Summer 1999

The Sweltering Summer

My diary entries will no longer have exact dates; the novelty of the Lectra is wearing off and it’s simply becoming a normal part of my life.  Which is a good thing!  But I will highlight some of the things that happened.

The first is the increasingly oppressive Tucson heat.  During the spring, if I used the regen braking judiciously, I could go to work and back without hearing that fan come on.  Now, no matter how gently I ride, that fan will come ON sometime during the journey home.

For those who haven’t experienced it, or thought to check, the heat (at least in Tucson) peaks at around 1-2 p.m. and stays there until 9 or 10 at night.  One night I had to run a quick errand to the store at about 10:30 p.m.  The Lectra had been sitting plugged in since about 6 p.m.  Four and a half hours later, as soon as I turn the key on, the fan immediately starts up.  Ooof.  It makes me feel like I’m pushing the envelope.  But I have not yet been stranded on the road with a “T” light.  An actual temperature gauge would be nice.

4/25/99  Mandatory Service

 In my mailbox today I find a package of bolts and adhesive, along with some instructions.  It’s from EMB, saying that they’ve detected a possible problem with some of their Lectras, mine included.  There are six bolts that have to be replaced.  The instructions are saying words like “torque wrench”.  I start to feel dizzy.

A friend of mine at work who has been following my adventures with the Lectra with interest says that he has a couple of torque wrenches and would be glad to help.  He came over and we both went to Ace Hardware to get the various socket wrenches and hex drivers we would need.

The trickiest part turned out to be jacking up the Lectra.  I didn’t have a hydraulic jack and so I just used my car jack and a couple of creatively placed pieces of plywood to get away with it.  Working on the front wheel (where 3 of the bolts needed to be replaced) was a breeze.  Jacking up the back end was harder but we did it.

To work on the back wheel, we had to actually remove it from the Lectra.  This made me nervous but again, it wasn’t so bad.  He and I kind of looked at each other once it was off, with the odd realization that we were looking at the most mechanically complicated part of the Lectra.  “It’s not much more complicated than a bicycle,” he commented.  “Maybe less complicated; there’s no derailleur.”

Afterward our hands were black.  “I’ve got some stuff that takes off grease,” I said.  “I don’t think it’s grease,” my friend said thoughtfully.  Sure enough, it was only the soot from the road that had been thrown up onto the Lectra.  It came right off with soap and water.

And so I experienced the “maintenance payoff” of owning an electric vehicle.  The vehicle is simple enough that it is possible to work on it oneself.

By the way, the bolts that EMB had suspected might be loose weren’t loose at all; they were nice and tight.  So the maintenance ended up being only preventative, which was good.

May 1999  The Floppy Chain Syndrome

One May morning, as I arrive, the security guard in the parking lot walks up and says, “Does that chain already need tightening?”

”What do you mean?” I asked.  He pointed out that he could see my chain waggling up and down, even from a distance.  I got down and tested the chain tension.  It’s only supposed to “give” half an inch but right now it’s about 2 inches.  Yipes.  I guess that’s what’s responsible for the “tick-tick-tick” noise that I hear during acceleration.

So I had to refer to the manual to see how to tighten the chain.  I didn’t understand how to affect the “eccentric cams”, so I wrote an email to EMB.  There are these round holes in the cams, and the manual said that they had to be twisted with a “socket driver”.  That’s what I didn’t understand —I was expecting some kind of hexagonal fitting.  But EMB said that it was just a leverage point, a place to stick the stub of the socket driver.  Then you use the axle bolt as a fulcrum.  Okay, now I had it.

Although I had to borrow my friend’s torque wrenches again, I did the chain tightening myself.  Because I was familiar with how to jack up the Lectra now, it only took me a half hour to tighten the chain.  Afterward the “tick-tick-tick” sound during acceleration was gone.  Cool!

EMB gave me a call later in the month, asking how things were going with the bike.  How nice!  I talked to “Rolf”, the mechanic who had emailed me the advice on the eccentric cams.  He explained that they had some complaints from people with Lectras from my batch about the chain.  Evidently that batch of chain was made of a slightly softer grade of metal.

Well, this makes sense.  Since the Lectra has no transmission, it depends on the high torque of the electric motor to start even from a dead stop, even going uphill.  That’s like never shifting down on your bicycle, but always leaving it in high gear.  I could imagine that would stress the chain’s metal.  Rolf said that they could send me a chain made of sterner stuff.

As May turned into June, I found that I had to tighten the chain yet again.  And early in July, again.  By the third time, I went and bought my own torque wrench.  I certainly have this service down to a science.  The chain hasn’t arrived from EMB yet, but to be fair, I haven’t followed up my request.

June 1999  The “Scooter Deathmatch”

I happen to know someone else who rides a scooter to work all the time.  She’s the wife of another friend of mine at work.  Her scooter is a 200cc Yamaha, a gas-powered scooter with a centrifugal clutch.  I had to know how the Lectra would fare in a race against another scooter roughly in its same class.

So she and I traded taunts and insults via my co-worker friend for several weeks.  I found out that her scooter’s speedometer goes up to 80 mph, but that she’d never driven it faster than 65 mph.  Okay, so it won’t be a race about speed.  But I wanted to race on acceleration, some kind of quarter-mile or even less than that.  She also weighs about 70 lbs. less than me, so I said that after we each raced our own bikes, we should race on each other’s.

We finally got our chance after a whole bunch of us at work went to see “The Phantom Menance”.  We had all left from work, and so we all returned there after the movie.  My opponent had joined her husband at the movie, and what’s more, had ridden her scooter to the same parking lot where I park my Lectra.  There the two scooters were, parked next to each other.

First of all, her scooter was larger—both taller and longer.  It had the typical scooter styling, whereas the Lectra is styled like a motorcycle.  I remembered that the Lectra is really supposed to be equivalent to a 100cc bike, and began to wonder about the wisdom of this race.

There was a clear stretch of parking lot that was maybe an eighth of a mile.  Good enough.  We got on our bikes and her husband went down to the other end to “drop the flag”.  We started our engines—or rather, she started hers and I turned on my Lectra.  It was of course a hot afternoon so the fan immediately started.  I have to admit, that fan is loud, at least as loud as the “putt-putt” of her scooter.  The signal was given and we took off!

Alas!  I lost that race, by a couple of lengths.  Harsh!  But of course I had my 70-lb. handicap.  Back to the starting line we went.  She showed me how her Yamaha worked and I showed her the unfamiliar PWR-button startup of the Lectra.

Again the signal was given!  Again we maxed out the throttles on (this time) each other’s bikes!  And… again she won, but by less, perhaps half a length.  Harsh!

I was disappointed; even though I know I lose on speed and seriously lose on range, I had thought I might win on acceleration & power.  Instead, I have to admit that the internal-combustion engine carried the day.

The other thing I had noticed as we were racing each other’s bikes is that the Lectra’s chain drive makes it kind of loud.  The Yamaha was belt-driven, so it didn’t have that noise.  Moreover, its entire engine was enclosed in the scooter’s body, which muffled it considerably.

Oh well.  I still like my electric bike.  I didn’t buy it to win races, anyhow.

I don’t know if it’s a consequence of this race, but some time later, I find scribbled on my “NO poster”, “no range”, “no performance”, and “no first prize trophies”.  Stinkers.  I take the poster down.

July 1999  The Pulverizing Heat

For the first time, the “T” light is coming on during my drive home.  I have evolved a route where I only have to do “high-speed” driving during the first three miles or so; the last three miles are along side streets where the speed limit is 30 mph or less.  And yet one day this July, I noticed the “T” light coming on intermittently during the “low impact” leg of my drive home.  It sure feels hot.  It’s Tucson’s monsoon season, and so humidity is high and the temperature is in the mid-100s.  I can hardly blame the Lectra for overheating, but for the first time, I’m wondering if some extra plumbing in the form of a radiator of some sort would be worth it.  I’ll have to keep an eye out for how often that happens.

It never happens in the morning:  in fact, during my morning commute, the fan doesn’t even come on.  But the commute home is always during the hottest part of the day, and uphill.  Now,when I say the “hottest part”, I don’t mean that the sun is at its zenith.  I mean that the air temperature has attained the high for the day, and that’s what stresses the Lectra.

Still, I have never been stranded, and the “T” light doesn’t come on during the fast driving.  In fact, earlier this year, I noticed that the fan (1) only comes on during the “low-impact” part of the commute, and (2) often comes on the moment I stop, not during steady driving.
As an experiment, then, I began taking a route home where I pretty much stay at top speed all the way.  To my surprise, the “T” light stays off.  It appears, then, that moving through the air at 40+ mph provides enough cooling that it actually makes more sense to avoid the lower-speed streets on the way home.  Wouldn’t have expected it.

August 1999 The New Chain

On one of the last days in July I call EMB and end up talking to Scott Cronk himself.  I tell him about the Floppy Chain Syndrome, and he says that he will send me, free, a stronger replacement chain, one made for racing bikes.  Two days later it does show up, and it DOES look tougher.  The thickness of the metal that makes up the walls of the individual links is perhaps three times the thickness of the same metal in the current chain.  It takes me a few days to get around to having someone replace the chain.  Part of this time was spent on the phone trying to get a hold of the link tool necessary to break or reconnect a chain, to change its length.  Turns out that the tool would cost $50-$60 but having someone else do the entire service would only be $25.  So for the first time a mechanic other than myself worked on the bike.

The difference was phenomenal.  I could immediately feel a difference, mainly, less vibration.  No more “tick-tick-tick” noise starting up only a few days after the service.  And when I roll the bike unpowered, say when backing out of a parking space, it is much quieter.

Read on to find out how things stacked up for me at tax time.