Before I arrived at Interbike, I kept on hearing about these E-Bikes. To me, it just sounded like a bike that really wanted to partake in the whole e-revolution. You know, e-mail, e-file, e-everything! Next thing you know, they would have been joining the i-revolution. iPhone, iTV…and then i-Bike. Except…well, that’s already taken.
But I largely didn’t have much interest in them – to me, they were interesting, but not really something that warranted spending much time on. Given electric bikes aren’t exactly allowed in competition – it wasn’t high on my priority list. Then I arrived at Interbike and starting poking around. By that time in the morning I had ridden a few road/tri bikes and was really looking for something with a bit less…effort.
So, naturally, as I was taking random pictures I stumbled upon my first e-Bike vendor: Luche Bikes
Knowing virtually nothing about them, I let them give me their short marketing blurb. Basically, unlike many of the other e-Bikes out there, their target is a low-cost bike that would appeal to folks less likely to pop down $2,000-$3,000 on a electric bike. Instead, there bike goes for between $800-$900.
The first thing I noticed was this thing was incredibly heavy. Like moped heavy. To me, it pretty much removed mentally moved it from the category of a bike and made it more like a small motorcycle.
Speaking of motorcycles, it’s probably important to note the difference between an e-Bike and a moped. E-Bikes have what’s called ‘assist mode’, which basically means as you pedal, it’ll assist you by providing a bit of extra power. This mode typically has a range of assistance, from about 25% to 200%. You can adjust how much assistance it will give using a control pad on most bikes. On all the bikes I tried, you an also just press a button and it’ll basically motor itself – no pedaling necessary.
Once out on the road, speed wise I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Luche, as I was getting passed on the flats by cyclists that really weren’t working too hard.
One of the interesting challenges with e-Bikes is that the federal government here in the US limits their assisted speed to 20MPH. But that’s somewhat a function of weight and guesstimates – so some bikes end up being better refined than others (read: go faster). In this case of this bike…that was definitely not the case. Also, the pedaling felt rather weird – sorta like when you’re in too easy of a gear and you just spin a lot. I wouldn’t feel this on other bikes later on.
Climbing also was pretty rough – I just barely made it up the main hill back to the demo area…was a bit concerned I’d have to ‘get out and push’.
On the bright side…it did have a cool basket…and a place to stash your bags in back. So while I understand the target market here – I just think it sacrifices too much of what a bike is. It just feels and handles like a small moped instead.
Next up was Bionix. Now, Bionix actually doesn’t make a bike per se, but instead makes an aftermarket accessory that you can rig up to just about any bike. The idea being you can take your Cervelo P3 and with a bit of time in the garage, turn it into a mean street machine. All in less than a few hours.
For the purposes of demo, they had setup a bunch of commuter style bikes that you could go out and play around with. Just when I was about to head out on it, the lady in the below picture had finished up her ride and was giving glowing reviews about it – so that made me want to give it a whirl even more.
So I headed back out again onto the test route…pink demo band and all:
The first thing I noticed about this setup is it’s very quick and relatively light. It felt like a bike – not a moped. And thus it was easy to handle and didn’t feel weighed down. It was maneuverable and when I pedaled, it actually felt like I was really helping to contribute.
It also featured regenerative braking – which means when you break, it’ll put a little bit of that energy back into the battery – helping to charge it.
In the case of the Bionx, the whole $1,700 kit is basically the big battery mounted on the bike, plus the controller and display unit, as well as the back wheel, which you can more clearly see below:
And the bike had no issues whatsoever in climbing – in fact, it really flew up and down the hills. Quite a blast to ride. Overall, I’d give their kit high marks in the ‘fun’ department, as well as the horsepower side of things. It assisted me when I wanted assistance…and it just took me for a ride when I wanted to be lazy (almost always).
Trek Ride+ Electric Bike
Last up in my e-bike foray was Trek’s entry. I stumbled on their booth while wandering over to the downhill mountain bike downhill course, as for whatever reason they had a lonely location setup out in the middle of nowhere. At least there were no lines…
After I heard a bit about the bike I came to find out that it’s actually just a Bionx kit under the covers…except…it’s a well tweaked one. They’ve not only changed the form factor, but they’ve also optimized it quite a bunch to really fit the bike.
This time I headed out onto the e-Bike Test track, a short loop course that twisted through the mountain bike trails.
One of the things that became immediately clear was that this felt like a regular bike – not a electric assisted bike. It rode cleanly and when I pedaled my input not only felt valuable – but also enhanced. This was in contrast to the Luche, where my pedaling really didn’t matter.
It also handled pretty well off-road too:
And it had no issues climbing. When I think of a assisted bike – this would be it. It felt really well refined and made me forget I was riding an electric bike. It just did it’s job when needed quietly.
Just a few final quick thoughts. With all the bike limited to roughly 20MPH, it becomes more of an issue to weight/power and how it handles going up hills – as well as cleanliness of design. Further, some of the bikes are much heavier, and thus the battery won’t last as long pulling you around. In most cases, e-Bikes have a range of about 25-30 miles with respect to charge. Of course, you can always pedal yourself just fine too. I also asked about regenerative charging – but nobody really had a good definitive answer there as to how much of a difference it would truly make in battery life.
Finally – the target market. E-Bikes are generally aimed at the bike commuter who may either want a bit of a greener alternative to a car/motorcycle, or may want some assistance due to terrain. For me, I wouldn’t see myself buying one anytime soon simply because almost all the of the time I spend on the bike is aimed at training, with very little targeted towards wandering around town. But I could see a case in the triathlon world for them being great for USAT ref’s to quickly get around on the run course. Especially in Ironman competitions with the longer run courses. For that, it’d be perfect!
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