The Electrom LEV began as a simple idea almost twenty years ago: “what would it take to get more people out of their cars and onto bicycles?” The conclusion was that what was needed was a new kind of bike. This bicycle needed to be able to easily carry cargo like groceries and kids, It had to be simple and easy to use, and it had to offer greater range than a bicycle. Electrification was the obvious answer, but how?
Twenty years, hundreds of ideas, four versions and countless hours drawing, building and testing later, it is almost there.
Here’s some of the history as recollected by the inventor, Fabrizio (Tig) Cross.
Version 1, 1999 Version 1 was a recumbent bicycle with a simple electric assist system. While it was thrilling to ride, it was under-powered and the the mating of human and electrical energy was crude. I knew that I wanted to keep going with the idea, but I wanted a system that would allow the rider’s pedaling energy to seamlessly integrate with the electrical energy. I started working on a “generator drive” system; one that would allow the rider to pedal continuously at a constant cadence regardless of speed or the hill the the bike was going up or down.
Version 2, 2003 – was good, but clunky. It was made 15 years ago and the technology available was pretty simple. Lithium batteries were still very expensive so I was using lead-acid, and there were very few commercially available ebike components. As a result most of the bike was fabricated from scratch. It did have the first version of the generator drive. The rider’s pedaling energy was converted to electricity via a surplus tape-drive motor used as a generator. It was heavy, and the handling was a bit scary, but the generator dive worked and worked well. I know I was onto something. The drive motor was an Eteck, with a 330 amp Sevcon controller, both would have been much more appropriate on a heavy electric motorcycle. My vehicle could rocket up to 90 kph in a few seconds, which was fun but pretty scary to ride.
Version 3, 2010 – was a bit of an abomination. I got fixated on having a long range, and I thought the way to do it was to have a really big batty, so I selected a lithium iron phosphate prismatic (rectangles instead of cylinders) battery system that was 48 volt, 90 amp-hours. The battery was huge, heavy, and in the end, just not very good. To accommodate it I built a huge frame. I did do a couple of things right though, I realized that I needed to go to motorcycle-grade wheels and breaks, and I switched my recumbent design to a long-wheelbase , where the front wheel is out in front of the riders pedals. This was much more stable.
Version 3.2, 2012 – I rode version 3 for awhile, and while it was fun to bomb around on I knew that it was not the right way to go. A bit disappointed, I took a break for a year and did other things. When I returned to the idea the available components for electric bikes had caught up to what I wanted to do and I converted the bike to a powerful bicycle hub motor. I also installed a smaller battery pack and an internal gear hub to act as transmission to get the human energy directly to the back wheel instead of using my generator-drive concept. I felt that the time that the extra efficiency was important and that it justified giving up on the generator-drive concept.
I was partially right, sending the rider’s energy directly to the wheel via chain drive was more efficient, and I was using a 14 speed Rohloff hub as my transmission so I had lots of gear range. The problem was that when riding in the city I spent way too much time shifting up and down the gears at stoplights. I knew I wanted to go back to the generator drive within a few moths of riding. I did ride V3.2 for a two years though, I wanted to learn as much as I could from it, and I needed time to draw, think and re-draw. I was pretty sure that my wife would only let me build one more of these things so I wanted to get it as close to right and to my dreams as I could for version 4.
Version 4.0, 2015 –The Electrom Prototype.
My new vehicle is called the Electrom. It is a hybrid between a velomobile, electric bike and scooter. It has been designed and built from scratch for ease-of-use, speed, safety and exercise. It has a top speed of 60 kph. I would call it partial velomobile as it is not fully enclosed. I opted for the design for several reasons:
- I like two-wheel handling, and didn’t want the added complexity of a trike.
- It had to be narrow in order to take advantage of the bicycle’s legal right to slip through congested traffic.
- It needed to be easy to get into and out of, so it couldn’t be too low, or be awkward to climb into.
- I wanted the rider’s head to be at the same height as a the driver in a standard passenger car for visibility and eye-contact.
To achieve my design goals I knew that I would need to start from scratch. Most velomobiles and bikes are too lightweight for cargo and passengers, and I wanted to use heavier scooter-grade tires and breaks for this reason, not to mention that the medians on the side of highways are littered with junk and pot-holes that the bigger tires handle much better. I built the frame, tailbox, and body panels from scratch, but the rest of the vehicle uses off-the-shelf ebike and scooter components for ease of maintenance.
I didn’t want an electric motorbike that was pretending to be a bicycle, I wanted the rider’s peddling efforts to be meaningful and offer real exercise. After all, as long as one is siting around on a bike, you might as well get some exercise. To accomplish this I created a “generator drive”. When the rider pedals, they drive a generator that supplies additional electricity to to the system. It works very well, I can create about 150 watts continuously and as an added bonus, I can pedal meaningfully all the time, including when going down hill or decelerating. Another benefit of the generator drive is that the cops up here in BC seem to really like it. They see me pedalling and it make everything ok. And because the system is designed to be comfortably pedalled all of the time, I am always pedalling. I’ve been riding the Electrom for almost two years now and have never been pulled over.
As I set out to build the Electrom prototype frame I weighed the benefits of different materials. I know that if my design was successful and went to production the frame would probably be built from aluminum, but for the prototype I wanted to use a material that I could work with in my garage, so I decided to build the prototype out of 3 millimeter Baltic birch plywood, epoxy resin, carbon fiber and kevlar. I also used hickory wood for strong points such as the area where the rear fork and shock bolts to the frame. I was fortunate to have access to the Victoria Maker Space for the initial layout, layup and resin work. The frame came together beautifully, and part of me wished we could build the production vehicles this way, but it is just not feasible.
Once the frame was finished I was able to put a combination of new parts and some of my old parts on it right away to get it rolling and start the testing process. Several months later the Tailbox and front fairing were installed. Thhe Electrom Prototype was on the road for over three years and 8,000 km. It was retired in 2019 when the production sample of the new design went on the road.