Ralph-e extras

Tools –

Along with my Brompton toolkit (stored on-board), here’s Ralph-e’s luggage bag set of tools.
There’s a few new items that most Brompton owners wouldn’t include but you’ll probably pick them from the descriptions below.

  • Brompton toolkit
  • 17mm front wheel nut ring spanner
  • Spoke tool
  • Allen keys
  • Pocket knife/scissors for heat-shrink removal
  • Electrical & duct tapes for cable repairs
  • CO2 inflator
  • CO2 cartridge
  • Tyre levers
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Tyre pump – Topeak MiniDualG
  • SV4 tube (in addition to one in the mainframe)

Tweaks –

Knowing Ralph-e was going to become considerably heavier after the electric conversion, & probably needing good stability when folded & rolling, in preparation I moved/robbed Robinson’s rear rack (after all, the rack weight was unlikely to be noticed on Ralph-e & Robinson’s role as “spare” would just as easily be accomplished as an M6L?). This turned out to be a very worthwhile operation. However, what I hadn’t anticipated was the borderline stability when Ralph-e was folded (especially with the luggage bag fitted). With the front wheel motor & battery weight concentrated outside the center-line of a folded Brompton, great care was needed to avoid toppling when transporting, etc. Seeing a BikeFun Eazy wheel extender on a Brompton at the Urban Challenge, what I may have considered as “functional bling” now leapt into mind as “essential function”? Sure enough, BikeFun’s brilliant gadget was right at home on Ralph-e & has quickly been integrated into the Brompton fold sequence (i.e. “Left pedal down, right wheel out, park, etc…”)

Progress –

Two aspects of life with Ralph-e have been pleasing. Beforehand I’d wondered if the weight would be a concern when folding/handling/etc & I also pondered if converting my Alfine 11-speed Brompton was the thing to do? Sure I’d like less weight but I’m coping & learning more. The knack to folding the front wheel is first to anchor the bike down by putting my toes on the rack/left-side Eazy wheels & then grasp the handlebars by each grip & lift well up until the front wheel naturally pivots around under its own weight (& the same for unfolding, where the increased weight pivots the front wheel very readily). If/when I need to lift the folded bike, my right hand grasps the mainframe just behind where the front tyre is close to the frame & my left hand lightly holds the luggage bag handle for balance. (Leaving the bag on the bike saves the inconvenience of disconnecting the battery in the bag. I’ve seen systems that allow an automatic electrical disconnection through the luggage block; maybe one day but so far so good?)

My logic for converting the Alfine Brompton was somewhat guesswork. A brief test ride of a 6-speed Brompton fitted with a cadence-based pedal assist (not a torque sensing system that I was intending) showed the disadvantage of stopping pedaling to change gear; the power goes away & your next pedal action has to start the motor again. (Brompton hub gears don’t like gear changes with pedal load whereas the Alfine hub can change gears under load, allowing me to keep pedaling & just change up or down through the 11 gears as necessary.)

My medical condition necessitates low gearing on my Bromptons. 6-speed Clarence & Robinson both have 40T chainrings & Ralph-e’s Alfine 11-speed has a 44T chainring. Ralph-e has 2 gears lower than a “reduced” 44T Brompton’s lowest gear (3 lower than a standard 50T unit) & an upper gear equal to a 44T bike. Before the electric conversion, I would start changing down early at hills to minimise fatigue & maintain some momentum. Now I’m having to re-learn many riding strategies when I can ride harder in higher gears & then quickly change down as/when necessary. Ralph-e’s lowest gears are getting a lot less use & I’m constantly changing up & down through the gears. I’m also learning about the e-bike setup with a torque sensing bottom bracket (supplying power to the motor proportional to my pedaling load). For example, on a recent gradual small rise Mrs Aussie had been well ahead but I quickly caught back up when she naturally slowed on the hill. I assume that the increased pedal pressure on the hill had the torque sensor supplying more power & I was accelerating up the hill while just maintaining my cadence? (A bigger hill would have seen me increasing my effort & changing down but this time I had a “magic carpet” sensation?) Every ride is a delight, with the power feeling smooth & natural with just my pedaling – “as it used to feel but now even better?”

Another aspect of the pre-conversion conundrum was Pedelec vs Throttle. I wanted to be able to ride my bike as naturally as possible & preferred to avoid using a throttle (assuming it to lessen the natural riding experience, although the sensation of opening a throttle & enjoying a surge of power is very appealing?). As such, I liked the theory of a torque sensing pedal assist, (as compared to the straight-out cadence measuring system) & thought I could get by without combining it with a throttle. During my first days with Ralph-e & experiencing big hills, I temporarily fitted the throttle supplied with the conversion kit, to see if it was going to help. I found that it didn’t provide any more power from the motor over what pedaling was achieving (& that pedaling was essential, rather than expect to ride on throttle alone!). The throttle is now consigned to the luggage bag, just in case the TDCM bottom bracket should fail far from home?

Interestingly, my brief test rides with various throttle systems has shown quite some differences. I don’t just mean thumb-control vs twist-grip; factors such as smoothness, sensitivity & effort were all on display. Also, the ergonomics come into play when some bike setups require a throttle on the left. One aspect for me about using a throttle, is that I would be using it everywhere; I need the motor on flats as well as hills (unlike some riders who would just use a throttle to help the effort on hills). I’m kind of glad I’m not having to choose or depend on a throttle?

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