Ebike commuting for novice rider
August 9, 2019 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I've decided to get an ebike to get to work. It's a 14-18km trip depending on the route I take, and mostly on cycle paths. I'm considering getting the Trek Verve+ (planning a test ride this weekend if I can) and I'd like to get thoughts/advice here as well as at the bike shop. (Yesterday's 'How do I bike' is helpful but my circumstances are a bit different and I have some additional questions.)

I don't know much about bikes so I find visiting bike shops a bit intimidating. Hoping I can ask some of my dumber questions here instead of in person.

I started riding at the beginning of this year after taking a short course designed to teach adults to ride. I've been riding a basic hybrid bike but going from 0-130km a week at the start of year proved too much (mainly because of the long incline on the way home) so I've been driving part of the way and only cycling about 5km each way.

I want to get an ebike to make the least fun parts of riding (going uphill) easier and to splurge a bit on the accessories I didn't get originally - disc brakes, bike rack, mud guards etc.

I've listed some specific questions, but I'm also interested if anyone has opinions on the Verve+/alternative suggestions/general tips for ebike commuting - noting that I'm in Australia (almost all the online resources I've found are US or UK based).

1. Are the inbuilt lights on ebikes any good, or should I get additional lights? If so, what I should look for? I'm pretty much always riding home in the dark in winter.

2. How do I get the bike home? I can wedge my current bike into the back of my Corolla, but I don't know if I want to do that with a much more expensive bike.
2a. Is it worth getting a bike rack for my car?

3. I'm planning to get a rack and strap my backpack to it, but are there pros to getting panniers instead?

4. Is servicing an ebike essentially the same as servicing a normal bike, just removing the battery first?

5. Does the assist essentially replace the chainrings? So instead of switching to the big chainring downhill you'd switch to lower assist? Or do you have the normal array of gears as well as the electronic assist?

I have access to a Giant dealer, a Trek dealer, and a 99bikes shop.

I have secure bike storage and a changeroom at work.
posted by aussie_powerlifter to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
5. Does the assist essentially replace the chainrings? So instead of switching to the big chainring downhill you'd switch to lower assist? Or do you have the normal array of gears as well as the electronic assist?

You still have normal gears.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:48 AM on August 9


About a month ago I bought an ebike after a lifetime of buying $20 bikes at garage sales. It's been great fun so far, I've dramatically reduced the use of my car and rely on the bike now for grocery shopping and just running errands around town. I'm very new to the ebike world, so take my answers with the appropriate grains of salt.

1. The tail light on mine is very dim. Absolutely adequate for nighttime use, but I did get a much brighter light to use during the day. I may upgrade the headlight in the future, but haven't yet.

2. I was able to take the handlebars off and fit it into the trunk of my Ford Focus with the back seats folded. One problem with ebikes is, because of the extra weight, they don't do as well with the typical trunk mounted bike rack (or so I've been told; haven't tried it myself). If you do get a bike rack definitely remove the battery first before putting it on, that will save several pounds.

3. I got panniers to put over the cargo rack (and a milk crate strapped to the top) to use for grocery shopping.

4. My understanding is yes.

5. As EndsOfInvention says, you have the normal gears in addition to the assist (and possibly a throttle). The motor can be attached to a wheel (generally the rear), and in this case the motor does not interact with the gears at all. That's the hub motor. There's also a mid-drive motor which is more efficient but puts greater stress on the chain. If the chain breaks on a hub motor you can still use the motor to get home, if the chain breaks on a mid-drive you have to walk.

The gears and assist level can be changed completely independently of each other. One great thing about this is it allows me to go uphill in the highest gear by turning the assist level all the way up. I'm not an athletic or particularly fit person, but yesterday I brought back a bike loaded with groceries up a hill at almost 20 mph with the assist and pedaling in 7th gear!

Also, make sure you get a really strong lock, not a cable lock.

If you haven't already, take a look at the Electric Bike Review website and watch some of their videos. Browse their YouTube channel. Although they are USA-focused their videos will give you an idea of how ebikes operate and what you are looking for. They also have videos about safety, maintenance, accessories, etc.

If you have any other questions please feel free to memail me.
posted by lharmon at 7:21 AM on August 9


an electric bike gives you a power boost while you're pedalling - so it feels like you're in a smaller gear with less resistance - when you stop pedalling, you're freewheeling from that point on, just as on a normal bike

that model has a single chainring & nine gears on the back, so to your question 5: yes, you can consider the different boost levels as the equivalent of multiple chainrings, they'd have pretty much the same effect in reality - and you'd change gears on the back in the normal way

e-bikes are pretty heavy because of the battery & motor - you don't notice at all when you're riding, but only when you stop & try to pick them up or move them - getting it on & off a bike rack on your car would be more difficult than a non-electric bike

the built-in lights are likely to be designed to make you visible to other road users, rather than to light your way - if you ride on unlit roads or paths, you might want something that casts more light - but there are plenty of affordable LED options for this now, ask at your local bike shop

on my other bike (that I don't ride so much now) I had a basket like this, which slides onto the rack if you have the right kind of rack: https://www.topeak.com/us/en/products/basket/156-mtx-basket-rear - so, sling your backpack in there & you're good, I found it more versatile than panniers for smallish loads

looks like a nice bike, well worth a test ride (make sure to try & pick it up, if that's a thing you'd often need to do)
posted by rd45 at 7:42 AM on August 9


1. I think if the in built lights as a backup - they’re just too dim - and definitely would recommend getting supplemental lights. I like “light and motion” brand

2. Because ebikes are heavier, standard racks don’t work as well. They do sell special ebike rated racks, often that are hitch-mounted instead. Generally you can get an ebike into a large trunk, but sometimes you may need to take off the front wheel (usually pretty easy to do).

3. Panniers are awesome, mainly because it’s simple and easy to mount/dismount on your bike. Strapping something to the rack is a bit less secure and a bit more work. Panniers are also often available with waterproof features, which can be nice if you’ve got that kind of weather.

4. Yes, unless you’re having electrical issues. Then you’ll need someone ebike knowledgeable to help troubleshoot. Sometimes the manufacturers can help with this, but it helps a lot to have a person on hand who can help you in person. Also, there are some differences in ebikes due to their weight (like they often have a different gauge of spokes).

5. No, you’ll still have gears. You can also change the pedal assist if you want.

Other things:
- look into insuring your bike. Some companies cover expensive bikes, some don’t. I have a separate insurance policy through Velosure for mine.
- have fun! I think you’ll like it.
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 7:46 AM on August 9


I know nothing about ebikes, but have done some bike commuting, and my bike has a rack. I apparently don't travel light, so I head in to work with my normal messenger style bag, another identical messager style back with my bike tools, bike lock, a towel for a shower at work, and a new set of shirt/socks/underwear for the ride home (I re-wear the shorts). Lastly I have a duffelbag strapped to the top of the rack that has my lunch, and clothes that I'll change into at work.

The messenger bags function as panniers after I put a piece of hardboard inserted into the bag and some large carabiners to attach them to my rack. The carabiners are annoying to attach, but I currently only bike-commute a few times a year so I haven't spent money on something better. But attaching my bags and duffle combined with getting my bike unlocked from the antenna base station at work means it's about a 5 minute process of getting ready to leave - not counting the changing of clothes/etc.

The duffel bag on top of the rack is usually ok, but maybe 1/20 times it will shift too far to a side, and fall off the top of the rack. It's still attached via straps/bungies, but it's hanging to the side shifting my balance, and wobbly. It doesn't feel good/safe to ride this way, so it prompts the soonest safe stop and a few minutes of readjustment. I'd be concerned with a backpack also doing this. Possibly some hardboard between the rack and duffle/backpack might make things more stable, but hardboard gets ruined in rain and if you're looking to full time commute you'd want a better solution.
posted by nobeagle at 8:21 AM on August 9


3. Panniers were the single best bike commuting related purchase I made. They're so easy. Would be the first thing I'd recommend, over lights and a helmet, to any bike commuter.

(but you should also have lights and a helmet)
posted by booooooze at 9:43 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


My husband has been a bike commuter for years (we live in the PNW), so my answers are based off of him.

1. Are the inbuilt lights on ebikes any good, or should I get additional lights? If so, what I should look for? I'm pretty much always riding home in the dark in winter.
Always get additional lights. My husband prefers putting additional lights on his helmet. Lights don't cost that much, are easy to put on, and honestly anything to help others see you coming is great. My husband also has a bell to warn pedestrians when he's coming behind them.

2. How do I get the bike home? I can wedge my current bike into the back of my Corolla, but I don't know if I want to do that with a much more expensive bike.
have you thought about getting a folding bike? This RadMini folds and fits into a 18gallon tote in the back of most sedan cars.
2a. Is it worth getting a bike rack for my car?
we have a bike racks (one for each car) but we tote four bikes. You can get a smaller, folding bike rack like this that's portable.

3. I'm planning to get a rack and strap my backpack to it, but are there pros to getting panniers instead?
Personal preference. Panniers sit lower on the bike, so it depends on how sit with your center of gravity.

4. Is servicing an ebike essentially the same as servicing a normal bike, just removing the battery first?
Yes.

5. Does the assist essentially replace the chainrings? So instead of switching to the big chainring downhill you'd switch to lower assist? Or do you have the normal array of gears as well as the electronic assist?
You still have a normal array of gears. You still use the assist when going uphill, it's not like you just power the bike like a scooter or such. But it does make it much easier to pedal (we own RadBikes, which have the pedal assists).
posted by alathia at 12:02 PM on August 9


It's not easy to answer your questions all in one go. IMHO, ebikes that you buy off the bike shop floor tend to be pricey and be less of a ride than a regular bike that's been upgraded with an ebike conversion.
I'm sure there are some great rides out there but I think you get better value buying used bikes and upgrading them than buying new.
With regular bikes that are upgraded, you have lots of options there including finding a bike you like, adding one of many ebike conversion systems using any competent mechanic and off you go.
There are hub based motors and bottom bracket based motors. There are pedal assist controllers and throttle controllers.
My ride: cargo bike that's upgraded with a 48V/13AH rear hub motor and pedal assist + throttle. Carry anything, go fast, ride a regular bike that can handle extra weight. Use your own lights so you know you've got quality stuff.
posted by diode at 12:54 PM on August 9


1. Are the inbuilt lights on ebikes any good, or should I get additional lights? If so, what I should look for? I'm pretty much always riding home in the dark in winter.

The lights I got with my e-bike are teeerrrible. Definitely get additional lights.

2. How do I get the bike home? I can wedge my current bike into the back of my Corolla, but I don't know if I want to do that with a much more expensive bike.

I just rode mine home. The person I picked it up from gave me a map of all the cycleways in my area of the city, showed me which way to go and I went for it. I mean, unless there isn't a safe route for you to get home, this is not a bad option! It was a 1 hour ride, but that's only slightly longer than the commute I now take so I figured it was good practice.

3. I'm planning to get a rack and strap my backpack to it, but are there pros to getting panniers instead?

I bike with a backpack, mostly because I'm too stingy to pay for panniers right now, but it's not great. The main plus for panniers is that the weight is lower/closer to the ground so physics is less likely to mess with you, esp. if you have the weight distributed reasonably easily either side. I would be way too scared to strap my bag to my rack because it's big and heavy. I often wish I had panniers so swinging by the supermarket on the way home would be easier.

4. Is servicing an ebike essentially the same as servicing a normal bike, just removing the battery first?

My ebike came with a 'free' (I know it was part of the price but you get what I mean) service plan for the first 18 months. This is pretty common I think. From what I know from friends who do their own ebike maintenance is that it is pretty similar to regular bike maintenance because you aren't messing with the electronics.

5. Does the assist essentially replace the chainrings? So instead of switching to the big chainring downhill you'd switch to lower assist? Or do you have the normal array of gears as well as the electronic assist?

My ebike has gears but they are mostly a waste of time. I have it set at 7 (out of 8) and never change it. Anything lower than 5 has no resistance at all, to the point I wonder if my chain has somehow come off. Unless I am on an incline, I have my assist set to zero and then increase to 2 once I come to a hill.

General stuff

I love my ebike, because there's just no way I would regular bike commute for 50 mins each way where I live due to the hills. I'm still getting some fitness benefit from it without turning up at uni a sweaty mess, which is important since the clothes I bike in I have to wear all day. The rain sucks though, so I'm going to invest in some wet weather gear soon. Mine is about 25 kg, 21 kg without the battery in, so it's definitely awkward and bulky which is a bit frustrating. It also means that when biking without pedal assist it's actually harder to ride than a regular bike. I fell off my bike the other night in the rain and the dark in an accident that I'm pretty sure wouldn't have occurred on a regular bike, simply due to the weight of my ebike, so in someways you do have to be more cautious. I also feel less able to take a hand off the handlebars, i.e. when checking behind me or indicating because it feels less safe. When I first got my bike I had to be careful slowing down or turning corners as I would sometimes get a boost of power at the wrong time, because my bike thought I was still pedalling, so I've changed the way I bike but also turn pedal-assist all the way off now if I'm coming to a stop.
posted by BeeJiddy at 4:25 PM on August 9


I started commuting with a Stromer ebike in January and I love it. I expect to hit 2,000 total miles for the year.

Definitely get panniers for the weight distribution advantage; I bought a single Ortlieb that I use like a messenger bag at work. I’m happy with the lights on mine but I also use a helmet with built-in lights to be more visible in winter. I would suggest riding the whole way if you can and maybe get a second charger for work so you’re always setting out with a full battery. I don’t do this because I only ride in one direction, but my battery would not support a full two-way ride to work on max power without a daytime re-charge.

I’ve been able to service mine pretty easily along with my other bikes but there are some extra tricks to dealing with the back wheel. On a bike like mine with the motor in the rear hub I’ve found it’s necessary to unhook some additional wires to get the full wheel out when changing a flat. This wouldn't be the case if the motor was in the bottom bracket. It’s been invaluable owning a repair stand that allows me to flip the bike upside-down to get that rear wheel off.
posted by migurski at 12:20 AM on August 10


Absolutely get a pannier rack. You move your body enough to keep motion synced with the bicycle itself, and you don't want to have the weight of a backpack complicating this on a longer ride.

Some E-bikes have decent built-lin lights, but that's mainly the Dutch models I'm familiar with. It's kind of a crime that locks/lights/cargo aren't standard on bicycles in the US the way they are on cars!

I know I'm kind of That Guy for saying this, but…bicycle helmets are a scam. They do not protect against concussion and in fact may be causing concussions in collisions that would otherwise cause mere surface abrasion.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:35 PM on August 11


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