Any Other Bike Wimps Out There?
August 28, 2014 5:22 PM   Subscribe

So, I know that MeFi bikers are strong and fearless and use their gears and believe in bike commuting. But my particular commute is very long and not all that safe for biking, so instead I have used my beautiful Trek to ride to the train or bus park and ride. Which is fine, except that the longer ride, to the train, is killing me due to two monster hills. So, I'm really getting interested in an electric bike, and I am thinking specifically about this one or this one. Can the hive mind opine on what it is like to own an electric bike and whether I am making good choices? I'm actually OK with spending a few thousand because it is still cost effective. Other pertinent info is that I am a petite woman and my commute to the train is often going to be wet/dark.
posted by bearwife to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How many miles is your commute to the office?
How many miles is your commute to the train?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:26 PM on August 28, 2014

Response by poster: The commute to the office is a no go. It is only 13 miles one way but it takes a minimum of an hour and a half each way and the route has produced too many dead and injured bicyclists. The commute to the train is 6 miles each way, so well within battery range.
posted by bearwife at 5:30 PM on August 28, 2014

Do you plan to store your bike at the train station or take it on board? Storing it is risky when you're talking about a couple thousand dollar electric bike. Taking it on board (if allowed by the train people) can be a pain with a 50+lb electric bike, especially since you say you're on the smaller side.
posted by zachlipton at 5:46 PM on August 28, 2014

Is your Trek a mountain bike or a road bike? If you're riding something heavy with big tires, you might get way more bang for your buck by buying a lightweight, fast road bike.
posted by tmcw at 5:52 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have a bike locker at the train station.

My Trek is a hybrid, with road bike tires and lightness. Hills are still wiping me out.
posted by bearwife at 6:01 PM on August 28, 2014

Best answer: Hm. I don't have any first-hand experience here (sorry) but at lunch a few weeks ago an acquaintance of mine was *rhapsodizing* about her electric bike. She was about two months into owning it and uses it for her daily commute. Says it's dramatically improved her life, worth every penny, etc. :)
posted by Susan PG at 6:15 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I cycle commute, but I don't know a lot about electric bikes. So for whatever it's worth; your situation and reasoning for an electric bike sounds pretty good to me. Some other thoughts:
- An advantage of the bike in the first link is that pannier bags (which you'll want for commuting anyway) look like they'll hide the fact that it is electric (at least from casual inspection). The second bike will be harder to disguise and will probably remain distinctive.
- It looks like both bikes are available in white - a good color for being visible at night.
- If there is a significant weight difference between the two bikes, I think that will make a significant difference to how much you use it without any electric assist. (A factor if you want to get exercise and are your own worst enemy at doing it, as I am :) )
- You're running slightly late to work and as you're about to leave you discover the bike battery has no charge. If a regular bike is a problem on the hills, the weight of the electric bike is probably a lot worse. You'll still have a way to get to work, right? (another bike, a car, etc)
- I say go for it. Worst case scenario: It was a worthy and interesting experiment but you decide it's not for you and sell the bike.
posted by anonymisc at 6:20 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I bought a Kalkhoff Pro Connect for similar reasons; I'm a pudgy middle aged guy and the big hill between me and the train station was impossible to conquer daily on my own. I gave it a try with my normal road bike and was just plain not going to get over that initial fitness deficit by riding that route.

The electric boost makes the hill completely manageable. I recharge at the office every 2 or 3 days. I arrive feeling energized from the ride, not sweaty and exhausted, and I think it's made a measurable improvement in my productivity.

After about eight months of frequent riding, I'm in shape enough that I could do the hill without it, and on days I'm feeling energetic and am not carrying extra cargo I switch off the power and do it for the exercise.

But the assist still helps a lot, to the point where I take the electric bike for shopping and errands instead of the car. Less wear, less fuel, more exercise: it's a win on several levels.

I like the modern Prodeco bikes; Stromer seems overpriced and overpowered. I didn't like Currie bikes at all.
posted by Kakkerlak at 7:05 PM on August 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you otherwise like your current bike, you could stick a "smart wheel" on it to turn it into electric assist. Pre-orders only so far, but they plan to ship in October.
posted by lollusc at 7:06 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've not ridden one, but Trek makes an electric-assist, the T80+, that retails for about $2100. This isn't a small investment and I think I'd strongly consider if the manufacturer is going to be around in five years or so to provide parts and service. Not such an issue with regular bikes, but there's a lot more to break on an e-bike. Trek is a huge company and isn't going anywhere.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:03 PM on August 28, 2014

I'd get the lightest, weakest electric-assist you can find.

For only 12 miles of assist, you don't need very much energy or power, and having the lighter bike will make a big difference when working on it or pushing it around and stuff.
posted by flimflam at 9:43 PM on August 28, 2014

Best answer: Neither of your two choices are reviewed but does comprehensive written and video assessments of bikes. The link takes you to their top ten choices.
posted by firstdrop at 5:23 AM on August 29, 2014

Best answer: ebike commuter here! If you are this interested and willing to spend the money you should absolutely get one, no question about it. It's life-changing, commute-improving and REALLY fun!

I took the plunge last year (with this monster, which i can't exactly recommend) but it sounds like you're looking right at much better (and pricier) models right off the bat. (The one I got was fine as an introductory e-bike, to decide if I wanted to eventually get a better one, and I ran it into the ground after ~1.5 years of daily commuting. the nonstandard parts and weird way it was wired made it a big pain in the ass for local bike shops to fix the eventual non-electric problems with the bike itself that cropped up).

ebike life: Integrating all the features into a smooth ride takes some getting used to. I think my first reaction to the pedal assist was "WHOOAAH I don't know if I like this!!" but with more riding it became just another type of bicycle. Things like getting to know the pedal assist modes and how much they assist you, controlling your speed and braking accordingly, and being able to switch between the modes while riding are a little tricky at first. It's also very easy to ignore your gears with an ebike since you can just bump up the pedal assist! Definitely take it on a ride around the neighborhood first before diving in to a commute with it. I think I did a test commute with mine on the weekend, without the pressure of getting to work on time. Other than that it's just like a regular bicycle - get good lights and a good lock, a bell if it doesn't come with one, and a good helmet. Consider a motorcycle cover/sheet thing if you're going to be storing it outside frequently.

Check your local laws to see if there are any speed/licensing limitations (where I've been 20mph is the max for it to be a bicycle and not something you need to be specially licensed for). Leading up to getting my bike I was considering scooters and motorcycles, and got my motorcycle license as "practice" and to help me decide - now I know, an ebike is very different from a motorcycle. I haven't actually ridden a scooter but I think ebikes are more like scooters- Very simple.

There are gray areas for sure - such as on bike paths that say "no motorized vehicles" - but if you have the motor off or turned way down, who's gonna know? you're still an analog bike, you're still pedaling, and you aren't going faster than everyone else (not me anyway- I'm a super slow cyclist and still get passed by spandex-wearers and regular people CONSTANTLY even with the assist. sigh.). One such dilemma: There was construction on my commute for a while where the road was one way but the bike path went both ways - I did the bike path. I felt bad at first and would go around, but then I did it a few times and realized that nobody really notices. A lot of it is not being a jerk and not being super obvious about it. I have rarely had any fellow bike riders comment on my ebike. One guy was stopped at a light with me and asked about it. Most people (this has been like 3 times total) who comment are other bikers on hills, and then it's been "Hey cool is that a motor?" "Is that electric?" "How long does the battery last?" type questions or friendly "I'm jealous!" or "no fair!"s. I think because most ebike models are very "stealth" and just look like regular bikes, lots of people don't notice.

Choosing an ebike model:
See above. Choosing a "stealth" looking ebike can be a big factor when buying one - to prevent it getting stolen or prevent people from saying "hey is that thing street legal?"

One thing to think about is the weight of the bike itself if you're going to have to walk it, bring it up or down stairs, or even pick it up after it falls on the ground. It looks like the Stromer is 62 pounds so that Pedego model is a little bit lighter at 57lbs. (I made low weight a priority when replacing my Milan and spent a lot of time searching for a good quality lightweight ebike - Kalkhoff seems to do it but I think their bikes are pretty hard to get in the US. I eventually decided to buy a used hybrid bike and convert it, but it still ended up pretty heavy.)

You will definitely be more than fine for that commute with either of those motors and batteries, they're better than mine and I commuted myself up quite a few daily hills. The only big difference is the throttle (looks like the stromer lacks one although maybe the new model has it?) It's pretty fun to have the throttle as an option and I actually find it really useful for quickly accelerating from a stop at intersections, avoiding the occasional idiot car, and efficiently passing other bikes when necessary (I try not to be a jerk with it, I swear). That's totally personal preference though- you can have a great commute without it. The pedal assist levels on those two models is a plus- it will be extremely awesome commuting and doing hills on either of those.

I don't think you have anything to worry about as far as either of those companies go. Both stromer and pedego have been doing ebikes for a while and they seem to be well trusted.

The battery location is something else to consider. I've heard the stromer built-in battery style is better for balance and overall ride. It might be better to ride that one as an analog-bike? but I've only ever experienced the battery on the back-rack and I've had no problems with it. Either one should be fine in the rain - the bikes and battery cases are designed to handle it.

Considering battery cost for an eventual replacement (or extra batt if you loooove it) is not a bad idea. This review of a different pedego model complains that their replacements are pricey, but there are definitely ebike parts shops online that sell those brick-types of lithium battery packs for a little cheaper (plus insanely expensive battery-shipping). Looks like Stromer replacements are expensive too.

Also consider whether you will leave the battery with the bike when you lock it up, or carry it with you. Most ebikes have the battery lock into the rack or frame so they aren't easily stolen. A bike locker sounds like you could leave it with the bike easily, which is great. I bring my battery in to the office on super hot or super cold days but I have no scientific reasoning for this.

It might be helpful for you to also ask the compare-these-two-models question at the Endless Sphere ebike forums. It's mostly geared towards converting your own analog bike to electric, but many people ask specific model questions, too. They might have experience with those specific ones and might have pros and cons to mention.

And, just to throw a wrench in things, here are a couple other models that are also in your price range, that I considered as my second ebike. My main criteria were a low weight and low price balance:

Public BionX - BionX is a motor conversion kit/system that is sold independently. Public sells a pre-converted bike using a BionX kit. 350W motor, 51lbs, throttle and pedal assist on BionX. The main difference here is the motor type - BionX kits use a direct drive motor, which causes drag when being used as a regular bike, but can be used for battery regeneration while riding (more info on the two motor types here). I ultimately didn't go for a direct drive for my new bike because I didn't want the drag when the motor was off.

Grace Easy - so pretty and only 42lb. also uses BionX, no throttle though I think? also the lower end models have an unusual chain drive type, and the higher end models get up to $5 or $6k. Was ultimately out of my price range :)

Felt Sport e-bike - Bosch is supposed to be a very good drive system, and it's located in the center of the bike, not the wheel hub like the others, which is neat. Very super lightweight, I think I read 40lbs somewhere?!! Also out of my price range but may be a good one for you to consider.

Any of the Kalkhoff models - They don't seem to have new ones up yet, and many of the old ones are sold out. I don't think their models have throttles. Also out of my price range, and seem to be hard to find in the US (only a few left on their site and I couldn't find many other sources).

...I really don't think you can go wrong with either of your current choices though. It looks like you are planning to spend the amount of money that will get you a high quality bike from a good company (in other words, the opposite of my first ebike!). In conclusion, YES definitely get an electric bike! It is so fun and makes commuting suck less and soon you will very likely be that person telling everyone you know to get one!
posted by ghostbikes at 5:47 AM on August 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: So helpful, ghostbikes. Love the look of almost all your additional model suggestions but I am having a lot of trouble finding Seattle area sellers. I'd prefer to test ride before buying.
posted by bearwife at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2014

Oh yeah! in my (east coast) experience, brick and mortar shops that sell ebikes are *so* hard to find, which is a shame because the bikes are dang expensive, and trying them out is very helpful. I ordered mine sight-unseen with the idea that I could sell fairly easily it if I hated it (since once I had it, someone could try it before buying!) but it was definitely odd and a gamble.

If you have a place that has the Pedego and Stromer you want then definitely go forth and try them! Maybe find out if they do repairs as well - each model might have its own individual quirks that a regular bike shop would have to figure out work around, but if the seller works with those models regularly they probably know what they are doing. (If so, it might be useful to ask the salesperson how often people come back for repairs with each model.)
posted by ghostbikes at 12:14 PM on August 29, 2014

Response by poster: Great idea, ghostbike. I was planning to go check out the Pedego (also available on Amazon, with great one year financing offer) and Stromer locally tomorrow. I found some of your suggestions, including the very hard to locate Kalkhoff, at this bike shop in San Francisco so perhaps I can order from them as another option.
posted by bearwife at 12:34 PM on August 29, 2014

Oh one last thing- there's always a miniscule chance someone near you on Endless Sphere or Craigslist (or Metafilter!) owns one of the not-in-local-stores models and would be willing to let you try it out, if you're not ultimately opposed to ordering from far away. But buying from a local dealer has the possible repair bonus, so... lots of things to consider :)
posted by ghostbikes at 12:45 PM on August 29, 2014

Response by poster: I found another candidate -- the Ohm.
posted by bearwife at 1:00 PM on August 29, 2014

Have you tried the Bicycle Center of Seattle? They carry several brands of e-bikes. No personal experience with them; I found them by Googling "seattle bike shop electric assist".
posted by brianogilvie at 1:56 PM on August 29, 2014

Response by poster: Not yet. They are on my list of places to visit tomorrow.
posted by bearwife at 3:42 PM on August 29, 2014

don't forget to update if/when you get one!
posted by ghostbikes at 11:36 AM on August 31, 2014

Response by poster: Oh boy, I just tried a Felt Sport E. Pricey at $4k but also beautifully engineered and it really feels like a bike. And it weighs nothing. Quite wowed.
posted by bearwife at 6:33 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And I bought it. Here's a video review of this bike. Pickup is next Sunday, Sept 7.
posted by bearwife at 7:31 PM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Enjoy the bike! I hope it works out well.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:19 AM on September 3, 2014

Best answer: WHOA YAY!! that bike looks incredible. have fun! (and be safe and all that stuff) oh and don't forget to let everyone you know try it whenever possible :D
posted by ghostbikes at 10:59 PM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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