We have been busy this Winter adding e-assists to recumbent trikes. A large part of the process is determining the needs of the customer and what type best fits that need.
It really comes down to why you want an e-assist. Some want to keep up with younger friends, others are worried about the big hill they have to ride to get anywhere, and others have a physical issue that is keeping them from going what they used to do.
For me, guiding a customers decision comes down to how strong of a rider they are. If they are someone who has ridden their whole life and just needs some help to continue, they will do well with either a Shimano or Bosch motor that uses a torque sensor. A torque sensor reads how hard the rider is pushing on the pedal and adds more help as the foot pressure increases. It’s like standing up on the pedals on a road bike to get more power. You can select an assist range, usually something like Eco, Normal and Turbo. Within that range, the harder you press, the more help the motor contributes. If you need more, you switch into the next assist range or shift gears.
If the customer has been a casual rider or has a physical issue, often our Electric Bike Outfitters e-assist kit is the better choice. It uses a PAS sensor which is really an on and off switch. When you pedal, a ring of magnets passes by a sensor and turns on the motor. It doesn’t care how hard you can pedal. The rider decides how much help they want and selects the level of assistance. As long as the pedals are turning, the motor will provide the full amount of assistance within that assist range. Need more, just switch to the next level. The kit also comes with a thumb throttle that allows the motor to push you along without having to pedal. Say you have a bad knee that starts to hurt, or get too tired to pedal back to the car; holding down the throttle will let you ride home without having to pedal.
There are other considerations. The Shimano or Bosch systems come from huge companies that most bike shops will be familiar with and be able to work on. They also look much more built in and clean on a bike or trike. Bad news is often they can’t be added on to a trike you already own. Catrike and Terratrike offer Bosch kits to add on their models, most other companies do not.
The EBO kit and others like it look more home made. Wires are bundled and run outside the trike frame. There are also less shops familiar with the brands so it is harder to find someone to service if you have a problem. The good news is that they can be added to almost any trike or bike, especially the one you already own.
I hope this helps start a conversation if you have been thinking about an e-assist. Winter is the best time to get one installed because it is the slowest time of the year and we can do it in a timely manner. It’s also the best time to have a long talk about the ins and outs of each type so you know what you are getting will be the right thing for you.