2015 Turbo and Turbo X Preview / First Thoughts

The 2015 Turbos have arrived! I was psyched on Friday to see the truck roll up with four brand new Turbos and 1 new Turbo X (with a  suspension fork and knobbier tires).  We had been expecting them and I started the builds right away.  I documented the process of unpacking and setting up the bike and the pros and cons of that and exploration of the features as a quick first look.  I am sure we will be seeing them find homes shortly and will continually add summary progress in a troubleshooting article that will build with time.

They were the middle range motor/battery option which seemed to top out at around 21 mph with moderate effort.  Both models feature some great new tech options and builds upon prior years’ success.  They substituted their own branded stem on both models this year instead of the Crank Brothers model from prior years.  The key and battery lock look like a different make and the disc brakes are Formula C1 models.  Much of the rest of the bike is the same.  The Turbo X front light mounts on the handlebar, which I prefer over the Turbo mount at the crown of the fork.  The Rock Shox Paragon 50mm (regular QR) air fork with remote cable lockout is a nice touch on the Turbo X. It is also spec’d with Trigger tires, which I believe might be better suited to substitute Electrak tires.  The first nine photos are of the Turbo X and the rest are of the Turbo and its accessories.  The LCD controller looks the same and mounts in conjunction with the shifter and brake lever.

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What I didn’t know about electric bikes

After a lot of research this weekend, I learned quite a bit more about electric bikes and how they work.  I particularly concentrated on how the motor in the rear hub operates and how it can provide power without any moving parts.  My first goal from this point will be to open the hub shell of an Ultra Motor brand hub motor in the rear wheel of a Stromer.  I’ll detail all of it in a well-covered post.

Most of the information I found was on just a couple websites which I somehow had not come across yet. Electric Bike is definitely well organized and provided the most information about a variety of hub motors and their corresponding controllers and diagnostic procedures.  Ypedal has an amazing and vast knowledge of the systems and has created tons of custom setups as well as details repair on several Youtube videos that is a complete procedure and well explained.

Most of the motors have a similar layout:  An outer shell to protect and encase the motor, then a ring of magnets that are positioned between the shell and coils of copper wire.  Other than a couple sensors and wires that exit through the center of the wheel near the axle, that’s about it.  Very simple and once familiar with the parts, moderately easy to work on.  I chose to first learn about the motor because it seems like this is the only component that I haven’t been able to service other than to simply install a replacement wheel.  To have the ability to fix the motors once the manufacturer’s warranty expires will be essential — especially as the number of electric bikes is increasing and they are becoming more common.

Back to the sensors and wires in the motor.  Usually there are three small square shaped sensors that are positioned between two of the outer magnets in line with each other.  These are called Hall sensors and they measure the electrical current coming out of the motor as the wheel spins.  A tapered side of the sensor body is always positioned outward and usually is set with a tiny amount of JB Weld or epoxy. Out of the top of each sensor are three uncovered wire leads that are soldered to colored wires carefully running to the center of the hub and exit from the wheel to the controller and potentially a torque sensor.  A torque sensor is generally on higher end electric bikes while cheaper versions simply use a cadence magnet to calculate the input of added power.  The torque sensor is nicer because it adds power based on a direct measurement of the deflection of the wheel backward against the rear dropout when you put pressure on the chain and pedals.  Most are robust and work accurately, giving the rider a better feel of added power when accelerating.

In some situations, I read that one or more of the Hall sensors can go bad and with the right tools, it is a small project for an afternoon that will avoid a replacement ($500-750) or service elsewhere ($100/hr).  Even if you aren’t up to doing the task yourself, you will be better able to diagnose and familiarize issues that occur.  For the avid mechanic, it is possible to upgrade your hub motor for minimal cost.  Larger wires (if they can fit through the frame and center of the wheel) will boost available power and a better controller or throttle can more accurately distribute the power.  Unless you have an extreme desire to mod your electric bike, the magnets and copper wire are difficult and costly to replace.  Some motors are spun low with larger gauge copper wire which can provide more power, but less torque on hilly terrain while high spin copper will have better power at a high cadence and will last longer.

In order to remove the motor from its hub shell, a car bearing puller is necessary.  It is an extractor style tool with three arms that pull on the shell while a center bolt pushes the axle and opposite hub shell side.  It is helpful and recommended that you tap the shell with a mallet during this process to aid in freeing the two halves.  Otherwise, direct extraction with the bearing puller could break the hub flange and then you’ll be left with a useless motor and no shell.

Considering the Stromer that was detailed in the review and diagnosis, I believe that the torque sensor was overloaded in the frame without that necessary bolt and the motor overheated and fried one or more of the sensors.  This would explain the NO_COMM lack of communication between the LCD controller and the motor.

It makes a lot of sense once the elements are broken down like that.  I also think that one of the wires exiting the rear hub is a faulty wire with a weak spot somewhere near the center of the wheel.  The torque sensor itself seems okay.  I am going to check current through each of the wires to determine the faulty one and then solder in a new one along with the replacement of the sensors.

I was very happy to find this information and come to realization that these bikes can be fixed from the ground up if necessary.  Why wait a week or weeks for new parts to install when the local hardware store and Radio Shack have all the necessary parts for a solution?  I am going to continue to do more research into the motor repairs as well as connecting different controllers to the bike for operation.  It is exciting to realize that with the right research, I can create incredibly fun bikes that are useful for both fun and transportation. Now, once I can locate a car bearing puller, I’ll open the motor and take photos of everything so you can see it.  Stay tuned!

– SNC

Stromer Troubleshooting and Diagnosis Part 1

So, I have done a bit of research in my off time to get more acquainted with the Stromer electric-assist bicycle.  It is the other brand of ebike that we carry in our shop and is notable for its price point and performance.  Not only will it go quite a bit faster than the Turbo (about 50kph or 31mph), but it also comes in at a price point of about $3,500 USD versus the $5,999 tag on the Turbo.  Both equate to an amazing experience on a bicycle, but this option seems more affordable than the Turbo without sacrificing quality.  I like to think of the Turbo as an ebike with style where the Stromer is a workhorse that won’t quit and won’t deteriorate under pressure.

That being said, I wanted to go over a few parts of the Stromer that I have worked with and what expect for a long term review in the future once I ride them a little more.  The Stromer is designed by BMC (the company chose to call itself the initials of its UCI code), a Swiss manufacturer that’s founder was the owner of the famous 711 racing team.  They make two models: the ST1 and the ST2.  Both can be configured with various options from a suspension fork or carbon fiber fork to three levels of motor power and two battery levels.

Stromer ST1 Specs

Stromer ST2 Specs

The ST2 is an upgraded version that has a possible range of 150km on one charge.  That is on of the longest lasting battery specs on the market with 814 Wh.  The newest model has a smartphone integration for real time stats and data.  With built in lights, fenders, and a rear rack, it is a notable competitor for the Turbo S and when the newest model hits our shop, I’ll be posting a review on it.  Until then, I will be dealing with troubleshooting the Stromer ST1 and ST2 from prior years since they are more common.  Having all the information I have gathered in one place will help both you and myself as it expands.  From past research, I have not found very useful information on the Stromer on the Internet and have relied mostly in swapping components from a new build to the repair and having replacements sent from the representative for the company in the USA.  That being said, there is still a great deal of information that can speed up repairs and diagnosis and keep your customers happy and riding.

Much of the issues I have come across seem to deal with replacing the display unit or cleaning connections.  One issue dealt with a bad charger (It should be noted that the charging process of the battery off the bike is very specific).  First, plug the adapter cable to the battery.  Then plug the opposite end of the adapter cable to the charger plug.  Next, plug the power cord into the opposite side of the charger from the adapter cable.  Lastly, plug the power cord into the wall.  You should see a red light appear in the LED bubble on the side of the box charger.  After a few seconds (up to about 5 sec), it should change to either an amber color (signifying it is charging) or green (Stromer recommends leaving the charger on while the LED is green for about an hour for maximum charge level).  If the charging connectors are not plugged together in the correct sequence, damage can occur to the charger and the battery and result in a solid red LED on the charger box.  If this is the case, consult your dealer for a replacement charger.  I have had confusion come from customers on the charging process and it has led me to have to deal with recharging a supposedly malfunctioning battery with a new charger.  In these instances, I also try charging it through the bicycle, which helps to eliminate the battery being the issue.  Here are the photos in order of the process.

Cleaning the connectors should be done carefully and with the battery out of the bike.  While an electrical discharge is not likely, be safe and take the battery out first.  This also provides an opportunity to check the connections for the battery inside the frame and on the battery itself.

Here are a few photos of the various electrical connection on the bike.

The two main issues of display replacement have been related to the information messages shown on the display.  One issue of NO_BATT appeared on the display after only a couple of weeks of use.  I checked the battery both in and out of the frame and the connections leading from the display to the battery.  All of them seemed clean of debris or liquid and were securely connected.  The next step was to reset the display to see if the system would correct itself upon start up.  I removed the display from the handlebars by disconnecting the wires and taking the two anchor screws out of the band mount.  Once removed, I used a quarter to turn the battery cover to the open position underneath the circular gray foam pad protecting it.  Taking a scribe, I popped the cover open and removed the CR2032 battery and inspected the two terminals inside the battery compartment.  Both also seemed clean and correctly positioned for contact.  Taking a new CR2032 battery, I installed it carefully and then put the battery cover and foam pad back.  Mounting it back onto the handlebars, I proceeded to carefully connect all of the wires appropriately and turned the system on.  The message of NO_BATT remained and I contacted the rep about a replacement.  In the short-term, I went ahead and connected a brand new display from a model not yet built to this Stromer and everything seemed to work great afterward.  The replacement unit came in and I reinstalled it onto the new build without issue as well.

Another issue I came across (though I believe it to be from either improper assembly or repair in its past and not from a defect) was a mechanical one.  The spacer nut on the rear axle drive side that correctly positions the freewheel away from the frame was completely missing.  I was able to find a suitable spacer and nut at a local hardware store and the wheel spins freely once again.  As the wheel was initially mounted, the high end of the freewheel was locked against the inside of the rear dropout on the frame and scored a fine line into the metal.  If this had continued, the frame would have likely had to been replaced.  You can see it in the photos here.

I am still not finished with the diagnosis of this particular model.  It has seen quite a few miles of use and also has an issue with the display showing an information message of NO_COMM.  This error means that there is a disruption in the communication between one or more of the components.  I scanned through the connectors, but could find little evidence of a bad wire or connector.  The only connection that seemed to have suffered from the weather was the connection to the rear dropout shown above in the right photo and above on the inside of the chainstay.  I question whether attempted use of the bicycle with the freewheel in its original condition as it came to the shop would have overloaded or shorted the sensor in the frame.  This information has been forwarded to the rep for possible solutions and extra wires to swap and test.  Otherwise, I will attempt to receive a replacement display to test (the models in the shop utilize a 2 wire display, where this model uses a display with 4 wires).  My general feeling is that correction of the rear wheel axle assembly and replacement of the display and rear dropout wire will fix all of the issues.  The bike has had a replacement rear wheel already, so the motor should be in good working order.

I will add to this article as the project progresses!  Feel free to message or comment any questions or suggestions.

– SNC

Turbo Diagnosis Update

Hey everyone! The Turbo S Diagnosis and Troubleshooting article is almost complete. There has been a slight delay because of a new issue that arose within the past few days that is still in progress of being solved and fixed.

One of the 2014 black Turbo S models came in with a particular issue with the motor engaging once pressure to the pedals occurred in Full Active Mode and Eco (30%) mode. You might think, “Isn’t that what the bike is supposed to do?” Well, yes. However, with this particular one, the motor engaged to the Turbo max speed of 28mph without disengaging when the brake was pulled and acted as a throttle (no pedaling required) rather than an electric assist. This could be compared to the gas pedal on your car sticking on the floor and your car traveling at top speed until you shut it off or change gears (on the Turbo, going to No Assist mode or Regeneration mode would disengage the motor). As a side note, one the Turbo was in Regeneration mode, it was much more difficult to pedal than normal while in this mode and the wheel would take a small 1/8 to 1/4 turn backwards when the pedals stopped turning.

As you may have guessed with continual throttle at 28mph, it totally cooked the rear brake pads and most of the front.

So, I will be problem solving it for a day or two more and running several tests while collaborating with Specialized technicians to diagnosis this and of course, finish up the results in Part 2 of the Turbo Review. Thanks for being patient. I hope this gets you curious about the bike and working on it more. I still think the bike is fantastic and doesn’t normally reflect any or all of these problems. In large, it is the most trouble-free electric assist bike I have worked on out of over twenty different brands. These issues are published to conglomerate the most information possible in order to have the largest audience possible understand how to work on the them and maintain them.

– SNC

Specialized Turbo S Long Term Review

Welcome to the long awaited review of the Specialized Turbo S.  The “pedalelec” is an electric pedal assist bicycle for those of you not yet hip on such terminology.  From a newly updated control interface (what you use to configure the Turbo) to a more powerful battery, this bicycle can go about 40 miles at 30 miles an hour.  For locals that know the DC area, that would be like coming into the city from here:

40 miles on 66However, it certainly never takes the quoted 41 minutes by car unless it’s 11:28 pm on a Thursday night (according to googlemaps).  The great news is that you’ll never have to spend all that time sitting in traffic if you’re flying down the taxpayer supported trails of the greater Washington DC metro area or wherever you might live.  It’s a bike that leaves everyone smiling the first time they use one and was designed for commuting and recreation by some of Europe’s best bicycle experts with Specialized.  Every single person I have ever seen test ride or own one is smiling ear to ear afterward.

Group ride bikes lined up in three sizes, S, M, L
Group ride bikes lined up in three sizes, S, M, L

This review intends to convey the nature of the bicycle and how it operates as well as issues encountered from a maintenance standpoint over a long period of usage.  I would be the first to admit that, amongst a few expected difficulties, it is a machine worth the investment and is a forefront in the future of this class of bicycles.

Building a Turbo out of the box is not altogether difficult and can be done by most shops with some attention to detail and a thorough reading of the manual.  You might recall from my original article that I attended a seminar on how to operate and work on the Specialized Turbo in Miami back in 2013 and it definitely helped to have time properly set aside to fully understand how it works and how to replace components and fix others in the past few months of research.  With a final recent repair of the regeneration mode activated hydraulic disc brakes by Magura, I felt there was sufficient photos and information to write a good “one-stop” informal manual in case you run into a similar situation.  As started, the build includes normal things like truing the wheels which are installed on the bike with thru-axles and have torque specs located right at each point on the frame and fork.  These specs are important as this bicycle will undergo higher stresses than a majority of other bicycles at higher speed.

So, all of this being said, i think that it’s clear how cool and fun these bikes are to work with and enjoy.  There are certain maintenance issues that seemed to take a fair amount of time to work out, but most of the solutions made great sense after diagnosing and repairing.  I would like to begin by saying this quick procedure, found in the manual, solves many small issues:

1.  Power off the Turbo by lightly clicking the green lit button on the battery.

2.  Turn the key included with the bike down near the bottom bracket and hold.

3.  Lift the battery out from the downtube.

4.  Wait about thirty seconds.

5.  Place the battery (bottom first) and reinstall.

6.  Turn on the Turbo.

Essentially, taking the battery (powered down) out of the Turbo resets the entire system much like unplugging your Internet router at home or work and powering it back on after a few moments.  Every time it starts up, the Turbo passes through a set of diagnostic checks that relay to four small LEDs located right below the power button on the battery.  Each LED should blink once and then remain on until all four have lit up.  Then, all four LEDs should blink together once and then resolves into a battery level meter (each LED represents 25% battery).  If the LEDs have lit up as mentioned, the system has just checked the battery status, the motor status, the control interface status, and the lighting system status.  On the current Turbo S (versus the original model), there is a front light as well as a new integrated rear set of LEDs on the back of the saddle (nice addition).

Turbo Battery

However, at times throughout the research, I would notice one or two LEDs blink twice when the Turbo was turned on and so I checked the manual and diagnostic chart from the Specialized Service website.  Any of the four LEDs blinking twice indicates that there is some sort of fault or error with the corresponding module (battery, motor, CPU, or lights).  The lights and control interface (we’ll call it the CPU) are wired in parallel and it should be mentioned that a fault (LED blinks twice) from either might mean checking both for error.  This has happened on several occasions and could always be resolved, but a check of both modules was usually necessary.  The number one thing I found helpful to do in the case of an error was to immediately check all of the wire connections on the bike to make sure they were properly tight and paired.  In some cases, I found it helpful to use a very small amount of dielectric grease to ensure that the connection was consistent.

From all of the repairs, I have installed or replaced the following: the battery (both the same unit and upgrading the original Turbo with a new unit), bottom bracket (BB386EVO), rear derailleur (SRAM X0), hydraulic brakes (Magura), and the CPU (both updating firmware and software and installing a new unit).  One thing I have never had to replace (on a Turbo) is a spoke.  The wheels were designed and built extremely well and the Specialized Electrak tires are perfect for the bike.  Many other electric bikes I have serviced have experienced spoke breakage and warping of the rim.  As a part of the bike that most people cannot repair on the road without training and tools, it’s a great confidence to know they hold up so well, even with daily commuting, running errands, and several crashes.

I am going to add links below for each section of the review (two additional parts) for ease of navigation.  Once the link is active, the post for the corresponding link will be up.  This way, it’s easier to jump to a section if you are servicing a Turbo and can read the most relevant information.

Parts Installation (Active)

Diagnosis and Troubleshooting (Active)