Hill Topper Electric Bike Kit Review

Original publication / product installation July 2018

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Objective

I have a 5 mile (each way) work commute. Being in my mid-fifties and in pretty good shape I certainly can and have made the ride under my own power. But, there are several spots where the incline can make the ride into a bit more of a workout than I want for every ride.

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And then there are times when I just need to run to the grocery store or Home Depot and I don’t necessarily want a heavy workout. I can already feel that there will be days when I opt-out of biking simply because I don’t want to work quite that hard. Some electrical/motorized assistance would be nice.

Assist Options Considered

  • Full-fledged E-bike: No for two reasons: 1) The least expensive e-bike I would consider is the $1500 (Update $1700) RadCity (Maybe ride1up?) and I don’t want to shell out that much. 2) While I am physically able, I still want the exercise of “real biking”, and If I had all the power of a full-fledged E-bike I’d likely end up using it.

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  • Full power 500W rear wheel conversion of my existing bike: No for four reasons: 1) Complication factor (pedal assist and brake sensors) - I’m not a bike mechanic. 2) By the time I did the conversion, the cost of a bike plus the conversion kit approaches the cost of a full-fledged E-bike. 3) Once converted it would look like a Franken-bike with a Medusa of wires zip-tied all over it. 4) With that power, I’d never pedal.

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  • Front wheel Hill Topper Electric Bike Kit: Yes for 5 reasons: 1) Only $499 ($535 delivered). 2) Easy install on existing bike. 3) Only adds about 10 lbs to my bike. 4) No pedal sensor or brake sensors to complicate the install. 5) Hopefully gets me just the hill assist I need.

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Order Process

I pulled the trigger and placed my order.

Order Specifics: In June of 2018 I ordered the Hill Topper Sprinter for $499 directly from Ukko/Clean Republic. This is the lowest power unit they offer. It is a 250W brushless hub motor paired with a 24v battery with a claimed 12 mile range, and a single speed button throttle. About as basic a unit as you can get.

Ordering: I placed an online order at 11AM and received shipping confirmation by 4PM on the same day - pretty impressive. (and I did not use the “push me to the top of the shipping list” extra cost option.)

Shipping: Shipped via UPS from Seattle to Redmond WA same day but per UPS tracking “Due to operating conditions, your package may be delayed”. The package stalled in Redmond for 4 full days (go figure). So it took 10 days from West coast to East coast. The box showed some slight corner crushing but contents appeared to be just fine.

Installation

I installed the Hill Topper on my Trek Shift 2. A stock bike, onto which I previously added a rear rack, fenders, pannier and lights. It took me about 15 minutes to get the Hill Topper kit working. Getting cables attached somewhat to my satisfaction in a way that felt safe to ride (brakes checked and cables not going to get tangled up in anything) was another 15 minutes.

Wheel: I had measured the fork and drop-outs for clearance based on my research and felt confident all would fit (You need 4" between inside of forks and 7/16" or 11mm wide dropouts). I had heard stories of needing to slightly file the drop-outs. Upon install, no issues whatsoever. The wheel fit like a glove with no modifications required. Side note: I replaced the supplied tire and tube with the tire and tube from my existing wheel.

The wheel is not 100% true but my existing one probably wasn't either. This necessitated a bit of adjustment of the front brake.

Torque arms. Even though I think (but am not sure) that my forks are alloy(?), I didn't add a torque arm. Reasons. 1) I only have a 250W motor, the lowest power option available. 2) I only kick in the motor once I have gotten the bike moving via pedal power. Stated another way, I don't launch from a dead stop using the motor only. This should reduce the torque transferred to the fork. 3) I'm a loner Dottie. A rebel. 

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Battery: Since I have fairly large panniers and the 12-mile battery I ordered is the smallest offered, (only 3 lbs.) I planned to store the battery in one of the panniers. At work, I would disconnect the battery and carry my panniers (including battery) into the office as I normally do.

Complaint? I have to unplug the battery to take my panniers and battery into the office. While I like that the connection between the battery and the cables is a very strong and durable connection, the pins are hard to align when reconnecting, especially when it is down in the panniers. A somewhat unique situation with my set-up.  

 The battery pack (and controller) in the provided bag, which is in turn placed inside my pannier. You can see the cables for the wheel and throttle exiting the pannier.

The battery pack (and controller) in the provided bag, which is in turn placed inside my pannier. You can see the cables for the wheel and throttle exiting the pannier.

UPDATE: Battery Placement (Sept 4, 2018)The configuration above worked well enough but several small annoyances pushed me to attempt another storage solution.

  • Lugging the entire unit along with whatever else is in panniers in and out of the office.

  • Disconnect and reconnect at least two times a day. If I decided to ride to lunch, I have bring panniers back down, reconnect etc.

  • Occasionally the on/off switch would get bumped to the off position during a ride.

  • Loss of space in panniers.

I'd seen battery packs and rear racks custom designed to hold a battery and thought "Hmmm. Maybe I can MacGyver something together". If you're a "visual learner"click through the gallery below. A few extra details follow the gallery.

Battery project info: I only resorted to disconnecting the components because I couldn't find a low profile box to fit the OEM assembled size. The box used is an Mmf Steelmaster Cash Box With Lock (Link) 2.9" Height x 10.3" Width x 4.4" Depth. On/Off switch was originally mounted to a shaped piece of aluminum and double-stick-taped to the battery.

I'll begin commuting with new set up soon. And yes, I am now leaving the entire kit outside with my bike but A) Work commuting is 95% of my bike use, B) bike parking is literally at the front door and protected from the elements and C) I'd rate building security as level A - so all in all I'm comfortable. While out and about elsewhere, I assume most people won't have any idea what that box is with wires going into it and for those that do it would be a pretty messy/destructive smash and grab.

Throttle button: That button is as basic/home-grown as you can get. It works, so there’s that. Attachment to the handlebars / grip is still a work in progress to get it stable and in the correct location. I currently have it attached to the metal part of the handlebar and it slides around. With grip shifters, attaching it to the rubber grips - where it should stay put - is problematic. I'll update once I settle on a permanent placement.

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Cable management: By placing the battery in my pannier and meticulously managing the cable placement I hoped to keep the bike looking as non-electric as possible. Because I knew this would be a trial-and-error process I opted to initially manage the wires with velcro wraps versus zip ties - this was a very good decision since I rerouted the cables numerous times - and will likely reroute again. I'll eventually zip-tie them in place once I have lived with them for a while.

Below is a short video closeup showing the installed components on my bike.

Complaints?: Since the throttle button will always be mounted on the handlebars, within three feet of the connection to the hub, why not have the throttle cable branch off just above the quick-release for the front hub. As it is set up now, with the power AND throttle cable originating at the battery, I have to run two cables across my bike. An aesthetic issue, but still.

Installation Summary: Installation is as easy as they claim. 

Performance

Does the Hill Topper E-Bike Conversion Kit Deliver?

(Note: I am male, 6’0”, 190 lbs., Bike is a Trek Shift 2)

Hills: As the name implies, the Hill Topper is designed to provide assistance getting you up and over hills. That is exactly what it does and exactly what I wanted. I still have to pedal on those hills that used to ruin my ride, but if I kick in the Hill Topper, my effort (previously at a level of 10/10 for example) is now at 5/10. A long slow grind in a lower gear becomes a quick and relatively easy push in a higher gear. So there is a double benefit 1) Pedaling is easier and 2) Because pedaling is easier you can ride in a higher gear which translates to covering that ground faster. 

Update: Based on a couple of my 5 mile return commutes with the Hill Topper, initial results show my average speed went up by about 1.5-2.0 mph (10.5-12.5). I wasn't looking to make the trip quicker but it just does. The beauty is that while my speed has increased, I feel like I expended 40% of the effort I had to before I installed the Hill Topper.

One section of my commute, (AT 2:04 - 2:30) in below linked video) there is grassy shoulder which is a gradual but long incline. Pre-Hill Topper it was slower due to being on grass versus pavement and it was just a long moderate pace grind. With the Hill Topper (and moderate pedaling) I had to back off the Hill Topper assist because the speed achieved made the off-road ride too rough.

Pre-Hill Topper, another hill (AT 3:35 - 4:00) in below linked video) was a tough grind in 1st gear but with the Hill-Topper assisting I can use 9th gear (pedaling significantly) and I get up it in a third the time. I believe these are the areas where I get the increase in average speed.

While the route tracked in the below graph is not the same route as my commute graph, this is an 8 mile ride with moderate hills. Take note of the fact that regardless of the elevation change, my speed stays at a comfortable and relatively brisk pace. I think this graph really tells the story of what A Hill Topper delivers.

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Also notice the lack of extreme spikes and valleys in speed (compared to the chart at the beginning of this review). I no longer feel the need to get my bike to absolute top speed going down every hill in order to minimize effort going back up. Knowing I have some assist available makes the ride much more pleasurable. 

LINK: My Return Commute Video (compressed at 4X speed): 

The Hill Topper will not pull you up and over a hill of any consequence without you pedaling.

Level Ground: You can, not pedal, and it will move you along just fine at (I’m guessing) 15-ish mph. How far will the battery carry you like this? I don’t know; they claim 12 miles (180 lb. rider, flat ground, no wind, all throttle, no pedaling). 

Notes: 1) There is no way to lock the throttle button “on” so you will have to apply thumb pressure the entire time you want to engage the electric motor. This shouldn't be an issue if you are just using it for hill assist. 2) If you hit the power button at any speed below 15mph or so you will feel a big difference and pedaling will be significantly easier

Ride performance: UPS shipping weight of the entire kit in the box was 16 lbs. Battery is 2.4 lbs. Full motored wheel and tire weighs 8.5 lbs. If I subtract the weight of my existing wheel (approx 2 lbs). I end up with additional front wheel weight of 6.5 lbs.

(Additional front wheel weight 6.5 lbs) + (Battery 2.4 lbs) = an additional 8.9 lbs.
Throw in the cable and you are still under 10 lbs. additional weight.  

I don't notice any appreciable difference in ride performance with the kit installed versus before the installation. Sure, I'm carrying 10 more lbs. but the energy output/pedal assist makes up for that many times over. 

Nov 2018 Update: One thing to be aware of is that this kit is full-on or full-off (no variable speed). What this means in practical use is that there is no low speed leisurely pedaling with assist. When you press the power button, your bike is going to attempt to go 20 mph. The only way you’ll get that granular control would be with a cadence sensor (or torque sensor if you’re really fancy) offering variable levels of assist. I bought it to top hills so it is perfect for that - but wanted to add this info to the review.

Summary (TLDR)

Installation of the Hill Topper Electric Bike Kit is a breeze assuming you have 4” between forks and 11mm (7/16”) width drop outs. The Hill Topper provides a lot of assistance (you will need to pedal) getting you up and over hills and will move you along nicely without pedaling on level ground. If you want to make pedaling easier, get a Hill Topper; if you want to effortlessly zoom around town with little/no pedaling you'll need a more powerful kit or full fledged e-bike.


Shameless Plug

If you buy a Hilltopper use code: scottjones at checkout and or visit:
http://www.electric-bike-kit.com/index.aspx?dc=scottjones

You save a little, I make a little.