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Thread: E-Bike shopping - seeking feedback & suggestions

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    Default E-Bike shopping - seeking feedback & suggestions

    Hello Bike-iverse,

    My spouse is currently considering the purchase of an e-bike. She is getting somewhat comfortable with the array of primary features and price levels and such, but getting a completely clear picture of what her options are is proving elusive. Plus, her ability to absorb info from her spouse (that's me) can vary as well, so I'm hoping info from others wil help.

    Her primary goals for this bike involve taming some hills (she *hates* hills) for both bike commutes and recreational rides, as well as making it easier for her to accompany her spouse on rides despite a difference in natural pace and endurance. She has just started to do some test rides after conducting some amount of research online. She is dismayed overall at the prices she is seeing and thus is focusing on lower end models, perhaps to an extreme.

    So, a few questions for those who have conducted similar searches and / or are e-bike-educated...

    - Some have suggested that a Cat 3 e-bike is optimal for taming hills. True? If so, how can that difference be quantified in human (feel) terms?

    - Power - what are you seeing as the minimum wattage (motor power) required for happy riding in this area?

    - Are there any features that you absolutely love (i.e. a specific form of instrumentation or lighting or whatever)?

    - Any experience with Rad Power bikes, both in terms of the pre-purchase research and then post-purchase?

    - Has anyone purchased a specific model and found it lacking, and why?

    - Lastly, does anyone have a fave e-bike that they'd like to rave about?

    Happy to take this offline if helpful - if so please message me.

    Thanks much, Justin

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  3. #2
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    Hi Justin -
    I didn't do a ton of research before buying my ebike... I test rode a few models (at Spokes -- all were bottom-bracket models) and then went with my early favorite (found online, from California -- a rear-hub ebike).
    I ride now for office commutes (direct route is just 5 miles one way, nearly 100% on 4MRT with a few blocks of residential streets, etc.) and I ride for leisure and exercise, all on the trail network here in NoVA / DC. So, all paved riding (sometimes on streets, but mostly I stick to available trails.) Little-to-no gravel riding, no mountain-biking, etc.

    After 18 surprisingly fun months (including managing my first-ever biked winter, and clocking 7,000 miles in that time) I can share these observations...

    My bike is a Class 3 / 750w pedal-assist / no throttle, 10-gear cassette. "The Cafe" model from Vintage Electric Bikes in Santa Clara.
    When I started out with it, I was 49, quite overweight & out of shape, and hadn't been on a bike in 25 years. I knew the assist levels would get me over the painful part of acclimating to biking -- removing the pain so I'd have a good chance of sticking with it; using new muscles, dealing with fatigue, aches & pains the days after a ride, my overall poor fitness, etc. -- I knew I'd very easily give up attempting consistent riding on a regular bike in this starting condition, because I gave up on one 25 years earlier for those same reasons.
    The ebike did all that I wished, more than I wished, beautifully! My first few months were often using Level 3 assist frequently (of 5 levels). Every ride ended in happiness, and no pain the next day, so I wanted to ride again, immediately. As I lost weight, gained stamina, etc., I continued to drop into using lower levels of assist. I now ride almost exclusively in Level 1 all the time (the lowest assist level before "no assist" Level 0.) And I often dip into Level 0, too -- when I want a heavier pedal effort / sweatier workout (the bike is 52 pounds naked) and also for battery conservation, becoming something of a battery-charge hyper-miler now. I do love knowing that I always have Levels 2+ available to me, such as if I face a hill that I just don't want to "bother" with. (Primarily for me, that means I'd dial up more assist and downshift, and get up the hill without standing on my pedals -- not that I'm expecting to maintain my flats speed on that same hill... rather, I just may want to get get up it rather comfortably!) Such as if I rode Arlington Loop counterclockwise, and had to climb out of Rosslyn -- I tend to always ride it the other way, and descend into Rosslyn; so that hill isn't an issue... But after all this time anyway, it probably wouldn't be an issue for me in my lowest assist level now, either.

    So. The lesson from all of that -- NOW, in hindsight that I've reached a level of, let's call it "biking fitness suitable for me" (not to be confused with athletic cyclists' fitness levels -- I simply don't need this much power on the bike. (And in a funny twist, I rediscovered my 25-year-old Bianchi pedal bike in storage, the bike I gave up on back then -- got it tuned up and running, and sometimes go out riding on that now.) I think I could have easily made do just as well from the start, with a Class 1 or 2 ebike, both of which cut out their assisting as you reach 20mph. (Class 3 will continue assisting until 28mph, if you wish.) You can go faster than 20 on those 1 & 2 bikes -- but you have to provide all the power to do so. I never use the upper levels of assist (4 and 5) on my ebike. I can't recall the last time I even used Level 3. If I were a speed junkie, I probably would use those -- they are powerful, and you get up to higher speed SO quickly, and can maintain that speed with little effort, at least on flats. And of course, they also burn through the battery that much faster But since I'm a trail rider primarily, those speeds don't interest me... I'll only sometimes exceed 20mph, sustained, in the road on Hains Point, for example. But even there, I'm more likely to roll at 16 - 18mph, as the racers zoom past.

    I resisted a throttled ebike at the start, because I was worried that some future legislation could decide to prohibit those bikes on trails -- they "felt" too close to mopeds in my mind. Since they can in fact be propelled to speed entirely without human pedal effort. (I also was worried, since I wanted to introduce exercise, improve fitness & pursue weight loss, that a throttle would just make it way too easy for me, personally, to cheat.) But the legislation fear was my main reason in avoiding one. (But based on NPS recent policy, maybe it is an unfounded fear now.) I've heard from ebikers who have throttle that they love it, particularly riding in traffic, for faster take-offs from red lights, etc. I don't have a problem without a throttle -- if I know I need more oomph to take off quicker, I simply dial up Level 2 while I'm at a stop, and when I start pedaling it kicks in for a quick push. Then I dial down to Level 1.

    No experience here with Rads. You may want to check out (or have your wife check out) electricbikereview dot com -- great website for ebike reviews, but also a huge active Forum there (that I participate in as well) and there are many Rad riders there.

    My ebike's control display is super minimal. I sometimes think I'd enjoy some features that bike computers, and other brands of ebikes have built in... Mine only displays assist level, current speed, avg trip speed, max trip speed, trip odo, master odo, trip elapsed time, and a simplistic, 5-bar battery gauge indicator. I've grown quite used to it, so I don't "miss" what I don't have. (Such as power consumption in real time, or GPS type stats, etc. There's always Strava, which I also don't have, or dedicated bike computers if I feel I need those some day...) The bike has an integrated front light (with ambient sensor, so it turns on in the dark -- but can be turned on manually as well.) It had an integrated rear always-on red light in the saddle, but I swapped saddles later.

    Happy to answer more questions, or let you all take a spin on mine if you wish.
    -Chris

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    Quote Originally Posted by JustinW View Post
    Hello Bike-iverse,

    My spouse is currently considering the purchase of an e-bike. She is getting somewhat comfortable with the array of primary features and price levels and such, but getting a completely clear picture of what her options are is proving elusive. Plus, her ability to absorb info from her spouse (that's me) can vary as well, so I'm hoping info from others wil help.

    Her primary goals for this bike involve taming some hills (she *hates* hills) for both bike commutes and recreational rides, as well as making it easier for her to accompany her spouse on rides despite a difference in natural pace and endurance. She has just started to do some test rides after conducting some amount of research online. She is dismayed overall at the prices she is seeing and thus is focusing on lower end models, perhaps to an extreme.

    So, a few questions for those who have conducted similar searches and / or are e-bike-educated...

    - Some have suggested that a Cat 3 e-bike is optimal for taming hills. True? If so, how can that difference be quantified in human (feel) terms?

    - Power - what are you seeing as the minimum wattage (motor power) required for happy riding in this area?

    - Are there any features that you absolutely love (i.e. a specific form of instrumentation or lighting or whatever)?

    - Any experience with Rad Power bikes, both in terms of the pre-purchase research and then post-purchase?

    - Has anyone purchased a specific model and found it lacking, and why?

    - Lastly, does anyone have a fave e-bike that they'd like to rave about?

    Happy to take this offline if helpful - if so please message me.

    Thanks much, Justin
    I have two Radpower bikes (RPB)...the Radwagon and the RadCity. RPB's advantage is that they are very cheap...like, almost disposably so (obviously don't just throw away an e-bike). I've put about 3k miles on my Radwagon and about 1k on my Radcity. I'm generally pretty happy with both of them, but I would say that the Radwagon is overkill for me at this point and now I pretty much only ride my RadCity. These are Class 2 (750W with throttle, limited to 20mph), and I find they have plenty of power for all but the steepest hills in this area. RPB recommends staying below 500W assist/throttle for steep hills, which is not a problem. RPB come with integrated front/rear lights controlled by the main assist controller, which I think is super helpful. I never have to think about having a charged head/tail light with me. RPB also have a bell integrated into the brake lever, which is a nice little feature. If I'm conservative with power assist (like, 2 or 3 out of 5 levels), I can generally get 30+ miles. But most of my riding I do at assist level 4 (~500W), and would anticipating getting closer to 20 that way. I never run the battery down though, so that's just a super rough estimate.

    Obviously I'm happy with RPB, but when buying a "cheap" e-bike there are a few things to consider:

    -Cheap bikes = cheap components. Frankly, the old shifters and freewheels on my Rads work perfectly every time, and the "meh" brakes work fine too. "Cheap" here is an issue because older, cheaper components are harder to find easy replacements for, harder to find the right tools for, and generally just more of a pain to work on. Finding 26x2.3" schrader tubes is not easy...Also, my freewheel removal tool couldn't fit over the axle of my Radwagon and I'm still not sure how I'm going to get around that problem.

    -RPB are unnecessarily heavy. Rear-drive e-bikes are typically heavier than mid-drives, but RPB are heavy AF. This is mainly just a problem if you have to move one up or down stairs or are trying to do maintenance. It's not so much an issue with actually riding.

    -RPB customer service is fine. But if you need maintenance, some shops may refuse to work on it. VelofixDC is the official partner with RPB, but getting an appointment with them is neither easy nor cheap.

    Maybe I'll think of more stuff, but that's about it. Long story short though, I'd say RPB are ideal for two types of people: 1)those who don't ride enough to justify paying a ton for an e-bike and who are unlikely to put much wear-and-tear on the bike; and 2)People who are fairly decent at working on bikes and ride a lot, but who don't want to pay almost triple the price for an e-bike that's more mainstream. For people who ride a lot but aren't into doing their own maintenance, RPB is harder to recommend....not because they need a lot of work compared to other bikes, it's just that there fewer simple tasks on an RPB compared to a more "modern" e-bike. For example, changing the rear tire on a read-drive is a legit production....

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    I've had a number of ebikes, mostly cargo bikes for hauling kids, and have followed the discussions of all sorts of eassist.

    My advice: find a shop you like that's convenient for you. You will have problems (it's a machine, things happen), and you want to know who will help you. The more convenient it is, the sooner you'll take a bike in when you need to, which will get you back to riding fast and keep the bike in better shape.

    Test ride some bikes from there. If they don't have any in stock, ask around for people who have what they carry (and recommend) -- you'll probably find someone to let you test ride. Buy the one you like to ride.

    As far as Rad bikes -- I hear good things, but you get what you pay for, and I urge you to figure out what bike will service it before you buy.

    An ebike will change your life. It takes all the excuses out of riding (ok, almost all :-). It's just worth it. And if you find you don't use it, resale is good. Have fun.

    (you=her for all of this, of course)

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    Oh, and if you're in NoVa, ElectriCity is bringing a bunch of eassist cargo bikes to the Arlington Fun Ride @ Arlington Mill on Saturday 10/5 10a-noon. Good opportunity to see, talk about, and test ride a bunch in one place. Plus, there's a Phoenix fundraiser at the same time!

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    Quote Originally Posted by JustinW View Post
    Hello Bike-iverse,

    My spouse is currently considering the purchase of an e-bike. She is getting somewhat comfortable with the array of primary features and price levels and such, but getting a completely clear picture of what her options are is proving elusive. Plus, her ability to absorb info from her spouse (that's me) can vary as well, so I'm hoping info from others wil help.

    Her primary goals for this bike involve taming some hills (she *hates* hills) for both bike commutes and recreational rides, as well as making it easier for her to accompany her spouse on rides despite a difference in natural pace and endurance. She has just started to do some test rides after conducting some amount of research online. She is dismayed overall at the prices she is seeing and thus is focusing on lower end models, perhaps to an extreme.

    So, a few questions for those who have conducted similar searches and / or are e-bike-educated...

    - Some have suggested that a Cat 3 e-bike is optimal for taming hills. True? If so, how can that difference be quantified in human (feel) terms?

    - Power - what are you seeing as the minimum wattage (motor power) required for happy riding in this area?

    - Are there any features that you absolutely love (i.e. a specific form of instrumentation or lighting or whatever)?

    - Any experience with Rad Power bikes, both in terms of the pre-purchase research and then post-purchase?

    - Has anyone purchased a specific model and found it lacking, and why?

    - Lastly, does anyone have a fave e-bike that they'd like to rave about?

    Happy to take this offline if helpful - if so please message me.

    Thanks much, Justin
    I've accumulated 4600 miles and counting on a RadCity bike and am very happy with it. I use it as a daily commuter and errand runner. I think that even for heavy use cases, RPB is a good option - it's a well-designed bike and regular maintenance has kept it going just fine. I think your spouse will be very happy with a RPB because it'll easily let her keep up with you and won't break down.

    I'll echo the advice to locate a bike shop near you that is willing to work on ebikes like this. It's a shame that you've got to worry about that, but some shops refuse to work on the bikes for reasons. I've had great experiences at Handy Bikes DC at Potomac Yard in VA and District Hardware and Bike in DC. I've also worked on it at the Velocity co-op in Alexandria during their self-service hours, and that was fine, but it was clear that they weren't thrilled about it and I doubt I'll be back, sadly.

    I've also added thinner Schwalbe Marathon tires to mine and appreciate the better efficiency and indestructibility, a Mirrycle mirror, and additional front and back lights to augment the somewhat anemic stock ones.

    The ebike really changed how I interact with the world - previously I would walk, metro, or drive myself around, but nowadays I nearly exclusively use the ebike. It's fantastic and I hope your spouse enjoys hers as much!

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    I’ll add that I’ve been very happy with the Spokes crew at Quaker Lane... they’ve done all the work (that I can’t or don’t want to try) needed on my ebike (since the makers Vintage Electric Bikes, are in California, and currently doesn’t have a retail presence in this area.) I had two “serious” issues over the last 18 mos and all was covered under warranty; parts (including a new controller / wiring harness at one point) sent by VEB, and Spokes did the install. VEB coordinated with Spokes for any issues that might’ve needed more input from VEB, as Spokes doesn’t carry any rear hub bikes... but then again, I’ve never had an issue with the hub itself, so that’s never been something Spokes had to dissect...

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChristoB50 View Post
    Iíll add that Iíve been very happy with the Spokes crew at Quaker Lane... theyíve done all the work (that I canít or donít want to try) needed on my ebike (since the makers Vintage Electric Bikes, are in California, and currently doesnít have a retail presence in this area.) I had two ďseriousĒ issues over the last 18 mos and all was covered under warranty; parts (including a new controller / wiring harness at one point) sent by VEB, and Spokes did the install. VEB coordinated with Spokes for any issues that mightíve needed more input from VEB, as Spokes doesnít carry any rear hub bikes... but then again, Iíve never had an issue with the hub itself, so thatís never been something Spokes had to dissect...
    I don't own an electric bike, but I do have four conventional ones and I go to Spokes in Vienna when I have problems with them I don't or can't want to monkey with. They have a lot of ebikes on their floor, and I usually see a bunch that have been worked on sitting in the repair area waiting to get picked up. Its a nice bike shop and the guys working in the maintenance department are really nice. If I were in the market for one, I'd consider spending the extra money and buying it locally to guarantee good service when the thing breaks down.

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    Some key factors are : 1) how long the commute (or recreational) rides tend to be (miles between charges), and 2) the ratio of assist to pedal power that is needed ordesired by the particular rider. Any combination of more power or range means more weight. That is a factor if the bike must be lifted... say, up stairs or onto a car rack. It also means more expense. Having gone heavy on my first build (1000w, 48VDC hub motor kit and 12ah battery bank on a conventional bicycle) I realized I had more "oomph" than I really needed for hills. Build #2 was a 36v, 500w geared hub motor (again, rear-mounted) and with a more modest battery pack that was mounted toward the front for better weight distribution, on an aluminum bike, for overall lighter weight. Much better. If you are going for a nice factory e-bike test 'em out firsthand, lest you likewise make the e-bike neophite move of overestimating what is needed in terms of assist.

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    The first thing I would check when buying a new commuter is whether I can bring it into the office or secure garage or not. Leaving expensive bike/E-bike in the street in not an option for me, although with E-Bike weight is not an issue, so I could use more than one U-Lock, and GPS too. Folding bikes take less space, and are less objectionable, but that depends on the space available to store it.

    I think the biggest issue with E-Bike and their kits, and the weakest link is the connectors and cables. It's hard to waterproof these, so they are generally considered water-resistant. Controller boards are usually manufactured with high reliability, because virtually all of them are outsourced to companies specialized in PCB(Printed Circuit Boards) that use automated equipment. The enclosure around the controller is usually made of aluminum to cool it down. Cables on the other hand are almost always done in-house, although they can be outsourced, and that's where the problem lies. Doing connectors and cables in-house has two issues:

    1 - Soldering issues: Some of those who do it don't have formal training, so they make mistakes. Weak joints overheat under heavy electrical load. Mechanical vibrations could get things loose afterward. This could take a while, so initial tests might show that it passed the test, but it would fail after a while. This explains why a product has both good and bad reviews, depending on who put the cables together. One common mistake is that when they solder a wire to a connector, they don't heat the connector, so as soon as the solder touches it; it shrinks and don't adhere to the connector properly, resulting in cold joint. The proper way to do it is to heat both the connector and the wire, so the solder adheres to both(it only adheres to hot parts). See this tutorial series if you want to know how to solder properly:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIT4...6EC0F1F93C1837

    2 - The other issue is water proofing. Most use shrink tubing, but it's not fully sealed. Luckily you can use the following product($13) to waterproof the seams on the controller, and around the connectors to seal them from water getting in. Some use clear nail polish, but it dries up after few weeks and becomes flaky and chips away.

    https://www.amazon.com/MG-Chemicals-...dp/B008O9YIV6/

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