My notching up 3,000 miles on a Juicy Sport coincided with an unhappy sequence of mechanical and support issues, which have troubled my bike on-and-off for the last six months. It all started with the corker in the picture, way back in September last year: the hardened steel spindle sheared for no apparent reason, perhaps along a casting imperfection. I’m told by the seller I’m the only one to have had this happen, which is good to hear – perhaps I’m just unlucky. But this article is not intended as therapy for my star-crossed mobility: it is firstly a description of some product quality issues that might be expected at this price-point, a calculation of its total cost of ownership, and lastly an attempt to nail down some support issues that remain unaddressed.
I have two motivations for putting finger to keyboard. The first is that, when I was buying an electric bike some 21 months ago, I could seriously have done with some long-term user reports. Reviews in electric biking magazines are undoubtedly written by knowledgeable people, but I’d wager they get a unusually well-tuned bike, and a shiny new one to boot. It’d be great if they received instead a well-maintained 18-month old unit as might be ridden by the average owner, but I’m not holding my breath for that development! Second, I really want Juicy Bike to carry on a roaring trade. I regard it as a good thing that one doesn’t need thousands of pounds spare to get on a ‘leccy bicycle, and their entry-level products are pretty good value.
That all said, criticisms do need to be made. I have several times offered constructive feedback to Juicy via email, but it was my usual experience that such points would be left conspicuously unreplied to. To the firm’s credit, there often was a great willingness on the telephone to help, but attention to detail issues abound in their workshop, and I’ve not recently seen any welcoming of, nor attempts towards improvement.
To recap, the spindle sheared in September 2011, so Juicy sent me a the necessary components (including separate bearing races) and suggested I get it looked at locally. I went to Ladypool Cycles, who removed the old (seized) unit and fitted the new one. Fast-forward to January this year, the spindle had become loose, and the bearings sounded like the metal-tearing of a car accident. As I’ve mentioned before, at this point another local seller recommended I write off this bike as a bad job. But I decided to persevere; after a minor delay, Juicy took the bike from me on 9 February, and returned it on 18 February (delivery charge of £40 return). Sadly, the chaps at Ladypool had fitted the asymmetric spindle the wrong way around, damaging the bearings.
So, the bike came back to me in February. I’d ordered brand new Hygia hydraulic brakes, but the rear lever came back squashy: the line hadn’t been bled properly. Secondly, the whole rear wheel had been replaced as a convenient fix for motor bearing failure as agreed, but now the gear registration was well out of alignment, and was barely usable. Thirdly, the spindle fitted incorrectly at Ladypool had been turned over, but the crank was still not entirely free of its ominous crunchiness, even though I’d been very clear about that. Lastly, while an initial email assessment from Juicy highlighted a frayed battery power cable that had been rubbing on the rear wheel, this didn’t get done either.
I decided to get back in touch with Juicy on 1 March, to claim on the repair warranty. This took some doing, as their mechanic with whom I spoke sat on the report for two full weeks — despite my chasing after the first week — thankfully the owner got wind of it, and intervened after a second week. To cap it all, at this point the motor controller gave up the ghost, so I was riding minus power and battery while a repair strategy was formulated. At length, it was suggested I try a better local bike shop, with Juicy offering to carry the costs for putting it right. So, I took the bike to Scott’s Cycles on 24 March.
Now, I quite like Scott’s, and I’d heard (mostly) good things about them. They’ll talk your hind legs off on the blower about how best to maintain an old-style bottom bracket with loads of grease, which for me underscores the seriousness they apply to their bike maintenance. In fact, the only reason they decided they couldn’t fit the replacement Suzhou Bafang controller was that the wiring loom colours had changed between units, and so replacement would have been very difficult without a wiring diagram (presumably not supplied). It didn’t help that the new brake lever cutouts had been soldered in, rather than using snaplocks or bullet connectors; it therefore made sense to forward the bike back to Juicy for a second go.
Thankfully at this juncture, Juicy sorted out most of the outstanding issues, including the brake bleeding, the frayed power cable and the motor controller. But I had to remind them about the bottom bracket, and after this prompting they finally found that the bearing race had shattered (strangely, they were proposing to leave this job for Scott’s, which would have incurred even more third-party costs). I do wonder what happened to the gear adjustments, too: there it is, on the official-looking work order, but in the parts & labour section it is nowhere to be seen. Thankfully this was dealt with inexpensively at Scott’s, and it turned out to be a rain-corroded Bowden cable (and since that wasn’t a recently warrantied repair, I’d have been willing to pay Juicy to fix it).
Here are the component failures I’ve had recently. Needless to say, these could be due to my demanding levels of use — averaging 50 miles of hard riding a week — or maybe sheer bad luck. But I do wonder whether non-branded quality issues have something to do with it.
- Spindle sheared (13 months)
- Motor bearings worn (17 months)
- Power controller burned out when connected to new motor (18 months)
- Front forks go flat (18 months)
I’ve not included the bottom bracket bearings, as their failure is probably due to the poor quality local fitting of the bottom bracket.
I did ask several suppliers to see if a better (branded) spindle could be sourced, but didn’t have much luck – the Juicy one is much longer than is standard.
Total cost of ownership
- Bike purchase – £714 *
- Spindle – £25 (estimated)
- New rear wheel – £160
- Power controller – £46.8
- Suntour front forks – £55
- Juicy labour – £15
- Ladypool Cycles (local) labour – £25
- Scott’s Cycles (local) labour – £29
- Carriage total – £40 (additional £48 written off)
- Misc items (chain, star washer, cable) – £37.4
- Additional transport costs – 6 weeks (min) @ £30/week – £180 (min).
I’ve not included the new hydraulic brakes (£175) as they were a discretionary purchase, though there is a counterargument for including them: the standard brakes were pretty terrible. Without that figure, the maintenance costs are £613.20, and the TCO over 21 months is £1327.20*. In practice that figure is probably a little higher, as there will be consumables such as brake pads and electricity.
Looking on the bright side, £49/month is pretty good for a mode of transport this useful, and I was paying nearly twice that just in LPG when I ran a car. Arguably, one could spend £1000 on a bike of better quality, and have £300 to spend on repairs, provided that the bike isn’t lost for more than two weeks. But here lies the rub: the mid-price-range bike cannot be guaranteed to have less problems or be quicker to fix – although the longer warranty would certainly be worth having.
New cyclists wanting to know what cycling will cost them should add £200 minimum for equipment: depending on requirements this might include a D-lock, front and rear lighting, helmet, summer and winter gloves, hi-vis jacket, snood, waterproof trousers, Oxford bands, rucksack, hi-vis rucksack cover (etc for 94 pages).
A major problem with the Juicy Bike is that some components are only available from the sole UK importer. This creates two problems; firstly, since I am some distance from their base, I will usually get components posted to me and fitted locally. In the event of subsequent failure (see above) I am left not knowing which party to blame: was it a poor component or a poor fitting? Secondly, my choice on quality is limited: I cannot simply buy a Shimano spindle locally, since Shimano simply don’t make them in the size I need.
So, my first rule of buying a bike now is: does it use standard-sized components? If the answer is no, then I advise extra caution. If I could make one design change to the Juicy Sport, there’s no question: I’d swap out the ultra-long loose-bearing bottom bracket with a cartridge type of standard size. Aside from that, and the non-standard brake-pads, I think everything non-electric is pretty standard, including the front forks, gear system, seat post, and headset.
The second issue is the communication challenges added by introducing a local bike store into the mix. The local store dismantled my bike for transport even though it was just going to be stacked in the back of a van, which incurred costs later borne by me. Similarly, Juicy wanted to leave work items for the local bike store, even though they had the bike in their possession and could remedy those items themselves. So, my second rule is: buy your electric bike as locally as possible, or check the seller has a support network.
All of my component failures were outside the 12-month purchase warranty. If I were to purchase new again, I would aim for a two-year warranty on electrical components. This will push up the price a bit, but would have saved money in the long run — and it is also is a statement of confidence from the supplier.
My biggest frustration however is that where I have tried to improve the service from Juicy by making the gentlest of constructive criticisms, usually via email, they go unremarked. To their credit, they implied their second bill was optional, so I guess they aren’t happy with their recent performance either. But there were times when I wondered how they even stay in business: lack of quality checks, forgetting to send parts, not returning promised telephone calls, sending the wrong parts, even arbitrarily changing delivery times without agreement and leaving irate voice-mail messages as a result.
I am saddened to report my negative experience, as Bob and his team are usually very friendly and helpful, and I always want to see small businesses do well. I shall send this article to them once it is published, genuinely in the spirit of wanting to improve their ailing processes. Their entry-level products are decent for the price, and deserve significantly better support.
2 June 2012
Minor adjustments to TCO analysis para.
18 June 2012
I’ve had a feedback session with Juicy, and they’ve responded very positively.
5 November 2012
* I noticed that the purchase price was recorded incorrectly when I first wrote this post, so I’ve edited this from £750 to £714 (the higher price was the non-discounted store price). That brought the 21-month TCO down a little to £1327.20, or £49/month, not £65 as previously stated.
The bike is now end of life, at around 27 months. Since this post, I replaced a tyre (£35), a wobbly handlebar stem (£20) and a mudguard (£12), the bracket for which was corroded through. This comes to £1394.20, or £1569.20 with hydraulic disks; that works out as £51/month without, or £58/month with hydraulics. I’ve ignored the cost of the initial upgraded rear tyre (a Schwalbe Marathon Plus) since the supplied Kenda would probably have been okay.
Since buying my bike, I am assured that some of the components have been upgraded; of particular interest are the mechanical disk brakes, which are Tektro as standard. Sounds good to me!
- Spindle/pads order forgotten about by Juicy for several days, needed to chase – Aug 2011
- Wrong spindle sent to local bike shop – Aug 2011
- Correct spindle fitted incorrectly by Ladypool Cycles – Sep 2011
- Initial problem report about bottom bracket to Juicy – 30 Jan
- Juicy respond, collection agreed upon – 30 Jan
- Van breakdown, reorganise collection – 7 Jan
- Bike collected by Juicy – 9 Feb
- First return from Juicy – 17 Feb
- Report problems to Juicy – 1 Mar
- Two weeks of thumb twiddling until Juicy owner intervenes
- Deliver bike to Scott’s – 24 Mar
- Scott’s unable to fit new controller, so telephone Juicy – around 13 April
- Juicy pick up bike from Scott’s – 15 April
- Juicy carry out work – 18 April
- Second bill from Juicy received – 20 April
- Asked Juicy to double-check bottom bracket – 21 April
- Juicy found broken bearing race – 21 April
- Juicy redeliver bike to Scott’s – unknown
- Collect bike from Scott’s – 30 April
First bill from Juicy:
- Brakes – £175
- Motor/wheel, my tyre re-fitted – £160
- Refit bottom bracket – £15
- New chain – £20
- Collect and return – £40
Second bill from Juicy:
- Controller – £46.8
- Worn cable – £14.4
- Collect and return – £48
To their credit, this bill was marked as “for consideration”.
Bill from Scott’s:
- Fork, £55 – ok
- Starwasher for loose headset, £3 – ok
- Fitting new parts, £24 – ok
- “Set R/Gears” – £5 – I imagine this is resetting the rear gears
- “R/Gear Inner” – £3 – I think this is a new Bowden cable inner
- Strip down & reassemble for transport – £20 – unnecessary, and not agreed upon
Total bill: £110 paid in full, despite surprise charge.