If You Buy An eBike, Is It Just Too Lazy?
At 55+ we still like to ride bicycles. It gets us out in the fresh air and sunshine and gives us the mobility to explore a bit further than just walking does. But for a few years we had been assessing if it was time to buy an eBike.
When we moved to our condo by the lake, a key selling point was the walking / biking path just outside our door along Lake Ontario. But I must admit with each passing year, our bike riding is being limited by some diminishing in my physical shape. On the really windy days by the lake, it feels like we are standing still when we ride into the wind. The Lakeshore Rd hill we need to take if we want to ride right into the Toronto downtown core becomes a mountain in my mind. And at some point, my own endurance will send us back towards home.
When we travel in Europe, we have often looked for opportunities to rent a bike and in almost all cases, there are eBike options available. We rented an eBike in Barcelona and biked for hours along the shoreline.
In Barcelona we also saw the very cool SMART eBike being used for bike tours. At the very high end of the spectrum, these would not be our starting level eBikes!
|SMART eBike – In Barcelona|
While many European cities are very flat and don’t need the assisted power for hills, the powered bike has provided us with much greater range. eBikes have been sold in Europe for a long time and they have evolved with great European style. We saw the coolest bike when we were in Bologna. The “WayEl E-Bit” was both powered and small enough to fold into its own carrying case. We came home from that trip determined to investigate what eBikes we could find in Canada.
|WayEl E-Bit eBike – In Bologna|
On a weekend trip to Ottawa, we went looking for a bike rental shop that had eBikes. Heading into the Byward Market we drooled at the window of Scooteretti where the candy red Pedego eBike was sitting! It looked so sleek and European! We were very disappointed to find that they were not renting eBikes, but the owner spent over an hour answering all of our questions we had before we would by an eBike – about what eBike options there were in Canada, the features we should be looking for and the trailering options. We walked away understanding that while the market was not as developed in Canada, the aging population (and the European experience) was creating an emerging market with some established brands (with servicing available) in Canada. We now knew you could buy an eBike with support in Canada.
While the Ottawa shop would be happy to take our order to buy an eBike, we continued our search closer to home. We spent another hour talking with one Toronto eBike store owner to narrow down our selection. David was looking for sporty while I was looking for comfort. While it might have been cute for us to get matching bikes in different colours, it looked as if our basic needs might mean a compromise for each of us if we selected one model. Having narrowed down our choices, we left the shop to do a bit more online research and to decide on purchase timing. Being August in Toronto meant that the bike season was almost at an end (considering we were leaving in a few weeks for 10 weeks in Italy). While it was tempting to take the end of season discount, we finally decided we would wait until the spring to buy an eBike and see what new models might hit the showroom floors.
What better place to look at all the options to buy an eBike than the Spring Toronto Bike Show! We headed off early to ensure we would get some inside track time to test out the options. By now, David had compiled his matrix to help guide our eBike selection. We hoped this would allow us to quickly get to a short list of bikes to test ride.
It was a pleasant surprise to see that almost half the show floor was dedicated to bike sales – and they were going out the door fast! On the last day of the show, it appeared that there were some good deals to be had!
We were interested to find that there were many other brands than the few ones we had seen in our eBike research so far. A few Canadian manufacturers caught our interest but after spending some time looking at the product line, none fit my requirements so we moved on. We were looking to get an additional discount for buying two bikes – so we needed a dealer that met both our requirements.
One booth was exclusively dealing in Italian bikes. While these were much more stylish than many of the other eBikes we saw (if not as cool as the one we saw in Bologna), the servicing options sent us on our way. We were not at all comforted when he said they would call up other dealers to find someone to service the bike if we had a problem! Servicing was definitely one of the criteria on the spreadsheet.
While we stopped at a few other booths, the extensive display at Gears was sure to give us the choice we were looking for to buy an eBike. We ran through our requirements with the helpful staff at Gears and narrowed down a few bikes to test ride. With our helmets in place, we went around the indoor track to test the bikes.
|Test Riding an eBike at the Toronto Bike Show|
While the indoor course was a good place to try out sharp turns, the slippery concrete floor and short runs really was not giving me a great place to test the power feature of the eBike. My first requirement was that the eBike would ride well as a regular unpowered bike so the course worked ok for me. While I did want the power assist, I absolutely wanted to be able to ride the heavier bike by leg power as much as possible.
In the end we narrowed it down to two models. The CUBE Elly Ride Hybrid (apparently the first one in Canada) was David’s selection. This model was closer to the bikes we had been riding and looked pretty much like regular bikes but they featured newer Bosch battery technology that would give some additional power when needed. I was still contemplating a Pedego bike but was drawn to the new Boomerang model introduced this year with a very very low step-over crossbar. This was a major requirement for me as I continued to lose flexibility – the lower the better! But this lower step-over came with a more casual style of bike that rode with much less precision than the CUBE bike. At one point David couldn’t help himself when he labelled this the “old lady bike”. I monopolized the Gears eBikes for a while as I alternated riding around the track on the two selections but even with that, I was not firmly committed to a model, unlike David who had already chosen his yellowish (“honey-mustard”) CUBE Elly Cruise Hybrid eBike!
We put down a deposit that would hold the show prices for us to buy an eBike and went home. I waffled over my decision for a few days – did I want a better version of the bike I could ride today or did I want to buy an eBike that would meet what I felt was my emerging need? One more test ride might help me to get to a final decision, so we headed back to the Gears store in Missisauga to test ride one last time. Hopefully our real road test would provide the answer. At over $3,000 Cdn each, this was not a decision I was making lightly. We both remarked that we had spent less on our first used cars!
Arriving at the store, we found a massive store with everything a bike fanatic could want.
David had no desire to change models but when we got to the store we saw a matt black CUBE with a slightly different gear system and a slightly lower price. Probably the biggest thing we disliked about the CUBE model we saw at the bike show was that it came only in purple and this ugly yellow colour. Matt black was so much better! So David too had his bike!
We had most of the biking gear we needed except new locks and bike covers. We knew we needed heavy duty locks (like motorcycle locks) to ensure the eBikes would be safe. Since the eBikes would live in the garage of our condo – a good coverage cover would also be essential. A little research would get us the best bets for both.
The last thing we needed to order was the bike carrier. eBikes approach 60 pounds even if you take the battery off, so a regular bike carrier really is not going to work. We looked at several models of hitch mounted bike carriers that were used for eBikes and selected our Thule model. All we now needed was to get the Volvo fitted with a hitch and we would be off and travelling with our eBikes!
Selection Criteria To Buy An eBike
David’s eBike selection spreadsheet to buy an eBike included all the things that were important to us:
1) eBike Frame Size / Shape
- We quickly discarded the idea of folding bikes. While they may have been practical for travelling, the smaller wheels meant you worked harder and the smaller size meant there was a tradeoff in performance (e.g. smaller battery capacity).
- My key requirement was a low step-over frame. While traditional girls bikes had a lower frame, they still were not low enough. Most of the eBike coaster type bikes had much lower step-over frames.
2) Batteries – Capacity and Type
- Battery capacity is measured in Amp Hours. It is a measure of how long you can go before charging. Most bikes came standard with about 10 Amp Hours but we were looking for more, about 15 Amp Hours to give us a bit longer time between charging. We were planning a few longer bike rides and did not want to be searching for an electrical outlet mid-ride!
- It appeared that all of the eBikes came standard with nicad (NiMH) or newer lithium batteries. Which are safer, lighter and pack more energy for their weight. eBikes have different lithium batteries (i.e. lithium manganese cobalt – Smart e-bike) and are moving to smaller, lighter more powerful technologies. The CUBE bike that David selected has a Bosch battery with lithium-ion with “unmatched energy density”.
3) Motor Drive – Capacity and Location
- Motor capacity is measured in Watts and will give you an idea of how much extra assistance the motor will give you. It is especially important if you are heavier (e.g. need to move your weight), if you want to move quickly off the mark or if you want to go faster.
- Most of the eBikes came standard with about 250 Watts. We were looking for 350 Watts to give us just that little more power.
- The traditional location for the eBike motor is on the rear wheel drive. This location is vary common and can even be retrofitted to existing bike frames, but the downside is lack of drive power, especially noticeable going up a hill. The newer trend is to put the drive motor at the pedals. This is called different names; centre drive, mid drive motor system. The CUBE has a second generation Bosch Drive Unit Active Cruise listed at Optimal Drive Position in the bottom bracket. This option gives you more efficiency (allowing for longer ride distances) and better climbing. You are pedalling the actual drive motor, not a chain to a motor (in the rear wheel hub). The biggest concern is that this is newer technology (in Canada). As David’s chosen bike has the motor at the pedals while mine is on the rear wheel in the more traditional location, we should see if motor location made any difference!
4) Brand – Servicing and Reliability
- The key here was a brand that had been around in Canada for some time and had some history. We did not want to be on the bleeding edge of new technology or a brand new company. David still bought the CUBE Hybrid because of the “Bosch” reputation.
- Similarly, we wanted to know that there was local servicing for the eBike. No matter the warranty (most seem to be very minimal) or the proven reliability, when something went wrong, we wanted a local place for repair.
Is An eBike For You?
As I have noted, I was looking for a new bike that offered some assisted power. I was not looking for a scooter or trail bike! The eBikes we chose ride equally well unpowered so as long as you are not too lazy, you can do most of your riding with little or no power assist. If you really do get lazy (or need the extra power), you have it.
I am hoping that the eBike will take away the tendency to not go and ride unless the conditions are perfect. I can now ride when it is windy and on a course that has some hills. We can take our eBikes to other scenic locations and know that we can do a gentle but longer ride.
The eBike is probably not a great option if you are doing a lot of off road riding, although the big fatter tires should handle grass and dirt with no problem. I would just not want to make the eBike take that much abuse (although there are eBikes targeted at this use).
When we were at the bike show, I stopped by one of the local bike riding clubs and asked if I could still ride with them. Since our bike still looks like a bike and can be ridden with no power, we didn’t violate any of their rules. But they did sneer down their noses just a little bit at this less traditional approach to biking.
We will be riding the new eBikes over the summer and will update this periodically as we get more experience and are able to validate our decision to buy an eBike. You may even catch glimpses of the bikes in our summer blogs!
Have you gone over the to dark side with an eBike? Any other things people need to consider when making a purchase?