The Evelo Aurora, Part 2
This post is a literal continuation of “The Evelo Aurora, Part I” and is incomplete as a standalone article. You will want to read that first to get a more balanced view, if you have not already done so.
There are only two cautions with the Aurora, traits shared by many e-bikes of this type. First, when you stop pedaling, it will take one second for the sensors to detect this and cut power. I mentioned this earlier. There may be some situations where this may briefly surprise you, until you get used to it. That’s easy.
A second trait is more important, and can be more difficult to get used to. It’s common with a normal bike to coast into a slow, tight turn when maneuvering into a confined area or around obstacles. Then you decide to give it half a pedal just to maintain momentum or help it up a sidewalk ramp, or to take a change in paths. On a pedal-assisted e-bike, this ingrained effort to keep things just right is a bad idea, because the motor will dutifully kick back in at whatever assist level you left it set at. This can be exciting, especially if you are carefully balanced in a tight, slow turn. The unexpected surge of power will put some wobble in that balance. The good news is that instinctively tapping either brake will instantly cut power, rescuing the situation, however clumsily. If you have a lot of seat time on a conventional bicycle, it can take awhile to “unlearn” this habit and substitute a touch of throttle in place of pedaling. The throttle feel is fairly mushy, so learning to feed it in is pretty easy.
Fit and finish are very good for its price level, and I didn’t have to correct or adjust anything, which surprised me. Weld quality is excellent, and so is paintwork. The only two pouty moments I had involve hardware. The first was about the quality of the fasteners. Their finish is thin, and working them damages it, promoting the start of rust. Then again, my Aurora sees no shelter at any time and I’m currently in a rainy area, so it figures I’d be the first to notice. Now and then in my travels, I come across a hardware store with hard-to-find stainless steel metric hex bolts, so this might be an option someday. I can’t think of much that stays pristine when you boondock though, so the Aurora is certainly not alone here. It’s a running battle across many fronts.
Second, the narrow “full-size” rack perched on top of the battery has two issues all by itself. It’s so narrow compared to the battery below it that it won’t work with any decent baskets, bags, cases or panniers short of cobbling up some modifications for a permanent mount. A kick-up at its rear prevents my placing my flat-bottomed milk crate there unless I’m willing to butcher it. The rack has a handy spring arm so you can clamp some items in without also needing straps. Unfortunately, that arm is made of painted soft steel and bends easily. Straighten it back out and you’ll find that both of the torsion springs are now shot anyway, unable to take one pull open to the limit that the kick-up allows the arm to go. Woof.
It’s worth noting though, that a real, average-quality rack in this location might be a waste, because all it’s attached to is the thin formed-plastic battery housing lid that’s held in place with five sheet metal screws – into Tinnerman clips through thin plastic. Heavily loading such a rack unevenly and then riding could eventually force the Samsung battery housing apart, I fear. So, the Aurora’s rack is suitable for holding small, moderate-weight items and looking handy. Beyond that level of use, it needs to be replaced with something more securely mounted. The problem with that is that the Aurora lacks all provision for mounting conventional racks of any type, including generic, universal racks that expect the worst. Most of that is because the normal rack space is already taken up by the battery, but part is the lack of anything else to attach a rack to. On all the earth, I’ve found one manufacturer with two similar rack models that will fit only on the front, where I don’t want them, and one manufacturer with one model of rack that attaches to the seat post, hopefully clearing both the battery and the seat hardware. That can only be evaluated hands-on, and that rack’s weight capacity is quite limited. Most users of the Aurora could hardly care less about being able to have a real rack in back, and keep in mind that I am pushing the bike into duties it wasn’t designed for.
Let me digress for a moment into a larger picture, since I’m whining about the rack quality. This great nation of ours, this bastion of democracy, is awash in cheap, pathetic-quality products that people complain incessantly about. Yes, these products are foreign-made, but that isn’t my ultimate focus here. Let me paint the picture. The other day I was shopping for some minor electronic device hookup thing that I expected to cost at least few dollars. I tripped over a website selling a similar imported item for six cents. Six cents! Oddly, the site allowed customer comments, and the general consensus was that it was useless crap. Yet the tone of surprised indignation and outrage was amazing to me. One guy had ordered two for twelve cents, and both of them broke on first use. What I found astounding is that he expected them to work at all, and was indignant at the results. His complaint was, as some online service complaints also are, more of a tale of his own sad lacking rather than the product’s.
Sure, we can blame politicians for so eagerly bending over at the bidding of big business, to pass such things as NAFTA, or quickly turn a blind eye to the slaughters of pro-democracy marchers at Tiananmen Square so that we could bless Red China with Most Favored Nation status, so they could help our businesses move production out of the U.S. But really, the crappy product problem is us. It isn’t the Chinese, because they are fully capable of manufacturing at either end of the spectrum: sophisticated top-tier or worthless garbage. They take pride in supplying exactly what we ask for.
We innately try to stretch the wilting value of each dollar by swapping in cheaper grades of products, to see if they will still be acceptable. Multiple levels are fine, and necessary, but when 95% of a market looks at two vacuum cleaners or power drills and buys the one that costs 30% less, and then buys it again, two things happen. The cheaper competitor pockets your money and invests it elsewhere. The costlier competitor compares the two products and notes the poor-quality components. They realize that the competitor is not only chintzing on the product’s service life and failure rate, but paying much cheaper labor rates, with no limits whatsoever as to what they can do with that labor. They notice that its customers are complaining and frustrated because the competitor is ignoring them and pocketing that customer service expense, but only a very few are coming on over or back home. This doesn’t bother them half as much as watching their competitor take most of their customers away, and badly underprice them, and enjoy higher profit margins to boot. Hell, in many cases it’s not even their own product! It’s off the shelf, without any development expenses other than where to stick the company logo on it. Unable to financially survive becoming a tiny niche player, the embattled firm faces just two options: deliberately lower their own product’s quality and locate an even cheaper source of labor or shelf products than their competitor, or go bankrupt. Cheapest is what most consumers now will consistently choose. A short service life is okay these days, because then we will have a justifiable reason to “upgrade” and buy again. We have come to expect it. They don’t refer to us as “consumers” instead of “customers” for nothing.
As consumers, we don’t seem to care…until we finally scrape the bottom of the barrel and whine about how a $7.29 desk fan went dead a week after purchase and didn’t blow much air anyway, and the phone queue for Customer Service was a half hour, and you couldn’t understand most of what they said. So you emailed them, but never got any more than an acknowledgement saying how deeply they value you. What a surprise, huh? So for revenge, you give up, eat the loss, and buy their competitor’s desk fan for $7.49, passing up the much bigger old-school one for $15.99 that was so highly rated by Consumer Reports and the 3 people who bought one. On the way home with the replacement fan, you stop at McDonald’s for lunch at $7.29, and wonder how those fan guys managed to get the raw materials delivered, make tools, dies and molds for each part, pay for a building, with mortgage, rent and taxes, pay labor and then ship it across the ocean and sell it to the SuperStore for $4.1934 each, so that you can buy it for $7.49, on sale! And you just chewed on a Brazilian dead cow, and a Mexican potato for $7.29. Makes that fan seem even more like a bargain, and maybe we can even beat that price next year when this one’s squealing!
We blessed the first-adopter manufacturers with our dollars, and motivated the rest to get moving or die. I was there. They did both. So this is what we have today. Why doesn’t anyone make a long-lasting, reliable, repairable product today? Because companies have learned the hard way that we will not buy it, period. We go by price and if it breaks, it’s cheap to replace, right? There are only a few niche players who cater to quality, and the majority of consumers are honestly at a loss as to why anyone at all would buy from them. And then they go on to mention how annoying it is to have their incoming phone call chop off whenever they squeeze their cellphone too hard getting it out of its holder. In many product areas, higher levels of quality are simply no longer available. They’ve been starved out of existence. By us.
So, when I complain about the Aurora’s carrier rack and fasteners, I do so with the understanding that none of the e-bike sellers are likely to be willing to pass through higher costs (and risk being perceived as uncompetitive) by insisting that a particular item be raised to standard quality. All we’d notice is the higher price, and if we don’t know much about something or appreciate it, we apply the only measuring gauge we do understand: price. They can’t offer such things as an option, because that’s simply advertising that their standard is sub-standard. “Upgrade to our SuperRack, and avoid the warping and quick rusting of our standard rack for just $129! Boosts weight-carrying capacity, too!” I’d be willing to pay substantially more, myself, for a “heavy-duty corrosion-proof rear rack system” and “special fastener package”, but that isn’t feasible for a company when you’re not in full control of your own product and only two people would buy such odd options anyway. They know that potential buyers would only notice that their product is $200 more than their competitor’s. Bikes are bikes, right? Same. All same. You buy now. Me love you long time! …End of digression.
The only other gripe I have with the Evelo Aurora is its styling. To me, it looks unnecessarily heavy and kinda gay, but I chose it for mechanical functionality over my own personal objections to its appearance. Mind you, in the days after I started doing errands in town, several people have approached me unbidden, to remark what a beautiful bike it is. It is quite shiny and clean – for now – and its curves are graceful. My willingness to trade in those graceful arcs for a little more butch is just my own preference.
Still, I have two problems with the Aurora’s frame that will never go away. The first is how its convenient step-through frame feature has been implemented. A mini-background: Since day one, the starting point for the “safety bicycle” has been to design bike frames by creating triangles of straight steel tubes welded together at their ends. That’s because if you take a length of thin, light steel tube and try to bend it, it won’t be able to resist very well. But, if you try to stretch or compress it by holding it only at each end, you’ll have quite a struggle (and probable injury) ahead of you. So, if you can arrange most of a bike’s frame tubes so that they will only see tension or compression forces instead of bending ones, you’ll have one very light, stiff frame that’s easy to pedal along. That’s why conventional bike frames look like a few triangular tube sets combined together. It’s been referred to as a “diamond” frame, and it’s both light and very difficult to collapse.
To covert a conventional bike frame into a step-through frame, you have to effectively take a hacksaw and cut off the topmost tube that gets in the way of your leg swinging through. That suddenly puts huge bending forces on the lower tube that remains, and you have to figure out a way to help it resist that bending force. Just about anything you do to fix that is likely to add more weight than the top tube you just cut away, and still still be weaker. That’s just the nature of a step-through, and so you take your best shot, add more tubes to triangulate things again as best you can, and live with the weight gain.
The Aurora’s frame is pretty, graceful, fairly stiff, and has no triangulation at all, even between the seat post and the rear axle. How’d they manage to accomplish that? They upsized the tubes, bulked up the tube wall thicknesses, and ovalized their shapes to better resist bending forces, which is all each tube will ever see. The tremendous bending forces that result at each unsupported joint are combatted with plenty of tube overlap and enough welding to hold a battleship together. Compounded by having to also deal with the weight of the electric motor and the battery at higher speeds, the end result is visually massive. Get close, and it really stands out. Wow.
There’s just something morally wrong about that on a bicycle, when what you’re used to is the engineering beauty of using a minimum of materials to their greatest advantage, combining strength with lightness. Striking, fresh and unconventional in appearance? You bet it is. But if you’re ever forced to e-bike home with a dead battery, those few extra pounds will take their toll. The rack mounting problem I mentioned earlier is also a partial result of the stylish but unsupported rear stays.
My other objection is “culturally-based”. I deliberately chose a step-through bike because loading the rear basket on the old Raleigh and then clearing that with my leg to get aboard was getting to be a challenge. The Aurora’s step-through frame works great. But see, in my day, there were boy’s bikes and girl’s bikes. A boy would find it personally humiliating to ride a girl’s bike, and his friends would forgive such an outrage, but with a silent pity. Girl’s bikes were clunky, and they didn’t look at all like a motorcycle! (Boys bikes were clunky too, with their gracefully heavy “cantilever” frames, but you can’t tell a kid that.) There was even one model of bike with a removable top tube so you could keep it in use as your various kids grew up, but this was viewed with deep suspicion as a girl’s bike in drag. It wasn’t fooling anybody. Fortunately, the younger generations since then have seen through this folly and simply categorized them as different frame styles according to use and convenience. But whenever you grow up, some definers stick, so me, still I’m trying to pretend I’m not riding a girl’s bike. I simply keep reminding myself that “It’s a step-through now, not a girl’s bike”. At least the thing works well for me. And it’s shiny. And everyone else likes its looks.
The Aurora’s vestigial front fender is a split two-piece design reminiscent of motocross motorcycles, and looks silly on a bicycle as well as serving no real purpose. Wouldn’t look too cool to have that thing wobbling around above the full-coverage front fender I’m going to be adding. Unfortunately, the headlight is mounted to it, so when I strip it off, I’ll have to rig up something else to hold the headlight more securely. Living in a trailer, and without the luxury of remaining a packrat, that’s going to be a bigger deal than it normally would.
Although I’ll probably be exchanging the Aurora’s tires for the 20-year-old Raleigh’s as well as its extra-thick self-sealing tubes, I can see why Evelo mounted a set of odd-looking Kenda tires on it, though. Tires with lesser thicknesses offer less rolling resistance, extending battery range, and wear rate is not normally a concern on a recreational bicycle. These Kendas are okay (but not especially grippy) for paved use and undemanding off-road. They are basically a treadless rubber skin peppered with a combination of tiny bumps and a few projecting triangles and crossbars – just enough to lose a little rubber contact with the pavement. I was initially surprised by what I assumed was motor noise at speed, but actually, it’s tire whine. The Evelo’s drivetrain is not silent, but it is very quiet. The tires sound a bit like winter tires on a car, which has fooled some reviewers into thinking that the bike’s motor is noisy. Not so. My inner cheapskate wants to first get my money’s worth out of the “free” tires and change just the tubes to survive Arizona thorns, but my inner lazy-butt is loathe to dismount the wheels and tires once, only to do it again when the thin tires wear through or prove unsatisfactory trying to climb on loose gravel and sand patches. So out they’ll go.
Other reviewers have noted a rattling from the heavy battery moving in its frame when going over bumps. Not on this one. It’s solid and silent no matter what. It’s possible that Evelo increased the projection of a rubber nub at the rear of the battery frame to address this, because both batteries are reluctant to install and remove easily. It’s not difficult, but neither drops in without a little firm push here and there. Likewise for removal, and it’s safer to push the battery upward from below than it is to pull the battery up by its lid or by the rack. But, it’s silent on the rough stuff. This may change over time as the plastic battery case deforms around the rubber nub. (Called “cold creep” in the plastics biz.)
The one legit fly in the ointment is that the spare battery, though functional, could not not be locked into position with the keylock. After some correspondence with Evelo, I removed the cover, made some measurements, and took pictures of the battery cell itself. I wasn’t happy with the hole in the case that was supposed to allow the bike’s locking pin to enter, and they weren’t happy with the cell itself, which appeared to have a suspicious bulge. That would be bad. They promptly sent me a replacement battery, and arranged for return shipment of the one I had, which took considerable time. A lithium battery is considered to be a potentially hazardous device by shippers, and the paperwork is daunting. Evelo’s goal was to have FedEx pick it up at my doorstep so I would have to do absolutely nothing but set it out there and leave it. But, since I have a step and a door, but no doorstep with a street address, I volunteered to take it to a FedEx shipping point, to help grease the skids. Gone.
When you think about it, all of my supposed negatives are detail distractions, fully open to debate, aren’t they? Overall, I have to admit that, my personal infirmities and obnoxious viewpoints aside, actually riding the Aurora is a pure pleasure. I have no argument with how each of its operational features were implemented, and how they work together. That’s really the measure of success for an e-bike’s engineering, since most everything else is changeable or can be compensated for by its rider to his/her liking. Its display is very easy to read and interpret. I wouldn’t change a thing or wish for something more (that is reasonable and affordable), and I can be pretty picky on how well things operate. It’s just right for it’s intended market – which I’m only barely part of. The preferences I have and changes I will need apply only to my peculiar tastes and usage, and it would make no sense to imply that the Aurora ought to be delivered any differently than it is right now. At it’s core, it appears to be a very promising starting point for what I ultimately need, and one which is presenting no big shortcomings that I’ll just have to live with. It’s a blast to ride, and is intuitively easy to get used to. When I got it and rode it, I considered my overwhelming task requirements and asked myself, “It’s fun, but is this gonna do the job? Will I be able to make this bike do all that I need it to do?” Upon reflection and more miles, I think so, yep. This thing looks like it’s got a pretty good shot. Condition: Go. From here on in, it’s just a matter of rearranging the details to taste.
Next up in this series: Puttin’ the pack in “pack mule“.