I have no connection with the Storm Electric Fatbike Campaign although I have received a lot of very negative energy from people on the internet for my support of their campaign. One of the legitimate concerns amongst all the ridiculous hysteria is that people who buy one of these bikes have no idea what to expect. Questions like: Will the bike come assembled? What will the performance be like? Will there be a warranty? What happens when things break? What will my range be? As an objective observer who has been bike obsessed since my youth I feel like can pretty accurately answer most of these questions in a reasonable manner and make pretty accurate predictions of what people who signed up for this campaign will experience in the coming months.
The first thing that people should do is adjust their expectations. The best way to avoid disappointment is to have realistic expectations to begin with. If we contributed $499 with the expectations that Storm Sonders and Jon Hopp were going to build us this bike in their shop in California and ship out 4,000 of them from the ground up we’d all be screwed. What is happening here is you are participating in a ‘group buy’ of over 4,000 bikes shipped directly from China. A group buy is what happens on boards like endless-sphere when a bunch of people want to buy the same thing and save a ton of money on shipping by ordering a bunch of them at once and splitting the shipping costs. As far as I know this is the largest ‘group buy’ of Chinese ebikes by consumers in the history of the US. These bikes will most likely come completely assembled from the factory, if Storm and Jon are smart (it says they are Geniuses on the website) they will have the batteries shipped separately to save on costs. When Storm ships the bike to you they will ship it in 2 separate packages, one large box with the bike and one tiny box with the battery. Shipping Lithium batteries in the US is an expensive proposition, shipping them across the ocean is expensive and a pain by air, they will all come by container ship. This will take several weeks.
Most bike factories in China can easily fill 3000 or more bike orders a month. Go to alibaba.com and do a search for ‘Electric Fatbike 36v’ to get an idea of what is out there currently and note the ‘Supply Ability’. Assuming there is no holdups in customs which is where these things often get stuck, expect that you will receive a bike sometime this summer. I would say that the likelihood of all the bikes shipping out to you by May 1st is low at best.
The bike will arrive in a very large box that someone will have to sign for and will have the front wheel, seat, pedals and the handlebars removed. Do not panic, putting the front wheel, pedals and handlebars on is not hard at all. If you’re feeling like you can’t do this sort of thing, find someone else who is mechanically inclined to do it for you. You will not need to go to the bike shop to pay to have this done. There is nothing that will need adjustment. The left side pedal will install with a backwards thread so you will have to turn it counterclockwise to tighten it. Instructions are found here.
More than likely the brakes will be cable brakes not hydraulic brakes (at some point the website said Hydraulic brakes, but I can’t find that reference anymore) and they will be grossly inadequate. I recommend replacing at least the front brake (preferably both) with an Avid BB7. I would mate it with a new Avid rotor and buy it on ebay from Hong Kong, it should run about $30 shipped for one rotor and one BB7 brake (you don’t need the handlebar lever part). All disk brakes need a ‘break in’ period so the first couple of times you go for a ride the brakes will really suck. It will get better, but not by much. I’ve never bought a bike for less than $500 that had brakes that didn’t suck. Because you will be going fast and the bike is heavy and you are heavy you will need brakes that don’t suck in order to not hit things. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
What about my Warranty?
What Warrantee? I have never seen any mention of any warranty on their website. It is likely that when everything is said and done that Storm and Jon will be making around $100 a bike on their $499 bikes depending on how much they chose to fleece people for the shipping costs. To ship a bike this size in the US is around $100, to ship the battery is around $30-40 or so, although that number is a wildcard as a large number of US freight carriers won’t even ship Lithium batteries at all. You may feel like $100 is a lot of profit, but it’s not. After all their expenses and to compensate them for their time organizing this for all intensive purposes they will be very lucky if they break even. You may FEEL like you deserve to have everything on the bike warranteed and replaced whenever it fails for the next 5 years, but more than likely that will not happen. Before you get pissed off at them just consider that instead of busting their asses to deliver 4000 bikes they could just take your $3,000,000 and go to Tahiti. Assuming that they don’t do that just be grateful for what you get.
What do I do when stuff breaks?
When stuff breaks you will have to buy new stuff. The good news is that almost everything on this bike is dirt cheap to replace with the exception of the motor and the battery. Figure $80 for a new motor +$40 shipping and then another $40 to your bike shop to do the wheel build. Figure $200 for a new battery and about $150 shipping from China. You will likely be able to buy replacement parts for at least that cost or cheaper directly from Storm. This is where they will make almost all of their money. It is way cheaper and easier for you to just buy another built up hub motor on a fatbike rim than to try to get the motor online and build it up yourself. Again this is all speculation, There is a good chance that the Storm name could collapse in on itself, many companies don’t end up surviving success. Time will tell.
A good contrast to this bike is the Bosch system which is quickly becoming a dominant player in the ebike industry. Their battery pack is very similar in size (36v 10Ah) yet it retails for about $900. It also has an auto shutoff system that turns the battery off when it gets below freezing. This essentially makes it useless for my purposes since I am often out riding in very, very cold temps like 0 degrees F. Their drive system is also about $1000 although you can’t buy one directly, you have to buy a bike with a special bottom bracket specifically designed for the bike. Most Bosch bikes I’ve seen are in the $4000 range. You cannot improve their system at all, you cannot use a different battery or a different charger. There is a whole slew of complaints I have about the Bosch system listed in this article here about 1/2 way down the article. Your bike by contrast costs $499 and you can replace the motor for less than 1/10th of the cost and the battery for about 1/5 of the cost. It won’t last forever. Be happy if you get 3-4 years our of the battery and motor. Actually be really happy if you get that.
Hopefully your bike will come with a charger with 2 charging modes, a speed mode and a slow charging mode. I highly recommend that you use the slow charging mode. It will greatly increase the life of your battery. If it doesn’t have a slow charging mode and you want it to last for a long time, consider investing in a good charger like the Cycle Satiator. Although expensive at $315 dollars to the US it will be the only battery charger you will ever need. You can also charge your batteries to only 80% which will more than double their usable life. This product will also easily charge larger packs which when your first battery dies you will almost certainly get a larger battery pack to replace it.
The biggest questions have been about range. The problem with range is that it’s a hard thing to pin down. When we were trained on the Bosch system we were told to tell people that the range was going to be between 10 and 135 miles depending on the conditions. Imagine if you went to buy a car and the milage on the window was listed as somewhere between 10 and 135 miles per gallon. Would you buy the car? Probably not.
Because you are lazy and are going to get on this bike and use the throttle and not pedal at all (I know you because you’re just like me) expect around 13 miles of range for a 170lb rider with some hills with the throttle pegged down for most of the ride. If you’re light and you pedal then maybe you can get the claimed 20 miles, but for most of us that just won’t happen. Efficiency increases dramatically the slower you go. Riding with decent tire pressure is critical for maxing your range. I would pump those fat tires up to as high as they are rated for on the side of the tires.
You: “But the Storm website says I will get 50 miles of range”
Me: “The website is wrong, trust me on this. You will never get 50 miles of range on this bike with this battery on a throttle system. No one will. They are misrepresenting the capabilities of this bike. Period.”
Performance on hills
You will need to pedal on hills. You will need to pedal a LOT on hills. Their battery will only output 318 watts continuous and that means this bike is underpowered. You will sweat pedaling up big hills. You will need to break a sweat or you will kill the motor. This motor is underpowered and will probably overheat if you are biking up a big, long hill and keep the throttle pegged to the max. My estimation is somewhere between 15-30 minutes of a pegged throttle and a slow turning motor will combine to fry your motor. Geared hubs can’t shed heat very effectively and when you give the motor lots of juice and it can’t turn that juice turns into waste heat. That waste heat builds up and will destroy your motor in short order. Your best bet if the bike does not come with a thermal cutoff or temp sensor is to install your own. I will be doing a post on upgrading your Storm so stay tuned, or better yet subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss a single post.
How much power will it have?
The standard biker puts out about 100 watts using his own legs. This battery/motor combo will put out about 300 watts. A pro rider can put out about 350 watts of power without motor assistance. You will be happy with the bike on flat and level terrain and downhills. You will not like the bike on hills because you will have to pedal and you are lazy. You will not understand why the bike is so easy to ride when it is flat and you have to work so hard when you get to a hill. You do not understand physics well enough to know why you are unhappy, but you will be unhappy nonetheless. Get over it and learn to pedal on the hills or get a bigger battery and motor.
My guess is that many of these bikes will be headed to Black Rock City for the yearly Burning Man festival. This bike is by all accounts the PERFECT burner-mobile. It has that nice plastic box to protect the battery and controller from the destructive Playa dust. It will work well on the playa with those giant 4.8″ tires and because there are no hills, the bike will be happy as a clam. It also looks really cool and will look great with lots of bling bling on it. I’ve been to Burning man more times than I can remember and I can tell you that I wish I had this bike when I was there. Just be sure to camp near the Solar Battery charging camp so you can charge your waterbottle battery during the day. Don’t take it out when the temps hit over 100 degrees either, your battery will swelter and die in the heat.