load, including 5 ELFs. One of them is completely taken apart in order to make more space.
Now, between his, mine, and several customers already que’d up, we have 10 ELFs that currently need to be repaired. This is largely why we told the FaceBook groups recently that we will be taking a break from offering ELF repairs for an indefinite period. We need to finish all 8 of these first, and gear up to do it more efficiently, before taking any more in for repairs. When we’re ready for that again, we’ll let you know. Instead, and in the meantime, we want to do a better job providing information and parts for the ELF online, so that anyone, or most bike shops, can more efficiently fix it themselves. We’ve found that most good bike shops can handle repairing the ELF no problem if they get access to the right electronics.
5. Sol Mobil TV
Over the last few months, we’ve begun documenting lots of our e-bike adventures on video, and attempting to compile them into videos. We figured this is one of the best ways to connect with people online who are interested in the solar e-bike revolution. Sometimes they will be about touring on e-bikes, while other videos will be more maintenance oriented. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll just catch us having to do maintenance while actually out on said bike tour ;). I promise the next one will be less boring!
6. Our Bamboo E-Bike Is Getting Closer To Reality
First bamboo bike, 2018
Second bamboo e-bike, frame only
Here's the second prototype, in it's natural habitat, on the roads of the Sun Trip Tour 2019 near Albertville, France. The solar charges faster when you do this.
3rd prototype, just completed in December 2021.
4th prototype is in progress.
After around 5 years of learning, and building a few e-bike frames out of bamboo, we’re getting closer to the point where we can offer these types of bikes to customers. If you follow our Instagram, you can see that our own frame, a long tail cargo e-bike, is still in development; the current prototype was handmade using bamboo and hemp fiber, while the next test bike is being made using wood lugs in addition to the bamboo and natural fiber reinforcement. We’ve been testing the current prototype, #3, for the last few months. The second prototype, #2, was finished in 2019. We also prototyped the solar electric system with our friend Sushil’s solar e-bike this past year (see above).
As these frames get closer to reality, we also decided to offer the same concept using other frames as well. Starting in a month or so, we will begin offering electric adventure bikes based on bamboo frames manufactured in Ghana by a company called Booomers. This group first worked with bamboo bike revolutionary Craig Calfee in order to learn the specific skills necessary for production of these frames. Now, after over 10 years of practice, they are able to complete these high quality bike frames and import them into the US. We absolutely support their mission, and figured it’s a great way to offer the right type of bikes we want to have at a reasonable price. Once we have the first demo bike assembled, we will surely give pictures and detailed specs!
Thanks for reading this update. We hope to offer you more like this in the future. For more up to the minute happenings, check us out on Instagram, or swing by the shop!
- Ryan Gillespie
We’re currently open Tuesday-Friday 12-5, especially until we can find another, operations oriented person to bring on who can help with sales, answer the phone, assemble new bikes, and fill orders with customers. If anyone online knows a good bike mechanic/operations type person, in the North Carolina area, who’d be interested in that role, let us know. We want to hire at least one bike mechanic in the next 6 months, partly since the last one we had working went back to college. You may notice that we usually don’t answer the phone before 12pm, and apologies for that. But after, when we’re in the shop from 12-5ish, you’ll probably get a call back from someone if we don’t answer right away. If we don’t answer, do leave a message so we know to call back. This should get better with time. Thanks again for your interest and support!