Chimera”... Antique style E bike build, circa 1915...why and how


100 W
May 14, 2016
Ever since I got interested in E-bikes, more than five years ago now, I've wanted one that captured the look and feel of a very early “motor-bicycle” from the period when motorcycles were still just bicycles with a motor grafted on...roughly 1900-1915. Those rigs had functional pedals, and most were light weight enough that the rider could add a useful amount of power on hills (and often needed to ) Around 1920 they got big, heavy and complex enough (in general) that a bike frame wouldn't work as a base. I think those older bikes look wonderful, mechanically and visually fascinating. Looking around, for months, I found about a dozen “retro” style E-bikes, but none of them quite worked for thing or another was “off”...usually a big empty space where the motor should be (or a funky looking triangular battery case stuffed in there ) Sometimes the price was shocking.

A note here...I'm sixty-seven, so this project needed to move along fairly quickly, and I have no interest in building a frame from scratch, or building battery packs, so most of the components needed to be readily available “off the shelf ". I'm also not interested in doing yet another board track replica....that's been done to death, and my back and neck wont allow that riding position. So, I needed to focus on the style of motor-bike that my 1918 edition of “Motorcycles, Side Cars and Cycle Cars” calls a “sporting lightweight”...not as extreme as the board track replicas the ”scorchers” rode back in the day,but not a heavy touring model either. Since this was still a period with a great deal of experimentation (and some very odd solutions )almost anything I did would have a precedent that I could point to as “authentic”.

Very soon I had to make tough choices.Most of those very early bikes had no front brakes, and that wasn't going to work on today's roads, or with my sense of self preservation, so...drum brake? (sorta looks right, not many choices off the shelf) or disk? (real stopping power and lots of choices) Mid-drive and a three speed hub with a drum in back? Or just a hub motor like so many of the vintage style e bikes (Michael Blast Greaser,Derringer, Cheeta, Vintage Electric, etc...) I discarded the big direct drive hub motor early just screams “powerful E bike”too loudly for my purposes, I wanted be able to peddle this critter on bike trails without collecting negative comments, we've got a local “rails to trials “ system that's outstanding. An eight inch hub motor would also look out of place on the otherwise spindly looking bike I was hoping for. Phantom did a “1910” model several years ago, that had the look I wanted, but they are long out of production ( If anyone reading this has one of those that you want to sell, please contact me! )

I picked up a used Phantom Vision, and after riding it awhile, I liked the mid drive with a three speed, but hated the marginal front drum brake (even after higher leverage levers and low compression cable housing ) I did like the Monarch style springer fork (after some careful adjustment and low friction pivot washers) but the three inch semi fat tires seemed to hurt acceleration and top speed. Possibly even braking.

Many of the lightweights from my target era used no front suspension at all, but I knew I wouldn't like that., the roads here are aren't great. Building a reliable period style rear suspension was out of the question, but a suspension seat post and sprung saddle (an authentic solution) worked pretty well on another project bike I'd done, so I decided to go with that.

I was ready to pull the trigger on a drop loop frame from Sportsman Flyer several times, but painting,mounting an “engine” and batteries, sourcing all the other parts...I held off. It was spotting a Schwinn EC1 cruiser e bike marked down to $498 that revived this project. With a battery enclosure that evokes the tank of a 1916 Excelsior (oddly enough,owned by Schwinn at that time ) and an open frame triangle with a profile much like the “keystone” frame used by several builders of the period ( where the engine was a stressed member in the frame,with no “loop” below it ) this would do for a working prototype.There was a shift taking place at that time from straight or bent top tube towards a curved top tube, as builders tried for a graceful way to lower the seat height, and I prefer the curved top tube frames. I decided that I wasn't ever going to be able to build something like Kosynier or Sportsman Electric ( that only reveal themselves as new under fairly close examination ) so I settled on “double take”...out of the corner of your eye, you might think it was an authentic antique, but even a casual once over of the bike parked would reveal the modern parts. It was seeing a picture of a Juiced Bikes Hyper Scrambler, with two big batteries arranged in a V, that convinced me that the bike only needed to hint at “V-twin” to get the idea across. If I just tried to evoke “antique motorcycle”, without trying to look “real”, details like disk brakes, motor displays and thumb throttles wouldn't seem so out of place. At least, if I kept them small.

After pulling the EC1 out of the box,and assembling for QC, the rigid fork was swapped for a Sunlite Deluxe Monarch style, tuned, and a BB7caliper from my parts box bolted on. A swept cruiser bar, mounted to a retro style long stem, also from my parts stash, gave me a grip height about an inch above the saddle, and reverse levers (which required taper reaming the handlebar ends to install) ticked off a couple more “looks old”boxes. I considered leather grips ( wrapped, or laced covers) but so far as I can tell that was never done on the road bikes of the period, only on some board track racers. Street bikes used rubber ( or sometimes wood ) grips, so when I found some “wood grain “ foam grips that not only feel good, but look vintage, I went that route. .They were too light colored for my taste, and I worried they'd collect grime and look bad , so I used a combination of brown shoe dye and brown shoe polish to darken them, topped by rubbing a beeswax candle over them and buffing that in. I got a worn, polished wood look that I hope will make any collected grime easy to remove. I ordered a copper thumb bell, and a brass bulb horn, and I'm putting together a copper drum headlight from bits in my“ antique bike” stash . I went with the look of an early remote reservoir carbide headlight. Those were available in 1915, and were a huge step up in lighting compared to the oil lamps bikes had used previously (candle lanterns before that! ) I did streamline the headlight eyebrow, or vent penthouse, or or red/green side warning lights. Simplified and re-routed wiring finished off the front end antique details. I swapped in heavy duty puncture resistant tubes to help avoid flats, and add a little weight near the tread to make the bike more stable at speed

An Ebay “vintage” leather sprung saddle and BMX suspension seat post got the seat looking right, and fairly comfy. The center stand is anachronistic, but not as much as a bike side stand would have been. An authentic “stirrup “ center stand mounted at the rear axle, and retained by a fender clip when up, just seemed like too much work to be worthwhile.

The seven speed gearing, with a “rapidfire” dual trigger shifter was not going to work. I hate derailleurs, and the shifter was butt ugly. Currently I'm running aTZ mid drive, torque sensor only, interfaced through a SW102 mini display, plus the original 250W rear hub motor with a single speed nineteen tooth freewheel sprocket, on the original throttle and controller setup,. This hub motor has steel threads for the freewheel, so I think that running another 500w through it will be ok.

The batteries that hint at ”V-twin”are just a cheap “bottle” batteries, mounted as tidily as I could manage with Ebay clamps and adapters. That took several hours of fiddling, mostly to ensure access to the charge point on the front battery, , under a cap on the top. The “dual drive” ...hub motor plus mid drive... setup was inspired by what Tesla does on some of their motor geared for top end, one for acceleration, both available at will. I plan to gear the mid drive to let me pedal at a comfortable cadence at 20mph or so, PAS only, and use the hub motor on the throttle for extra acceleration and hill climb assist.. Maybe to bump the top speed in sections of road with fast traffic. I had to remove the factory cadence sensor to mount the mid drive, but that's fine, the TZ mid drive has a torque sensor. The front “cylinder”serves as a reserve for the mid drive. If I drain the other two, I can flip a DPDT switch and probably get home assisted if I keep the PAS level low. Altogether, I have something around 25 a/h nominal capacity on board. (there are no specs on the factory battery other than 36V and “up to 45 miles range”)

There are some advantages to the“V-twin” battery arrangement beyond looks. The batteries are better cooled than in a massive single pack, and mounted lower than in a “tank, for more agile handling These bottle batteries have aluminum housings, which helps. cooling compared to a plastic covered frame pack, or tank. The factory pack only takes up about a third of the enclosure...the rest is air space, wiring collection,and a small controller. Schwinn could have made the tank an inch less tall without would have looked better, and made fitting the batteries a ton easier. I briefly considered sectioning the tank...but only briefly. If I keep this, I may hammer form a copper tank in a smaller size. I'm also considering moving the thumb throttle to inside the tank, with a vintage looking shifter lever on the handle bar to actuate it, via cable.

This is when I realized that the vertical dropout (uncommon on cruiser frames) required a chain tensioner, so I cobbled one of those up from my parts stash. A pair of vintage aluminum rat trap pedals, and a vintage bike chain guard, (cleaned up and repainted , with a bronze pinstripe ) added a couple vintage touches, copper clad PC board stock ( the thinnest I could find) made good tank side panel appliques. Several of the old bikes from the period had copper tanks, so I wanted to hint at that, and the lighter colored inner panel makes the “tank”look a little less bulky, while also helping to set off the name ( custom vinyl lettering purchased online )

Fenders will probably stay on, though I'll never ride this in the rain. I put the rear rack back on (replacing the black fasteners with polished stainless steel for a hint of bling ) topped with a set of Ebay vintage style leather saddle bags. I plan to do an occasional sunny day “beer and chips” grocery run on this thing, so I'm tying to find a good middle ground between stripped down and reasonably tourer from a century ago may just strike the balance. The bags could hold the chargers and a power strip, if I want to try for a full day's ride, and know of an accessible charge point. Honestly, if I'm feeling like long distance exploring, I'll probably take a bike with more range and speed, that can charge from EV stations, like the Voodoo that will share living space with the Chimera.

I'm pleased with the articulated front fender ( needed because the fender stay mounts and fender top bracket move relative to one another as the fork absorbs bumps) Nylon or rubber bushings at all the pivot points should prevent rattles.

Performance ( and how many comments it collects when out in public) will determine whether this stays here and evolves, or gets the unique stuff pulled off and moves on. With about 1200w peak, I think it will be quick and fast enough to be fun...we'll find out. The Vision is only 750w nominal, and this is lighter, with much lighter wheels and tires, so I'm hopeful.

The name? “Chimera” was a mythical Greek monster composed of goat, snake and lion parts. In modern usage the word implies ...“ a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory “... and synonyms include “illusion,”“fantasy,” and “dream.”

In genetic engineering, a “chimera”is... “an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues”

Besides all that, the word has the flavor of many of the names used by Victorian era motor-cycle builders, characters from myth and legend... Thor, Mars, Ariel,Titan, Hercules, Sprite... and now “Chimera”.
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Here's what it looks like, five weeks into the build, almost ready for its first shakedown run. A few more details left...the display extension cable and mounting the main power switch, tidy everything up, mount the horn and bell...


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as a fellow old dude, I totally approve.

I was looking at your controller, it occurs to me if you get a roller tube handle-bar mounted tool bag, it could be modded to hide the very anachronistic display in the front...

Realising I am referencing something from my military days, I should probably go look that unit up.

Nice quality, looks too... 60's biker

Better, not quit the look.

Oooooh, now we are talking, I did not realise they made gear out of unicorn tears and angel farts.. that price.

Selection that are "in the look" Please do keep updating, I want to see where ya go with this
I was thinking some sort of tool bag on the handle bar center could let me tuck the displays away. My biggest concern with that is how I tend to adjust PAS levels often...several times per ride at least, sometimes every few minutes. It might be that with torque sensing I won't need do that, I've never done a bike with better than cadence sensing before. If the bag opened way up, easily, and the cover flap would flip up and stay out of the way, it might work ok.

Cost shouldn't be bad.. the people who did the saddle bags ($75 for the pair) do tool bags as well, at a pretty reasonable cost. (though not super high grade leather)

I'll take a look at your links, thanks.
It would not be hard to get a matching bit of material and make the back half (portion facing you) of a tool bag/tool roll a fake plate that allows you to tuck in your screen, and then it would even look legit, let us know which way ya go, I am curious to see how this turns out.
It would not be hard to get a matching bit of material and make the back half (portion facing you) of a tool bag/tool roll a fake plate that allows you to tuck in your screen, and then it would even look legit, let us know which way ya go, I am curious to see how this turns out.
I found a cheap little leather tool pouch that looks like it will cover the displays from the front angles. It's flat and rectangular, and hangs fairly high. I'll go with that unless the displays still stick out after I find a way to disappear the thumb throttle. Still waiting on the bell and horn, and display pigtail extension.
Update: Weather has been nasty here, but I got the bike out for a few miles. I'll have to tweak the gearing, I spin out at about twenty MPH, and the sprung seat post probably needs to get swapped for a dropper post, my good pedaling height is much higher than comfy cruising seat height. Shorter cranks, too, if I can find some. I'll probably swap the battery feeds to drive the hub motor, with the small battery driving the Tongsheng mid drive, since even a short trip made it clear that I'll be using the throttle most.

The leather tool roll is doing a pretty good job of obscuring the displays, at this point the cosmetics are mostly a matter of replacing the thumb throttle with something retro hooked to a throttle hidden in the tank. Maybe some fins on the batteries

Acceleration is adequate, zero to twenty mph in about four seconds if I max the PAS, pedal hard (seated ) and floor the throttle.
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