Saturday, 28 March 2020

My Cycling Experience & eventually overcoming my disability with cycling

A few years back I was asked to write about my cycling experience as a guest blog & when I went to look for it to show to another blogger, it wasn't to be found online. I know I have I've been asked to write it again since & included details of my disability but can't find that too or who it was for, so I thought it's time to put it on my own blog & update it. 

First time on a bike wasn’t successful, I was about 7yrs old & it took plenty of tumbles for me to learn to ride on a gloss Red hand painted 2nd hand bike bought by my parents for Christmas. I had zero experience in cycling or maintenance of cycles, I even fixed punctures with Sellotape around the tyre & rim, not successful I can tell ya & as you can guess the bike didn’t last long but I had managed to learn to cycle in that short time & got the bug to be on 2 wheels for life.

I didn’t go near another bike until my teens, so at the age of 13 I decided it was time to get another bike & worked a few w/e's for my dad in his shop to get the money together & bought my very first BMX. It was a lovely bike, it hummed as I cycled due to the tyres & thus due to its colour & being a fan of the new cartoon of that era, I called it Bumblebee & we had many good rides for some years & even some long rides.

I went cycling around town regularly on it & eventually upgraded to a Raleigh Maverick a few years later when I was looking for a more robust cycle to be able to carry goods on a rack at around the time I was planning to go to college & wanted to cycle there.

The Maverick was an awesome cycle & went everywhere on it, even when I moved to motorcycles I still used my Maverick coz it was so much fun. Even kept the BMX as it was a fun muck around cycle to have.

I was fully fit in my younger years, cycling everywhere & had an active life. That was until when I was approaching 20yrs old I started having issues with numb, tingling sensation in my left leg which eventually became pain. And after a number of operations to try fix a trapped nerve, at the age of 23 I had to give up cycling & replaced it with crutches. It pained me that I had to sell both my Maverick & the BMX as I was told I'll never cycle ever again. And back then we didn’t have the resources of the internet, social media or easily available information & technology on how to keep cycling with disabilities like we have now.

So now fast forward over a decade, I have adapted to life on sticks & do what I can to keep weight down & be as fit as possible as I couldn't cycle or do much that involved using my legs.

In 2005 I started to get a new pain in left leg & was unrelated to the damaged nerve. After checks & tests it turned out to be a Bone Cyst in my Femur bone, the bone was literally turning to jelly. I was booked in fast to get it sorted as it was on the verge of snapping, so no kicking, jumping, falling over, etc in case it snaps. It gave me the heebies thinking about it.

But this problem was going to be a blessing to me, for the specialist doing the operation offered me another chance to fix the nerve damage as it was by the area being operated on. His words were 'things have moved on in technology & he can't make it any worse' so I agreed & had the op (My Bone Cyst Op’) & all I can say is it was all worthwhile.

Now it was down to my leg to heal & rebuild, partly coz the surgeons really went to work on my leg & couldn't move my toes for a month. Physio was hard work & soon started to get leg stronger, pain from damaged nerve had almost gone but as I was putting more weight on my leg the knee wasn't coping with having to take the weight again. I did try to go stick free in 2009 but didn't work out & was too soon for the knee as it made it worse due to early signs of Arthritis in the knee as well as weakness in the muscles around it.

So I did more physio again & again, at different hospitals as I had moved to Essex in 2010. But this proved to be for the best as it was suggested during physio in 2011 to take up cycling again as a low impact exercise for my knee as I had no trouble with the exercise machines. So in June I went & bought a 'to work on' bike to suit me when I built it & thus my next bike created was known as The Beast.

And with cycling I was building up my leg strength, starting with doing just a mile & eventually building up to be able to do trips to town of a few miles, events like 30 Days of Biking & sponsored 35 mile cycle ride in April 2013. I was still on a stick as knee was still giving me agro so I just kept on pushing the limit just a lil bit more each time I rode, knowing I will get there if I took my time & a lot of determination & stubbornness.

After moving again, I had new territory to do my cycling & boy it is hilly around here & on a heavy Beast with shopping it sure was a workout which proved to be worthwhile. I didn’t go to the nearest supermarket to buy my shopping, no I went to the furthest one. This meant pulling a 20+kg weight of shopping on a 25kg bike over the hills, this was hard work but it got easier as my leg & knee improved even more.

In August, I started doing a couple hours a day working at Re-Cycle, a charity helping get unwanted & donated bikes ready to be sent to Africa. Also it meant I was standing on my feet doing the work & also was cycling 7 miles each way to this place too, this proved to help a lot. I also found myself another bike to ride, my Terkr (Trek 7300). A lighter bike & definitely up'ed the game for me in cycling. So this is where I decided in October to ditch the sticks as I felt ready too.

The Knee felt ready too, though it did grumble a bit when I pushed the boundaries. But as long as it was holding out & getting stronger, I stayed stick free but still used the stick for carrying heavy shopping.

But I wanted to cycle further & previous cycles were too heavy, so whilst at Re-Cycle I bought myself a really light frame & gone & built myself another bike which I call The Roadrunner. More details of this cycle can be found in this blog: Project: Roadrunner, the evolution of a personal bike, it's a lighter bike to suit my needs. Meant I can cycle further than I have ever done so far & in 2014 I did 2 sponsored rides that pushed my limits, the J hospice 50 mile Pedal for the J's & the 100km Nightrider London (Tale of 2 charity rides...).

They weren’t easy to do & pushed my limits beyond what I have been able to do before, but that is what's needed. For its this sort of determination that's needed to get my level of fitness anywhere near to how it was in my early teens. And that year was my best year to date where I cycled the furthest I have ever done & the most miles cycled in a year, unfortunately it was short lived as in 2015 my bad knee locked up & wasn't able to cycle for 3 months whilst back at physio & I had to find a better cycle which was less strain on my legs & knee. 

Also at the end of 2014 I won a competition where I won a cycle upto the value of £300, so I decided to get a folding cycle to help get about to & from stations when I visit relatives across the country & can't take a standard cycle. 

This proved to be a lovely cycle to take about on public transport once I made certain adjustments on it. More about this cycle is in this blog: Meet my lil Foldie...

And later in May 2015, I found a cycle suitable for my regular needs when I went window shopping around the cycle shops & the only cycle shop to offer help (Cycles UK) let me cycle what they thought was the best cycle for my disability around the car park & they were right. It wasn't the best setup on the cycle but it felt perfect to ride & knee did not complain, so I went for it & a week later I put a deposit on a Electra Townie & paid for it in installments & then collect it when paid for. And in October it was paid for & I collected it, our first cycle ride as factory standard cycle & we cycled 23 miles home & it was bliss!

Now anyone who knows me & my cycles would know this looks like nothing to what I've been cycling for past few year & they be right, for this was factory standards & as nice as it was to ride it wasn't quite right so I did a few tweaks to it's layout & it became my Cruiser.

Now this was a heavier cycle of around 23kg & found due to it's ergonomics I could cycle long distances. I soon started to be able to do 50 mile cycle rides on it, went places I didn't think I could before. Unfortunately my disability chose to get worse & in 2016 I decided I needed an ebike to help after trying out some at London Bike Show & came across this lil beauty, the Momentum Upstart.

It was light, comfortable & perfect for what I needed, unfortunately the price wasn't. So I started a crowdfund account to get one & asked for help & with my heartfelt thanks those who believed in me (I asked for your help & with many thanks you did!), we did manage to raise 1/2 the funds when the dealership for them informed me of one going up for sale by one of their customers & I bought it. Again I adjusted the cycle to suit my needs better as was required for long rides as well as shopping & my Dutchess came into being.

She was a lovely cycle, even got to cycle to work with it from time to time 22 miles away & proved invaluable for cycling with heavy loads.

But alas my disability just kept getting worse, both Roadrunner & Dutchess became painful to cycle as now both legs were starting to fail me. So had to put Dutchess up for sale & stick with Cruiser as it was only cycle I could continue to use due to it's ergonomics, tho less often. In 2017 I bought another Townie to recreate another Cruiser to build into my own more suitable ebike & eventually in 2019 Dutchess was sold. So I bought an ebike conversion kit from abroad & before it had arrived I had an operation on my spine as was discovered this was the cause of my leg problems all along, more of that is explained here: The road to recovery has taken a left turn & the end is nowhere to be seen!

So at the end of 2019 whilst recovering from the spine operation, I was building the 2nd Cruiser with ebike conversion kit to create my e-Cruiser (Building of the e-Cruiser). And now in the early part of 2020 I am now starting back to cycling again after 3 months hiatus, it's slow going & the pedal assist is helping for I do feel without it I wouldn't be cycling as much as I have so far or as far & despite the current situation of the Corona Virus, I hope to get out more on my e-Cruiser & start doing longer rides again.


So far I have managed almost 90 miles on it & not even used half the charge of the battery & I have been really pushing it to get the most from the motor to assist so can see this will happily do long rides on a full charge.

So for now that is all I have, this story hasn’t really got an ending as it is still continuing. I honestly don’t know if I will achieve full fitness like I used to have & unlikely will, but that shouldn’t stop me in trying. After all if I stopped trying years back, I sure wouldn’t have achieved what I have so far & I am happy with how far I have got if it goes no further. And I do have plans for my next cycle to build to try keep ahead of my disability & yes it's another Cruiser style cycle, more like a lowrider...

So thankyou for taking the time to read this & I hope it inspires you & others to keep going.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Building of the e-Cruiser

In 2016 I got myself a nice lil 2nd hand ebike, The Dutchess & it was a valuable cycle to get around when my disability played up.

Unfortunately the disability started getting worse & in 2017 I started plans to sell The Dutchess & build one based on my existing Electra Townie 'The Cruiser' as it was more suited to my disability & I was still able to cycle when the ebike was starting to hurt.

So the plans were thought out, buy the Townie or similar & get it ready before fitting an ebike conversion kit.

And as I found how I prefer hub gears from riding The Dutchess, it had to be a cycle with hub gears or buy a cycle & replace the derailleur gears for a hub gear & then the ebike conversion kit.


And so happen I found a 11 speed Shimano Alfine for lil over 1/3 of the price & snatched it up fast before they sold out.

And a few months later I got another Townie in the sales just after Christmas 2017. And thus started the creation of the e-Cruiser with fitting it with apehangers, good tyres, dynohub lights with parking light feature, a rear rack & of course the hub gear.





 And as I had not sold the Dutchess as yet I rode this Cruiser with the hub gear to ensure all was OK while waiting for ebike kit & turned out to be a lovely cycle to ride.

It wasn't until 2019 by the time I got to sell The Dutchess to a lovely elderly couple whose husband wanted to take up cycling & thought my Dutchess be perfect for him & I was pleased it will enable another to cycle like it helped me in stay cycling for a lil while.

Final Stage: Ebike Conversion Kit

Now I had the funds & the bike was ready I just had to decide on the ebike conversion kit to use. I was going to go for a front wheel one but I thought best to go for a mid-drive one as it would be a more direct drive to propel the bike as well as putting the weigh in the centre of the cycle, I also wanted as large a possible battery I can afford to get the most distance on a full charge. I had contacted a few known reputable ebike kit retailers as well as a local bike mechanic & found then to be of no help at all so it looked like I be doing this alone & had to find what I need elsewhere & thus started searching the internet.

That is where I found this website: eBike Choices: Mid-Drive Electric Bike Kit Reviews, which gave some very good information as did other parts of the site. But they also recommended a few sellers of the kits who they have used including one on AliExpress called Best Bikes who had the road legal mid-drive kit including a 24.5ah battery for just over £700. They did have a larger battery but too much for my budget. Only issue if you use them is the long time it takes to deliver it as took a good few months. Tho if you aint in a hurry it is the best option I found. This is the site to find it & many other parts & kits if you like to give them a go: Best eBikes

Anyway I did order the kit from Best eBikes & also a gear sensor which is to momentarily cut the motor when changing gears & is recommended for hub gear bikes. When it eventually arrived over 3 months later it all came in a big heavy box & it had everything you needed to install the kit to the bike, except the instructions. Thankfully I knew this was likely so looked online on how others have installed the kit & watched videos. To me as I am mechanically knowledgeable I understood how it goes together & went ahead with it, if I got stuck I could easily refer back to what I saw online.


Now to build it, if you don't know me & reading this then at the time I got the kit delivered I had recently had a spine operation so I would no be able to do the installation in one go. I did a bit at a time til it got uncomfortable for my back & legs & left it til later on or the next day so instead of taking a day to do it which is possible for someone familiar with working on cycles, it took me a few days.

First part was to fit the battery to make sure it fit on the frame & know where the wires were going, the mount which the battery connects to fits where the 2 bolts are for a water bottle cage. It fitted in nicely & due to the frame I have it looks small in it & could go for an even bigger battery in the future.

Next was to remove the pedals to re-use, the crank & chainwheel & lastly the bottom bracket. Anyone who's ever replaced these before would likely already have the tools to remove them as well as the knowledge to do so.

Next is to slot in the motor thru the bottom bracket & put in the retaining bracket fix in place with the 2 bolts, followed by the locking ring to hold it in place in the bottom bracket using the large spanner supplied. Before tightening ensure motor is not pressed against the frame or trapping any cables, I wanted mine as high as possible but the rear brake cable & gear cable were in the way so had to put it in best position before tightening up the lock ring.

Next I had to fit the speed sensor, this is required for it to work & cut the motor at 15mph. It's easy to fit & can be stuck on but I prefer physical fixing myself. It is very much like fitting the speed sensor of a cycle computer, magnet on the spoke & sensor picks it up as it passes.

This just plugs into the motor wiring which is easy to see which connector to use. I then connected the wiring harness to the motor wiring which the wiring harness connects to control panel & brake sensors up on the handlebars, once done I could tidy up the cables & temporarily tidy up the excess cabling as well as hold the harness cable on the frame as it goes up to the handlebars. I also fitted the chainwheel, cranks & my pedals which is like what you would normally do on a standard cycle.

Next cable to connect to motor is the gear sensor, to do this you are required to take the gear cable off the gears & feed it through the sensor & then connect cable back to the gears. This gave the the opportunity to also change the rear sprocket on the hub gear to a larger one & thus keep the same gear ratio of the rear sprocket & chainwheel as the mid-drive chainwheel is the smallest one available of 42 teeth & old chainwheel was 36 teeth.

It is not recommended to use a smaller chainwheel than 42 teeth as could stress the motor more than required & was cheaper & easier to just change the rear sprocket.

And that is the motor side of the installation done, next bit is on the handlebars.

Started with swapping round the brake levers to fit ones supplied with brake sensors built in the levers which involved in taking off the grips, pretty straightforward & a good time to re-adjust the brake cable when put back in. However if you have brakes integrated into the quick shifters or hydraulic ones there are stick-on sensors you can use instead.

Then fit the controller to the handlebar like you would a mobile phone holder & just connect up the cables to the wiring harness. Now you will see the controller switches are not by the grips, this was due to me having apehanger handlebars. Had it been a standard handlebar they would be OK. Minor issue which I solved later on, for now they'll do to get installation up & running.

I had ordered some Spiral Cable Wrap which you can easily find on eBay & buy by the metre for next to nothing, this made it easier to get the cables tidy by using the Spiral Cable Wrap to hold the wiring to the brake cable.

And that is the installation done, however I wasn't fit to cycle due to the operation & I have ordered a new controller & other parts to enhance the ebike installation which I will go into further along.

Due to the supplied controller not suitable for my handlebars, I looked online & found one that is & in fact I prefer them as it is more discrete. It is the SW102 Mini Display, not as fancy as the controller supplied but has the functions I needed.

And when fitting it, it looked pretty good & just right for the apehanger handlebars.


Next on order was extras, an electrical box, connectors & a electronic key switch.


This was to tidy up the cables by the bottom bracket & motor with the box & to fit a electronic switch to disconnect the battery when away so no one can mess around with the controller & power up the motor when you are not with it, a simplified 'ignition' switch.


The motor has a feed to power lights, as my Townie already has dynahub on front wheel to power front & rear light I saw no reason to remove these at cost of a new wheel & lights plus using the dynohub for the lights means less a drain on the ebike battery.

So I bought a high powered 6v front light which fits onto the handlebars, wired it into the motor & can be controlled by the ebike's controller & basically made a high beam for the bike.



And that is it, the e-Cruiser is all built & ready to go.

And in the early part of December I had a friend help me get the ebike down the stairs to test ride it around the car park as I still wasn't allowed to go on the road as yet & it was lovely to ride.


And the ebike really looks the part.




It wasn't until New years Day I was able to take the e-Cruiser out for it's 1st proper ride out on the road & it was great! She ran like a dream, smooth on the assist modes where I could barely notice when motor kicks in. I tried out all the functions on the ride, walk mode, turn auxiliary light on/off, all levels of the assistance & cycle it faster than 15mph so motor cuts out.



I cycled almost 14 miles, tried to use as many hilly routes as possible & the battery level on the display hadn't dropped. It really did give me a workout at about the same level as the bike did before the motor was added which is good as my legs are weaker since the operation & it did not feel it. The bike was slower atm more due to me, I did feel when I got to 20mph & motor had cut off, I had trouble maintaining the speed but again that is down to my weakened state.

The auxiliary light for high beam function works well, it's not as clear on the video or the screenshots but I can say it is as it made the dark sections much clearer to see & the screenshots do show the difference to my main light which is 40 lux.


So the building of the e-Cruiser was a long time in doing but so happy it has worked & a success in assisting when cycling, it is a heavier cycle than it was already so will take me a bit of time to get use to it in getting it up & down the stairs as it weighs something between 30-35kgs but when cycling you don't notice it that much. Handling is slightly different due to the assistance, again just got to get used to it.

So now I have to carry on & build up my strength from the operation, get to ride the e-Cruiser a bit more & hopefully by Summer I be ready to take the bike for longer rides to see how far a full charge will take me but looking so far to be upto 100 miles is possible & that would be just be fantastic!!!

Update April 2020

Having built the ebike, one thing I couldn't do was feed the cable inside the frame using the no longer used gear cable holes as neither ends would fit through the holes. So I bought a 2nd cable around the time I built the ebike & worked on an idea to use low profile connectors & cut the cable in 2 so I can feed the lil connectors in the frame & connect them up outside the frame then push them back inside & connect it to motor & controller etc.

Well it took a while to find a small enough connector that's 2mm thick & then a helping hand tool to help me solder the cable into the connectors.




Not something I've done before & haven't solder on something so small so took my time & the soldering went well & then to put some heat shrink on it to isolate the connectors to avoid shorting out & spent about an hour carefully covering the connectors to give all round cover


A few days later when I had time I fitted the 2nd main controller cable I've been modifying into the frame of e-Cruiser, testing & ensuring it works at each stage of the fitting before putting into the frame completely with frame grommets in place to keep them dry & swap over with the existing main controller cable that I'll keep as a spare. Now e-Cruiser is complete with all the cables in their right place & cables looking tidy.

I also found the motor had a habit of moving slightly when used & pressed against the frame, normally this wouldn't be an issue but it was trapping the gear cable running into the frame between the motor & frame. 


So had to put in a small wedge between motor & frame & now no longer an issue.


And since I did these minor modifications, I've got a few rides in over the next few months despite the current situation ATM with the Lockdown. The pedal assistance of the motor has proved invaluable with getting as much shopping as I can in 1 trip to minimise risk of infection as been using it on full to carry the extra loads.



And the battery life is damn good too! Even though I have been using the pedal assistance on full for past few months & pushing the battery to work hard with the motor, I managed almost 95 miles before needing to recharge the battery.

And that is about it for the build, everything I have done is now complete & she is lovely cycle to ride now & already getting more rides & miles in than when I was cycling last year. And even though I am using the pedal assist, it still is giving my body a workout & helping to get my legs stronger.




Eventually I am hoping to do longer rides when the Lockdown is over but for now the trips around town & for shopping will suffice.


If there is anything I have missed out, please ask me & if relevant I will add it to this blog for all to see.