Petrol Powered Bikes… They may actually be good!
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 11 July 2014
Most cyclists I know object to petrol powered bikes, but what is life like on the other side? I asked an Australian petrol powered bike manufacturer why he got into this business, “There are not many days when I’m not on the road. For me, at first, an e-bike was far too expensive and the range was restricted to about 30km. By comparison, the petrol bike is half to a third the price and they can do up to 150km on one tank of fuel.” This was my introduction to Bruce Salmon, who has been riding, selling, and repairing petrol powered bikes for over six years and is a well known figure in the Hobart cycling community.
I was communicating with Bruce because an opinion piece I wrote on petrol powered bikes has become one of our most popular articles on Bicycles Network Australia (BNA). Bruce has posted frequent comments in this heavily discussed topic, and he caught my eye with his reasoned and knowledgeable responses to other people’s comments. I contacted Bruce and asked him if he’d be interested in having a chat on the topic and he readily agreed. In this Q & A with Bruce, he actually makes them sound quite good.
BNA: What type of people buy petrol powered bikes from you?
Bruce: Most people who buy my bikes love to ride but can’t pedal anymore. That’s people who are disabled in some way; asthma sufferers, people with arthritis, people who have had knee surgery, even an amputee. I also get a lot of people who have lost their drivers license, or just want cheap transport to and from work.
A 250 watt e-bike built by Bruce
BNA: If I wanted to buy a petrol powered bike from you, what would I need to do? Do you sell complete bikes, or do I bring my own to you? What’s the process?
Bruce: If you wanted to buy a bike, I always recommend you come and have a test ride first. If the petrol is not suitable, an e-bike would be. Quite a few people bring their own bike for a conversion, which works out a bit cheaper. I haven’t freighted a complete bike, but I have posted a few DIY kits along with some safety tips and parts. All you have to do is give me a call for a quote or e-mail me. (See end of article for Bruce’s contact details).
BNA: Where do you get your kits from and do they comply with relevant laws?
Bruce: I imported some e-bike conversion kits from China last year, they are fully compliant with Australian laws. The petrol kits are a lot more powerful there and don’t comply. However, I’ve only heard of one [person] in Tasmania who was charged with riding an unlicensed motor vehicle, but he was being irresponsible (speeding at 4.00am and he’d been drinking, blew .09). I can’t stress enough to people the dangers and consequences of this kind of behavior! [Editor's note: Please check your local laws before purchasing or riding a petrol powered bike or kit]
It’s funny how the petrol ones are tolerated by the authorities, even if they’re non-compliant. In 2000, in Queensland, all motorised bikes were banned from being ridden on public roads and cycle paths; that included compliant e-bikes too. But there are more petrol ones being ridden around up there than ever now. So all a buyer for a petrol kit for road use has to do is ask the local authorities in their town.
I am always looking for the best quality kits and the best I have ever found I get from an online store in Melbourne.
A petrol powered Fluid Mars beach cruiser
BNA: So what is the difference between a well built petrol powered bike and a poorly built one? If I want to get one for myself, what should I be looking for?
Bruce: The most important things are to make sure the brakes are properly adjusted and work well. The RHS (right hand side) brake lever should pull the rear brake, or better still have a dual brake lever. Wheels should be running true and freely and bearings correctly adjusted. Good quality tyres, preferably something like an all-weather road tyre. Headset bearings properly adjusted, most people have them too tight making the bike wander and hard to ride straight. Look for a tidy looking fit, all cables neat and tidy, chain not loose and not too tight .
A well built bike should look like the engine kit was factory fitted. Any build that looks a bit rough around the edges is most likely unreliable and unsafe. Avoid buying second hand, the only good second hand bike I have ever seen was one of mine. That’s the truth, I’ m not just blowing my own trumpet here.
BNA: You’ve touched on safety in your replies. How safe are these bikes for the riders and for others (other riders, pedestrians, etc.)? Do you have safety features like engine cut-out while braking or speed limiters (pedal assist) like many e-bikes do?
Bruce: There isn’t a speed limiter for them on the market, but I can put a restrictor in the manifold which will limit the speed without affecting low RPM operation. As for the safety, they are as safe as any bicycle. Safe riding is entirely up to the rider and the police are right onto speeding. People have been pinged before. However, a bike with no engine can be ridden at high speeds with no problems.
A humble, budget “K-mart” bike with alloy wheels and brake upgrade
BNA: There are lots of differing laws governing petrol powered bikes which I won’t go into here because I don’t want to give incorrect advice, but I am interested in what an advocate like yourself would like to see. What do you think would be sensible and safe legislation that would allow petrol powered bikes to find their role as a transport solution?[Editor's note, again: Please check your local laws before purchasing or riding a petrol powered bike or kit].
Bruce: I really don’t want to get into this highly controversial subject. We’ve been very lucky for a long time, but realistically there must be regulation and it will be enforced at some stage in the future.
200 watts is not practical. By the time you take the extra weight and the speed limitation in to account, a light weight city touring bike is faster, easier to ride and cheaper than a 200 watt e-bike. If you do the sums (amps x volts = watts) you would find that all e-bikes are well over this possible misprint in our legislation of 200 watts. [Editor's note - Most Australian states have passed the EN-15194 legislation which regulates E-Bikes to the European standard with 250 Watts. In Tasmania the Vehicle and Traffic Amendment (Power Assisted Pedal Cycles) Bill 2013 passed the House of Assembly in November 2014, but was not passed into law after it lapsed when Parliament prorogued and it needs to be reintroduced. Until then, in Tasmania, e-bikes are limited to 200 Watts.]
Personally, I would like to see no power restriction, but stay with the 50cc or under rule (which is in our legislation already) and the bikes must be fitted with a genuine purpose built bicycle engine kit with no modification allowed. Also, go back to the 30kph speed limit instead of 25kph, or maybe keep the 25 kph for city limits only. With under 50cc, most bikes will only do about 45kph which is a fast average speed of a light weight racing bicycle (with no power assist at all), and for e-bikes, a 500watt limit, the same as the US legislation.
Bruce ask me whether I, as a cyclist would agree. This leaves me with the last word…
BNA: I’m a big advocate of electric bikes, having reviewed several for BNA, but I’m not a fan of the backyard petrol powered ones since the ones I’ve seen have been dodgy franken-bikes. Their numbers don’t appear to be decreasing, however, and I was always taught that if people are wearing down a track trough the grass, you should think about building a path there rather than a fence. The more people we get on bikes the better it is for everyone, so I’d like to see sensible regulation that would make petrol powered bikes safe and available.
What do you think?
You can continue the discussion in the comments below.
Bruce is located near Hobart, can be contacted via email: [email protected]
Title photo © Derringer Cycles, Content Photos courtest of Bruce Salmon