When I lived in the UK about 6 years ago I bought a decent mountain bike through the government's Ride to Work initiative. Essentially got it for half price. It was a Trek 6300 hard tail. It was never used for commuting and it has never been on a mountain.  

Then I moved to Oz and brought it with me and a year ago I decided I was going to start commuting to work from Lutwyche in the north of the city to Woolloongabba in the south. About 11kms. However there were a couple of uphill bits which, being unfit, I didn't enjoy at all. So I decided I needed a bit of assistance and after much research I added a hub motor to the Trek and I've never looked back.

Being very new to cycling regularly I have made some rookie mistakes. The first commute I filled my laptop rucksack up with heavy stuff and the bumps on the commute I bruised my coccyx so bad on the hard stock MTB saddle I couldn't sit straight for days. I (incorrectly) assumed I needed a better, softer, more forgiving saddle. So I tried  several different type and styles, each with their own benefits and problems, none of them any better than the original, I am now back on the stock saddle and have 3 or 4 spare weird ones in the garage.

After none of saddles helped I realised I now needed something to put my heavy rucksack in and take the weight of my boney arse.  A milkcrate tied to the pannier rack with zip ties did a great job and I used that for ages, but it didn't look too good and made the bike hard to handle as it was top heavy at the back. So now I decided I needed panniers to lower the centre of gravity and improve the handling. 

At first I unpacked the contents of the rucksack into the panniers and bungeed the empty rucksack to the top of the rack the at the other end repacked it again. Worked a treat and the handling was much improved. But all that packing and unpacking was a pain. So now I needed a pannier/laptop bag. I modified an old laptop shoulder bag to fit on the panniers but it was too wide and my heel kept banging it and eventually my modifications broke and the laptop bag fell apart. Couldn't find an alternative one on the internet I liked but then Aldi had one for sale cheap cheap so picked that up but only tried it for two days. The concept worked but the bag wasn't padded and it fell off one day over one of the bumps I mentioned before. Laptop was OK but now that bag is sitting in the garage with the saddles. It was back to the packing/unpacking routine for a while.

Meanwhile I was experiencing severe and painful pins and needles in my left hand from leaning on it a lot. I tried raising the bars up to their maximum stretch the brake cables would allow which helped a bit. Ideally I'd like them a few cm's higher but that would mean replacing the hydraulic brake pipes and I'm not up for that maintenance task yet, but soon.  I added some bar ends to hlp give me more grip choices and that helped. I had an idea that if I got some drop road bars and fitted them upside down then they would be at the proper height so I ordered some. When I tried to fit them I realised what all experienced bike riders know that drop bars and flat bars are different diameters and that my mtb brakes etc wont fit on the road bike bars. Bummer. Now I have a set of road bars in the garage to keep the saddles and the pannier bag company. The lesson stopped me ordering butterfly bars but I think that will be my next purchase as these look pretty good for my needs. I hope they will fit!!

This took me up to about 6 months into the experience. The bike was performing great and I was really enjoying the commute to and from work. I was getting fitter too so I bought a flat bar road bike so ride on the weekends. More on that another day. All this new fitness and newly discovered enjoyment of riding gave me the idea that I'd like to go on a longer tour on the ebike. I've already done a bit of a blog on that but the prep for this was another few lessons.

The date was 5 months in the future, plenty of time to prep. I wanted front panniers so after a bit of research I discovered Axiom front mounted pannier racks for mountain bikes with suspension forks. Ordered and fitted without incident. When faffing about in a DFO I saw Katmandu pannier bags for sale for $20. Bargain so snapped them up too. With my original Axiom bags and my new Katmandhu bags I had all the storage I needed. Research told me I should get a kickstand for the bike, so one was duly ordered and fitted. Was rubbish, the bike with fully loaded pannier fell over no matter what I tried to do. After more research I got a centre kick stand from 99 bikes and it worked brilliantly. Now the other kick stand is in the garage keeping the rest of my stupid purchases company.

More reading on other stuff I'd need saw me purchase a tent, camp stove etc etc.  However range was going to be my next problem to solve. I was getting about 35-40kms out of one charge. That wasn't going to be long enough for my aspirations. I tried planning the route in 35km legs between charging stops. With it taking 3 hours to fully charge the battery and a few of the legs on the tour I'd planned with much more than 35kms between civilisation (Australia is a big place) the ebike option for the tour was looking doubtful unless I got another battery. Batteries were upwards of $600. Not really an option. 

More researching found me looking at a Youtube clip from Rinoa Super-Genius who built an ebike battery out of recycled laptop batteries. I had the spark (geddit) of a solution. Then when my work started a laptop refresh program and were going to dump all the batteries I got a bit of luck. I got enough laptop batteries to build myself a spare ebike battery. Tour was back on.

At one point I thought, "Why am I bothering taking the ebike, it's so much extra hassle, just take the other bike" After all I'd done the Brisbane to Gold Coast run earlier on the commuter bike in record time. Maybe I'd started to believe ebiking was cheating like some "real" cyclists keep saying. So I bought a rack for the commuter, fitted some fully loaded panniers to it and set off for a test ride to see how I got on. Even with my new fitness level I was wrecked going up the hills around Brisbane. At this point I should reveal that the Bris to GC "record time" was the record of the slowest time recorded for the event ever. Probably. I realised that whist I enjoyed so called "proper" cycling I was so slow it wouldn't be much of a tour, I also recognised that I enjoyed riding the ebike more. Whatever the issues I had to overcome the ebike tour was on.

In the end I bought a spare battery as well for half price off Ebay from an Australian seller. 3 batteries increased the weight I had to carry but increased the range to over 100kms. This was perfect for me. The bike tour is over, didn't go as expected as rain nearly stopped play but I had a ball. Already planning my next one.

My enthusiasm for the ebike must be a bit infectious as another work colleague now has one for commuting.  

Next purchases planned are; a good front light, Ortleib proper touring panniers, maybe a cargo/touring trailer, fitting some butterfly handlebars, lifting the handlebars a bit more and a Brooks leather saddle.

I'm back to wearing the rucksack on my back for my commute, my arse isn't sore and my pins and needles aren't nearly as bad any more. Must be getting used to this cycling lark.

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Comment by David on January 16, 2016 at 9:59am

Great stuff Dunsobarky.

I wish more people would think like you and "give it a go." I refer specifically to commuting, but also to modifying the bike. There's a recumbent ride on 7/2/16. http://www.brisbanecyclist.com/events/brisbane-hpv-group-ride-2

You could have a look or try some 'bents there I am sure.

Comment by Secto on December 15, 2015 at 12:11pm
I have this crazy idea I'm working on for a solar powered touring ebike.

A single wheel trailer will pull a 110W solar panel. This should get about 4 hours riding power per day.

If i get really crazy, a second 110w panel should provide enough average power to continuously run electric motor at full speed, so long as the sun shines.

The only trick is the size of the panels. You can get flexible thin and light panels easily, but they are still quite large.
Comment by Doc Embrey on December 14, 2015 at 8:05pm

I like your experiments ... I've done most of them too. I also have a half dozen unused saddles - quite a few Brooks saddles among them - though I would have to say comfort is not necessarily proportional to the number of springs on your saddle.

I've also tried butterfly bars on different bikes, worked fabulously well on the first one and not so well on the next but I'll fix that one day. You can, should you wish to fit your butterfly bar to your bike with the oversized handlebars, get yourself another stem with a handlebar diameter of 27.2mm (yes I know the point-two is ridiculous but that's what it allegedly is). The stems cost from reasonable to outrageous and you can get them in different lengths and angles and even adjustable ones. I like the handlebars higher than the seat so I got ones with big angles.

The pins and needles might also have to do with how your bike is set up ... how high the seat is and how far you have to reach to the handlebars. The seat can be adjusted forward and back too which might help a little. I did find a more upright riding position suited me better, though that started the whole saddle experiment thing.

I found, for me anyway, the most comfortable bikes to be a drop-bar tourer with a leather saddle and the top of the bars an inch or two higher than the seat and cruiser-style bikes with high bars like mini-apehangers (around ten-inches being best for me) with a double-sprung double padded saddle with a suspension seat post.

Comment by Dunsobarky on December 12, 2015 at 7:30pm
I'd love to try a recumbent! Very intrigued.
Comment by Terry Burn on December 12, 2015 at 1:47pm

In the early part of your story I was thinking, "here is an excellent candidate for a recumbent"!

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