She didn't want to be pictured in this piece, so you just have to imagine her riding at 3am up into the mountains of southern Vermont. That's the best time to avoid massive logging trucks.
Here's April in her own words...
Rather to my surprise, and to the considerable amusement of the local dairymen, it actually works.
I am able to average 18-20 mph on good paved roads, which makes the commute time much more reasonable than it would be without the assist. However, I have to plan on going no more than 15 on gravel roads and more like 10 on steep gravel roads, for safe handling. Also, not all paved roads in Vermont qualify as “good,” which can be a problem, because the damage tends to concentrate right in the bike section of the lane’s edge. You don’t notice these things so much in a car, but you notice a lot when your choices are: get in the way of a log truck, or hit a giant hole! I have found Rt 9 to be basically impassible, though there are (steep) gravel road work-arounds for most of it. Hopefully the state will FIX THIS soon.
Whatever Bafang may claim, my realistic range, with 60 lbs of stuff and middle-aged knees, is about 23 miles each way (assuming 2200 ft uphill on the way home, which nearly everything is, given where I live). I don’t deplete the battery so far on the way down in the mornings, and I plug in while I am at work and so usually start for home with a full charge, but from Putney School back to the top of Hogback Mountain does seem to run that big fancy battery right into the red. Similar length trips with less elevation change, such as to Colrain, MA and back, leave plenty of extra. However, just the 9 miles up Ames Hill Rd. can eat up 70% of the charge (steep, rough, loaded). If I wanted to do more than 45 mile round trips, I would need a second battery. This does cut my aspirational range down by a third, unfortunately, which means the bike will take several years to pay for itself—and that’s assuming the battery holds out for several years. I have a number of herds on my route I had hoped to reach by bike that are just about 30 miles each way, and I do not want to run out of battery, because I have no illusions I would be able to haul that load up the last hill on my own. I am creaky, over 40, and in only moderate aerobic shape. You bet the motor is doing a good bit of the work!
On the other hand, that was the point: this rig does make it possible to contemplate long trips and heavy loads without much pain, even lacking great athleticism on my part. I have not yet found a hill the Bafang can’t handle. I’m tired after a 40 mile trip (tired enough I’d rather do them every other day than daily), but I’m not wiped out, which ain’t bad, given that I’ve hardly been on a bike at all in a decade.
All things realistically considered, the upshot is that this rig is a bit more adventurous than I’m thrilled about at my age, but it does work, and if the controller and battery prove to have a long, maintenance-free life, it will be worth it.
*I upgraded the bike to hydraulic disc brakes, and I am VERY glad of it when plummeting down steep, washboarded, loose-gravel roads, with a load, in the pre-dawn darkness. I do note that grinding through enough bumpy gravel seems to knock them out of alignment more often than I like, and I have gotten fairly good at fixing them on the fly. (Also, Monday’s trip over flood-damaged Dummerston mud roads knocked the entire wheel loose, so do carry a crescent wrench sized for those nuts! Yes, it gave me plenty of Bad Noises warning in time to deal with it.)
*The amount of tooth-rattling bounce dirt roads generate causes me some concern, not only for my own comfort, but for the safety of my work equipment (especially the computer), and the bike itself. For example, Bafang includes a little note with their chargers saying “do not subject to vibrations.” Hello, Bafang? I’m not supposed to carry the charger with me?? I am ignoring this, but not without irritation. I don’t have a fix for it.
*Dave at VBike says the electric system can handle some rain. I suspect it cannot handle full immersion, which is pretty much what the month of July has been. I’ve been driving. Yes, I do know that means I am burning fossil fuels and therefore increasing the chances of more extreme rainfall. I don’t have a fix for this either. Even if the Bafang system can handle that much wet, I doubt my work computer could. (Or me. I matter too.)
*I had the big “death frisbee” chain ring that came with the Bafang replaced with something smaller, for more power in climbing. I find now that I don’t often use the very lowest gears, so that might not have been necessary. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t want to go a whole lot faster than 25 mph anyway, which is about where this gear arrangement tops out on flat road, so no harm done.
* Joe gave me high end double headlights wired into the main battery, one pointing out and ahead, one pointing down at the road in front of me. These are … adequate. I do have to look very sharp in the mornings, because they don’t give me all that much warning on potholes in the black dark, at least not so much as I’m used to with car headlights. It has also occurred to me, as I dodge porcupines, skunks, deer, and other nocturnal wildlife, that this would be a really excellent way to startle a bear. But on the plus side, there’s no log trucks at 3 AM!
I don’t think even the Bafang can outrun a bear.