Phantom X3 -- A Review as a Fitness Tool

George S.

Well-Known Member
Prodeco Phanton X3 Review, using it for Cardio Fitness

I was enjoying learning about ebikes from November 13' into January 14'. I was not really interested in buying an ebike because the weather would make it a decorative sculpture for a couple of months. There are ways to ride around here in Winter, with some effort, on the warmer days, but nothing you can count on. By the time February had rolled around, I was having another problem. I was sick of being in "buyer mode" and a little sick of the whole thing.

First you have the design elements of bikes. This system is better than that system. You want x,y, and z. For the most part, ebikes seem to be constructed well enough for my uses. They seem to hold up well enough. There are problems and some get solved.

Right now, the focus is on drivetrains. Really, with an ebike, there is not much else to sell. You can make the frame a hybrid, a soft-tail, a hard-tail, a racer, a carbon, a tandem, a beach cruise or a tricycle. It doesn't matter. That's not really what an ebike is about any more than the color. You can buy one of those categories, and it pays to know why you might want one.

I heard a lot about the cruisers, mostly the Pedego cruisers, and I thought they might be a nice design. But something about the wide handlebars and high stance made me feel I had no control when I actually rode one (a very short test ride because that was all I needed). Plus it wasn't comfortable, for me.

I thought I wanted a large frame. On one level I do, for fit, but I can't quite throw a leg over a large frame anymore. It has to be a medium and the slope of the top bar to the seat can help a lot if it drops down. I don't need a step through, but I did need to work out a technique to get on, but mostly off.

But getting back to drivetrains, I ended up being completely confused. There are two basic sets of regulations, anyway, and this comes into play when the drive train is designed. A European model has to have a pedal assist. You have to pedal, and then the motor can assist up to 15.5 miles per hour with 250 watts. The US model can have a throttle and go up to 20mph and 750 watts. You can combine these things, with modes, and you can make the pedal assist as sophisticated as you want. It’s a selling point but it’s too much to take in on quick test ride. It might be something you come back to when you buy a second. Oh, well...

And then you come back to mid-drive versus hub drive. Mid drive is mostly about making the pedal drive train also be the motor drive train. A motor sits in or around the bottom bracket. Everything is connected to the chain, so all power goes through the gears. If you have 27 gears, you have a lot of options, and the motor gets matched to the needs, like climbing hills.

It's not clear how the world will change if mid-drive becomes the standard. It's a decent amount of work to shift gears. It's not really why some people buy an electric bike. The comparison is to a hub motor which, most likely, get you rolling, and it doesn’t know what gear you are in, pedaling. If you stay in a high gear, at a stop, you can pedal as the speed matches that gear, or shift. But you will moving. There are one speed hub systems. There will not be one speed mid-drives, since it messes up the concept.

All I can say, for me, is that having a hub drive and having a throttle means it is effortless to get going after a stop. I look forward to it. Basically, your feet can be anywhere, your balance can be a little off, but you can start rolling and then you are balanced and you can ride. When you start, from a stop, it is a little like a motorcycle.

Throttle and hub motor are simple. If you want to pedal, you can pedal, and the power is simply shared between the two systems. If you consider there are 8 gears, the rear derailleur, most of the action end up toward the center. You bought an ebike to flatten the hills. You probably can stay out of gears '1' and '2' unless it is a very steep hill. You may want to go faster downhill, faster than coasting, in which case '8' is the place to be. Most of the time, the mid gears are what is needed, and one shift can make quite a bit of difference. You don't need to shift while slowing to stop. The motor will bring you up to speed.

prodecotech-phantom-x3-ebike.jpg

There is no pedal assist on the X3. There is no computer and no way to select a mode, mostly because modes are what you get with pedal assist. They might have added an eco mode, something to limit how hard the motor can work. It doesn’t make much sense to me. There's no way to say how any one rider will interact with a computer program that regulates the drive train. With a throttle, you have complete control.

Where you set the throttle (how hard you twist it or how far you push the lever) is how much power you will get from the motor. I’m looking for a set of rules, a protocol, for steady fitness training. I've thought this through in great detail, and here is my summary:

This is a fitness tool. I need cardiovascular exercise, and this is one way to do it in the warmer months. The thing you want to do, especially older folks, is get your metabolism going enough, but not too much. There are ways to measure this, like MET's or just watts. You can produce watts, the motor can produce watts. You could also use a heart rate monitor.

Let's be frank. An older guy in decent shape probably can aim for a target where you are putting out 100 watts for the duration of the ride. The point is not to stop working, the point is to let the bike do all the work if it takes more than 100 watts. The rider maintains a moderate pace, but a steady pace. I wasn't sure the system would work, but it works exceptionally well. Two examples may help. I rode into a 15 mph wind with gusts to maybe 20. Normally this is what I dislike the most. If I try to do the standard amount of work, the 100 watts, I can go about 6 mph. That is too slow. If I want to go faster, I really have to work hard. Too hard. The second example is a long hill. There is a long hill into town, which is 500 feet higher. There are a few places to climb the hill, so the slope can vary. I wanted to climb the hill and just go at some reasonable speed. I was thinking maybe 11 mph, what I used to do the the regular hybrid bike on the flat. I want to climb a hill at a least a steady normal bike pace, for a flat. In fact, I can go about 15 mph into a pretty good wind, or up a pretty steep hill, and there is very little to worry about. I don't usually go quite that fast, but I don't really get the throttle all the way around, either.

The cardinal rule, for me, is this: I do try to maintain my 100 watts, my pedaling effort. How much is 100 watts? Well, on a slow upright bike with fairly wide tires, 100 watts is pretty close to 10 mph. I'm going to get one of the less expensive Omron heart monitors they sell at Amazon, try to make sure I'm not slipping. But I can turn off the motor and just try to maintain about 10 mph, to get the pace back. Put another way, and more precisely, a heart rate of about 115 would be a solid cardiac effort, especially over 45 minutes to an hour. After that one could certainly scale back to a walking effort, about 50 watts, and just ride along with the motor doing most of the work. Don't get me wrong, the great thing about an ebike is the little breaks. When things seem a little tired, back off for a minute. Coast, even up a hill.

As for hills, there is one road that takes the hill, a huge rise out of the valley and into town, in more of a giant bite. I would avoid it. I went up it the second day, and the slope builds. I just never really thought about the fact that I was on a hill, and I was going around 14 mph.

You do notice something pretty quickly. It's almost painless to keep going just a little faster. And faster. That's not necessary, where you want to do a steady amount of work in an exercise regime. You really want the bike for the hills and the winds. But going faster is a form of motivation and it is fun. As long as the flat terrain speed is 15 mph or less, I find the battery is lasting a very long time. I don't think you can push it too far, because aerodynamic drag is consuming more and more watts per mile. The battery monitor is primitive, but workable. It is basically full (handy to know when you start) half (a good time to turn back) and empty (not so good, and probably obvious.)

This bike consists of a 500 watt hub motor which is direct drive. I got a quick explanation of why they use gears in the hub. It probably increases efficiency, but adds complexity. This bike has a big battery which probably overcomes any inefficiency. I would say it has a lot of power, and that hill climbing power and some pickup off the line, more than anything else.

The hub motor is attached to a controller, which sits below the battery. The controller has a lot to do but it is a black box. You don't see it, you don't know what it does unless it stops working. The battery is large and heavy, awkwardly placed to the rear. I tried to feel the back heavy weight distribution, but it never seemed to be a problem. I'm sure if you slip under the right conditions, loose sand or ice, it would be a problem. On a cruiser with all the weight in back, it might be more of an issue because the rider is pretty much upright. There is a forward lean on this bike, and all of the rider is in front of the wheel, the motor plus the battery. With the lean there is substantial weight about where the front wheel starts. It may not be as badly balanced as some say.

The battery itself is about 36 volts and 16 amp hours. That is about half a kilowatt, a good capacity. The chemistry is the heavier LiFePO4. I can't argue chemistries. It is supposed to last longer. If you travel from the bottom of the rear tire you will see the components that matter. The motor is large and obvious. The controller is not noticeable. The battery and case cover the rear wheel like a carrier.

Beyond this, the only other ebike component is the throttle. It twists and is spring loaded. The technique I use to hold it is to simply grip it at the right setting. It will stay and you can make small adjustments. I haven't noticed any strain, doing this. You don’t hold it, you cover it with enough grip to prevent it from slipping. The throttle only covers half the grip, which is probably better for me. I don't know what other choices are out there. It might be nice to have a cruise control, but I make almost constant adjustments under poor road conditions.

A throttle is a throttle, but you might not like the action (you might love it). There are lights for the battery condition on the throttle, and a push-in switch to activate and deactivate the throttle. That's it. There are disk brakes, hydraulic. Very powerful and smooth. They seem to have squeaks. It shows up in some of the review. There is the 8 speed twist shifter. I'm not a huge fan of twist, but it has been carefully adjusted and works flawlessly.

There is a suspension fork that provides some relief from certain kinds of bumps. I may try a suspension seat, the parallelogram rubber type were recommended. There is ample room on the rear axle bolt to attach a trailer hitch. I'm almost certain this bike could haul 50 pounds and do major errands, with the right trailer. There are no other great options for carrying cargo with this bike. A backpack would work, but it seem a little unwieldy. There are Burley Trailers for $300 and Aosom trailers for even less. They both seem to work for people.

There's nothing I would change in terms of riding position. The seat is up pretty high, but that hasn't been a problem. It was a problem on an earlier bike. The seat itself is OK. The general rule is to try to get used to it for at least a few weeks. The manual says this bike will fit a person who is 6' 6”. I'm not sure, but it is fine for me, at 6' 1”.

I haven't had any good reason to remove the rear wheel. You need a 13/16th wrench, which is pretty substantial to lug along. The electrical connection is a quick disconnect type. You deal with the chain using the standard procedures. It could be a lot worse. The front is the quick release type of arrangement, so very fast and efficient. Get your flats in the front ;)

I believe that you can tell what the maker thinks his or her bike is designed for by the tires. The X3 has a knobby type tire, but not very aggressive. It clearly will grip in dirt, but that's about it. It will roll OK on pavement. It fits what I do. Another bike I was interested came with a street tire, and that would not work. Sure, the tires can be changed, but they still tell you something.

The X3 is not a mountain bike. It is useable on dirt but not for anything involving hard drops. The warning sticker notes the aluminum frame, and reminds you to check for signs of stress. The frame does have a lifetime warranty. Everything else is two years, I believe, but not maintenance parts like disk brake parts that wear. If you need an electric mountain bike, you will probably have to spend a bit more.

With this bike you are using a throttle to supply power to a motor and you are pedaling. These two things are happening together, but they are separate. You set the throttle, and that can be very precise. You pedal at your pace. Whether the mating of the two systems meets your requirements is just something to try. I am told that the most sophisticated systems are incredibly smooth, but I have nothing to judge by. This system certainly works, however you judge the quirks. I wouldn't spend too much for pedal assist or a completely integrated drive train like a mid-drive. It’s going to push the price up. This may be basic, but I know what I want to do and it works. Hub motors, especially direct drive "gearless" are reliable.

The mating of pedal power with electric power has been put under an electron microscope, mostly for purposes of marketing. People climbing hills may want a mid drive for the gearing. People may prefer a very smooth and programmed ride, where the bike sets the motor assist. It is not required, but the marketing means you can't avoid it.

The Chinese buy 30 million bikes annually, or will in a year or two. The bikes cost maybe $500, on average. How is this possible? Well, they use a $50 motor, about 250 watts, and a couple of lead acid batteries. Those parts might cost $100, You still need some other parts, but not many, and the things are made at such a scale that they are mass production cheap. The US market is basically a luxury market. There doesn’t seem to be any strategy to make ebikes a mass market seller, say millions of units a year.

ProdecoTech wants the US to be like Europe, which is a smaller scale China. Bikes outsell cars in Europe, and ebikes are a small part of that. That is not happening here in the USA (yet), and it isn't clear how to make ebikes a mass market product. Prodeco builds bikes in Florida. I believe I have seen a statistic stating they do about 7 hours of labor per bike. Their assembly plant is very impressive, so it's not a craft bike built by hand. That's good, because assembly lines lower prices. Seven hours times how many bikes they sell may be about all the US can do with ebikes, in terms of creating jobs. We have jobs for shopkeepers everywhere, of course, but we don't make much.

What’s to love:
  • it’s an ebike, and I’m not broke
  • it looks really nice, goes up hills, into the wind. All the basics
  • a throttle is a lot of fun
  • the battery will give me an incredible range
  • the pedals are a great choice, not a throw-away
  • I feel like in the ebike world, this is a powerful motor
  • there are two brake levers, a shifter and a throttle. It’s simple
  • the tires happen to fit my needs about 100%
  • everything looks good in black
  • About as “US Made” as you can get
Well, not so ideal
  • the balance seems back heavy, but its not obvious in normal riding
  • the battery removal is a little flaky
  • It is heavy at 59 pounds (above average heavy)
  • there is nothing buffering the two drive systems
  • the battery monitor is crude
  • there are no system or status monitors beyond the LED battery monitor
  • it looks more like an ebike than many other ebikes.
This bike is good enough to make me wish I lived somewhere in easy reach of stores, errands. It has power, efficiency, and decent battery capacity.

There are good articles floating around about how much power you need in an ebike. Remember that the European standard is 250 watts, whereas in the US I believe it is 750 watts. That’s a huge difference. If you read a decent essay on power, you probably will decide you need more than 250 watts if you are a guy, or weigh what guys tend to weigh in the US. A lot of it is hill climbing. I didn’t know how much I wanted that capability. Now I think it is critical. If you take a 500 watt direct drive motor, that is the simple way to go. You will have hill climbing power. If you attach a big battery, you will have range.

I started out trying to figure out ebike efficiency, mostly geared hub and mid-drive. I don’t know what you gain with a geared hub, how much smaller you can make the motor wattage, or the battery. Basically, it’s not a transmission, its a way to make the motor always operate at an efficient RPM. I didn’t find any real world numbers. There are power curves for a lot of hub motors. Reading them and feeling confident is not easy. I don’t know how they share the power from the rider, since a direct drive motor can be operating at a certain speed, a certain RPM, but not have to do all the work. I’m not even going to try to sort it out. I’ve done 14 mile rides, going up hills, into the wind, but almost always pedaling, and the charge I have to put back in suggests I used maybe a third of the power. That should be fine, for now. This is specific to this ebike.

There are bike computers that allow you to set up a bike on a computing device. (Not the enhanced speedometers you mount on the handlebars.) You can set the handlebar style, the weight, the type of tire, drive train efficiency, and so on. The iPad app Bike Calculator has sliders. Once a bike is set up to approximate your bike, you can adjust power (watts), wind, and slope. It’s easy to see how much power the bike will need to get up, say, a 4% grade, or into a 15 mph wind. Real watts from the battery would depend on motor efficiency. So it's theoretical.
 
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Court

Administrator
Staff member
Great article George! You got into some details that I've never heard articulated quite so thoroughly or honestly from a rider and owner's perspective. I'm glad the X3 is working out so well for you. I edited your post a little, added a few links and put a picture in there for people who might never have seen the bike.

Your thoughts on 100 watt output as a rider and dealing with wind and hills was right on. I love how you described the fun feeling of going faster as well, that's something I love about ebikes. It's like you can keep your adrenaline up and power through instead of having to ease off and slowly climb a hill. It just makes riding more fun and makes you want to go further :D
 

Ravi Kempaiah

Well-Known Member
George,

First off, hats of for putting together a very through article covering so many points. Your passion and enthusiasm is very admirable. I wish my father (67 now) had so much interest and physical strength to bike around. He has diabetes and underwent bypass surgery 7 years ago and didn't regain his full 100% strength. One of my uncles was a regular biker and even at 62, he has never had diabetes or any kind of joint problems or ailments.

You're an inspiration. I guess you have a seen a lot of technology development over the decades and things will keep changing. Any effort in the right direction is a great effort. There may/may not be new ebikes in the next few decades but your enthusiasm for life and the joy of living is what makes it worth it.

On my final day, I am not going to remember my bike's battery Ah or Wh but the joy I experienced riding and exploring places, having known the fact that I did not contribute to pollution, is going to make me happier.

Keep up the great work, enjoy your bike and finally that's what really matters.
Great write-up and thank you.