(This post is a follow up to the e-bike introduction written two weeks ago)
Over the past two weeks I had the chance to test out two e-bikes: an Urban XU 700 from Ohm Electric Bikes, and a Neo Xtrem from Evolution Cycles. I was a complete newbie when it comes to e-bikes, and I’ll tell you about my experiences with these two bikes below.
Urban XU 700
The Urban XU 700 is a purpose-built e-bike using a Bionx electric motor. It’s an upright-riding step-through design with the lithium-ion battery built into the frame above the bottom bracket. It has hydraulic disc brakes, a 27-speed drive train, front-suspension, integrated front and rear lights, front and rear fenders, and a rear rack. The motor is part of the rear wheel, and provides up to 300% boost and up to 350W of power. The bike weighs in at about 60 lbs and it retails for $3200.
The Bionx motor doesn’t apply power immediately, instead it provides boost after the bike is moving at 3 kph or so. Typically, this is a half-rotation on the pedals. Depending on the level of boost that you’ve selected on the console, the motor kicks in and the bike accelerates quickly. It takes a bit getting used to, but it’s quite exhilarating to take off so quickly from a standing-start. Once the bike is moving and the assist is use, the bike will continue to accelerate as long as you’re pushing on the pedals but only up to 32 kph. In North America, e-bikes are limited to 32 kph (20 mph) by law. In other parts of the world this limit is lower, typically 25 kph. Once the bike hits its upper speed limit, the motor stops applying power and suddenly you are pedalling a heavy bike.
The Bionx motor on this bike is absolutely silent while pedalling. Eerily quiet. When you’re not pedalling and the rear wheel is free-wheeling, there is a clicking and slight rubbing or grinding sound from the wheel. The clicking is louder than a typical bike when it’s free-wheeling.
I rode this bike to and from work for two days. My work commute brings me from the VGH area to UBC along the Off-Broadway bike route. The hill into Point Grey from Alma to Blanca is the “highlight” of my ride. This bike ate up the hill with little effort: on both days I averaged close to 25 kph up the hill, much faster than my typical speed. Note that it didn’t push me up the hill at the maximum 32 kph: the incline of the hill along with the weight of the bike, me, and my gear was sufficient to slow it down a bit. On the flat portions of the ride, however, I was able to bring the bike to 32 kph pretty easily. Getting beyond 32 kph was possible but required a fair bit of effort since there was no assist. Above 32 kph, it felt a bit like riding in water.
A day’s worth of commuting to UBC and back (about 20 km) used about 50% of the battery, according to the indicator on the console. I had the e-bike on the maximum assist the whole time and I don’t know how old the battery was, or how many charge cycles it had. E-bikes will get better range using lower levels of assist.
The battery is locked to the frame, but easily removable to move it close to an electrical socket. Note that fully charging the battery (355 Wh) costs about $0.02.
The thing that surprised me the most about riding the e-bike was that I still arrived at work quite hot and sweaty. I compared my average heart rate on the ride (I occasionally wear a heart-rate monitor on some of my rides) with a typical average heart rate on a commute, and to my surprise it was almost identical. I take that to mean that I put in the same effort getting to work on the e-bike as on my me-powered bike, but I got there about 20% faster than normal.
The upright riding style is different for me but riding this bike was comfortable and fun. Thanks to Michael and Case DeVisser at OHM Electric Bikes for loaning the bike to me.
The Neo Xtrem is also a purpose-built e-bike, made by BH Bikes in the UK. It uses a Neo RDS motor with a planetary gear system, and a Samsung battery. The Neo Xtrem is a more sportier ride than the XU 700, with more of a hybrid setup. It has front-suspension, knobby tires, and hydraulic disc brakes. The battery is stylishly integrated into the downtube, and is also remove easily for charging. The model I had did not have a rear-rack but a rack and fender-equipped model is available.
The motor is part of the rear wheel, and provides up to 300% boost. The Neo Xtrem is lighter than the XU 700, but still pretty hefty at about 50 lbs. The Neo Xtrem also retails for $3200, but is currently on sale at Evolution Bikes for $1900.
Unlike the Bionx motor, the motor on this bike supplies boost immediately. The acceleration from a stop, however, isn’t as spritely, so it didn’t catch me off guard as much as the other. Like the XU 700, the Neo Xtrem is limited to 32 kph.
Due to the lack of a rear rack, and my reluctance to ride to work with a backpack instead of panniers, I tested the Neo Xtrem differently. I rode out to New Brighton Park and then to the hard-pack trails of North Burnaby. The first thing I noticed about this bike was the sound of the motor. The motor sounded much more like I expected an electric motor should, loudly whirring when the assist was engaged but silent when free-wheeling. The volume of the motor depended on the how much assist it was providing.
The bike worked well on the trails, and the assist going up the hills (particularly on the “Scenic View” Trail) was nice. Really nice. The balance of the bike took some getting used to, and keeping the front tire on the ground in some of the very steep sections was challenging.
The feel and handling of e-bikes are a bit different from normal bikes. The motor weighs a lot, and that affects the centre of gravity and handling. The battery is also significantly heavy, and the mounting location of the battery will have a big effect on the handling too. I didn’t get a chance to test an e-bike with a rack-mounted battery but I know that when my normal commuter has two heavily loaded rear panniers, I have to adjust my riding style to take that into account. No sudden moves or sharp corners!
Unfortunately the battery indicator wasn’t working on the demo bike I was riding. To get a sense of the range of this bike, I rode it until it was providing almost no assist. This included riding it back from Burnaby to Point Grey, halfway up the hill to Point Grey (aka Trimble) Park. By the time I made it home, the assist wasn’t providing much more than a gentle nudge. Total distance was about 44 km at full assist, with some rather large hills included in the ride. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to pedal the bike, even when the motor wasn’t providing a useful boost.
Thanks to Mark at Evolution Cycles for loaning the bike to me.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect riding an e-bike. I knew that people who own e-bikes are very attached to them, are happy to talk about them, and generally swear by them. Having driven two now, I can see the appeal: e-bikes can make riding reasonably effortless. They can get you up most hills without breaking a sweat. If you have an e-assist on a cargo bike (my wife keeps eyeing the Yubas), or if you’re pulling a child on a tag-along or in a trailer, they will make the trip much, much easier. For people with difficulty riding a bike due to physical limitations, e-bikes clearly help remove some of those barriers.
The e-bikes are easy to use, and stylish to boot. I was impressed by the variety of the purpose-built e-bikes, and if you can’t find a purpose-built one you like, quite a number of local bike shops offer e-bike conversions of conventional bikes.
But for me, personally, the e-bike was a bit of a novelty, and not something suitable for me right now. I didn’t care much for the noise of the motor of the XTrem. I didn’t like the state-imposed 32 kph limit very much either. I was surprised I got the same workout with the e-bike as I do on my normal commuter, but that’s more a function of how I ride my bike, I suspect. For those looking to ride without breaking a sweat, the e-bike makes this possible — at the expense of slower speeds. My wife rode one of the e-bikes for a little while, including a bit along the seawall. Having an e-bike on the seawall was overkill — traffic moves slowly enough, and the terrain is flat enough that the assist was largely unnecessary.
For me, the range was acceptable but would still mean charging the battery every night. With a lifetime of some 800 charges, that’s still almost three years of use, but a replacement battery currently runs about $1000 depending on which model you’re replacing.
And the cost. The two bikes I rode retail for about $3000. Certainly you can get cheaper bikes, but you’re still looking at $2000 for a decent e-bike. While this might not be a problem for some people, I suspect the idea of laying out that much money on a bike, even an e-bike, is outside the consideration for many. And of course, given Vancouver’s bicycle theft problem, having an expensive bike that attracts attention — and e-bikes attract attention since they tend to look different — means parking your e-bike out of your sight is an iffy proposition.
Do you ride an e-bike? Share your e-bike experiences in the comments.
Last modified: October 21, 2013