Every time we start with a new e-assist system we are nervous. They all have a learning curve and once we sell one, we are committed to providing ongoing support. Our experience with Bionx sets the tone: not so good at first, learned from their mistakes, became really good with great customer service, then went out of business leaving customers with no source for their proprietary batteries and parts.
That brings us to Shimano STEPS. The hope on the recumbent industry side is that Shimano is too big to fail and will be around long term for our customers. The infrastructure for service is already in place. Shimano’s on-line training is the best in the industry. Any bike shop that sells Di2 equipped carbon race bikes will have the training and hardware they need to service, and if needed, trouble shoot any problems that might come up for our long-distance customers. That takes a lot of worry away at the retail level. It’s never fun getting a call from a customer four or more hours away asking you to fix their e-assist trike over the phone. Now I can refer them to the high-end shop nearby to sort out any problems. No obscure software or diagnostic tools that only a few shops in the nation would have on hand.
It’s great that error codes come up on the trike’s computer screen without having to plug in a code reader like when the “check engine” light comes on in a car. Most the things we have seen have been easy to correct. Some are just “educational”, meaning it was caused by forgetting to turn the motor on correctly. The most common code we’ve seen has been “W013” or “E012”-initiation of the torque sensor not completed successfully. This is a great example of the “educational” type of error.
When you turn on the system there needs to be nothing touching the cranks or pedals so the unit can establish a zero-torque reading. That way it can sense how hard you are pedaling and provide the appropriate assist. The best way to avoid putting your feet on the pedals when turning on the system is to turn it on before you sit down on the seat. According to a tech at Shimano, the only other way it could send that code is if one of your crank arms was loose and needed to be re-torqued or the motor was defective. So far for us, every time it was the customer putting feet on the pedals, then turning on the unit. The fix is easy, turn off the system and turn it back on with your feet on the ground.
Another common code is “E010” or “E011”-System error detected, or system operation error occurred. The fix is turn it off and back on. The cause is a bit trickier. So far, it seems that this error is caused by the computer rattling in its bracket on a rough rail to trail. On recumbent trikes, the bracket is at the top of the handlebars which magnifies the road vibration. The bracket trikes use to hold the larger computer is different than the smaller screens used for mountain bikes which hold the small computer very securely. Our brackets have a phillips screw on the bottom of the bracket to lock the computer in place and minimize vibration. Make sure that screw is snugged down but don’t overtighten-just enough to firm things up. We’ve been adding two small strips of Gorilla tape on the top of the bracket to take up some of the slop. That way, the screw often doesn’t need to be tightened which makes removing it when loading the trike in the car much easier.
On the auto shifting internal 8 speed trikes, we have had two reports of the drive unit that shifts the gears at the back wheel showing error codes. One was done at another shop and needed the driver replaced under warranty. The other was found to be the connecting cable popped out of place after the trike was folded. I went through a complete diagnostic and found the system couldn’t detect the driver, went to plug into the part to check it and found the cable was unplugged. Plugged it back in and all was back to normal. An error I expected to see but haven’t is “W010”-Temperature of the drive unit is higher than it is during times of normal operation. The code would cause the motor to assist at a lower level or shut off completely to protect itself from overheating. This could happen on a hot day going up a long, steep hill. The fix is to turn the motor off and let it cool down for half an hour. Turn it back on and shift into a lower gear to allow the motor to work easier.
That’s really been it so far. Most boiled down to education and checking the connections were connected. I feel that Shimano STEPS has passed the dependability test and is a solid product we can recommend. Are there things I’d like to see different? I wish there was an optional throttle for USA trikes. The law in Europe where most e-assists are sold doesn’t allow them, so they are not offered. I wish it was easier to maintain 15-19 mph on a recumbent trike. I think most customers are hoping to be able to cruise at that speed to keep up with other cyclists but find it’s not that easy. The STEPS climbs like a mountain goat but top speed is not it’s strength. It is doing very well at keeping people riding who were about to give up by providing enough assist to make riding fun again instead of a chore. That is it’s purpose and it does it well.