Regular readers will know that we purchased our Giant Lafree primarily to undertake a regular play-school run. Barely three miles away, the school was some 50 metres higher than A to B Towers – a gentle climb riding solo on a spring morning, but a serious challenge towing a trailer into an icy headwind in February.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the Lafree proceeded to change our lives, just as the train-friendly nature of the Brompton had done almost a decade before. Overnight, the school run went from drudgery to almost unadulterated pleasure: faster and more consistent under all conditions.That’s not to say that the daily dollop of exercise wasn’t there, but the amount you got was more under your control. If you feel like a bit of a workout, you can turn the power off or (more usually) do the muscle-thing plus power and arrive when the neighbours were still strapping their kids into the car.The Lafree door-to-door journey time was a consistent 12 minutes, which compares well with a car over this sort of distance.
Talking of cars, an unexpected bonus with this sort of bike is the ability to drop someone off at the station. If one of us is travelling by train with Alexander, and doesn’t want a bike at the other end (or to lock one up at Castle Cary), one adult rides to the station on a Brompton, while the other tows the trailer with the Lafree. At the station, the Brompton is folded into the trailer for the haul home, and the exercise is repeated later in the day to bring everyone home. It’s an easy, quick and economical solution, but only really practical with a power-assisted bike if hills are involved.
Inevitably, the Lafree has found all sorts of other uses too – mainly absorbing the hard slog of ten- to twenty-mile cross-country jaunts, and carrying A to B magazines to the post office, but also for those nip-to-the-shop journeys where the consistent speed and load- carrying abilities are welcome.The trailer hitch (previously fitted primarily to the ‘mountain-drive’ Brompton) hardly ever leaves the Lafree these days.
We’ve covered 2,000 miles in ten months.With the benefit of hindsight, were our earlier test reports (A to B 27 & 31) fair? We’d say a little harsh. After initial bedding-in of brake rollers and chain, day-to-day maintenance has involved no more than occasional brake adjustments and tyre pressure checks.We’ve had only two punctures in the year, which is better than average on our thorny country roads, and the chain has been oiled only once, despite daily use in all weathers. Apart from adjusting the bearings on the Nexus hub and tightening the clamp on the sprung seat post (both bedding-in adjustments), everything else has survived without so much as a tweak.
Failures have been rare: both the inner-tube valves were faulty, snapping off during routine maintenance, which meant new tubes.We chose car type ‘Schraeder’ valves, as they’re compatible with our other bikes, which meant drilling the Presto-equipped rims to suit.
Removing the front wheel pulled the wires from the rather tacky connector block on the Nexus hub dynamo – a fault which inevitably only became apparent after dark and proved impossible to fix until daylight. Otherwise, the auto-lights have been superb, although the front continues to turn on a little late in the evening.Throughout the winter, we kept it on all the time, leaving the more reliable rear light switched to ‘auto’.
Despite trudging back and forth in all conditions, from well below freezing with two inches of snow and black ice, to a 32C furnace in July, the power system has worked well.The only fault on the bike has been dirty battery contacts, but a gentle clean solved the problem and it never recurred.The battery charger has fared less well, telling us with increasing regularity that the charge was complete when it clearly wasn’t. The charger was eventually replaced under warranty at eleven months.
Upgrades have been few and far between. An Esge dual-leg stand proved to be an excellent purchase, as the original simply wasn’t up to the job. Fitting a decent stand has made a rack-mounted child seat practical, so we could now tow and carry up to three children, should that, ahem, ever be necessary.The Esge is one of the best stands on the market and available in several sizes. Inevitably we ended up with the wrong one, so our advice is ‘buy long and cut to suit’. If you find the stand too short (the rear wheel should be just clear of the ground), it’s possible to drill and tap the legs to accept steel feet – a neat solution.
…enthusiastic cyclists faced with heavy loads or daunting hills will come to love this bicycle…
A Brompton pannier mounting solved luggage carrying (see A to B 35) and we fitted an oversize reflective rear mudflap to reduce mud spray over and into the trailer.
We’ve also found a second battery invaluable.This extends maximum range to a shade under 40 miles (30% less with a trailer on tow) and provides useful insurance on those mornings when you discover that the battery wasn’t plugged in the night before…
Any downsides? Range could be better, but it’s adequate for most things.We’ve also noticed that the bike is a bit sluggish on colder mornings, but aren’t we all? Incidentally, in cold weather, it’s a good idea to charge the battery indoors and fit it just before departure. One of the many automatic systems shuts the charger down below 0 C.
A common question is how often should the battery be ‘refreshed’? This option gives the battery a gentle and complete discharge before restarting the charge process. Giant suggests refreshing the battery every month, when something odd happens, or when range begins to suffer.We have settled on a regular refresh charge every two or three months, which seems to have kept things running nicely.
NiMH batteries are claimed to have a life of 500 to 1,000 charges. In the first nine months, our primary battery was charged 115 times and the spare 30 times, giving a mileage per charge (not all full charges, of course) of 9.3 miles. At this rate, we would expect the battery to fail at a little under 5,000 miles, or two and a half years. Continued observation will be difficult because of the solar charging system (see page 19), and also because Alexander has moved to the village school, which is well within walking distance.
There’s only one adaptation we would like to make to the Lafree – more gears. It’s a pleasant bike to ride unassisted, but a bottom gear of 45″ is just too high.With the trailer attached, the maximum assisted gradient is barely 1 in 7 with quite a bit of effort – lower gearing would make load-hauling much more practical.With the assistance of Sturmey Archer, we’re fitting a 5-speed hub and will report back in A to B 38.
So what will become of the Lafree? An interesting question.The bike is bound to see less use, but we may try some longer solo rides while Alexander is at school.Wells is 14 uppy-downy miles to the west and Sherborne, 13 equally hilly miles east – both would normally be a serious trek for a visit to friends, swimming baths, museum, or a concert, but safely within spare battery range for the Lafree. Are we getting lazy? The truth is that in the eight years prior to the arrival of the electric bike, we visited Wells once and Sherborne two or three times.Those young, carefree days when the sun always shone and every journey had a following breeze are pure fantasy.Today, with electric assistance, these towns have become relatively straightforward destinations.
An advantage of the growing Lafree population is that we now have friends and relatives nearby with the same bike, so it’s possible to go visiting without a charger or spare battery, and still top-up the battery for the journey home.
If you’re looking for gutsy muscular assistance, a Giant Lafree probably isn’t for you, but more enthusiastic cyclists faced with heavy loads or daunting hills will come to love this anonymous-looking bicycle just as we have.The Lafree has broken through into the cycling world in a way that other electric bikes have failed to do, and – like the Brompton – it’s fast becoming the transport professionals preferred car-free mode of transport. It isn’t cheap, but the Lafree is still the best electric bike there is.We recommend it.
For further information, contact Giant UK tel 0115 9775900 web www.giant-bicycle.com