Eric Mold: Three electric bikes later...
The electric bike or e-bike is becoming popular in the Lower Mainland of B.C. Vancouver and Victoria are the only major urban areas in Canada that enjoy almost year-round cycling weather. It is no wonder that the bike is becoming an increasingly important component of urban commuting. E-bikes are figuring more and more into that matrix.
There are two distinct types of e-bikes: the type that resembles an ordinary bike in which the electric mechanism assists the rider, and the type which resembles a motor scooter that seems impractical to pedal. The former is the subject of this discussion.
Ease of pedalling leads me to the first feature to seek when selecting an e-bike. How easy is the bike to pedal when the battery is flat? Or there is a malfunction of the propulsion system? Some kind of failure could occur over the lifespan of the machine, so it is nice to know that you can carry on to your destination if a problem occurs. So your first tryout should be without power.
The second most important consideration is where can you get it serviced. Most bike shops can fix punctures and adjust brakes but few have a technician on staff that can service or repair the power train.
I am currently on my third e-bike in two years. The first one was a Cyclamatic, which I imported from the U.S. It cost about $1,200 landed here in Vancouver. After roughly six month’s operation a fault occurred with the motor. I could not find anyone locally that wanted to try to solve the problem. The supplier in the U.S. was very supportive; however, it took them a long time to obtain a new motor, complete with rear wheel, from the manufacturer (in China). Eventually the bike was as good as new but in the meantime, I had given up hope of ever getting it fixed so I started looking for a replacement.
One of my own criteria is that the bike I have must be capable of delivering some exercise. The iGo bike, sold by a dealer in Vancouver at about $1,900, met this requirement, so I settled on that model. A choice that turned out to be a disaster. The chain came off twice on my first two rides; on my third trip the chain broke and fell off in the road. The eight-speed derailleur gears were continual trouble; some cogwheels and the chain wore out and had to be replaced. The battery was guaranteed for approximately 750 charges but only lasted for about 300. A battery cost $595 plus tax. In the meantime, the dealer skipped town and moved too far away for me to get to his premises for servicing. In the end, I became so frustrated, trying to get the machine reliable and dealing with a disinterested retailer and a supplier in Montreal, that I wrote the thing off.
This leads me to the second most important consideration when shopping for an e-bike. Satisfy yourself that the retailer has a knowledgeable technician on staff. You are unlikely to find such a person in an ordinary bike shop. Look for an outlet that deals mainly or exclusively in e-bikes and has a reasonable servicing department.
My third e-bike, an eProdigy, is the best one I have owned so far. It cost about $2,800 and was supplied by the Reckless bike shop in downtown Vancouver. Their premises are centrally located to the main east-west and north-south cycle corridors in the city, and they have competent technicians on duty seven days a week. Their service, interest, and products have gone a long way to re-inspire my waning interest in these machines.
The impressive eProdigy e-bike is just entering the Vancouver market. I am a senior citizen, and to give mine a decent tryout I recently rode 40 kilometres from downtown Vancouver to Sunshine Hills, North Delta, negotiating several steep and long hills en route, including the Alex Fraser Bridge. It was absolutely no trouble at all, an overall fun trip, for me an adventure. So far I have 400 kilometres on the odometer.
E-bikes are really for commuters. A 15-kilometre commute would be ideal. You bowl along with pedal assist at about 20 to 25 kilometres per hour. A longer commute would be fine if you took your battery charger to work with you. Most e-bikes claim to have about a 40-kilometre range but that is under ideal conditions and should be accepted with caution. The weight of the rider plus any load carried, hills en route, significant wind velocity, power settings used, and gears selected all have a bearing on range.
The economics go something like this. Say that a bike should last at least four years and costs about $2,500. One new battery during that period costs about $500. Total outlay: about $3,000, which spread out over a commute five times per week for four years, works out to less than $3 per day. There are no parking costs, no transit fares, no gas or insurance fees, no cumulative car mileage. or wear and tear. What is more you feel good and you’re leaving a space for those who must drive or use transit.
All we need now is for an enterprising person in China to come up with a lightweight e-bike “commuter over-suit”—for those of us that have to attend meetings or social functions in business attire during inclement weather, and don’t have an opportunity to change out of cycling garb on arrival.