(Note: Since this article was written the price of an elephant bike has increased to £430 and Revos 100Wh battery size has been discontinued, with thw 200Wh battery being available)
How to get a ‘new’ electric cargo bike for under £800
If you like cycling and want to be able to use your bike more for everyday things like food shopping, carrying garden tools, taking parcels to the office (or even carrying a small dog – but that’s probably just me) then it can be expensive. Cargo bikes typically cost well over £1000 and many are even more. However, there is a way you can do it for under £800…
How to do it
First buy an Elephant Bike from Cycle of Good (www.cycleofgood.com) for £280. Cycle of Good is a charity that takes old postman’s bikes from the GPO, strips and completely repaints them, fits new tyres and saddle and refurbishes all the mechanical parts. If you buy one it also sends one out to Malawi where it is refurbished and sold on for local use. Equipped with a front basket and rear pannier rack, you can easily carry 20kgs and more on an Elephant Bike.
Once you’ve done that you buy a Revos electric motor from Revolutionworks Bristol for £495. This is really easy to fit and, if you do have any questions, the guys at Revolutionworks are quick to help out.
Total cost for your electric cargo bike: £775
What I wanted
I already had an Elephant Bike and wanted to cut down use of my car, especially for daytime journeys of 10-15 miles. I also decided to do more of my food shopping locally and I wanted to make day trips out into the countryside. I should mention at this point that I have fitted a larger front carrier and basket on my Elephant Bike to carry my dog, who loves riding in it (see photo). Downside is this adds to the bike’s weight, which is why I decided to go for electric assistance.
I found there are three main options for converting a conventional bike into an e-bike:
- Fit a mid-mounted motor – available on eBay, supplied direct from China but a bit complicated to fit and no local UK tech support
- Fit a hub motor – means you have to change the wheels and not practical on an Elephant Bike as the brakes are hub-mounted
- Fit a tyre-driven motor – the Revos unit being the only one I found
Why I choice the Revos Drive
Initially I was a bit sceptical about this, as a mid-mounted motor with a direct mechanical drive seemed preferable. However, there were a few things that made me go for it:
- Easy to fit. I liked the fact that I would not need to dismantle the pedals and cranks. The Revos consists of three units: the battery, the motor and the sensor. To install the motor all you have to do is cut a short section of the rear mudguard out (see photos). I found it very easy to remove the rear mudguard, cut it with a hacksaw and refit it (I didn’t even need to turn the bike over or remove the back wheel). After that the motor is easy to fit using the adaptors and clamps provide by Revos, and the battery can be fitted to the front tube with cable ties.
- UK based supplier. I am only a moderately competent mechanic and I didn’t fancy importing a motor from China only to find that I had problems fitting it. (A more competent mechanic probably wouldn’t be bothered about this)
- Good technical backup: Revolutionworks, who design and make the Revos, are based in Bristol and are very friendly and helpful. They quickly answered my questions without any hassle. The bike comes with a 12 month warranty and, if I have problems, I figure I stand a better chance getting help than I would if buying from China.
- The 100W Revos unit weighs just over 2kgs. Since the bike itself weighs 30kgs, I weigh over 70kgs and luggage/shopping might be another 15kgs, then you can see that the Revos adds less than 2% of our total Payload.
- This is a bit subjective, but the Revos unit feels like it’s been well-thought out and properly engineered. Even the packaging it came in was custom-designed to fit all the parts in the minimum space and the components look to be well made.
- Eco benefits. As I’m partly adopting it to reduce my car use in order to be greener, I also like the fact that Revolutionworks plants 40 trees for every bike purchased – through Ecologi (formerly Offset Earth).
- Cost: It may seem a lot to pay £495 to add a motor to a bike that only cost £280, but I now have a fully refurbished cargo bike, with a brand new electric motor and battery. I haven’t found a cheaper or easier way to get a ‘new’ electric cargo bike.
Does it work?
In a word: yes. We have plenty of hills round where we live and I can now get up ones that I wouldn’t even consider before. I can also go much further without worrying I’ll run out of steam.
When you ride an Elephant Bike with a Revos motor it’s just like having someone on the back pushing you along. As the motor cuts in you feel a real boost. It’s also much easier to hold a higher gear up hills. Or, even more important: to get up hills you’d otherwise have to get off and push up!
Immediately after fitting, it rained for several days, and I really wondered how well the wheel on the motor would grip the tyre. The answer seems to be: very well. I am not aware of any slipping. As for range, I can confirm that Revolutionworks is right when it says the smaller 100W battery is good for 12 or so miles. (You can extend battery charge by back-pedalling on downhill runs to disengage the motor. You can then re-engage it by doing the same thing again).
Further thoughts if you’re thinking about buying the Revos unit
- I went for a smaller (100W) battery and bought a spare, giving me a roughly 25 mile range. Using the smaller battery allowed me to fit the battery carrier to the front tube, leaving the rear pannier rack free. I still find I have space to step through the bike when getting on and off.
- When ordering make sure you specify that it is for an Elephant Bike so they can give you the right spacers for the motor – ones that fit the 38mm diameter downtube (most bikes are only 35mm) and bridge the 70mm gap between the saddle downtube and the front of the back tyre.
- I had to buy a decent tyre pressure gauge as keeping tyres well pumped up is very important. I have Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (the ones the bike came with) and now keep them on 65psi (Schwalbe recommend 45-70psi and in the past I have tended to run at the softer end of that range).
- Fitting instructions come with the bike and are easy to follow (written in clear English with photos). Tools come with the bike and the only other thing you will need is a hacksaw to cut the rear mudguard.
- You’ll see from the photos on the next page that I decided to get some rivnuts fitted to the front tube so that I could bolt the battery carrier to it (using the bolts provided by Revolutionworks). This cost me £20 at my local bike shop. The cable ties are perfectly adequate, however, so this is a matter of personal choice.
I reckon I now have a great purpose-built e-cargo bike that perfectly meets my needs – at a competitive cost. Throw in the bike’s unique character and history, and the “buy one, send one to Africa” concept offered by Cycle of Good, and I reckon it’s a great deal. If I can reduce my car usage, or even get rid of my car altogether, then it will pay for itself!