Behold, the Electric Cheeto!

Pam LeBlanc rides her newly converted electric bike. Contributed/John Pierce
Pam LeBlanc rides her newly converted electric bike. Contributed/John Pierce

You might recognize the bike, which we’ve long called The Cheeto. For the last six or seven years I’ve been pedaling it all over Austin. My husband Chris built it up from parts, and it’s served me well in getting me to work and home most days.

But now that my husband has converted it to an electric bike, it’s a lot easier riding up hills.

I blame Rocket Electrics, an Austin bike shop that sells purpose-built electric bikes. After years of scoffing at people who rode e-bikes, this summer I borrowed a very fancy electric one from the shop. I immediately fell in love.

Suddenly I could zip home without breaking a sweat (or a bad sweat) on an August afternoon, but I could still legally ride on bike trails and avoid the traffic congestion on roads.

I’m not suggesting an e-bike as a replacement for exercise, but I get plenty of that through running and swim practice. And I don’t use the electric boost on my new e-bike all the time, just when I want to. That normally happens on hot afternoons, when I’m slogging up Lamar Boulevard. Now I just twist the throttle and the little electric motor takes the work out of the ride.

After much online research, Chris bought a $300 battery kit online from a Chinese company called BMS Battery. The shipping cost a whopping $254, but we decided to get it anyway.

That big silver thermos-looking device on the down tube? That’s the battery pack. It comes off the bike and plugs into an electric socket in the wall. I can go from swim practice to work and back home – about 10 miles – on less than half a charge.

Chris had never built an e-bike before, and it took him about 10 hours to set up. (He says the next one would take about 3 hours, now that he knows what he’s doing.) The pedal-assist feature (which I really want) still doesn’t work, and there’s a stutter problem with the motor sometimes.

Chris hopes to fix those problems. I’ll keep you posted.

I should note here that Chris is particularly handy, and has served as my personal bike mechanic since I’ve known him. I don’t think the conversion is something that just anyone could do.

So far, though, I love my new Electric Cheeto.

Author: Pam LeBlanc

Pam LeBlanc writes about fitness and travel for the Austin American-Statesman. She has worked for the Statesman since 1998 and written her weekly fitness column, Fit City, since 2004.

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