Interested in getting an electric bike (ebike)? Curious about ebikes? Like reading stories about ebikes? This article and guide includes the following sections to cover those different interests:
- Why You Should Consider An Ebike
- My History With Ebikes
- Ebike Tips For Everyone
I just turned 81. I like to say: I do a pretty good impression of a 90 year old when I walk, but when I ride my electric bike, I feel like I’m 20. The number of ebikes is getting up there, too. There are well over a hundred electric bike manufacturers now, and it seems like it will be a thousand soon. For that reason, I couldn’t possibly evaluate them all. However, to help out those who are curious about ebikes, I will concentrate on basic principles that I have learned over seven years of riding two rear-hub-drive bikes and three mid-drive bikes. I have also ridden fat-tire bikes as rentals, which come with some tips of their own.
First, I will explain why you really need to buy an e-bike. Then, I will go through my history with ebikes. Last, I will lay out ebike tips for everyone.
Why You Should Consider An Ebike
Problem: Some people spend many thousands of dollars for an extremely light carbon-fiber road bike with wheels with deep fairings to gain only a percent or two in efficiency. After that, you still have a bike with very narrow hard tires that rides well only on very smooth pavement, and if you happen to veer off the pavement onto gravel, dirt, or grass, you are likely to have an unhappy ending. Also, if you hit a curb or drop off a curb, you could also be in big trouble. Road bikes are also very prone to flats. Driving off pavement is asking for a thorn and a flat. Forget riding for even a short run on gravel — it is miserable.
Going to an ebike, you have wide mountain bike tires, you can have full suspension and disc brakes, and you can gain not two or three percent but a 500% in assist to your muscles (from the motor). You can drop off a curb or hit one and hardly notice it. You can veer off the pavement onto the shoulder and most likely just ride back up onto the pavement. Gravel roads are no longer a problem. You can ride off-road single-track trails. This was a revelation to me and I now spend at least 20% of my riding off-road. Bottom line: you get the versatility of a wide-tire mountain bike with much less physical effort than a $15,000 road bike.
My History With Ebikes
There are very different types of electric bikes and they can be suited to each type of riding — you just have to get the right match for you. I started riding ebikes and bought my first electric car at about the same time, in 2014. I put solar panels on my house in 2016. I ride my electric bike almost every day and estimate that I have ridden almost 20,000 ebike miles over the last seven years. My longtime favorite Bulls E-Stream EV FS AM 45 Class 3 bike has almost 8,000 miles on it. I like my newest Fantic bike even better and accumulated over 1000 miles in the five weeks my Bulls bike was in for repairs to replace the motor that I wore out.
How I first learned about ebikes: In 2013, I walked into a bike store in American Fork, Utah, where the owner had picked up two Cannondale ebikes. They were European demos from a bike show. They weren’t for sale, and Cannondale wasn’t even supporting them in the US. However, I got some test rides and I was hooked. I was soon to learn the advantages of electric bikes: they virtually eliminate problems with the things you hate most about biking — going up steep hills (in some areas, steep hills make regular bikes impossible for most people), biking into a strong headwind, and making that trip that is longer than your comfortable range. It also makes pulling your kids or grandkids in a bike trailer a breeze rather than a miserable chore (Figures 6 and 7). Some people are human dynamos and can do these things without a problem, but they are showstoppers for the rest of us.
Over the years, I have taught a number of my children and grandchildren how to ride bikes. I had a big success with my 5-year-old grandson in 2015 (Figure 2) when I took him to a big empty parking lot, gave him a little push, and he rode off like he had been doing it for years. Four years later, I got him onto an ebike.
In those early days, when another biker would finally realize that I was riding an electric bike, they would say: Why are you riding an electric bike, don’t you ride a bike for exercise? I could never convince them, but I would say if you want more exercise, you just reduce the assist level or ride faster. In fact, if you reduce the assist to zero, you get more exercise than you want because you are pedaling a big, heavy bike. I generally ride at least 20 miles and 90 minutes every day, with about 4 miles of it off-road, and at age 81, I get a good workout for me. However, after riding my carbon fiber road bike again recently, I was reminded that it is true that with full assist you don’t get the same aerobic workout climbing steep hills as you do with a solely human-powered bike.
In 2014 I purchased my first ebike, an Easymotion Emotion — a 27 speed, Class 3, rear-hub powered ebike with a max speed of 28 mph. It is almost an electric road bike, with quite narrow hybrid width tires. Figure 6 shows me riding the white Emotion bike, and Figures 7 & 8 show me pulling a trailer with my grandchildren. It has no suspension, caliper brakes, and the battery in the down-tube. It is my only electric bike with a throttle, which my grandchildren love. I never ride with a throttle, so don’t miss throttles on my other ebikes. However, a throttle is useful when trying to start your bike going up a steep hill. With an extra battery that I carried on a carrier attached to my seat post, I could now do the Alpine Loop.
Side story: In Lindon, Utah, we live at the foot of 11,752 ft Mt Timpanogos. On our back property line in Lindon, the marvelous 18-mile-long Murdock bike trail now runs from Provo Canyon to the Point of the Mountain in Lehi. When we moved to Lindon in 2005, it was the Murdock irrigation canal. Five years ago, the federal government buried the canal in a 10.5 ft pipe and put the gorgeous Murdock bike trail over the top. If you take the Murdock trail 3 miles, then up the Provo Canyon Parkway 6 miles, continue on highway 189 three miles, and turn onto the ultra-steep grade 2.2 miles to the Sundance Ski Resort, that is a struggle even with an ebike. Carry on up a little less steep grade 4 miles to the Timpanogos trail trailhead. Then, in the early spring, you lift your bike over the road closure gate and proceed up the steep grade 4 miles to the summit at 8077 ft. Since there is no other traffic, I once encountered a juvenile moose resting on the road in front of me (see Figure 9 below). On the way down the north side in early spring, you have to push your bike across several snow drifts that haven’t melted yet (see Figure 8). Then you are headed down American Fork Canyon at speeds over 40 mph, back to the Murdock Trail, completing the loop back to our house in 33 miles. I once did the loop on my human-powered road bike & nearly died on the ultra-steep Sundance section.
My second ebike, a 2015 Stromer ST1, was a Class 3 bike with a max speed of 28 mph. It had a Swiss-made rear-hub drive with front suspension and disc brakes. Because it is a heavy bike with rear-hub drive, like my Easymotion ebike, it has a front derailleur with 3 gears and 9 on the back for a total of 27 combinations. (See photo of my brother with the black Stromer — Figure 11.) This is a deluxe very well built bike made in Switzerland. However, even with 27 gears, the steep part of the Alpine Loop was still a struggle, because even at full electric motor assist, you need considerable human power on the grade. Although, with a single bigger battery, I could make the whole 33 mile loop without running out of power if I rode the level sections at low assist. Unfortunately, after five years, the Stromer bike stopped working. I purchased a new battery for $400, but that wasn’t the problem. Crazy Lenny’s Electric Bikes in Madison, Wisconsin, wanted another $1500 for a new motor. By then, I was not a fan of rear-hub motors, so I abandoned the bike.
My third ebike was a 2016 Class 1, 7-speed, mid-drive I-Zip Vibe with a max speed of 20 mph. It had caliper brakes and no suspension — see photo of my wife Mary with the red I-Zip (Figure 12). This was my first mid-drive bike and an eye-opener to me. With a mid-drive, both the rider and the motor get the mechanical advantage of the rear derailleur. (Note: seven gears are plenty on this bike.) In a rear-hub drive ebike, only the rider gets the mechanical advantage of a derailleur, which limits your climbing ability.
Although this is an inexpensive step-through beach bike, it climbs like a mountain goat. It handles steep grades better than even my most recent $6,000 mountain ebike. As a step-through, it is the one bike my wife Mary feels comfortable riding. While it does not have full suspension, it has quite wide tires and it can be used for level 1 single-track off-road trails.
I have a compromised vestibular system from a water ski accident in 2017. It is so bad that walking on uneven ground is a challenge for me. Also, I have just turned 81. The amazing thing is that even with a compromised balance system, I do not feel compromised on a bicycle. In fact, I can even still ride some fairly difficult single-track off-road trails on my bike. For reasons I don’t understand, balance is not a problem and the electric motor makes up for my severe loss of leg strength that come from years of pinched nerves in my back.
My fourth ebike was a 2018 Class 3 Bulls E-Stream EVO FS AM 45 mid-drive mountain bike purchased November 13, 2019, as a demo for $3000 from Salt Lake Ebikes. It has full suspension, disc brakes, aluminum frame, 2.2” tires with a Brose 350 W mid-drive motor with 90 Nm of torque and up to 380% of support as well as a big 648 Wh battery. I didn’t realize what a wonderful bike I had just purchased, but over 8,000 miles of riding I have come to love it. It feels great under you, handles the difficult sections of single-track off-road trails extremely well, and has a big battery. As a Class 3, you get assist up to 28 mph downhill, and on the level if you are strong enough. The full suspension softens the ride even on the Murdock trail on the transitions across city streets as well as off-road and gravel. Both wheels on this bike are 27.5”. This bike still has a two-gear front derailleur and 9 gears on the back for a total of 18 combinations. This bike weighs about 50 lb.
My fifth and latest ebike: A 2021 Fantic XMF 1.7, a Class 1 bike with a max speed of 20 mph, a Brose 250-watt S-MAG-90 Nm mid-drive motor, and a 720 Wh battery. The mountain bike has full suspension, disc brakes, and is my first bike with a drop seat. I had just driven 100 miles to the Bulls dealer at Cycle City Outdoors in Escanaba, Michigan, only to learn it would be several weeks for the Brose motor on my favorite bike to be repaired. It would need to be sent back to Seattle to be rebuilt. I ride every day and couldn’t live for weeks without a great bike. To my amazement, Cycle City had a wonderful Fantic Mountain ebike in stock, so I broke the bank and paid $6000 for the bike. The Italian Fantic company is famous for competition motorcycles, but is new to ebikes. It’s also a wonderful bike, and while it is limited to 20 mph, you can ride up to that speed with less effort. The drop seat has a lever you push that drops the seat several inches. This is mainly used for extreme downhill mountain biking, but it is also handy for setting the seat to a lower level for a shorter person. The bike has 2.2” tires with a larger front wheel that is 29” in diameter. The back wheel is the standard 27.5 inches. The larger front wheel makes it a little easier to ride over large rocks, roots, etc. when riding off-road. On the latest mountain ebikes, the front derailleur has been eliminated, but the rear derailleur has 12 gears and a large range. This bike also weighs 50 lb.
Ebike Tips For Everyone
Safety: Obviously every biker is going to wear a helmet, but how do you keep safe riding on a highway? In Utah, all of my riding is done on bike paths, so wearing bright yellow and vigilance are sufficient. In Three Lakes, Wisconsin, it is necessary to ride a short distance on a moderately busy highway to get to the delightful blacktop back roads, like the Military Highway and Highway X. On the highway, I use a blinking red tail light in addition to wearing bright yellow. Having once been hit from behind on a bike, I take extra care. There is a 2 ft shoulder on the highway which is not wide enough to use as a bike lane. I take my legal right to ride on the highway and ride just inside the white line. I have a rearview mirror on my bike handlebars, so I can watch cars approaching from behind. I make sure they are giving me a wide birth. If a car was to drive too close, I would have time to take evasive action, even riding off the road if necessary. I am aware that riding on a highway is not entirely safe even taking all precautions, but I am willing to take the risk.
Battery Care: Those of us with electric cars know that lithium-ion batteries last longest if you restrict the depletion and charging to a range of 20–80%. My Tesla has software that makes that easy and the battery is big enough to make it practical. A replacement battery for a Tesla costs on the order of $20,000, so I have no lack of motivation. However, with my Nissan LEAFs, there was no software to make it easy and the range was so short that you needed to charge fully to make most trips. What about ebikes? They also have lithium-ion batteries, so the same rules apply. However, you need the total range of the battery and there is no software to help you. A replacement battery is not extremely expensive, at $500–$800. I always charge to 100% and I don’t worry about it. The batteries would last longer if you could find a solution for charging only to 80%. Also, lithium-ion batteries do not do well if you leave them all winter in bitter cold temperatures. I have left my iZip ebike in my unheated garage in Wisconsin all winter, with temperatures often well below zero. I do not have access to a heated garage for it. The iZip battery is still good after four winters. However, my spare Emotion battery is dead, and the original battery has lost capacity. My Stromer battery had also lost capacity. For cold winter storage, I would advise you to find a heated garage for your ebike or remove the battery and keep it in a warm place.
Other Maintenance: It’s important to use ebike chain wax on the chain every 50 miles or so. If not, you can expect to replace an expensive chain and cassette after not too many miles. With the new very narrow chains and 12 narrow gears on the cassette, these can run into hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, with the thick knobby 2.2” tires on a mountain ebike, you don’t have to pump the tires on each ride and flats are rare. This is especially important when riding deep in the woods. If you are not a bike mechanic, it would also be wise to have someone check over your bike once a year to true the tires, etc.
Fat-tire Ebikes: 4” fat-tire ebikes are very popular and have a number of advantages. You can ride better in deep sand or snow. Also, if you reduce the tire pressure, you get a softer ride and may be able to do without a full suspension bike. However, you give up maneuverability and they are much heavier. I can barely lift my 50 lb bikes. You must use a tray-type bike rack for these big, heavy bikes. I manage by lifting one wheel at a time onto the rack.
Advice on your purchase: You will want to buy a bike that will meet your personal requirements. If you always ride on smooth and nearly level trails, then a relatively low-power rear-hub-drive bike with no suspension will be satisfactory. If you ride in an area with steep hills, then a mid-drive bike is a big plus. Having the motor as well as the rider get the mechanical advantage of the rear derailleur gives it much better hill climbing ability. Full suspension is very desirable for off-road riding. Do a test drive! There may be rear-hub drives with very powerful motors that will be just fine for hill climbing.
Price: My simple iZip mid-drive beach bike cost me only $1500 on an end-of-the-season special. My Bulls Class 3 with full suspension, disc brakes, mid-drive, and a large battery cost me $3000 as a once-in-a-lifetime demo special. I didn’t have a chance to shop for bikes when I bought my latest Fantic ebike. It is a Class 1 and has full suspension, disc brakes, a very large battery, and a drop seat. It cost $6000. I had headlights and taillights installed on both my Bulls and Fantic bikes.
What is the lowest price electric bike that you could buy today? You can order some bikes from Alibaba for as little as $200 — but they’re an unknown quantity. If you want to order an electric bike with a little more confidence, Rad Power Bikes offers incredible value. You can buy its Rad Mission 1 bike at an incredible $1199 and its Rad Runner Bike 1 for $1499. The Rad Mission has a 500W rear-hub motor and 504 Wh battery at a price that can’t be beat. The Rad Runner 1 is a fat-tire hardtail 750W rear-hub-drive bike with a large 672 Wh battery. If you under-inflate the fat tires, you can partially make up for the absence of full suspension. I have personally ridden the Rad Runner 1 as a rental in St George, Utah, and found it to be very satisfactory. With the big motor it climbs steep hills very well even though it is not a mid-drive.
I hope this article has given you some insight on the various factors that will inform your purchase of an electric bike.
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