Bike nerd vs e-bike: wrapping it all up

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/12/17/bike-nerd-vs-e-bike-wrapping.html

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This is a great wrap-up. It really does hit all the good and bad, and gives a great mix of the anecdotal and the scientific. This is the sort of stuff I come to BoingBoing for. And what I thought was the most enlightening part was how the e-bike didn’t make you into as much of a lazy out of shape slob that you feared it would. It means a lot to me as a guy who is now beyond 50 myself, and slowly grasping how “old man injuries” are no longer something to laugh at.

And no, I am not just saying this because I like the idea of an e-bike in general – I do, but that’s beside the point. I say this because I really did like your writing. The pacing and the prose just clicked.

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Seconded!

This is a great series of articles and really gets to the point about using pedal assist e-bikes.

In Europe and Japan, the majority of e-bike users are people with relatively short commutes and other “around town” journeys – shopping, delivering children to school, and so on – or maybe they are ageing a bit and not looking forwards to pedalling home up a long hill.

The electric assistance helps these people do more than they would otherwise, keeps them cycling and active, and helps the environment.

Your wrap-up gives the practical reasons behind all this.

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What puzzles me about e-bike is that they are basically scaled-down mopeds. The first release of the Ciao Piaggio looks like a pushbike, with pedals, no license plate (and no helmet and driver license required), no suspensions. In the '70 they had to use a 2-stroke engine instead of an electric engine, but the use cases are almost the same. The Velosolex is a pushbike with an added 2-stroke engine on the front wheel.
What happened next was regulation, so nowadays a moped like that has the same hassless of a small motorbike, license plate, insurance, helment, driver license. So one goes the extra mile and buys a Vespa or the like, with suspensions and some nicieties…

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That right there was the problem: you still needed petrol/gasoline, and it was the loud and stinky 2-stroke engine. Modern pedelecs/e-bikes have nice daily range, and the batteries are designed to be taken with you and recharged overnight. Convenient, but also quiet and not as stinky.

Oh yeah, and Reagan happened in the USA, and his rekindling of the love affair with fuel consumption meant anything “wimpy” also lost some allure in Europe as well. Or you went for the Vespa, like you point out.

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Here in the Netherlands, those sorts of tiny moped are still popular. There are two classes of them, the snorfiets (literally ‘‘purring bicycle’’, limited to 25 km/h) and the bromfiets (or ‘‘humming bicycle’’, limited to 40 km/h). Both need a license to ride- though this can be a car license as well as a motorcycle one- and have to have registration plates and insurance. They no longer have to have pedals.

The Vespa type are more popular, but you still see the odd Piaggio Ciao around registered as a snorfiets- you can tell which is which as the registration plates are different colours.

The reason for their popularity is that they are allowed to use most bicycle paths, and snorfiets riders don’t even have to wear a helmet.

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I do love this ebike trend a great deal :slight_smile:

If i lived somewhere hilly, i’d get one in a heartbeat. As it is i don’t need one so declined. Cost is an issue too. Personally i could afford it, but it comes with the knock-on effect of theft risk. Whilst my £900 bike has a decent lock for it, i’d seriously worry over a £2000-3000 ebike equivelent quality bike.

That said, ebikes have changed the lives of several internet/long-distance friends with partial disabilities. Without ebikes they wouldn’t be able to ride, period. For that i am very grateful they have the opportunity for assisted riding <3

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This series made me really think about an ebike. I don’t think it’s right for me at this time though. My commute is roughly 5 miles with some moderate hills. If I was further out or had a significant hill in the way I might change my mind. I think I might want to try and get better at hill climbing instead though.

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In terms of cost, there are some very cheap options if you’re prepared to DIY a little. I converted my conventional bike to an e-bike at a cost of about £350 ($450 US). It involved replacing the front wheel with a pre-built double-walled rim and hub motor, swapping the brake levers, some basic wiring and a bit of neatening up. There was nothing particularly difficult, and you could pay a bike shop to do it if you wanted. I’ve done about 3000 miles on it since and it’s going great.

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And there’s the environmental benefits of all that exhaled CO2 not released into the atmosphere. /s

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I messed up a leg in 89 and don’t drive anymore due to a pain problem. I have been riding e-assist electric recumbent trikes since 90 and even though I do have a regular pedal bike if I have to carry groceries or anything else I use the trike. (most of my trips). It will allow me to pull a trailer that is the size of a grocery cart full of food home which I cannot do with the bike. 95% of the time the trike takes care of all my transportation needs. Ebikes/Etrikes are great!

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Great series. And nicely balanced take on a topic that can be acrimonious.

I would object to one thing: “you can just blast through silly notions like skinny tires for rolling speed”. It’s silly because most folks have come around to the idea that supple wide tires are no slower than skinny tires: https://janheine.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/12-myths-in-cycling-1-wider-tires-are-slower/

Were I to go for an e-bike, i’d want to keep it on the lighter side in any case, if only for extending battery life.

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I first noticed that back in the early '00s on a recumbent with 20" wheels* - the fastest tire I ever found was the now long-out-of-production Tioga Comp Pool, a fat tire with slick tread, which was intended to be a freestyle BMX tire. Unfortunately, it was definitely not flat-resistant, as I discovered on an organized century ride when a glass chip worked its way into my rear tire’s tread.

* standard 406 mm BMX-size wheels, not the 451 mm with limited tire choice that’s used on skinny-tire recumbents

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This was a great series of articles on the Ebike. I learned a lot from your experience. I am a retired 70 year old scientist, who bicycle commuted in Seattle for 25 years. I still ride a 1996 mountain bike equipped with racks and bags and manage to travel the occasional 35 mile trip on a gravel rail trail. The electric bike seems like a useful tool to get people out of cars and onto bikes. But I believe we all need to realize that the original human powered bike is an incredible invention that still is superior to the electric bike in many ways. It is cheaper, simpler, more efficient and better for the environment. If you get too sweaty, try riding slower. Let’s hope the newby electric bike riders eventually graduate to a retro bike.

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Thanks for the article. Nice work. Never ever going to commute to work on a bike but this was fascinating.

Go out and take a test ride at a local dealer, if you have one or more in your areas that specializes in e-bikes. Aim for one with with a mid-drive motor, which are much more powerful and reliable when they come from the major manufacturers.

Not gonna happen, unless I move from the top of the giant hill where I live (think Queen Anne hill, but steeper and longer). An e-bike has allowed me to ride up that hill, and there’s no going back. That’s the one single reason why I bought it.

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Thanks so much for your excellent articles! Even though our initial motivations and backgrounds are different, it seems that we’ve come to many of the same conclusions about e-bikes.

I was never a hardcore cyclist, but before I moved to my current home 12 years ago, I did quite a bit of recreational riding on my mountain bike for exercise because I lived right next to bike path. Moving to the top of a giant hill changed that; my bike rarely left the garage. I grew less active and fatter over the last 12 years, and tried and failed to find ways to exercise on a regular basis. I took up walking 5+ miles/day, but the bone spurs in my big toes killed that after a couple years. I bought an elliptical, but eventually dreaded the monotony of using it in the garage. The idea of going back to the gym was a non-starter, as the gyms in my area are horribly overcrowded and testosterone-drenched. So, I just felt guilty every day about being so lazy.

Last year, I began looking at the super cheap e-bikes on Amazon and was intrigued. However, as soon as I started doing more research, it became obvious that you get what you pay for with e-bikes, and unless you’re just using one for occasional joyrides, the reliability of the motor, battery, and components is critical.

Once I finally bit the bullet and bought an e-bike last June, I immediately started riding it the 6.5 miles to work, 4 to 5 days a week, and I felt amazing. Since then, I’ve continued riding through the Seattle rainy season, and I think the only thing that’ll stop me will be if the roads get icy, which doesn’t happen too often here. Riding in heavy rain isn’t super fun, but it’s a challenge I can handle now that I have rain gear. About 2/3rds of my route is on bike trails, which makes the journey more enjoyable. Riding at night on one stretch of a moderately busy street can be a little scary, but I’ve invested in some very bright lights and reflective materials.

After 6 months, I haven’t lost any significant weight but I’ve definitely converted fat to muscle in my legs, which are now pretty much fat-free. More importantly, my cardiovascular health has greatly improved, as has my energy level. I usually stay in the first two assist levels (out of four) except when climbing large hills so I do get a reasonable workaround, especially on the way home. The great thing is that I can wear my work clothes, and I don’t need to shower upon arriving at work (which is good, because we don’t have one at the office). I get a bit sweaty coming into work, but it’s manageable.

So, in a nutshell, I’m an e-bike true believer now. I’m using it primarily for exercise, and I’ve found a fitness option that’s sustainable for me. Keeping my car off the road (even though it’s a Leaf) is an added benefit. The downside was the cost of the bike ($3500!) but it was worth every penny.

P.S.: I can’t believe Trek isn’t letting you keep the bike!

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Mid-drive DIY is not as low cost as the hub motors, but still much less than a new complete e-bike if you have an old bike to convert. My 750 W, 28 mph speed pedelec conversion of an existing mountain bike has the performance of some of the quickest commuters, if not the cleanest appearance. I did this myself, installing motor, battery, controls and running wires in a day, but the local shop charges about $500 for the job.

+1 on the wide supple tires also, these are Compass Rat Trap Pass.

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Interestingly, this notion (based on friction based thoughts) is said to be silly anyways, as some more recent studies showed. Will see if I can find a link. Schwalbe was involved, and surprised themselves.

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