As regular readers will have gathered, we’re quite fond of our Giant Lafree. Other electric bikes have come and gone – some pausing only long enough to expire, explode or disgrace themselves in some other way, but the Lafree goes on and on.
Like all best friends, it’s thrown the odd tantrum and had the occasional sulk, but in two years and 3,600 miles, it’s never let us down. After a few early mods (see Lafree at 2,000 miles, A to B 37), we have hardly touched the bike.Two punctures and two broken valves in the first few months showed up faulty tubes, but the replacements haven’t been disturbed since.The same is true for the Nexus roller brakes, which bedded in during the first weeks, but haven’t been adjusted since, and the chain, which has been oiled only once.
With the arrival of the slightly faster Ezee Sprint in August 2003, we decided to increase the top speed of the Lafree by reducing the sprocket size by one tooth, from 21 to 20.This had the effect of increasing top speed by about one mile per hour in favourable conditions, but reduced the mileage per charge by about 10%. For lighter cyclists this may be a useful mod, but not for those towing trailers and/or tackling steep hills.
…the princely sum of £1. Not bad for two years ‘motoring’, eh?
In October, after a period of prolonged and heavy rain, the handlebar-mounted power switch started misbehaving. Removing the cover showed that water had found its way inside, but a few days drying out with the cover off cured the problem.The switch detente involves a spring and tiny ball-bearing that’s easily lost.When putting the cover back, a blob of grease will keep the ball in place and help to prevent water getting in.We certainly never suffered a recurrence of the problem.
Two months later, one of our two batteries appeared to fail, but on inspection, the cells seemed OK.The Lafree charger features a ‘refresh’ button, that very gently drains, then refills, the battery to keep the 20 internal cells in ‘sync’ with each other.We had ignored Giant’s advice to refresh every month, resulting in some cells being empty while others were almost full – a very confused battery.We decided to perform a ‘super- refresh’, by individually draining each cell, then recharging the battery.This really works, and may be worth trying if you suffer similar problems, although the battery remains the weaker of the two. Strangely enough, a mileage test revealed that both were capable of ‘as-new’ performance, but the weaker one sometimes fails in service after seven or eight miles. It may be that these problems stem from over-use of our solar charger, which fills the battery quite slowly, but we have no evidence to prove this, and the gentle charge may even be beneficial..
Battery problems aside, snow and ice did nothing to halt the Lafree in its second winter. In favourable weather, Alexander rides to school on our Brompton trailer-bike, but when it’s too cold or too wet, the Lafree pulls the trailer. It’s on these sort of wet or bitterly cold mornings that a reliable electric bike proves its worth.
In late May, the charger failed, cutting off before the battery was properly charged. Talking to other high-mileage owners, this problem is not unknown, and Giant says a batch were affected and the chargers should now be reliable. In practice, with our reduced mileage, the solar panels covered for the broken charger for some weeks.
Since then, all has gone smoothly. In our first year, the playschool run boosted weekly mileage to 40. Over the course of this second year, we’re averaging about 30 miles – mainly short trips to town, and usually with the trailer attached, but a few longer day rides of 30 to 40 miles.The big question will be over battery life – our batteries have reached around 200 charges each, and although the theoretical life is considered to be 1,000 charges, we’re expecting to do a lot less, but time will tell.
The Maxxis tyres are probably good for 5,000 miles, so they’ll soon be due for replacement.We’ll probably do the chain at the same time. Running costs make interesting reading: in 3,600 miles, we’ve used about 29Kw of electricity. More than a third of this has come directly from the sun, at zero environmental or monetary cost, and the rest from the grid, for the princely sum of £1*. Not bad for two years ‘motoring’, eh?
Do we still love the Lafree? You bet. And so does almost everyone who has tried it – two out of three recent visitors going straight home to buy top-of-the-range 5-speed STs, which tells you something about the bike’s pulling power. It’s an A to B classic.
*Putting it another way, we’ve ridden for two years on the energy needed to heat a typical living room for an evening. In petrol terms, it’s the equivalent of just over half a gallon – half the annual consumption of the family mower.
Giant Lafree Comfort £1,099 . For UK stockists, call 0115 9775900