Eric Mold: Three electric bikes later...

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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.

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Michael Castanaveras
Great article! I especially appreciate the testimonial coming from a senior. No BS! Thank you Georgia Straight for continuing to run down-to-earth content.
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Forest
Thank you Eric Mold. As someone who is pushing 60, I ride an e-bike -a Stromer - and have never looked back. The freedom is amazing!

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Bruce
Wow Eric...excellent piece of writing! Very informative. And you are inspirational! I am a car person, (actually truck person), and am damn well going to give one of these a try.
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Scooter
Or you could be like Eric and have dropped over six grand on three bikes over the course of two years and gone through what seems like a litany of frustration and disappointment. Cost per day is $11.50 and dropping slowly. Good thing he has a strong ticker.
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Also an e Biker
Point taken Scooter. The local market is still emerging but I find local bikes to be pricey (his third bike was $2800? good lord). I lucked out, I found a Chinese folding electric with 20" wheels, 350W/36V motor powered by a 36V 10amp-hour battery. With the stock battery, my range was about as Eric reported: somewhere below the stated 40km. However, I took a chance and replaced my 10 AH battery with a 30 AH, which is kinda unheard of... the dealer was maverick and I certainly wondered about handing $700 via PayPal to a Chinese email address but... it came and it's phenomenal. This new battery makes my range insane, now I never, ever worry about running about of juice. I can't run this battery down in a day. I've been from central Vancouver to Surrey and Port Moody and back with plenty of juice left over. That for me has brought my electric biking ALIVE. Before I was always worrying about conserving my battery life.

The Chinese have been building electric bikes for ages, so they have stock designs and especially standard battery cases, which are made by the millions, so... that's how I was able to easily swap in a higher capacity one: it looks and fits exactly like my old one.

But... my Chinese bike itself is a crappy bike, with non standard parts. I recently had the rear wheel re-spoked as two broke and JV Bikes (bless their hearts for working on the Chinese bikes) indicated that all the parts are non-standard sizes and inferior quality.

I could write my own article on this. I ride my bike everyday. In this stupid city, which taxes and oppresses the car, what other choice do you have? I am TOTALLY, 100% going to be a replacement of the same from China when this one goes. 350W is a good sweet spot motor size. However I have learned how to service everything, because it's exactly as Eric said, there ain't too many places that will service your bike, esp. the electric shops are kind at all about servicing an ebike that they didn't sell, the local shops all poo poo and thumb their noses at the Chinese bikes but... they are hundreds, if not thousands cheaper. (Thank you JV Bikes for servicing, even tho' you poo poo as well.) :)
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Lee l
I mean if it is the 2 wheeled experience he wants, six Gs would easily have bought a decent low km kawasaki or
honda motorbike. These are reliable and there are lots of parts and technicians everywhere.

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Jonathan
I have a folding electric bike, and couldn't be happier with it. It is a standard Dahon folding bike with an electric conversion from BionX, an excellent outfit in Quebec. What's great about them is they can do conversions to most bikes, so you can pick a bike that you like (mountain, hybrid, touring bike, folding, etc.) and have the conversion done. The conversion was about $1700 five years ago, plus the $500 bike for a total of $2200. Best part was trading in my old Pontiac Grand Prix and getting $1100 towards the bike plus a bus pass for six months through the ScrapIt program! I've had it about five years now, as an occasional commuter. My current commute is 8 km, uphill most of the way to work. The BionX has a great regenerate feature that recharges the battery on the downhill. I'm 45 with a bit of a belly and wouldn't commute by bike without the electric assist. I work in an office and I don't arrive to work covered in sweat, even on hot days. I really couldn't be happier with it. With the folding bike, if you have trouble, or a flat tire, you can toss it in a cab, or if you have BCAA (I do have a car as well) a lot of people don't know that they will come and help you with ANY road trouble, including bikes. They picked me up with a one-ton flatbed and strapped my little folder to the back once when I had a flat and drove me home no problem. I'm riding my bike more and more and with parking and traffic only getting worse downtown, I almost never drive downtown anymore. I won't be stuck in rush-hour traffic northbound on Hornby on a sunny day ever again.
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Innovate
Grin Technologies is a an incredible ebike company based right here in town. They have superb retrofit kits for most any bike. Why no mention of them?
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Ming
thanks for the write up, glad it works for you. I still feel that in Canada electric bikes are not mainstream yet, due the issue you had. Price, battery replacement cost, lack of service, recharge time, battery life.
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