I have fallen in love with ebikes. I seem to like all kinds and there are an unbelievable variety to choose from. Heck, if you can't find exactly what you want you can make one yourself or have it made for you as I did with my cyclocross ebike above. If variety is the spice of life, then ebikes offer a complete spice cabinet!
So what is an ebike and why do I enjoy them so much? In the simplest terms an ebike or electrical bike is a bicycle with an electric motor and battery in addition to pedals. Ebikes have been around for awhile, but it is only fairly recently that the batteries have become really practical. Ebikes operate using either one or two modalities. Most bikes are designed to assist in pedaling (pedal assist mode) and many bikes only offer pedal assistance. Some bikes, in addition to pedal assist, also have a throttle, as does my bike in the photo above. As for the enjoyment factor, the number one reason for the fun is simple...ebikes flatten hills.
So take a look at the bike above and let's consider the differences between this bike as it appears before you and the typical road racing style bike you so often see or you ride yourself. Here are the differences, features and in my view the advantages of my cyclocross ebike above:
1. Speed As a motorcyclist I enjoy speed. I think most of us enjoy going faster rather than slower, especially on a bicycle going uphill. Simply put, with the bike you see above going uphill, I can pass the very most fit road cyclist on his or her multi thousand dollar carbon fiber racing bike like they are standing still. Now that was a mouthful so you might want to read it again. If you think it is hyperbole, think again. I recently rode this bike up a modest grade going 23 mph without pedaling. It is easy to double pedal only speeds, and in some cases, you can triple those speeds. Now if that doesn't fit in with your idea of fun, then you probably aren't in the market for a bike like this.
2. Comfort Once you go with an ebike the weight of the bike really doesn't matter any more. No more counting grams saved with this or that new part. Weight is largely irrelevant, which opens up all kinds of possibilities. Take my Brooks leather seat with springs. No one with a carbon fiber race bike would ever put that seat on their bike even if it were twice as comfortable. Why? Because it is too heavy. Then there is my Suntour suspension seat post which is simply awesome as soon as you venture off the beaten path. Way too heavy for the race bike. How about the pedals? My race bike (which I still enjoy riding short distances) has the all too familiar clip in pedals for my special white bicycle shoes. The only problem is my feet always go numb in these shoes and all the others I have tried even though they fit just fine. There is no point at all in having clip in pedals on an ebike as what little extra power is gained thereby is irrelevant. So I have nice bmx style platform pedals that allow me to wear regular shoes. Not only don't my feet get numb, when I get off the bike I can actually walk! I often wear Birkenstock sandals when riding in warm weather. It may look dorky but they work great as they are relatively stiff, with flat bottoms and enough rubber for the little pins on my pedals to sink into. Just imagine what the road racer thinks when I fly by in my Birkenstocks :)!
Then there are my 700x40c tubless tires running at between 35-50 psi. Talk about a smooth ride...and that is both on pavement and off. The typical race bike has super skinny (my tires are about twice as wide) tires running at over 100 psi so everything gets transmitted from the road through to the bike. So road cyclists spend untold thousands on carbon fiber frames in part to deaden the excessive feel of the road coming from rock hard skinny tires. I, on the other hand, would prefer a sensible tire that is capable both on and off road and I will take the money saved on the carbon fiber frame and invest it in the ebike technology instead.
What about clothing? Well I actually like cycling shorts/pants with the padding in the crotch (lots of corn starch please). However, I am much more likely to ride my ebike in non-lycra ordinary and comfortable clothing. What is the deal with lycra anyway? I think it is to minimize wind resistance. Well who cares about wind resistance when you have a motor to assist you? Not me :)!
Lastly I have the rack and bag on the back of the bike. Fancy road bikes would never have this as it adds too much weight and wind resistance. I think it is great as I can carry additional clothes, food, drink, camera, tools, phone, etc. all without worrying about weight!
3. Safety Let's get back to those nice big tires. A bigger tire means a bigger contact patch with the road surface and thus a greater ability to brake under control in emergency situations. Having almost killed myself in an emergency braking situation on my road bike, I appreciate this benefit enormously. Looking at the photo again you can see those nice disc brakes, which although heavier, offer superior stopping power in a variety of conditions. Score another point for weight doesn't matter any longer.
My throttle is also a safety feature. When I am in any dangerous situation (almost always involves cars) I hit the throttle and accelerate out of the situation sooner rather than later. I figure the faster I get through a dangerous situation the less risk to me, so I throttle when appropriate.
4. Terrain I have ridden my cyclocross bike on every type of pavement and also dirt roads and trails. I even ascended a major mountain single track near my home in Utah. You can't do that on a racing bike, yet on this bike I can do anything a racing bike can do and I can do it faster. Talk about versatility! This capability opens up all sorts of riding venues on what would be punishing or impossible roads on a racing bike. And guess what, these types of roads have almost no cars! I am talking about thousands of miles of small paved and dirt roads throughout the middle elevations of the Sierras as just one example.
5. Distance Well you might ask "how far can you go on a single charge?" Great question. With the battery on the bike as depicted I went 38 miles over a variety of terrain including some hills and still had about 30% of my charge remaining. This bike is, however, wired for two batteries with the second battery destined for the luggage bag (out of stock currently). With both batteries I am confident I can exceed 100 miles of mixed riding. Of course, if you just can't help yourself and you are determined to always go as fast as possible including uphill, you won't get as far. Battery management is a skill you develop as an ebike rider.
6. Cost Ebikes aren't cheap, unless you are a really serious cyclist and to you bikes costing over $3,000 or more are normal. I bought the bike above from bikesdirect.com for $899 and it is a great platform for an ebike conversion. An appropriate conversion bike can be had for as little as $500. It all depends on what you are looking for. So rather than spending thousands on a carbon fiber frame and super expensive components, I invested that money in the ebike conversion kit and labor (less than $2,000 for this bike) and in upgraded parts and accessories. So my bike ended up costing around $3000, which is a chunk of change, but given its capabilities and the cost of regular bikes that it easily out performs, I think it was a great deal. The second battery will add about $800 to the package. On the good news side, I use the same batteries on multiple bikes including mountain bikes. Now that is a serious advantage for conversion kits.
7. Performance My bike is currently programmed for 5 levels of pedal assist and I use all five with most of my riding in modes 2 and 3. As part of the conversion to an ebike my front chain ring was replaced with a single chain ring thus eliminating my front derailleur. I still have the rear derailleur and 10 gears too choose from. 8 gears would be more than enough, but it came with 10 so 10 it is.
It takes several rides to figure out gear choices and assist levels under varying riding conditions but it soon becomes second nature. Another great benefit of the throttle is it can greatly reduce shifting or changing assist levels. The throttle is progressive and at its peak it exceeds pedal assist level 5. So when I approach a short climb or obstacle, I just add some throttle thus eliminating the need to shift. This not only makes riding simpler and more fun, it also reduces wear and tear on the drive train.
8. Fitness So in the USA we ride bikes primarily for fitness and fun. I have spoken some about the fun factor, but what about fitness? Can you get any exercise on an ebike? Yes indeed! You can get just as much exercise as you do on a conventional bike while going faster or you can take it easy when that is appropriate. It is totally up to you and not the terrain. If, due to age or injuries, you don't ride bicycles much or at all, an ebike may be your ticket back into bicycling. Several of my friends and relatives are now enjoying a renewed cycling experience when they thought they would never ride again.
9. Power Many have asked me if you charge the battery while riding. With this bike and most ebikes you do not. You charge it at the wall outlet using a charger. Most batteries can be charged on the bike or removed from the bike. Charging speeds vary depending on the power of the charger, the capacity of the battery and how far the battery is drained. Expect between one and six hours depending on the variables.
Summary I built my cyclocross ebike specifically for riding opportunities in northern California and so far it has been all I could have hoped for and more. Many thanks to Chris, Mitch and Dan at Lectric Cycles (www.lectriccycles.com) for installing my ERAD conversion kit and doing the complete bike build. You guys are the best!
As I mentioned before, there as many different types of ebikes as you can imagine or create. Witness below my Specialized Faboy snow and offroad ebike coversion. Talk about awesome....More to come!