This is a quiz. What’s the biggest constraint for an e-bike? The answer is its battery.
Clearly if you’re off for a long day’s ride you can’t count on finding a convenient wall outlet to use your charger. Besides, who wants to carry that thing anyway?
But what if you could harness solar power, and do your recharging in a reasonable amount of time so you can get back on the road? Well, that’s the solution that Hi-Power Cycles of Chatsworth, California has come up with.
Hi-Power Cycles makes e-bikes that live up to its name. They are very high power. The Striker high torque electric motor that came with the HPC HT-1 bike is rated at 2800 watts.
Obviously that’s well over the 750 watts of output that’s considered street legal under federal law. However, when Hi-Power ships its bikes, the wattage is regulated to stay within the legal limit, allowing the user to easily reprogram the bike’s computer to enjoy the full 2800 watts for off-roading.
We spent a few days with the HPC HT-1 tooling around Vermont during foliage season. We were strictly on public roads, so didn’t even think about reprogramming the bike. We didn’t have to. The HPC HT-1 handled even the steepest grades we encountered without any strain, and without forcing us to work up a sweat.
The HPC HT-1 is throttle controlled and that throttle was very responsive. It took a little bit of learning to keep it under control. It cruised along easily at the 20 mph prescribed by law, though we did nudge it up a bit (well, more than a bit) passed the limit.
The bike is solidly built. Even on some pretty well rutted dirt roads, the substantial front suspension kept the ride pretty smooth. The bike weighs in at 54 lbs. That’s light enough so one person could get it on and off the hitch mounted bike rack without too much strain. The bike comes with hydraulic front and rear disc brakes, as well as an air-filled front suspension.
The HPC HT e-bikes start at $2,599 and the price of the HT-1 as tested is just about $3700 before you add options like a higher power battery (which Hi-Power tells us most customers do opt for). Maximum cruising range on the flats is 39 miles, but with average ups and downs you can expect 30. We figure in the hilly terrain of Vermont, that’s probably even lower, though we had it out for some 20+ mile rides and it was still going strong.
Hi-Power offers a complete line of high end mountain e-bikes. The company builds to order and assembles each bike by hand in the U.S., which is why it can take up to three weeks to get one built. Models include both full suspension as well as front suspension. The company has recently introduced a folding e-mountain-bike, and it’s also bringing out a mid-drive system that uses a Kevlar belt transmission.
Now, about that solar charger. Since I first saw the big commercially available foldable solar panels I fantasized about whether I could use one to charge up my e-bike. Several years ago the answer would have been a resounding “no way!”
But then the maximum output in those panels was 12 volts, and that meant it would have taken the better part of a day to charge up a 36 volt battery. But now there are foldable solar panels with higher outputs and dramatically greater efficiency.
Hi-Power claims a 24% efficiency rating on the panels it uses. That means, depending on the size of the battery and the size of the solar panel, you may be able to fully charge the battery inside of a couple of hours.
So, if you’re off to an early start and exhaust the battery after 30 miles, you can pause for a long lunch, charge up, and be ready for the return ride. Of course, that means you’ll have to find a way of carrying the panel with you, a bulky, but not insurmountable problem.
While the sunlight that powers the panels is free, the panels themselves are anything but. Depending on size, Hi-Power’s SunCapture panels can run between $900 and $2300.
Overall, the Hi-Power HPC HT-1 hardtail bike is really aimed at the enthusiast who wants to hit the trails full throttle. It may be overkill for a recreational e-biker, unless you’re in a part of the country where you really want the power to flatten the hills.
There’s no question that the solar power charging option is going to be very attractive to some riders (including me). But remember that option also brings with it a pretty stiff price.