Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Buying an Electric Bike

68 days it's taken to get a fully functioning e-bike. 2 months and a week.

11 months ago I stopped registering my car. Working from home and living within 5 minutes walk of everything I generally need meant that, at $150 per month for registration, plus petrol, it was costing me about $50 every time I backed the car out of the driveway. Ridiculous. It's cheaper to take taxis.

But sometimes I want to go somewhere too close to bother with a taxi and too far to walk. I have a bike but I'm a fat, lazy bastard and so it has sat in the garage, gathering dust and cobwebs, for about 4 years. What to do?

Buy an Electric Bike! Cool idea, huh? If I got a folding one, I could even go further afield by riding into the city to catch a tram towards the coast or a train up to the hills. Brilliant! Plus think about the toy factor! I love a toy.

So off to Google I went. What do they cost? How fast do they go? How far? I looked at reviews and comparisons and lots of websites and YouTube videos and I found what appeared to be an absolute bargain!

A Cheetah 16" folding electric bike for only $499 (on sale for half price!) from Dillenger in Queensland. They looked cute! They said it would do up to 25kph and have a range up to 45km. Their website looked professional, they have separate sites and outlets in both the UK and USA, there were tons of reviews from happy smiling customers.

Day 1: On June 07, 2014 I ordered one, black, for $575.80 including shipping. The website says it should take 5 days. Excellent. I received no email from the company, only my receipt information from PayPal. No tracking code as promised. Nothing.

Day 6: On the 13th I emailed them and they sent me the tracking number and said it looked like it was going to turn up that day, which it did. This was a Friday. Friday the 13th.

Some minor assembly was required, which went fine, and it did indeed look very cool, I thought. Sturdy, well made. It weighed a ton! OK 28kg, but that felt like a lot.

I charged the battery, turned the key, nothing happened. On closer investigation I found a little hole that said "FUSE" and looked inside. Empty. Ah. That'd do it. I went through all the packaging, no fuse. Shit. I emailed the company again and told them I was missing a fuse, asked what kind it was so I could go and buy one. I was told to look harder, I did. Nothing. Then they said it was "specialised" and I couldn't buy one, they'd have to send it in the mail. They apologised. I couldn't try my new e-bike yet. I was sad.

I wasn't told how long it would take but it's only tiny, surely a couple of days by post should cover it.

Day 10: 4 days later, on the 17th, I emailed again to get an ETA.

"Should be any day now. Was sent late last week…" they replied, which seemed unlikely since I'd only received the bike on the Friday before and had only told them about the missing fuse at about 6pm their time.

Day 13: By the 20th I got whiny at them. "You sent me a product that won't work and then use the slowest means of transport known to mankind to send me the part required to fix it. It has been a whole week - to get a tiny little fuse... This is very poor service indeed and I'm really not impressed."

"Should be there soon."

Day 17: I emailed again on the 24th. "Was definitely sent to you a 2nd time first thing Monday morning" they said, which again seemed unlikely because that was the day before and they wouldn't have known I hadn't already received it by then.

Day 23: It eventually turned up on the 30th of June, over 3 weeks, a dozen emails and some Facebook whining after I'd ordered the bike. I wanted to be happy that I could finally try out my e-bike but I was pretty much over it. The fun had been spoiled... until I gave it a go.

Oh yes! This was fun! If a little slow. And noisy. And kind of vibratingly gratey.

This model has a separate motor, not within the wheel but bolted on underneath the frame. It has a separate chain to the pedalling one and on this bike the two chains were rubbing against each other.

I looked at the PDF manual (that they only sent me after I asked for it) and saw how to tighten the drive chain, did that, made it worse. While doing that I saw how to horizontally adjust the motor position which would separate the chains. It was already nearly as far as it would go, but I managed to get it positioned so that they merely brushed against each other rather than scraped.

Day 24: The drive chain came off. That was fixable on the run in the normal way. It happened again, and again on the one trip. I took it home, tightened the chain again, out again and it was fine for 5 minutes until the chain came off again. And again. And then lots more times.

Day 25: The pedals stopped driving the bike. The chain was fine, something in the hub had disengaged and the pedals just spun free. I picked up the back wheel and bounced it on the ground and voila! Fixed. Next set of lights it did it again for a couple of turns and then engaged again.

Day 26: I download a speed app for my phone and test the bike again. It seems a lot slower than 25kph and it is. I'm only getting about 13kph. Children on pushbikes are overtaking me.

Day 27: The pedals permanently stop serving any purpose other than as footrests. The bike's rooted!

Emails back and forth, requests for photos of certain things, more emails. They really did try but nope.

Day 30: On the 7th of July they asked me to pack it up to be returned. I said I no longer wanted that model. It was much slower than advertised (they've since removed that speed from their site, as well as the distance estimate) and I'd lost faith in the whole two chains design - and since they'd released a new model for almost the same price which had a hub motor and 20" wheels, could I have that instead? Or my money back. I wasn't interested in having the current one repaired or any other replacement of the same model.

They agreed and instructed me to hold on to the battery as it would fit the replacement bike model as well.

Day 40: 10 days later, on the 17th of July I chased them up and was told they'd just received mine back that day and would have to check the condition before sending me a new bike. I couldn't see this being an issue as I'd only used it 5 times.

Day 41: I had a phone call from them on the 18th, a Friday. We talked models and features and price difference I'd have to pay and agreed on a bike that, he said, would be sent off that afternoon. 5 working days delivery meant I should have it the following Friday, the 25th July.

"We really want you to be happy!"

Day 51: Monday morning, July 28, I receive a cheery little email, "Your bike is on it’s way!" Which seemed disappointingly likely given that I'd been told it would be sent 10 days earlier.

"Has it only just been sent from you or do you mean it's going to arrive today? I was told (on the phone) it was being sent a week ago last Friday." I replied.

"Not to sure why you got that email - we’ll check around the office but it may have been a mistake, or a bounce back error.
Your bike did indeed leave last week however thats for sure.
Apologies for the confusion. You should have your bike within the next day or two."

I asked for a tracking number...

"Well that's interesting. According to that tracking number, the bike was only sent today after all!
This afternoon, in fact, hours after you assured me it had been sent last week and apologised for the "mistake" of telling me it had been sent this morning.
You really are full of it."

"Completely understand your frustration but we are doing our best during a very busy time.
You bike will be with this week thats for sure. "

"Busy repairing all the broken bikes that must be returned, no doubt," I posted on my Facebook page, along with the above emails and a lot of ranting to demonstrate how grumpy I could really be.

Day 54: Facebook post, July 31: "The day after all my Facebook whining earlier in the week about the 'Leccy Bike, I got a long email from the company concerned. I glanced at it, noticed about 2/3 of the way down the words "diatribe" and "Facebook" and, further up, the phrase "we are not in business to piss people off" and closed it again without reading more.
The replacement bike turned up today. It's rainy and miserable outside so I can't even try it. Oh well.
That's yer update."

For a couple of days it bucketed down.

Day 56: August 2, I finally get to try the new bike, and it's great! And then the power cuts out on throttle but pedalling brings it on again. I go for a few rides about half hour each and, although the throttle fails a few times, pedalling always fixes it. I convince myself it's a design feature.

Day 58: Sunday August 3. I am hungover. I want KFC. I can HAVE KFC! I have an e-bike! KFC is about 4km away. I get there no problems and have a great deal of fun scooting around the parklands on the way. This thing DOES do 25kph. It's GREAT!

KFC is strapped to the rear tray.  Half way back the power shuts off. Pedalling doesn't fix it. It is now just a regular bike. A very heavy, non-geared bike which demonstrates some impressive resistance to being pedalled along. I can't get up even a slight incline. I get off and have to walk it home. My KFC goes cold.

Day 60: I have it on the lounge room floor, it's electrics spread out in front of me like colourdey spaghetti. Everything looks securely connected, nothing seems to be unplugged. No matter what I fiddle with, the little charge lights don't come on. Disgustedly I put it back together again. It slips off the beanbag I'm using to hold it at an angle and clunks down on it's side. The key in the side of the battery gets bent... and the lights come on.

I take the key out and the guts of the lock follow suit. Tiny little metal slotted plates and almost invisible springs swan dive into my deep pile rug. With a screwdriver I can still operate the switch though, turning the bike on and off.

Day 61: August 6. I decide to leave it permanently "on" and take the fuse out and put it back in to turn it off and on. Seems doable. I ride to some semi-distant shop, take out the fuse, buy bacon, put the fuse back in. Nothing. I pedal it home until I hit a slope and then walk it the rest of the way.

Day 62: I order another battery. This one, retained from the original bike, is clearly just as jinxed as the rest of the Friday the 13th bike was.

Day 68: Today, Wednesday the 13th August. The battery arrived. The bike is finally working.

I wonder how long for.


  1. So Derek, I ammmm wondering ... how long DID it last??! I'm interested in knowing as I, too, am a recent acquirer of aforementioned lazy-bastard type of pedal-powered albeit-as-minimal-effort-as-possible machine and I've had no end of problems with mine (well, not in terms of the structure per se, just that the fuses blow out any time we might consider any type of (gasp) incline about the horizontal). An update would be grand :) ... cheers

    1. 7 months on and it's still working! It has, in the last month or so, developed a new problem in that when I turn the battery off and remove the key, the bike stays on. I have to unscrew the lid on the fuse compartment to turn it off. When I screw the lid on again the bike stays off - and I can live with that. Otherwise it's been faultless!