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Short review: Falco e-motor (mid 2012)

We try pre-production samples of the much-anticipated Falco e-motor system: does it have the potential to be a winner? Read the review in full.

Posted by Peter Eland on Thursday 6 Sep 2012

This review appeared in Electric Bike magazine Issue 5. You can download it as a high resolution PDF. Or click the viewer below to read the review with the original print layout - or scroll down for the full text and images online!

Short review: Falco e-motor

Falco review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine

We review pre-production samples of the much-anticipated Falco e-motor system: does it have the potential to be a winner?

The Falco drive system has been under development for some years by an international consortium including, for the UK, electric bike and handcycle company Team Hybrid, who are also handling European distribution. In anticipation of the system's imminent commercial launch they kindly brought two bikes fitted with pre-production Falco systems to York, where I and fellow journalist Richard Peace had the opportunity to try them out. Sadly the day of our test ride dawned with torrential rain, and with just a few short breaks this continued for much of the day.

The system consists of motor (can be front or rear, with or without disk brake mounts), 36V, 9Ah battery pack (carrier mounted) and a removable control console which communicates wirelessly with the other two main components. There's also a control unit within easy reach of your left hand. All of these were fitted for our test ride to two Montague folding mountain bikes.

One of the attractive aspects of the Falco system is that it minimises complication: wireless communication means that there's no need for cables to run between the handlebars and the rear of the bike. This does mean that the handlebar controls need their own battery, and of course a single power cable is still needed between battery and motor. The motor, incidentally, claims extra smoothness and efficiency from its apparently unique 'five phase' design, while the battery boasts a sophisticated management and protection system, plus a 'fast charge' capability (under three hours).

The original idea was that all of the necessary sensors would be built into the rear wheel: a strain gauge on the rear axle would detect when the rider was pedalling (from chain tension) and speed could be deduced from the wheel's rotation. This would allow a torque-sensor type drive (it measures your effort and adds to it) as well as the more usual rotation sensing type (drive kicks in at your chosen level once the system knows you are pedalling).

Sadly, technical difficulties with the torque sensing system meant that our bikes had been equipped with separate pedal rotation sensors on the cranks, and they could only operate in that mode. Power would kick in after around one stroke of the pedals.

As we go to press, however, we've just heard that the first full torque sensor-equipped units have been delivered to Team Hybrid.

The control console on the handlebars offers an excellent (backlight-equipped) display of all of the usual ride parameters such as speed and battery status, and there are also plenty of configuration options, more than we have space to describe here.

Falco review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine
The display console is waterproof and removable, and the large LCD display shows ride information clearly. As the unit is connected wirelessly to the motor no cabling is needed along the bike frame.

Power assist can be set to no fewer than nine 'assist' levels and also nine 'fitness' modes in which the motor acts as a generator and brake: you'd have to be seriously masochistic to pedal around like this in my view, but each to their own! The resistance available is impressive - I needed a low gear to pedal against it. This'll also be activated as a 'security mode' if anyone attempts to ride the bike without the console.

Power levels are impressive: at the highest level the bike would scoot forward smoothly and in near silence. The same motor can be used at higher power levels too, say Falco - it's regulated electronically to comply with the EU regulations.

Falco review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine
The motor can be configured for front or rear wheel use, with or without disk brakes.

Hill-climbing is a particular challenge for direct drive motors, but it coped well with the best slopes we could find (on the York university campus). Only on a 'torture test', with me pedalling as little as possible and with the bike moving very slowly on a steep section did I get it to falter: the motor cut out and couldn't be restarted. Shortly after, the same thing happened to the second bike.

Later investigation by Team Hybrid showed that fuses in both battery packs had blown. Subsequent changes to the battery management software should ensure that this won't occur in the production product: in such situations the control system should limit the current draw. In any case, no diagnosis could be made in the pouring rain so we cut the test short and retired indoors.

There are some very promising aspects to the Falco system; perhaps the wireless control console is the feature that most sets it apart from other drives. I was also most impressed by the regenerative braking: the resistance level available seems higher than any I've tried to date, certainly sufficient, if combined with a suitable brake lever control, to handle a good proportion of typical braking as you ride. Some sort of instantaneous control would be better for this than tapping on the console buttons.

The much-vaunted five-phase motor did seem to do the job, but it's beyond my legs to make any sort of judgement as to whether its claims of extra efficiency or smoothness are justified.

Falco review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine
Production casings will have a smarter finish than the bare metal of these prototypes, and will also incorporate the torque sensor function.

It was disappointing that the pre-production motors we tried didn't have the torque sensing functionality: I'd love to try the new units with it in place. At that point it'll be the long-awaited first (I'm fairly sure) system that could work either as a 'rotation sensor' or 'torque sensor' drive as the user prefers.

I'm not all that concerned about the glitches we encountered in our tests - that's the nature of preproduction samples. By the time you read this several month's worth of further development and testing should have sorted all such snags out.

Indeed, as we go to press Team Hybrid have confirmed that production units will be on sale shortly, with prices for full kits starting at around £1150.

That's very competitive compared to other sophisticated direct drive systems such as BionX. Motor and console will also, they say, be available for purchase separately, and they can then used with suitable third party battery packs.

We'll try to get hold of the finished item for a more definitive (and less wet) test soon! Bikes with the system fitted as original equipment will likely be available for 2013.

Peter Eland

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Posted by Robint on Monday 26 Nov 2012
You didnt discuss the all important batteries or how the power to the motor is controlled. It looks like you just had a twist and go model and no speed control only your brakes?


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