Columbia Trike and Hilltopper 250 Watt Kit.

Discussion in 'Motorized Trikes' started by slickdude, May 18, 2012.

  1. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    As some of you may know from another thread where I initiated updates it looks like by next week from this posting I should have the project together hopefully. My first impressions buying from Jim Welsh are poor business. While he himself has been supportive and the hilltopper folks too, things were not made clear from the start. I have a Columbia Trike with a 1 inch wide fork 6 inch steering neck. The hilltopper kit is geared toward a fork that is about 100 millimeters wide as my old fork is narrower than that. Newer 24 inch forks have a shorter neck length so it makes it a tough go with probably welding mods to the forks. In addition my kit came without a charger included which was supposed to be. The shipping from Jim Welsh's guys took almost 3 weeks not including the missing charger. I didn't get any major notice on the fork issues. That said, we will be modifying the forks to accept the front powered wheel. It is a brushless 250watt and the cost was over 400 bucks plus the shipping. The batteries are sla 24volt system. I have been told the hub can goto 36volts no issues and lithium as well including higher amps for a longer ride.

    The main reason I chose this setup were a number of factors. Powered new trikes start around 1200 bucks and this was just sitting there so it makes sense to go this investment if we can make it work. Since trikes are fine for speed in a straight line but require a major slowdown for turns, it made sense to forego speed and go more for a slower ride with extended range potential. Thus we forewent the gas engine decision here. This tricycle mainly will be local cruising and most likely ridden at between 10 to 16mph at the most, though turns must be taken greatly slower and any inclined drives too since trikes have a high tip-over factor involved. I could have gone to a 550watt motorized hub but this was overkill for this electrified bike project. I'll begin posting project pics so anyone else doing this to an older tricycle can follow what we did here without all the pitfalls of course. Once it is working, I'll post a youtube for you to all see. Stay tuned as it happens.
    Big Red likes this.

  2. Big Red

    Big Red Active Member

    New Trike Build.

    Good luck bro, Keep us posted.
    Big Red.
  3. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    A Saturday Project of fun!

    Decided today to rework the original forks to try and get the front wheel and motor on this trike. There were two main issues here I had to consider as pointed out by neighbor David who used to own his own bike shop...lucky me, huh. The first was that the axel was too fat for the slot on the forks and the second was the forks were too narrow. In starting this I had the forks and front wheel off the Columbia "American Built" trike already.

    The Hilltopper 250watt kit is more for modern bikes with at least 100mm clearance between the forks and about 11mm width for modern axels.

    As you can see, the forks were just too narrow from the Columbia. So the first issue was to widen the forks. In this case I decided to goto our garage bench where an old vise is mounted. I would place the forks over the vice outside edges and widen the vice which would expand the forks slowly, hopefully with no cracks to the fork Johnies. This was the strategy below as you can see.

    Upon widening the forks, I got them to where they would clear the wheel. It was close but workable so far. Issue two was that the axel was to fat to fit the mount in the forks. So Dremel cutting wheel to the rescue. BTW, I also used a grinding attachment for the Dremel. One of the most handy tools I have.

    Here is the fork. You'll notice it was very minute I only had to remove a very small piece along the black marker line about a 1/16 wide.

    I sat and worked the fork ends for about 30 minutes to get them ground even and as close to a fit as I could get. It wasn't perfect but close enough to work.

    I was able to mount the front wheel and later adjust it after a short time. Here is what it looks like on the original Columbia Forks.

    Next I mounted the battery which comes in a carry bag with Velcro straps to the rear basket and it was a quick job, no hassles here. I routed the plug through the front of the basket to wire it up.

    Note: The battery has an on/off switch which is a nice deal.

    I was disappointed yet amazed how simple the throttle was. They say simplicity is all the rage. In this case I removed the Velcro strap which came with it as it was bulky and ugly and used ties instead. Neat and fast since I have bags of these. The throttle would have been nice with a twist throttle, but instead you get the cheapest red button you can press. It felt like it will break in a short time. Maybe the manufacturer can offer a twist throttle option as an upgrade. By the way they include about 6 or 8 ties of their own for all the wiring, but have an extra bag on hand as there is a requirement for several more to tie down the wiring.

    The throttle is a simple red push button. More on riding thoughts in a bit.

    It seems this went off without a hitch but there were casualties here to consider on this upgrade. First, you can never use the original wheel again once the forks are modified. It is a perm mod and that is what you must decide if you are going to do it.

    Second, the Columbia has a rear brake drum in the rear hub and a front brake. The front brake will not be long enough for the new Hilltopper rim, so it has to be removed...No front brake! Rear only. Is it enough? Read on!

    Front Brake and fender removed.

    Removed the front brake handle too.

    Third there is clearance on the left side of the front rim as you can see here in this shot at night.

    The main problem is the right side clearance. A believe a few extra washers for axle spacing will alleviate my riding impressions coming in a moment, yes I did ride it today. Spacing issues on the right side fork in the photo below. On right turns the wheel and forks rub slightly at speed. Washers are the solution ;)

    Was it work it? I believe with motorized trikes in the neighborhood of $1,200 dollars and up, it was indeed. Here is the finished trike below.

    All Made in America too :D

    My riding impressions. It was dusk and a bit cold out when I got this going. I inflated the front tire to 40 PSI and took it out. Turned on the switch. They had forgotten to ship me my charger so they sent that out and I get it a week from now. So I was hoping they had the batteries all charged up and it turns out they did.

    I have to tell all of you I was skeptical on speed because this trike weighs a lot and I have a few pounds too :eek: So I turned the battery on, hopped on it and hit the red button. It moved me across the front lawn with some struggle. Got to the fence, drove past that onto the driveway and then in the street. Then I hit the red button and the ****ed thing took off. I estimate it was around 15 maybe 18 mph. This was mind you on a known slight incline. I was quite impressed by this. Of course on the turns you must slow way down as the trike will tip on you. It was never intended to corner at speed. I found that while turning left it seemed fine. But turning right at higher speeds and the hub rubs the fork. Again, a spacer issue I think can be resolved otherwise off comes the wheel and the fork and vise again.

    I must say that for those with an old trike, considering the price of newer motorized ones of any value, this worked and worked well. I don't know the distance but presume as the manufacture suggests it is somewhere around ten miles per charge. That of course varies with factors and is for a new battery. My older Ezip Trailz takes 6 to 8 hours to charge. The charger on this does a fast charge in two to three hours, not bad at all. You can also get an extended battery too and extend the range or the motorized hub will easily handle a Lithium pack with no issues I have been informed. I will update this for fellow members as it continues. Luckily this has given fun and new life to an old trike seldom used by the family. Anyways I hope this proved valuable to others who may consider the project for themselves.
    Last edited: May 19, 2012
  4. Big Red

    Big Red Active Member


    I almost didn't respond couse I don't wanna come off sounding like some kind of know it all A-hole, But I gotta, can't help myself, Guess I'm a know it all A-hole:jester:. I know you've already been through :poop: with the shipper and don't need any more :poop:, but I gotta be me.
    I've bent out forks and rear frames before to accept wider hubs. The thing is, it always bends on one side more than the other and leaves the frame or fork out of "straight". You can run a straight line down from top center to what should be center between the forks at axle slots, then measure the difference between the fork bottoms.
    I won't say "for sure" but I'll bet the forks aren't as straight as you thought. Like I said, in my experience, one side always bends more or easier than the other and then it's not really "straight'.
    Then again, It may not even be enough to make any kind of difference. You might not notice anything in the ride. Just had to be a know it all A-hole and mention it though.
    Big Red
  5. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    The shipper is fixing what they forgot so hopefully it works out in a week or two. Uh, know it alls are always welcomed, because they bring ideas and with ideas solutions can be found. For the most part it works okay, but the right side does slightly rub when initiating a hard right turn. I was thinking maybe of just a small grinder or squish em job at that spot. I realize it probably weakens the fork slightly, but most of the weight is centered towards the back wheels.

    One thing I did notice is that you can unplug the cable system from the wheel hub. I am going to look into it and see if an optional twist throttle system is available. Not sure how well the shipped battery was charged but on a slight uphill I found it maxes out at about 18mph. If the ten mile distance holds up, this could be a great buy. On the straights and a left turn fast or slow no rubbing. A slight grind job maybe with an extra inside washer may do the trick. Otherwise I am super happy on how this worked out. Will have to see if I can find a front brake caliper that has longer arms to it to reach the wheel. The older one was a bit taller and they worked on that. Thanks BR for the input, always welcomed and no, I always welcome discussion in my threads as it remains a fun learning process. By the way, a sting ray with a 550watt lipo4 is my next target maybe by mid to late summer. I have my eyes on stuff right now and also upgrading my ezip with a higher wattage motor and a lip04 for range. :grin5: Lots to do my friend.
  6. Big Red

    Big Red Active Member


    Now ya gotta start building an album for yer pics.:idea:
    Big Red.
  7. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Update on project.

    Removed the wheel and added a thicker spacer washer to it. Then ground a portion where it had been rubbing. I am happy to report that hard right turns no longer cause any rubbing on the trike so it is okay now. Just awaiting the charger they forgot to ship me. I had someone pace me before in a car and I was able on a slight incline going up to hit 18mph on this though the battery is fading now. I am uploading a youtube video including a ride-along up the street. With an extra extended batt pack this is a nice ride at the park and probably well worth the investment. I also noticed that indeed you can unplug near the wheel cord the main wires and probably if they have it available a better twist throttle maybe even a pag addon too. I'll know this week when I chat with them. Hope this helped.
  8. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    The youtube video of the ETrike and an onride is here, enjoy. This project has been nailed :grin5:
  9. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Okay talked to Chris at Clean Republic who makes hilltopper kits as used on this trike. No plans to make a twist throttle at this point or cabling system with a PAS or TAG systems. Just the little red button guys and gals.
  10. Big Red

    Big Red Active Member

    Electric Throttle

    I'm the gas engine guy, but there has to be someone out there that knows about a rheostat or potentiometer type setup. All the cheapo electric scooters have them.
    Big Red.
  11. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    E-Trike fundamentals got some things ironed out and now working. Tested it and the 250 kit moves it on perfectly level terrain at a whopping 19mph. The road near home in the youtube video has a slight northern incline so it is a tad faster at 19mph. My main concern though has in this instance always been the distance. Can it make it to and from Lake Balboa and the Sepulveda sports complex and home again on a single charge? That would certainly entertain the 10 mile sla battery range. So that is my next deal. BTW, I can add a second battery to the basket in back that would extend the range significantly They have a 20 mile range lithium battery. If the prices are decent I may consider that for the ezip as well and forego their currie system. The 450watt brush motor at 130 bucks replacement or more plus a sla batt pack at 149 every 6 months makes currie way too expensive to support. A front hub kit I may consider. There is a 550watt out there and with a lithium setup it might be the way to go instead of the currie. But that's another project redo.
  12. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Tested fully charged battery run on the SLA

    from Hilltopper now that it is charging okay. On the trike it can go about 6 miles before dying. Not the 10 or exaggerated 15 I have heard claims After about two miles the performance starts dropping significantly. Now mind you this is an older Columbia trike, however it is probably similar in weight to my very heavy Ezip Trailz which is quite heavy and that has 26 inch wheels. I get now at 6 months on the Ezip battery about 5 to maybe 6 miles after 6 months charges. So not sure, but the range on the Hilltopper SLA won't get me much more then halfway around the Sepulveda basin which is about 8 to 9 miles round trip. I'
    ll hop in the car and get an exact ride distance so I can better inform here on it. But according to the advertising, I had hoped for much more. BTW, no hills on this run, all flat areas. I pedaled about a 1/3 to 1/2 way back.
  13. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Wow talk about bad luck. My rerar brakes went out and found the right rear wheel was loose. There is a small peg the wheel hub sits against on the axlerod, then tightens down. Anyhow it was a 1/4 inch. Got a steel 3 foot rod at Lowes then cut a couple of inches off of that. Once done, slid that through the axlerod hole and finally replaced the wheel, tightening it with a dab of the red loctite. Working great now. I guess being I am getting a bit over 5 miles on the battery, I'll probably get their lithium for extended range riding. Hopefully this will hold up for a while. Top speed officially at full SLA battery charge is at 19 mph, probably faster on a two-wheeler bike.
  14. Big Red

    Big Red Active Member

    If the range was better I would probably be riding electric too. Most gas bikes are kinda messy and elec. is a LOT more green. But, to get the range on one is way out of my price. BATTERIES and EXTRA BATTERIES is the only solution, and those things aren't cheap.
    Glad ya got the rear wheel problem solved though. Sounds like you got the bike ya want, (almost,) and yer good at taking care of most problems that pop up. And at 19mph yer REAL close to the top speed allowed on an electric. I say, GOOD JOB.
    Big Red.
  15. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Thanks BR, it rides good now. The battery they tout is a ten mile battery with a fast charge time of 2 to 3 hours. Unfortunately this is where the kit falls quite flat besides another aspect of it. Here are my impressions of it on a trike.

    My trike has a 24 inch wheel. With a Hilltopper 250watt front hub motor I can hit about 19 mph on a flat level surface when the batter is first fresh. Speed starts dropping after about a 1/2 a mile After a mile it drops to about 13 mph and after 4 miles down to about 8mph. The battery on this has about a 5 1/2 mile range not the ten it was touted as. BTW, the trike with this setup is not much more than my standard ezip trailz which can still go about 7 miles on a 6 month old battery.

    Time to recharge is about 6 hours, not the claimed 2 to 3 hours. This is with a battery that has only one mile on it. This BTW is their shipped SLA battery. A replacement battery is sold for about 140 bucks which I consider quite pricey. So while you have a 250watt hub kit, it recommends you stay with a 24 volt battery. The install kit time was not less than 5 minutes but rather it took most of a day and lotsa work especially to modify the front forks to accept their axle. The manufacturer says don't go higher volts because a 36 as opposed to 24 volt setup would cause fork problems especially on older forks and might burnout the motor. I have read a number of comments on the battery life. It seems from reading other posts elsewhere on the forum that it does not stay strong for two years as the manufacturer sort of claims, but rather it starts seriously dropping off at 6 months usage. It is supposed to cycle through for about 400 times and have no memory issues. But a drop off in range would indicate that memory issues do indeed exist...anyone more knowledgeable wanna correct me on that, go for it. Otherwise these are my impressions. One last note. You should start pedaling a bit before engaging the red button that is a throttle and speaking of throttles. It's a small cheap square red button. A throttle upgrade would have been sweet because it would allow riders to go at slower speeds. This button sometimes sticks. A very dangerous situation when it presents itself in traffic at the wrong time, in fact an injury from a sticking red button actually opens Clean Republic to a major safety lawsuit. But no upgrade to a twist throttle or a Pedal as you go system exists which is both sad and frustrating. In this case what you get is a very "CHEAP" system that works, but it is bare-bones and as far as range at least in my case, an extra battery with more amps will be required.
  16. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Now I know why their sla range sucks. It's the battery they used. For example in my Ezip Trailz it uses 10 amps, but in the hilltopper kit they use only an 8amp batt setup which accounts for decreased range. In addition pressing the little red square button, if you hold it in, you suck battery juice at full throttle since they do not have nor intend to produce a twist throttle, otherwise I could use less and perhaps get further range. That being the case, the old adage you get what you pay for. Because hilltopper won't be able to be upgraded via Clean Republic, I have to recommend there are other kits with bigger motors and batteries a little more but probably a better choice too. As for batteries, they are still way to expensive to rely on at current prices versus life spans.
  17. Big Red

    Big Red Active Member

    Hey Slickdude, I don't think I've ever seen an electric bike of any kind without some way to control the speed. Heck, sewing machines have it together better then that. I would research building my own throttle. Basically all you have now is an ON-OFF switch. I found something that might work if it comes with instructions. You would also have to buy the appropriate throttle/twist assembly but I think this is do-able.
    Good Luck,
    Big Red.
    Same site.
  18. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Thanks BigRed. I am not sure how involved it would be. I have read other forums on the HillTopper mods and it appears others have been able to upgrade the system to a 36volt which brings the speed into the high twenties. In my case, this being a trike which can easily tip over, my preference is to want to go for range. As of today the range is now about 4 1/2 miles which is intolerable considering I have only had this a couple of months now, not really even that. So my preference is maybe to get their 8amp batteries replaced with 14 amp batts. My understanding is with their system, no more than 18 amps max for their 250w hub motor. My other want is a twist throttle, again not sure how to go about this. They use a three pin connector with two wires.

    Be advised the HT kit wasn't too hard to do, but when it gets into soldering and rewiring stuff, I get lost really easy.
  19. Big Red

    Big Red Active Member

    Yeah Slick Dude, electric stuff ain't my gig either. I'm sure there's someone into E-bikes that knows how to wire up a throttle to yours. Being able to control your speed is kinda important. But hey, YOU chose electric, Now comes the learning curve. Same as those that went 2 or 4 stroke, we all had to start somewhere.
    Big Red.
  20. slickdude

    slickdude Member

    Well Clean Republic now states the Hilltopper is a PAS system only. Had I know that stance I would have invested in a beefier system for a bit more. The claim is that their system was never intended to ride the battery only, yet they imply this in their advertisements both on youtube and through their dealer.

    Well luckily I chatted with my neighbor and he used to own a bike shop and is electrical knowledgeable. We have the schematics for the wiring so it's half the battle. With my battery range now below 5 miles and that I am fearful I'll get shorted on their lithium offerings instead of 20 miles, maybe get 8 ;) I have decided to purchase new higher amp batteries for the sla setup. We are also going to look at a twist throttle setup somehow. I'll try and document the new project in a while when I start it up. As for others who want to go this route, I would look at a beefier 550watt system instead of the Hilltopper. You pay cheap, you get cheap, a good rule to remember.