Makes It Easier
An electric motor linked to existing bicycle gears turns
any bike into a sell-your-car-already vehicle.
By Rick Polito
TODD FAHRNER DOESN’T WANT TO MAKE IT
easy for you. But he does want to make it easier.
A bike-centric, car-less existence has always been
possible for strong people with strong feelings, but
with Fahrner’s Stokemonkey kit, it gets easier. With
an electric motor linked to existing gears and an
Xtracycle hitchless trailer to extend the wheelbase
and cargo space, the Stokemonkey scenario turns
any bike into a sell-your-car-already electric vehicle.
A committed bike commuter and car-free thinker,
Fahrner knew his human-powered bikes could
do anything a car could do, and better, but with
parenthood making the hills that much steeper,
he needed a little help. He already owned an Xtracycle-equipped bike. The hitchless trailer concept
transforms commuter bikes into cargo bikes, but they
aren’t designed for parents living in San Francisco.
“The cargo capacity was great, but we couldn’t
really make full use of it in on human power alone,
not in those hills with these knees as we approached
40,” says Fahrner, who now co-owns Clever Cycles
out of Portland, Ore.
So he took the Frankenstein approach to the best
electric bike he could find, grafted on some extra
gear range, and rode it into the ground for 5,000
miles. What arose from the scatter of bike parts
was the first true Stokemonkey.
THE POWER OF THE TRANSMISSION
The secret of the Stokemonkey is the transmission. Many electric bikes utilize in-hub motors;
some even have rollers applying power to the tire.
Fahrner’s design mounts an electric motor and
36-volt battery pack onto the Xtracycle-configured
bike. The motor is connected by a chain drive to
82 Make: Volume 11
an extra chainwheel on the left side of the bottom
bracket, boosting leg power and allowing cyclists to
take advantage of a triple crankset’s gear range. As
a result, Stokemonkey owners can pull hundreds of
pounds of passengers and cargo up the steepest
hills, or zip on the flats in high gear.
That gear range gives the Stokemonkey tremendous capabilities. Bill Manewal is a homecare nurse
in San Francisco. At 63, he was looking for a little
oomph to maintain the no-car commute. One ride
with Fahrner was all it took. “He put me on the back
of his [bike] when he was living here in San Francisco
and rode up this really steep hill,” Manewal recalls.
Now a typical day means dozens of miles riding
the hilly neighborhoods to visit patients. Speeds are
upward of 25mph on flats and a good clip up steep
hills, even with cargo. Manewal once delivered an
industrial air cleaner to a client’s home, by bike.
“I ride usually between 25 and 35 miles a day, and
it costs 8 cents to charge it,” Manewal says. “It just
levels out the hills.”
The Stokemonkey kit with the motor, mount,
chain, crankset, charger, throttle, and battery costs
$1,350. The owner will need an Xtracycle-equipped
bike. Xtracycle kits start at $244 and can be bolted
onto any bike. You’re not shopping for a featherweight racer here. A beater will do, but disc brakes
are a good add-on. A clever parts hound could roll
down the driveway for under $2,500, a lot less
than even the crankiest secondhand car.
Fahrner says pre-installed, street legal Stokemonkey bikes are coming soon, but for now you
have to do it yourself. He describes the required
mechanical aptitude as “not much,” but a Stokemonkey builder should be comfortable with basic
Photography by Todd Fahrner