Ebikes and the Unfit Very Heavy Rider - A Cautionary Tale for Newcomers

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
I want to preface this post by stressing this is simply one individual's experience and is not meant to reflect that of all other unfit very heavy riders. That said, hopefully it will also help prospective newcomers, particularly those who are unsure if ebikes will meet their need and who may have been influenced by videos on YouTube or accounts from not-so-heavy/more active relatives, friends or colleagues.

The short version of this is absolutely make sure you try out a bike first or take a potential bike for a test drive.

If you are a very heavy rider (which for sake of argument translates here as a good proportion (e.g. 30 kg/ 65 lbs) in excess of the 120 kg / 265 lbs testing limit most bikes seem to be manufactured to) then the question to ask is how cycle-fit are you? If you haven't regularly cycled or regularly engaged in genuine out-of-breath exercise for a while, or have strong cycling legs then it likely you will be surprised by just how much hard work is needed even with PAS (pedal assist).

The reality is that cycling an ebike feels very much like riding an ordinary bike with small differences. On the 'flat' you may vary between assist levels 1 & 2 (on a typical 5-level PAS). However, remember that unless you're very used to cycling or have strong leg muscles and decent cardiovascular system, it will feel very much like riding an ordinary bike and that you're having to put in a lot of pedal work. Forget any ideas or videos you may have seen of you pedalling relatively easily while you glide over the flat terrain. Also, forget rides longer than more than a couple miles (over flat), you simply won't make it.

When you come to very short (e.g. 20 yard) sections of gentle incline you may feel the need to use PAS level 3. For longer sections of gentle inclines (e.g. 50 yards @ 3%) you will notice your speed drop sharply and you have to pedal even harder not to come to a standstill, making you more out of breath. It's at this point you have to engage PAS 4 & 5 whilst pedalling hard just to get you to the crest of the 50-yard gentle incline as if you were on Mt Ventoux. As before, put out your mind any any ideas of using PAS level 5 to tackle mile-long 8% gradient hills.

The fact is, even a 'flat' ride of couple miles will make you feel like you've had a very hard workout and possibly sick.

For bikes with 250 W motors, it is extremely unlikely that minor differences between set ups (cadence vs torque, mid vs hub, CX motor etc etc) will make any significant difference to the journey.

If you are an unfit very heavy rider ebikes will only be useful to you if you intend to use them to aid improve your fitness and strength levels over a very long period. You will have to put in a lot of physical effort for even very short flat journeys. They are most certainly not mopeds with pedalling!

If you still want to try an ebike make sure you try it out first / book a test ride.

I hope this account will help inform very heavy riders looking into getting an ebike.
 
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vfr400

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jun 12, 2011
8,439
3,381
Basildon
For bikes with 250 W motors, it is extremely unlikely that minor differences between set ups (cadence vs torque, mid vs hub, CX motor etc etc) will make any significant difference to the journey.
Do you have any experience of different 250w motors and systems? I would guess not because that statement is very wrong. There can be a massive difference. You can get a 250w BBS01 that runs at 25 amps and 36v, while as others run with only 15 amps. Some Woosh bikes have 17A controllers, and the humble Cyclamatic only has 24v and 12 amps. Then there's the two-speed Xiongda that can winch very heavy people up hills with 48v and 17 amps.

I can understand your problem, and I can see some bikes struggling to deal with your mass; however, don't despair. Your legs will soon gain strength that you didn't know was possible. Before starting electric biking, I got out my unused for 14 years bike from the shed. On any sort of incline, it just got slower and slower until I was gasping. I can remember one that is only about 50M long and maybe 3%. I could only just get up it in bottom gear. Now, on my non-electric road bike, I go up in a high gear without even noticing it, like someone rolled it flat with a giant steam-roller.
 

pentiumofborg

Esteemed Pedelecer
Dec 13, 2020
1,390
373
The wonderful thing that happens to your metabolic rate when you cycle consistently, is that as the largest muscles in your body break down and are replaced with improved versions (legs), your resting metabolic rate increases so that you burn more colories, even when you're not cycling. Also, your testosterone levels increase because you're strengthening large muscles, so you cycle more, and get bigger leg muscles, which burn more calories etc. etc. etc. Just keep at it!
 
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Atlav4

Pedelecer
Feb 16, 2020
166
70
There’s no one can make you ride the long steep road to fitness. The motivation willingness and drive all have to come from within but we can add support and encouragement. Discover a short flat circuit to ride and build from there, slowly increase distance in relation to time. Try this over however long a period it takes until your riding for about 45 minutes, weather permitting at least 3 times a week. Once comfortably riding your circuit for 45 mins begin to lower your assist levels from let’s say 3 to 2 ( if that’s what your using) and continue until your comfortable doing so for said 45 mins. Then over a period drop your assistant level again say 2 to 1 and continue until this is comfortable and achievable. Inclines are the cycling worlds nemesis not many enjoy them BUT for every incline you have declines which are every cyclists dream. If you can cycle for 45mins in low to no assistance on a flat circuit then you can tackle modest inclines with the godsend assistance of almost any e-bike and build again slowly to longer and more severe inclines and declines. Or reside the fact that we aren’t Tour de France wannabes and carefully select riding to be as flat as possible where applicable and use as much assistance as needed to enjoy the outdoors NO they’re not mopeds but a great invention that has motivated me to cycle again having never done so for over 40 years
 
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Fordulike

Esteemed Pedelecer
Feb 26, 2010
3,683
1,461
Tyne and Wear
I agree with vfr400. You have to look at the bigger picture and buy accordingly.

If you are on the heavier end of the scale, then a legal 250w hub motor is simply not suitable for hill climbing without a lot of human power.

Whereas, a BBS01 250w with the correct gearing (42T chainring/32T+ rear cassette), will get you up the steepest of hills, minimal effort.

Vfr400 mentions the Cyclamatic, which originally only had a 24v 12amp controller. It wasn't until I modded mine to 36 volts and a 20 amp controller, that it actually became any good at climbing hills. But is was still only a rear hub and the fixed gearing of a system like this, ultimately hampered any decent hill climbing performance.
 

Scorpio

Pedelecer
Apr 13, 2020
220
87
Portugal Algarve (temporary)
I moved house last year and have no car here and have been avoiding public transport since February. A cheap non-electic bike was my only transport until June when I converted it to electric. I used to cycle a lot as a youngster but have been using a car for many years so my leg muscles were weak.
My weekly shopping trip is about 8 miles, mostly flat with a handful of short steep sections, bike+me+shopping often weigh about 150kg. On my first few trips I had to stop on the way home for a rest, by the fourth trip I could comfortably make the whole trip without stopping. You soon see improvements in your fitness.
A fitbit style excercise watch has been great for keeping track of my fitness levels and seeing the improvement over the year. Comparing my speed and heartrate recently to the same journey early last year shows the difference clearly.
A local 3 mile circuit is handy for me to try the bike after I make any changes. Checking the speed and heartrate on that familar route shows things are constantly getting better.

I have 2 electric bikes here with similar motors, performance between them is very different (one soft and gentle, the other pulls a lot better up hills) so like you say it's best to try before you buy if you can.

Congratulations on getting a bike, hopefully you will find it gets easier after just a couple of rides out.
 

richtea99

Pedelecer
May 8, 2020
193
147
If you are on the heavier end of the scale, then a legal 250w hub motor is simply not suitable for hill climbing without a lot of human power.

Whereas, a BBS01 250w with the correct gearing (42T chainring/32T+ rear cassette), will get you up the steepest of hills, minimal effort.
I'm 80% of Fatbob's weight, i.e. pretty close to 120Kg, and using a 250W motor. The motor definitely makes a noticable and pleasing difference on the flat, and up gentle inclines, so you might hope a 150Kg rider would have 80% of that noticable pleasure too.

However, up say a 15% (1-in-7) hill it's definitely much harder going with 250W, but believe me it's not as tough as no motor!

One thing that helps a little is that my bike is 5-10Kgs less than the average eBike so that's less overall weight. It does have a suggested rider weight limit of 130Kg, so it's not a solution for everyone, but it's worth double-checking what your prospective bike weighs itself because that's the extra you're asking the motor to move.

Lastly, no one said you're not allowed to walk. No shame in that, and I've done that many times. It's better than not getting out at all.
 
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pentiumofborg

Esteemed Pedelecer
Dec 13, 2020
1,390
373
I hate fat shaming! There is no shame in trying to lose weight! My BMI has gone from 30 to 24 over the past year.


I did it because my Doctor wanted me to go on statins. I hate taking medication of any sort, if I can sensibly avoid it. People always go on about exercising to lose weight, but in my personal experience, it's much faster to lose weight by restricting calories, than it is to exercise enough to lose the same amount of weight. I've always cycled between pudgy and fit, but at my age, wild exercise routines are not even remotely possible - they were in my youth: in my current physical condition, intense circuit training would actually kill me these days. T'was easy way back when. When you're young, your body looks after itself!

Alternating between periods of intermittent fasting 5 days a week, with periods of exercise, has worked for me. I eat one massive meal a day - anything I like... I stuff myself stupid with that one meal and don't eat again for another 24 hours. On weekends, I eat anything I like all weekend, and the weekly calories consumed overall, is less than my normal total, therefore I've been slowly losing weight: Over 2.5 stones so far, a stone to go. You can expect to lose a couple of pounds a week, doing as I've done - friends who have adopted the same intermittent fasting schedule have also reported a loss of a couple of pounds a week. It's only hard for the first few days. When I first started, it felt imposible! So I drank orange juice or sugary tea to get me through till the following day and my next meal, but then my body adjusted - you tend to only feel hungry for an hour or so, after which your body starts to use stored resources as fuel. Now I simply drink black tea or coffee in between daily meals, plus a lot of water, because it's easy to become dehydrated while eating one meal a day. But caffeine does increase appetite: Bear that in mind! Ask your Doctor first before trying this, especially if you're diabetic, as it could be dangerous for diabetics and others. Weirdly, I've got used to it and my day is more organised, my is mind clearer, and I have more time.

Ask your Doc first! The big blood sugar spike which happens after your one big daily meal could kill you if you're a diabetic - divide your one big meal into several small meals, and consume slowly over two or three set hours instead - but ask your Doctor about that first... The big blood pressure spike after your massive meal could kill you if you have heart problems! Ask your Doctor and be careful! Blood sugar and blood pressure spikes can be managed to some extent with low Glycaemic Index foods:


I used to experience a very worrying racing heart after my one big daily meal when I first started, but after losing 2.5 stones, that doesn't happen anymore.

...again, your Doctor is best placed to advise you, before embarking on any new exercise or diet regime.

And when you alternate with periods of exercise, it increases insulin sensitivity.
 
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Yak

Pedelecer
Mar 20, 2020
56
17
I’ll add my ha-penny’s worth - I started ebiking last March at 142kg following cancer treatment and less than-welcome atrial fibrillation as I recovered from that. The hardest bit is getting on the bike, every time. I rode on flats with my 350w 36v system to start, now anything up to say 15%. I rode 5800kms from March til Dec, I’ve lost 25kg, and feel fantastic. Just keep getting on the bike, it will soon have you smiling.
 

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
Do you have any experience of different 250w motors and systems? I would guess not because that statement is very wrong. There can be a massive difference. You can get a 250w BBS01 that runs at 25 amps and 36v, while as others run with only 15 amps. Some Woosh bikes have 17A controllers, and the humble Cyclamatic only has 24v and 12 amps. Then there's the two-speed Xiongda that can winch very heavy people up hills with 48v and 17 amps.

I can understand your problem, and I can see some bikes struggling to deal with your mass; however, don't despair. Your legs will soon gain strength that you didn't know was possible. Before starting electric biking, I got out my unused for 14 years bike from the shed. On any sort of incline, it just got slower and slower until I was gasping. I can remember one that is only about 50M long and maybe 3%. I could only just get up it in bottom gear. Now, on my non-electric road bike, I go up in a high gear without even noticing it, like someone rolled it flat with a giant steam-roller.
No, little experience here. I guess there is big difference between 900 W and 288 W. The 250 W motor was a Bafang RM G060.250.DC (specs here). I don't know what the power (voltage, current) was or what controller it used but it'supposed to delivery 80 Nm max torque according to the specs.

I fully agree with what you say about starting with small achievable goals and building up slowly; the only way forward.
 

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
The wonderful thing that happens to your metabolic rate when you cycle consistently, is that as the largest muscles in your body break down and are replaced with improved versions (legs), your resting metabolic rate increases so that you burn more colories, even when you're not cycling. Also, your testosterone levels increase because you're strengthening large muscles, so you cycle more, and get bigger leg muscles, which burn more calories etc. etc. etc. Just keep at it!
Thanks. I'll start (very, very) small and try to build up over time.
 

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
There’s no one can make you ride the long steep road to fitness. The motivation willingness and drive all have to come from within but we can add support and encouragement. Discover a short flat circuit to ride and build from there, slowly increase distance in relation to time. Try this over however long a period it takes until your riding for about 45 minutes, weather permitting at least 3 times a week. Once comfortably riding your circuit for 45 mins begin to lower your assist levels from let’s say 3 to 2 ( if that’s what your using) and continue until your comfortable doing so for said 45 mins. Then over a period drop your assistant level again say 2 to 1 and continue until this is comfortable and achievable. Inclines are the cycling worlds nemesis not many enjoy them BUT for every incline you have declines which are every cyclists dream. If you can cycle for 45mins in low to no assistance on a flat circuit then you can tackle modest inclines with the godsend assistance of almost any e-bike and build again slowly to longer and more severe inclines and declines. Or reside the fact that we aren’t Tour de France wannabes and carefully select riding to be as flat as possible where applicable and use as much assistance as needed to enjoy the outdoors NO they’re not mopeds but a great invention that has motivated me to cycle again having never done so for over 40 years
Thanks for the encouragement.
 

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
I agree with vfr400. You have to look at the bigger picture and buy accordingly.

If you are on the heavier end of the scale, then a legal 250w hub motor is simply not suitable for hill climbing without a lot of human power.

Whereas, a BBS01 250w with the correct gearing (42T chainring/32T+ rear cassette), will get you up the steepest of hills, minimal effort.

Vfr400 mentions the Cyclamatic, which originally only had a 24v 12amp controller. It wasn't until I modded mine to 36 volts and a 20 amp controller, that it actually became any good at climbing hills. But is was still only a rear hub and the fixed gearing of a system like this, ultimately hampered any decent hill climbing performance.
Good to know!!

Maybe there should be an subforum for the very heavy unfit rider where these points are made clear. Most of the advice, quite rightly, is for the majority where this info isn't as relevant.
 

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
I moved house last year and have no car here and have been avoiding public transport since February. A cheap non-electic bike was my only transport until June when I converted it to electric. I used to cycle a lot as a youngster but have been using a car for many years so my leg muscles were weak.
My weekly shopping trip is about 8 miles, mostly flat with a handful of short steep sections, bike+me+shopping often weigh about 150kg. On my first few trips I had to stop on the way home for a rest, by the fourth trip I could comfortably make the whole trip without stopping. You soon see improvements in your fitness.
A fitbit style excercise watch has been great for keeping track of my fitness levels and seeing the improvement over the year. Comparing my speed and heartrate recently to the same journey early last year shows the difference clearly.
A local 3 mile circuit is handy for me to try the bike after I make any changes. Checking the speed and heartrate on that familar route shows things are constantly getting better.

I have 2 electric bikes here with similar motors, performance between them is very different (one soft and gentle, the other pulls a lot better up hills) so like you say it's best to try before you buy if you can.

Congratulations on getting a bike, hopefully you will find it gets easier after just a couple of rides out.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. It's encouraging to read that there light ahead given regular realistic expectations.

I was never a good gradient climber. Even at my youthful fittest when I used to run and ride regularly, I hated hills. I used to cycle to & from uni *&!% years ago and there was mile-long ~10% hill on the return journey. I eventually 'conquered' it but I always felt my anatomy didn't include the right muscles for inclines.
 

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
I'm 80% of Fatbob's weight, i.e. pretty close to 120Kg, and using a 250W motor. The motor definitely makes a noticable and pleasing difference on the flat, and up gentle inclines, so you might hope a 150Kg rider would have 80% of that noticable pleasure too.

However, up say a 15% (1-in-7) hill it's definitely much harder going with 250W, but believe me it's not as tough as no motor!

One thing that helps a little is that my bike is 5-10Kgs less than the average eBike so that's less overall weight. It does have a suggested rider weight limit of 130Kg, so it's not a solution for everyone, but it's worth double-checking what your prospective bike weighs itself because that's the extra you're asking the motor to move.

Lastly, no one said you're not allowed to walk. No shame in that, and I've done that many times. It's better than not getting out at all.
Two very good points richtea99, and especially important for the prospective unfit very heavy rider to know.
 

vfr400

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jun 12, 2011
8,439
3,381
Basildon
No, little experience here. I guess there is big difference between 900 W and 288 W. The 250 W motor was a Bafang RM G060.250.DC (specs here). I don't know what the power (voltage, current) was or what controller it used but it'supposed to delivery 80 Nm max torque according to the specs.

I fully agree with what you say about starting with small achievable goals and building up slowly; the only way forward.
The motor suposedly has the capability to deliver 80Nm, but how much power you actually get depends on how much power the controller allows and how much the battery can provide.

You'd need 840 watts of output power to get 80Nm at 7.5 mph since power = torque (Nm) x RPM and 15 mph is approx 201 rpm witha 26" wheel . At that speed, motor efficiency would be about 0.6, so the battery and controller would have to provide 1400w (39 amps at 36v). At 4 mph it would be 449w of output power, but efficiency would be 0.5 or less, which is still about 900w from the battery or 25 amps.

To be honest, the 80Nm doesn't look very believable as far as practical use is concerned. You can't change physics.
 

FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
I hate fat shaming! There is no shame in trying to lose weight! My BMI has gone from 30 to 24 over the past year.


I did it because my Doctor wanted me to go on statins. I hate taking medication of any sort, if I can sensibly avoid it. People always go on about exercising to lose weight, but in my personal experience, it's much faster to lose weight by restricting calories, than it is to exercise enough to lose the same amount of weight. I've always cycled between pudgy and fit, but at my age, wild exercise routines are not even remotely possible - they were in my youth: in my current physical condition, intense circuit training would actually kill me these days. T'was easy way back when. When you're young, your body looks after itself!

Alternating between periods of intermittent fasting 5 days a week, with periods of exercise, has worked for me. I eat one massive meal a day - anything I like... I stuff myself stupid with that one meal and don't eat again for another 24 hours. On weekends, I eat anything I like all weekend, and the weekly calories consumed overall, is less than my normal total, therefore I've been slowly losing weight: Over 2.5 stones so far, a stone to go. You can expect to lose a couple of pounds a week, doing as I've done - friends who have adopted the same intermittent fasting schedule have also reported a loss of a couple of pounds a week. It's only hard for the first few days. When I first started, it felt imposible! So I drank orange juice or sugary tea to get me through till the following day and my next meal, but then my body adjusted - you tend to only feel hungry for an hour or so, after which your body starts to use stored resources as fuel. Now I simply drink black tea or coffee in between daily meals, plus a lot of water, because it's easy to become dehydrated while eating one meal a day. But caffeine does increase appetite: Bear that in mind! Ask your Doctor first before trying this, especially if you're diabetic, as it could be dangerous for diabetics and others. Weirdly, I've got used to it and my day is more organised, my is mind clearer, and I have more time.

Ask your Doc first! The big blood sugar spike which happens after your one big daily meal could kill you if you're a diabetic - divide your one big meal into several small meals, and consume slowly over two or three set hours instead - but ask your Doctor about that first... The big blood pressure spike after your massive meal could kill you if you have heart problems! Ask your Doctor and be careful! Blood sugar and blood pressure spikes can be managed to some extent with low Glycaemic Index foods:


I used to experience a very worrying racing heart after my one big daily meal when I first started, but after losing 2.5 stones, that doesn't happen anymore.

...again, your Doctor is best placed to advise you, before embarking on any new exercise or diet regime.

And when you alternate with periods of exercise, it increases insulin sensitivity.
I did go on a balanced eating regime last year: plenty of water, lots of green leafy & coloured veg, lentils, small amount of mixed nuts and steamed fish, little meat. I lost weight (about 1 stone per month) but I started suffering multiple migraine episodes every day (visual aura followed by the most awful headaches) so gave up after about three months!! Doctor didn't have a clue.
 
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FatBob

Pedelecer
Apr 15, 2020
102
19
Greater Manchester
I’ll add my ha-penny’s worth - I started ebiking last March at 142kg following cancer treatment and less than-welcome atrial fibrillation as I recovered from that. The hardest bit is getting on the bike, every time. I rode on flats with my 350w 36v system to start, now anything up to say 15%. I rode 5800kms from March til Dec, I’ve lost 25kg, and feel fantastic. Just keep getting on the bike, it will soon have you smiling.
Really sorry to read about your cancer, Yak. I hope the treatment's been successful. Your riding progress is really encouraging. Thanks.