Ebikes for boats, learning from a Sondors

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher since 4/12/2005, and now excited to have Ben Stein as a very able colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2018 and beyond.

43 Responses

  1. Mark Kilty says:

    Ben,
    One other aspect of eBikes to consider is the “class” of the bike, as this dictates legal usage areas (in the U.S.) for eBikes. A good reference: https://electricbikereview.com/guides/electric-bike-classes/
    eBikes with only pedal-assist, are basically allowed anywhere a normal bike is.
    Once you add a throttle, you are not.
    For example, in NYC, throttle eBikes are banned. Also on many bike trails in various locations I have been. Even if you are not using the throttle, if it is equipped, they may not be legal.
    Just something to be aware of while shopping around.
    My wife being from Belgium, I have been using and following eBikes for a long time. The biggest (and best IMHO), components are the Bosch Mid-Drive system. We are starting to see them here in the U.S. on the higher end bikes ($2k+), but suspect things will settle down given some time. In Europe, you can get the Bosch system for a little over $1k.
    I am not sure of any folding Bosch bikes, but they might be out there.
    There are some general advantages to a mid-drive vs rear-drive system as well, even without the Bosch system.
    Glad you are enjoying your eBike. They are fantastic. The old motto, don’t knock it till you try it, definitely applies.

  2. Thanks so much, Mark. All valuable info.
    I hadn’t really noticed mid-drives and am now beginning to see why they could be so good. Also neat to see that several major companies are in the game:
    http://electricbikereport.com/mid-drive/

  3. Terrapin says:

    I recently purchased to of the Rad Bikes rad minis to carry on the deck of my Nordhavn 40 which has limited space with a dinghy on board. So far I am very impressed. For bikes that are made in China, the fit and finish is very good and they are really fun to ride.
    I recently took one of them on an overland trip by Jeep into Baja California and the fat tires allowed me to ride over rocks, on dirt roads, and even on loose sandy beaches with no problems.
    I was very tempted by the Gocycle G3 after test riding one a few times, but like mentioned in the article, its easily over $10k for a pair of them equipped well enough to transport groceries or supplies to a marina.
    The rad mini has front and rear racks and I even mounted a seat pad on the rear rack that my 6 year old daughter can ride on.
    The weight at approximately 60 lbs in the one downside. Also, compared to something like the Gocycle G3 with its enclosed drivetrain, or belt driven electric bikes, the rad mini uses a traditional cassette and rear derailleur which is prone to damage and corrosion on a boat in salt water.
    Im having a couple of heavy duty bags made to help with lifting them on the deck and to protect from UV and salt water spray.
    Overall, very happy so far.

  4. Wow, Terrapin, what a fleet. I love picturing a Nordhavn 40 at an exotic dock with two RadMinis alongside. Practical, fun, and mega beastly!
    You might be interested in my thoughts about a protective carry bag. I envision cutting a piece of plywood to the approximate footprint of the mini or similar when folded. I’d take that to a canvas shop and ask for a sort of bag that would screw fasten to the bottom of the ply with an almost edge to zipper and a couple of hearty straps. Might put a little cushioning inside the bottom and some non skid feet under it. Hopefully the result would look pretty good, protect the bike well in my cockpit, and make it easier to hump it into the tender.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I have been riding ebikkes for about 7years. The sonders is a very nice beginners bike and definatly better with upgrades from lunacycle. I have purchased and built a few bikes over the years. Hubmotors are fun and easy to install but heavy. Middrives are light and more well rounded but take a little knowledge to install on your own. There are many options out there but from someone who has been following the scene….definatly check out lunacycle. Their bbshd based folder is amazing. I am saving up for the folder they sell or maybe their scooter. Not sure which yet. For now the cyclone I got from them is the most fun I’ve had on any of my builds.

  6. Panbo posters are awesome. First I got excited about the benefits of mid drive motors, but then I got to thinking they might not make sense on a folding design. And now I know that Lunacycle has both a 26-inch model…
    https://lunacycle.com/luna-vilano-folding-commuter-complete-ebike/
    and a 20:
    https://lunacycle.com/luna-mini-folding-ebike/

  7. Berend de Boer says:

    Why would Jared need a helmet if he can bike?? Yes, car racers wear helmets, but commuters don’t.

  8. Thanks, Berend, but I’m curious about where you live? Where I am in the U.S. and where I’ve traveled here, it is normal for most all cyclists to wear helmets. In fact, though I didn’t realize it at the time, we are breaking Maine law in that photo because Jared is under 16. Many states have similar laws:
    http://www.claimsjournal.com/news/national/2013/08/20/235205.htm

  9. The difference might be in the fact that US roads are made for cars, Dutch roads are far more designed for cyclists. My oldest daughter spent a year in KY and it was normal in US eyes for her to get a drivers license at 16 and drive to school. Cycling to school was another matter: quite the norm in Holland but very special in the US, had to fill in waver forms and double check insurance, she even made it to the local newspaper ๐Ÿ˜‰ One thing about e-bikes, they are used a lot by elderly people to ease the burden while cycling. But often a lack of vehicle mastery leeds to dangerous situations and accidents. And no, they do not wear a helmet.

  10. Topography can be another burden (and joy), Leo. I just checked and my little town has more range (0 to 1,385 feet) than all of Holland (-23 to 1,059 feet ;-).
    Moreover, we have no bike lanes anywhere and many roads do not have even gravel shoulders. Kentucky is probably similar but some U.S. areas are becoming more bike friendly.

  11. Andrzej says:

    Helmet use is a touchy subject and applicable to many/all things. Helmet function is to prevent skull penetration and to decelerate the deceleration process. Deceleration is the key role in most, as I’m told 35mph-to-zero yields death. Stretch in lines and helmet padding act to reduce the rate of deceleration so that when we hit “zero” we are moving as slow as possible. Somewhere between 35mph and zero we turn into vegetables.
    I once had this conversation with some world class ski racers (as in macho athletes). We were surprised as to how many of our acquaintances-turned-vegetables were the result of bicycling accidents, some of which due to undramatic smack of the head on concrete. And as a result, how many of us wore helmets when biking.
    The saying is that it’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop.

  12. Thanks, Andrzej. I might not have put it in those terms before but I definitely like the idea of decelerating the deceleration.
    Where I live, helmets have become a political/cultural issue, at least for certain very vocal motorcyclists. So far they have managed to keep Maine a state where you can ride a very powerful bike with no helmet. Their strongest opposition are emergency room surgeons and regulators who say the consequences unnecessarily cost all of us taxpayers.

  13. A political/cultural issue, but not a scientific/medical issue. I knew a guy who fell off his ten speed while standing still, hit his head, and died. Macho is the male equivalent to Bimbo.
    But it’s more than life or death. The in-between cases involve concussions and the evidence is growing that these are far more serious than previously thought.
    I’m looking for a cheap little thing to wear around the boat just to avoid the pain of hitting my head on something.

  14. Peter says:

    Hi Ben,
    Thanks for visiting the subject of ebikes for boaters. There are scant (no?) other reviewers of ebikes that present the bikes from a boater’s perspective.
    Personally, I could give a flip about the electronic information presented to me while riding, as long as there is some measure of “distance to empty” available aboard the bike. The most important metrics I use (in priority order) to asses the viability of ebikes for use aboard a cruising boat are as follows:
    a. Cost. Yes, the Geocycle G3 is at the top of my list, but at ~5K a pop, out of my reach.
    b. Volume. My boat, a Pacific Trawler 40, is severely limited in interior storage space. Therefore, any ebike I carry aboard must be stowed topside, either on the boat deck or in the cockpit. Less is more here.
    c. Weight. Obviously, less is more here as well. I’m an old goat, so Weight influences how often I’m tempted to hump the thing off the boat and onto a dock, or into my tender while anchored out. For instance, 60 lbs. for the Sonder moves it firmly into the “nope, that won’t work for me” column.
    d. “Foldability”. If the bike requires multiple steps and/or tools to use, that turns me off.
    e. Energy storage. I’m not interested in touring on the thing, but it must contain enough stored energy and use pedal assist to conquer the typically hilly terrain surrounding towns along the seacoast in the PNW. For me, “distance to empty” is typically only a few miles, as my use will be to/from the grocery store, marine supply, restaurants, etc. If I have to get off and push, that doesn’t light my fire.
    OK, so what are some of the metrics at the BOTTOM of my list?
    a. Materials. While exotic materials will undoubtedly lead to lighter, stronger, smaller ebikes, I’m not hard-over on “marine-grade” materials for my ebike. I’m content to protect the bike during storage, maintain it accordingly, and probably off-load it and take it home to warm, dry storage in the wet, cold winter months.
    b. Electronic displays. As I mentioned above, all I value is a simple gas gauge. Ideally, this gauge can credit my “distance to empty” range by integrating my personal exertion on the pedals, and help from Mr. Gravity to accurately predict when the bike poops out.
    c. Tire size. As I’m not touring on the thing, I am not hard-over on either tire diameter or width. Vehicle dynamics says bigger is better for tires, but I’m willing to sacrifice ride quality for size, weight, cost, etc.
    d. Lights, panniers, racks, etc. are extras that I typically won’t use. Until proven otherwise, a simple backpack will suffice for now. And I doubt I’ll ever ride at night.
    Just guessing here, but I bet ebikes are every bit like a boat-they’ve ALL got compromises! And I’m an old, tired, fat guy with a small boat and a not particularly athletic wife, so my mileage will vary. But if I can find an extra $10K under a rock somewhere, the G3 is mighty tempting!!!!!
    Regards,
    Pete

  15. Pete, I suspect we’re fellow pigs in a poke. I’ve yet to come across an ebike sales site with photos of old, tired, fat guys enjoying the products, but sometimes those smart young’n aren’t so smart.
    But one manufacturer that impresses with its realness and style is Lunacycle (check their blog page links), and either of the two folders I linked to a comment above might meet your needs nicely. As I understand it, for instance, those mid-drives should make for good hill climbing because the power passes through the multigear system. The product descriptions are not too detailed but hopefully they field questions well.
    Also, maybe you missed my bit in the entry about how Gocycle is now building an “affordable” GS model. The first batch go to Kickstarter backers but I suspect that it will eventually show up on their main site for regular purchase.
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gocycle/gocycle-the-best-folding-electric-bike-in-the-worl

  16. Well said, Norse, and let me add that wearing something like the famous longbill Panbo cap around a boat does not help with the noggin bumpin. If I’m headed up the 3 steps from “below” to Gizmo’s main cabin in a slight hurry and/or distracted and/or especially when capped, I sometimes drive my head hard into the forward companionway frame. I’ve done it dozens of times now, I think.
    And now that I think about it, I really should install about two feet of that sharp 3/4 canvas-covered rubber bumper used on yacht tenders, leather ends and all. I guess we’re getting off topic, but this is a worthy sidetrack, I think.

  17. Peter says:

    Hi Ben,
    Following up on your comments above-yup, we’re fellow “pigs in a poke” allright! Seems like our interests are aligning quite nicely (uhhh, older fat guys, on boats, perhaps with all original parts, some still working, looking into mobility issues while afloat, etc.).
    GREAT hook to the Lunacycle web site. VERY interesting! Lunacycle has led to my awakening that I don’t give a rats patootie about “street legal” ebikes. If being non-street legal equates to more hill climb ability for El Rotundo (me), or perhaps relief from range anxiety, that suits me just fine.
    In the rural parts of PNW, NOBODY cares that one’s ebike fits California’s definition of a “Class-1 ebike” that is legal on bike paths. Nor do we care a throttle-equipped ebike can’t be used where other bikes can. When the typical conveyance in town is an ATC (like in Pelican, AK, for instance), I’m sure a Lunacycle Ludicrous (for instance) would be just as fine as frog’s hair. Wish I had a big boat the thing would fit in! Looks like the bomb.
    Unfortunately for me, I’m somewhat leery of dropping bucks on an ebike I can’t touch, feel, and ride ahead of time. And I’m pretty sure Lunacycle is located somewhere east of Interstate-5, so despite rave on-line reviews of Lunacycle products, I’m sort of stuck moving forward right now. This is, of course, a personal problem, and I’ve got lots more work to do before I plunk down ANY ebike onboard my boat. And as always, life’s a compromise, YMMV, blah blah blah. But thanks again for tackling this particular issue from a boater’s perspective. I look forward to tracking your progress.
    Regards,
    Pete
    ps-also looking forward to an update on your house battery replacement.

  18. saxofon says:

    I’ve been thinking about those too.
    What the ultimate eBike would be for me, is ability
    to change into a trolly like thing…
    so, in mode eBike, it is like any other bike with a perhaps larger basket hanging on the steering.
    In mode eTrolley, I fold the wheels to 90 degrees to same side and the steering/basket is slided so it is centered in between wheels and a smaller wheel goes down to make the tri-wheel base.
    Then it will be simple to go from dock to mall, running around (perhaps even assisted? ๐Ÿ™‚ ) shopping and then fold out to bike again for the way home.
    Why has no-one figured out such a thing yet… ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. A serious biking friend tells me that folding bikes with small wheels ride fine if designed right, and suggested checking out Bike Friday:
    https://www.bikefriday.com/folding-bikes/
    I see what’s he talking about and Bike Friday’s excellent online “Build this Bike” system is a great way to see what can go into a custom high-end ride. For instance, a 20 pound Pakit with its carbon belt drive and internal hub gearing could be a great small boat bike.
    But I’m not sure my buddy yet realizes that Bike Friday’s founder has gotten into electric pedal assist and is making amends for attitudes past ๐Ÿ˜‰
    https://www.bikefriday.com/folding-bikes/blog/factorynews/confessions-of-a-bionx-convert/

  20. Mike Negley says:

    Remember that the nicer the bike the more it is desired by those with little regard for stealing someone else’s property. If you use it for shopping it will be left unattended and there is no cable, chain or padlock that cannot be cut in 60 seconds with a battery powered Dremel and diamond cutoff blade.

  21. John - gCaptain says:

    My first cruise 5years ago with a folding ebike started out wonderfully but ended in rust and battery damage…. plus, despite its diminuative size, it was a bear to store but I loved it (while it worked) so much I replaced it with an A2B Metro and I’ve been riding that bike for 4 years with zero issues but it’s way to big and heavy to bring aboard so…I’ve been cruising without a bike.
    I have zero interest in taking another ebike on a boat but I have been very jnterested lately in electric skateboards and scooters. One company, Boosted Boards, looks like the perfect solution to the problem of shoreside transportation! They are pricey but easy to store and designed to withstand the salted streets of winter in New York… so I think they’d do well on a yacht (Watch Casey Neistat’s review on Youtube)… there is only one problem and it’s a big one… i don’t know how to ride a skateboard.
    So what I’m looking for now is a weather sealed stand up electric scooter. There are plenty of escooters but my experience with cheap ebikes has left me sour to the idea of buying anything but the best quality ride. And I’d love to hear suggestions if anyone knows of such a product.

  22. Jamie says:

    I saw a woman riding an URB-E in the marina parking lot the other day and thought it has great boat potential because it is so light and folds so small. It is more a scooter than a bike, i.e., no suspension, but it looked very useful.
    http://www.urb-e.com/

  23. Mike, I imagine you’re right about the state of robber technology, but that cuts both ways. GPS/cell trackers with geo fencing you can set with your phone are getting surprisingly small and there are a surprising number of places to hide one on most ebikes. The result, of course, can be an airtight grand larceny charge and you get your bike back before the creep could mess with it.

  24. Butch Davis says:

    For head protection aboard consider a construction type hard hat. Some are very good quality and after being worn a few times begin to feel comfortable. I don’t care for the one size-fits-all type but prefer the better quality made-to-fit hats. They can all be spray painted to a color you prefer and decals with your title and boat name can be added.

  25. But, Butch, protecting your head from falling objects and such is a far different engineering problem from trying to decelerate the deceleration of your brain, also called “crash energy management”:
    http://www.bhsi.org/ideal.htm

  26. Butch Davis says:

    Agree, Ben. A construction hardhat is not only to protect you from falling objects, but, more commonly, from head banging when working in confined spaces like engine rooms. In all the power plants I’ve worked in hardhats were required outside offices, etc. Thus my thoughts for aboard boat use. Hearing protection was also required but that’s another subject.
    The excellent long billed Panbo hat is probably just as good, or not.

  27. Sorry, Butch, I misread your first post. And, sidetrack be darned, I know where you’re coming from. My dad worked for Connecticut Light & Power from when I can remember til retirement, and we lived less than mile from the Falls Village hydro plant. That may be where I saw my first hard hat. It’s definitely where I saw my first turbine and my first Marilyn Monroe calendar.
    It was sort of a treat to ride shotgun as Dad did his round of substations, except that one task he had was accident reports. I did not like those pictures, but they might have been good for me in the long run.

  28. The more you dig into the world of ebikes the more is going on. There’s immense energy going into design and also business models that hope to put them in every garage and bike rack.
    Stark is the latest to get my attention, though there is definitely a “too good to be true” element:
    http://www.starkdrive.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/StarkDrive.bike/

  29. I hope and expect this technology will add to the kayak/dinghy motor options.
    Sorry to be OT, but for a boat helmet I was thinking something lighter and softer. Each sport has its own helmet, I just have to find the right one, preferably something that floats.
    I googled helmet liner and found interesting things, one called a protective skull cap, and another high-tech material called Gyro by Unequal.
    “The quarter-inch thick liner, which sells for $60, is made of a military grade composite — strengthened by Kevlar and Accelleron — which absorbs and disperses impact energy away from the head and body in a way that typical padding of equal weight and thickness cannot.” (quote from si.com) It may be overkill, but so cool …

  30. So Sondors itself has designed a 20-inch folding ebike and it looks both gorgeous and beastly:
    https://sondors.com/pages/sondors-fold
    And note that more power and a 7 speed gear set are options. However, they will only be available to current Sondors owners this year and — classic Sondors style — they’ve already missed the deadline they set themselves to tell us owners more details and give us a chance to purchase. Which I might do.

  31. PS It occurred to me that the only contact I had with Sondors during the buying process (or since) was a robo email “notification of purchase.” So today I replied to that email, changing the subject line somewhat, to make sure I was on the list for Fold notification.
    And, sure, I also suggested that I might be good candidate for a review unit loan (with possible sale) and included a link to this entry. I got back another robo email which does say that “Someone from our dedicated customer service team will be responding to you as quickly as possible” but we shall see. To my knowledge there is no Sondors phone # or email address available except for the one you get when you purchase one.
    I only write all this because anyone considering Sondors should be aware that this seems to be one aspect of the low prices.

  32. J-MD says:

    Jamie,
    Hadn’t seen the Urb-e. I’ve been looking at eccorecco scooters and also the airwheel concept (which I’m guessing has a steeper learning curve, but goes off road etc.) Would love other’s feedback for electric scooters or wheeled solutions for metropolitan area commuting, as well as aboard the boat.

  33. Mark Kilty says:

    Seems there is now a folding e-bike with a Bosch Mid Drive. Rather high-end at $3400, but is probably a very nice bike.
    There is a full review with video here:
    https://electricbikereview.com/tern/vektron/

  34. Thanks, Mark! I continue to eyeball the Luna Mini, a Bafang mid drive 20-inch folder that would cost about $1,800 delivered and fairly well equipped:
    https://lunacycle.com/luna-mini-folding-ebike/
    I’ve become quite fond of the Luna Cycle gang, including some fast and realistic sales support contact. But I’m also looking at the Stark Drive 26-inch folder which just began its Indiegogo campaign. I doubt that I would actually receive a $599 City+ (plus $200 shipping) in June, but it might be a lot of ebike for the money:
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stark-drive-electric-bike-bicycle/x/10546519#/
    Meanwhile, I rode the Sondors fattie just yesterday, though so far I’ve avoided testing on snow ๐Ÿ˜‰

  35. I spoke with GoCycle at the Miami Beach Yacht Show and they confirmed that the GS KickStarter project will eventually be offered for direct sale online at about $2,500, and that a long term company goal is to get their high ebike tech to the $1,500 sweet spot.
    I also learned that big yachts are a major market for GoCycle’s current models both here and in Europe. The GS Kickstarter pages are still up (though you can’t order). Check out the perfect-for-boat Portable Pack storage system:
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gocycle/gocycle-the-best-folding-electric-bike-in-the-worl

  36. Yike! Please forget the Stark Drive ebike plug. Today its Indiegogo campaign was shut down “under review by the Trust & Safety team” and all backers were refunded. Including me.
    I feel naive, a lot, but undamaged.

  37. Hey, John, great to see you in Miami and here’s an e-scooter line with a lot going for it, I think:
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/eon-scooter-the-most-affordable-electric-scooter/x/10546519#/
    Yes, it’s an Indiegogo project but they’ve already received their funding (over a million $) and Batch 1 scooters should be shipping pretty soon.

  38. Marc says:

    Ridiculously expensive but very cool and maybe someday the price will come down enough to make it affordable. http://www.hovding.com/videos

  39. John says:

    One thing to look at are electric skateboards. Very powerful, very easy to store and carry (great for ride hitching). Not good for unpaved roads or carrying large quantities of supplies though. I have a Marbel, there are numerous other brands like Boosted.

  40. So I’m pretty taken with Sondors’ Fold design and think the Fold X with 500w motor, 48v 17.5ah battery, and Shimano gear set is a pretty good deal at $999 (plus $124 U.S. shipping). But I don’t know when I’ll get it and some of the specs remain sketchy:
    https://sondors.com/collections/sondors-fold
    I ordered the white model with blue rims, which seems yachty (yet still beastly).

  41. The Flash is not really a boat ebike and the wait will be at least until 1/2018, but the tech is very impressive:
    http://flashbike.us14.list-manage.com/track/click?u=d7538d308c6ec97b4a4377896&id=c617004167&e=f91983cd09

  42. Peter Jung says:

    Hi Ben,

    Ever receive your Soders Fold-X? If so, how has it worked out as a boater’s E-bike? I’m intrigued with the design and build, but reluctant to order via the WWW without some feedback from fellow yachties on it’s real functionality.

    Any info greatly appreciated.

    Regards,

    Pete

  43. Hi Pete, I really like my Sondors Fold X and recently wrote about boating with it here:

    https://www.panbo.com/the-continuing-search-for-a-great-boat-ebike-sondors-fold-edition/

    You will see that I found it a little heavy and cumbersome for getting on and off the boat, particularly via dinghy, and that was my excuse for the recent arrival of a smaller Sondors Fold Sport. I now have about 40 miles of Maine island riding on the Sport and have found it noticeably easier to dinghy ashore but still a strong, fun ride on pavement with its 2-inch tires. The Fold X7 with its bigger motor and battery is now my everyday ride around hilly Camden and sometimes on trails.

    Now that I’ve experienced three Sondors bikes over two years, I’m impressed with how well they’ve held up and also how the design and build quality keeps getting better.

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