Last summer I decided to buy an electric bike conversion kit from Cyclotricity. They sell a 250W front wheel kit that doesn't require any major assembly or hacking into your bike, so I thought I'd give it a go. I'd like to think that I'm still as fit as I was ten years ago (because ten years ago I wasn't that fit either..) but I've definitely put on some weight since then.. Since my last major touring cycle I've probably put on as much as the weight of the touring luggage I used to carry, so it's as if any ride is a touring ride these days. Can't blame anyone but myself for that though.
The front wheel kit is pretty easy to install. The simplest version (the one that I got) comes with a battery, a controller box, a throttle (no pedal assist here, it's all manual control) and a front wheel that contains the motor, so in theory all you have to do is stick the bits on your bike without any disassembly other than taking the front wheel off. I did run into various difficulties though.
The first surprise was when attempting to put the new wheel onto my fork. It turns out the Surly Long Haul Trucker has some sticky-outy metal bits where the wheel connects with the fork, which is normally fine for almost any wheel because a normal wheel's wheel nuts are usually small enough to fit. But the motorized wheel's nuts were way too big, and I ended having to file large bits of my fork off so the wheel could fit. I'm pretty sure that the bits I filed off were decorative, but I really have no idea how it'll hold up in terms of structural integrity in the long term. The frame was already a write-off anyway since it was bent during a previous plane trip, so it makes for a nice experiment bike.
There were some other issues during mounting: the throttle unit doesn't fully break open, so if you want to put it into your handlebar you have to slide it on. This means having to remove the handlebar tape, brake/gear unit etc. I didn't like the idea of doing that right from the get-go, so I bought a handlebar extender instead, thinking it'd be useful for other purposes as well, like mountaing a smartphone holder and/or light unit. The one I got is way too wide though, and I'm not sure I'd buy it again. The controller unit goes underneath the frame in front of the rear wheel, and I again ran into mounting issues because the clamps provided were just a little bit too wide for my frame, and I ended up having to jury-rig that by wrapping the frame and the unit in tape to prevent the unit from jiggling around too much. It's all very ghetto, but it works.
My little bike shed is pictured below. I remember the days when I used to rent a 'studio' apartment that was a converted garage the size of this..
As you can see the cables are a bit of a mess. There's not really any way around this. I certainly could have tidied them up a bit better, but the way the package is set up is that you'll always end up with a bunch of connectors and wires that need to go somewhere. I can definitely see the value of a bicycle that has everything integrated in the frame.
I did a bunch of rides with it last year and I quite liked it. I hardly noticed the additional weight of the battery pack and wheel motor, probably because my touring bike is pretty heavy to begin with, and so am I. What I definitely did notice is the pull it provides on a hillclimb. The 'throttle' really only has one setting if you're going for the 250W model: on or off. I've cycled hillclimbs with up to a 10-12% gradient with this, and they are a piece of cake, even with a heavy bike and a heavy person on it. 250W is plenty to get up a hill at low speed with only a little human power added. If you're a hardcore cyclist and/or a glutton for punishment I'm sure it's hard to imagine 'cheating' by skipping the uphills, but for someone like me who's not in it for the performance, this is fantastic. Because of where I live I pretty much cannot avoid a 10% hillclimb if I want to go anywhere, and the motor just lets me 'skip' this without too much effort, or alternatively I can keep my speed up by adding my own power.
Before I bought this I did wonder if the front wheel unit would have enough grip when pushing, since the weight will be on the rear wheel, but so far I've not had a single issue. The front wheel motor is plenty grippy for every situation I've encountered.
What I like: it doesn't actually feel much heavier than usual, and I can skip any uphills that I don't want to do so I can preserve my strength to do longer rides.
What I don't like: the cables are an unavoidable mess, and I'm not really sure about the reliability. I did one longer ride last year where the motor kept cutting out on me despite the battery telling me it still had plenty of juice left. I couldn't reproduce that this year with a freshly charged battery, so I suspect it's not a case of faulty wiring or motor issues, but just the battery not being very accurate about its actual level. I need to do more rides to confirm that though. And even if it does fail: "escalators don't break down, they just turn into stairs". It's the same for an electric bike.
I still love cycling.