Saturday, September 21, 2013

Gear changer repair

The gear changer suddenly started sticking and I wasn't able to change the gear ratio on the Nuvici hub. This is somewhat ironic given my recent post about how cool the Nuvinci hub is with its continuously variable transmission. 

Anyway, the problem was that I couldn't twist the handle. Luckily Organic Transit included the users manual for the Nuvinci Hub which has a good description and pictures showing how to replace the gear cable. 

The first challenge was finding a replacement cable since the ELF has a very long cable. My local bike shop said its called a tandem shift cable but didn't have one in stock so I ordered one from Amazon.   

The next challenge was figuring out how to install it. There are actually two shift cables on the Nuvinci Hub and you have to thread the cable through a hole in the handle and wind it around a guide ridge and pull it all the way through until the grommet is seated in the housing.  I added some oil to the cable housing before threading the cable through to the end of the housing. There is a special clip that needs to be attached to the end of the cable which clips into the hub. The trick is to wait before trimming the cable until after all adjustments have been made. 

It actually took me two tries and a second replacement cable to get it right. The first one ended up getting frayed inside the handle just like the original cable. It appears that if the cables are too loose, they come off the runners inside the handle, and get caught up in the handle mechanism. So the key is to keep both cables relatively tight. The manual says to check the cable tension by pulling on the cable housing near the handle to see how much leeway there is. Then adjust the thumb screws on the handle to keep the cable snug.  I'll be sure to do that often now to avoid more broken shift cables. 

Here's the pagoda I pass on my ride home. It's near the old naval hospital in Silver Spring. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fixing a front wheel spoke

One of the spokes on the front wheel broke inside the nipple so I had to remove the wheel in order to replace it.  It was a really easy operation only requiring removal of 3 hex bolts, one on the wheel and 2 on the brake. The disk brake caliper needs to be removed so that the wheel can be removed from the hub.  Here are some pictures of the front hub and brake caliper assembly after they've been removed. 

I ended up taking off both wheels so that I could have the bike shop check the tension on the rest of the spokes since they were making a creaking sound whenever I turned the wheel sharply.  I also let them replace the spoke which required the brake disk to be removed due to the location of the broken spoke on that side of the wheel.  The bike shop said that the wheel is built with an unusually large amount of dishing to one side and was curious to find out the recommended tension for the inside vs outside spokes.  I'll update this post once I get those numbers from Organic Transit.

After the repair was complete it took a while to get the brakes adjusted just right.  I found that the disk wasn't exactly in the same position on the wheel so I had to do some fiddling with the brake adjustments to minimize rubbing and squeaking.  Now they're working great and the spokes aren't creaking any more either.

Check out the nuvincii hub video

Ever wonder how the NuVinci Hub works?  I didn't think too much about it until my wife asked recently and I had to admit that I really had no idea.  So, I looked it up on the interweb and sure enough it's really cool.  Of course, I'd expect nothing less from Organic Transit!  Check out this demonstration which does a pretty good job of explaining the magic:

And here's a link to the full site:  Fallbrook Technology NuVinci 360

Saturday, August 3, 2013

So this plant heard that it's called Organic Transit and decided to climb right in.  I don't know where they want me to take them.  Maybe they just like the color.

I've been changing my commute in subtle but significant ways over the last few weeks.  One change I've made is to use the power as a true power assist.  Rather than running the motor intermittently to get up to speed and then trying to keep it there by peddling, I've taken to running the motor slowly while peddling at full strength.  This has allowed me to get a bit more exercise while not getting so tired that I need to take a break.  The end effect is that I can sustain my pedaling more like when riding a traditional bike and still get over the hills. 

The weather has been really dry and sunny for the past month so I've been able to go all solar for the recharge at work.  I ride about 10 miles to work and park in the sun for about 9 hours before riding home.  I also usually take the ELF out for a quick ride at lunch but usually only run the motor for a few minutes.    So far I haven't run out of battery power during my ride home but I have noticed quite a variation in the time it takes to recharge the battery after I plug it in at night.  Sometimes it only takes about 2 hours and other times it takes up to 4 hours. 

Last weekend I had to remove the rear wheel for the first time to replace a couple of broken spokes.  I'm not sure how they got broken but it might have been caused by the time I accidentally left the cable lock on the back wheel and tried to drive away :/  Needless to say it didn't get very far but there wasn't any apparent damage at the time.

Anyway, since the spokes had broken off inside the nipples, I had to remove the rear wheel and tire to replace the spokes.  This required loosening 3 bolts on each of the two brackets that secure the rear wheel to the frame so that the chain can be lifted off the wheel cogs.  Then I loosened the axle bolts as on a standard bike and removed the wheel. 

I forgot to mention that I had previously lifted the back of the ELF and placed a stack of bricks under the frame to hold it up off the ground.  Also, before loosening the bolts, I marked the spot on the frame where the brackets are located so that I could replace the brackets in the same location (or at least the same distance from the original markings on both sides of the frame).  I also had to remove one of the rear brake pads to get the tire past them even after releasing the quick-release on the brake.

Once I had the wheel off I didn't have too much trouble removing the tire from the rim and pulling the rim tape back to expose the spoke nipples.  I used a screwdriver to tighten the spoke nipples and replaced the tape.  Next I used the tire irons to help replace the tire on the rim.  Unfortunately I punctured the tube while prying the tire back onto the rim :(  So, I took the wheel over to the local City Bikes so they could replace the tube for me.  I've since patched the tube so now I at least have a spare tube.

Replacing the back wheel works best by reversing the steps outlined above.  First, replace the chains and tighten the axle bolts.  Then you can pull the wheel back while pushing your feet on the end of the frame to get the right amount of chain tension and align the brackets to the marks you made to indicate where they were originally located.   You might need a friend to tighten the 6 bracket bolts while you pull on the wheel.

As you can tell, this is not anywhere near a "quick release" rear wheel.  The good news is that I don't have to worry as much about someone stealing the rear wheel.  It takes a while and you have to have the right tools.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ELFRider Commute Ride

Here's a video of the middle of my ride home yesterday.  In this heat I've discovered that the ELF provides a sun shade so my head doesn't get baked.  I've also been taking it easy by using the motor a bit more so as to keep from getting over heated.  When the ELF gets going the airflow is really pretty good so I've been staying comfortable.  As on my 2-wheeler, the only time I really get hot is when I have to sit at a light near all those heat producing cars. :p

This video was taken on my iPhone mounted on the steering wheel.  The bumps are typical but probably a bit exaggerated since the phone feels every bump directly.  The video starts at the corner of Lockwood and Route 29 and I turn onto 29 going South.  Then it's right on Southwood and over to Dennis to just past Sligo Creek.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rainbows and a visit to the Mormon Temple

The ELF visited the Washington DC Mormon Temple this weekend for a concert of the Sweet Adeline's.  There was a nice rainbow after the show.

At one point there was a group of Orange clad mormon kids about to visit the temple and they all whipped out their cameras to get a picture of the ELF as I drove past.  The ride home was really fun since the temple is on top of a hill and I was able to glide down the hill and truck along Beech Drive at full throttle over to Jones Bridge road and onto the trail.  I've started using this stretch of road during my commute on rainy days since it cuts out a section of the trail that gets pretty muddy.  It's a nice smooth road and the speed limit is 25 or 30 which the ELF does pretty well except at the end where it's a bit of an uphill climb and the ELF slows down to about 18.  But it's along the Rock Creek and the hill is right by the National Audubon Society so I figure people probably want to go slow there anyway (so as to show respect for the birds :).

After riding the ELF for a couple of months the chain started jumping off the tensioner and making a dragging noise as it ran next to the motor.  I decided to move the front chain tensioner down one hole rather than trying to pull the back wheel back to tighten up the chain.  After this minor adjustment the chain is running very smoothly! 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Here's an unusual parking job.  It's a regular parking spot but I pulled the back wheel onto the curb so that the cable lock can reach the barrier. 

It's been raining almost every day the last few weeks here in Maryland so I finally decided to drill some holes in the rear battery compartment to keep it from filling with water.  It was just in time since I took the ELF down to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this morning.  It was looking like rain before I left and sure enough before I arrived at my destination it was pouring down rain.  At the end of the day, the battery compartment was empty of water, but it did pick up some sand from driving around on the Mall.

Here's the ELF with a bit of the Washington Monument, wrapped in it's scaffolding, visible on the left top of the picture.  As usual, the ELF drew a crowd.
I decided to drive down to the Mall using the Capital Crescent Trail.  Usually the trail has a lot of joggers and bikers and it's just wide enough for two ELFs to pass each other.  The busiest part is between Bethesda Ave. and Little Falls Parkway, so I drove the ELF across Battery Lane and down Glenbrook to Little Falls Parkway to avoid that section.  The ride downtown on the trail went quite smoothly.  There were a good many bikers and joggers but the threat of rain probably reduced the numbers considerably.  The ride downtown is almost all downhill so I hardly used the motor at all.  I was also saving the battery for the ride home.   It was starting to rain lightly just as I was arriving in Georgetown along Canal Street and began raining steadily as I emerged onto Rock Creek Parkway.  I used Google Maps to direct me to the Smithsonian via Constitution Ave.  The ELF kept up with traffic quite well along the several miles ride in the driving rain.  I was probably going about 20 along the route and the roads were quite smooth and two lanes allowed faster cars to pass.  At one point a moped rider passed me in the rain and he was clearly getting a lot wetter than I was.  


I've noticed that the ELF windshield does a very good job of staying clear of water.  The reason?  It pitched extremely steep so the water just rolls down the front.  The back window is a different story.  As you can see from this picture, the back window is getting a lot of spray from the back wheel.  I wonder if there is any way to install a rear fender.  I no longer have an overhead rear view mirror so it's not really a requirement to see out the back window.  But it does get messy and I have to clean off the dirt and sand from the trail pretty regularly.

The ride home after the concert was really interesting.  The sun had come out so I figured the Capital Crescent would be packed and decided to take Rock Creek Parkway instead.  Once again, the ELF did a great job keeping up with traffic in the city as I drove along Constitution Avenue and followed the signs for Rock Creek, under the Kennedy Center, and past the canal.  I was going between 20 and 25 mph the entire way along that route and then drove up Rock Creek Parkway past the exit for Mass Ave. and past the Zoo all the way up to where the road is closed for cars.   The road was quite smooth and the twists and turns were really fun in the ELF.  At one point I misread the signs at the intersection of Piney Branch so went an extra mile looping up and back to Rock Creek.   Back on track I played tag with a recumbent bike as I was pedaling on the flat road to preserve battery (and get a little more exercise) and then passed him going up the big hill.  It was a great ride home and it didn't even rain any more.

When I got home I decided to take advantage of the sun to start recharging the battery.  After less than an hour it started looking like rain again so I brought the battery in to charge.   It was about 2:30.  Then something really surprising happened.  The charger was still going until about 8:30.  So, it took 6 hours to recharge the battery!  I knew that I had used the battery a lot this morning, but usually it takes about 2.5 hours to charge.  Maybe this is how long it takes to charge a dead battery. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

All solar recharge

Today I decided to go all solar for recharging the battery. It was a mostly sunny day here with some scattered clouds throughout the day but no rain clouds in sight. I rode into work on the normal route using the motor on all of the uphill climbs and pedaling on the flats and downhill stretches.  The minor maintenance work I completed this weekend really paid off. The brakes were nice and tight, the seat stopped rocking, and the back window stayed closed since the lock tabs no longer turn on their own.

After arriving at work at about 8:45 I disconnected the main power plug and left the charge wire connected with the ELF facing westward and the sun shining down on her from behind.

I took my lunch break at 1:00 and drove the ELF down the road to the quodoba. This is about a one mile round trip ride with a small hill around our office  and a slight incline along the main road. I probably only ran the motor for about 5 minutes and left the main power plugged in for 1/2 hour before leaving the ELF in the sun for the afternoon. 

I left the office at 5:30 and travelled on the big roads on the ride home. This meant using the battery for the motor assist for a higher percentage of time than usual.   I arrived home in just under an hour with the motor still cruising.   No worries!

The battery took about 3 hours to charge on the wall socket which is about 1/2 hour longer than usual.  I guess it started a bit lower than usual so that makes sense.

All-in-all this was a good experiment since now I know that the solar charging really can get me all the way home.  Of course I'm still going to use the wall socket on cloudy days until I can get a more accurate way to read the battery level.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rainy week rides

This week was unusually rainy for this time of year. The ELF was fantastic to ride in during several rainy rides mostly to work and, as I've said before, I really can't tell that it's raining until  I notice raindrops accumulating on the windshield.  

I've added a piece of aluminum foil over the second battery bay to keep it from filling with water but there haven't been any rides in a true downpour to test if it can handle the volume.  

The trails are pretty messy and the ELF keeps getting dirty from them so I've had to spend a few evenings or mornings wiping down the various surfaces. Mostly it's getting spray behind the doors and a little on the panel behind the seat. And of course, the back window gets a bunch of spray from the back wheel.  I've been able to let the rain wash away the bulk of the dirt after I got home and then just wiped away what's left in the morning. 

I've tied a tarp to the fence and covered the back of the ELF to keep the exposed part of the back wheel and chain dry.  
One morning when I arrived at work the forecast showed big rain storms so I put a large plastic garbage bag over the back wheel.  That day it rained really hard about an hour before my ride home so the mesh seat was a little wet when I sat down.  But the back wheel was nice and dry. 

Someone cut the ropes holding back the barriers on old Columbia pike so I had to bring more rope on Tuesday to tie them back again. I guess I need to get more rope and just plan to carry it just in case  

As usual lots of people yelling "nice bike" and one guy in a truck stopped when I pulled over to make an adjustment so he could write down the information. He seemed very excited. 

I've tried riding up the hill on route 29 between Lockwood and Southwood several times. The ELF does about 25 for the downhill part and then keeps about 20 the rest of the way up the hill. It's not too bad since the cars have two other lanes to pass me and the speed limit is 40 on that stretch of road. I still prefer the sidewalk but its definitely faster driving on the road. 

I've also tried riding down Sligo Creek Road from Dennis to Forest Glen which is a nice smooth piece of road mostly a gradual downhill grade. It's marked 25 so the ELF can keep up with traffic no problem. But once again, even though its slower, I prefer the trail since I can pedal through that section and get more exercise. 

I need to do some general maintenance this weekend. Tightening the brake cables an checking the gear cables and checking the tire pressure and replacing the overhead rear view mirror and tightening the seat screws and back hatch screws. 

I figured out that the best way to access the front wheels is to prop it up on something by pushing on the body above the front of the door so it goes up on two wheels. 

The range anxiety is completely gone since I've had no dead battery even on days when I left the headlights on for most of the ride. I've also been able to pedal more now that the clipless pedals are securely attached to my shoes. 

On the other hand the solar panel has proved effective on sunny days. I left it charging from 8:30 to 4:00 one day (including a quick jaunt over to the panera for lunch) and the battery finished charging on the office power in less than 30 minutes.   Next week I'm going to let it charge until I leave at 5:30 and then we will really find out if its charged!  My wife also bought a killawatt meter for measuring the power use on her leaf and I'm going to use it after one of my rides next week to see what the charger uses. 


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Speedy ELF

The ELF is really fast!  Now that I've been measuring using the iPhone Speedometer App, I've been able to gauge her performance.  Yes, I'm convinced the ELF is female.  It's pretty obvious, isn't it?

The last few rides I've really been impressed at the amount of power the motor has.  This is especially evident when climbing steep hills.  I was in a hurry on Thursday night so  decided to try driving on 29 up the hill between Lockwood and Southwood.  The ELF maintained a good 20 mph all the way up the hill.  I remember trying the same hill on my bike and dragging along at about 6.   This is why I always ride on the sidewalk on the bike.  

Here are a few screen snapshots of the Speedometer.  The first was on a flat surface just pedaling.  Alright, I might have used the motor to get up to speed and it was probably a gradual down hill but this is about the right speed for just pedaling.  It was also before I got my fancy new clipless pedals (see pictures below).

The question everyone always asks is "how fast does it go?"  I found a nice flat road with a good smooth surface and let her rip.  The ELF got up to 25 mph and stayed there.  I'm pretty sure the governor is keeping it from going above that but the motor certainly could handle faster.

The fastest I've gone on the ELF is around 33 and this screen snapshot of 31 was while pedaling down the hill going north on Route 29 between Southwood and Lockwood.  I'm pretty sure that on a longer and steeper hill she would go faster but so far this is my record.

The trip summary for my ride into the office indicates that the distance was 10.04 miles and the average speed was 12.5 mph.   I was taking it pretty easy on this morning and not trying to break any speed records.  The speedometer app stops measuring when you come to a stop so the average only includes the time and distance measurements while moving.

Per the request of one blog comment I've taken a series of pictures and videos of the ELF.  The first one here shows my brand new Shimano clipless pedals.  I took the ELF for a test drive with these last night and they really make a big difference in the amount of power I can generate from the pedals.  I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's commute!

The disk brakes are still making some noise, especially when backing out of the driveway, but they seem to have settled in and mostly work noise free.  I've had to adjust the cables near the brake handle a couple of times as they've stretched.  If you look closely at the left side brake you can see the electric wire going to the brake light sensor.  This little sensor uses a magnet attached to the brake wire and I've had to re-attach the sensor a few times since it keeps popping out of the strap.  I think I need to add another strap to keep it from popping off.  Anyway, as you can see from the picture of the rear brake light below, it's working fine now.

Here's a nice shot of the motor from the side.  I've been trying to keep the chain from rusting by applying chain oil after every rain.  I've got a little stack of bricks that I put under the frame on either side of the back wheel hub and then I run the motor slowly while dripping oil on the chain.  This works really well, but I needed a second person to hold the throttle.  I'm thinking of using a clip or rubber band to hold it in the future.

Here's a shot of the pedal side chain (and dog).  I've been oiling that one (not the dog, the chain) by sitting in the seat and pedaling backward while dripping oil on the chain with a paper towel on the frame to catch spray. 

Solar panel connection on the roof.

Yes, the brake light works!

Here's the magic power box hiding in the storage bay.  You can see the green light glowing when the power is plugged in.   Everyone on the ELF team at Organic Transit signed my ELF as a reward for participating in the Kickstarter campaign.  Nice!

Here are a few shots from behind the battery looking forward.  When I want to charge the battery in the sun I disconnect the gray power cable and leave the green and red charge cable connected.  That way there is no draw on the battery from the electronics.

The little black squares can be rotated to adjust the seat angle.  There are 4 sides to a square (in case you didn't know) so that means there are 4 different seat angle options.

The throttle is that little thumb lever on the right hanging down from the handle just under the bell.  The nuvinci hub CVT is controlled by turning the handle on the left with the (upside down) indicator of what part of the hill you're climbing or going down.

Here's a shot taken through the windshield looking down.

The Nuvinci hub has two cables and here you can see the parking brake lever locked in place.