Years ago I got into mountain biking. Nothing hard core, pretty casual. I wasn’t throwing the bike in the car and taking weekend trips to the Moab. I am fortunate enough to have some pretty challenging trails right in my backyard – Santa Monica mountain range. Over the years, as I have gotten older and increasingly out of shape, biking the trials has become harder. A roundtrip excursion up Westridge and down Sullivan Canyon would take hours. I just didn’t have the time.
Fade in the eBike. What’s an eBike? Great question. It is an electric bike. Many of you have seen these around cities. You have your high end eBike and then it goes all the way down from there to your gas-powered conversion kit that you see delivery guys sporting throughout Manhattan. I am talking electric bikes. There are lots of companies that make eBikes. From fully integrated bikes, where the battery and wiring are incorporated and hidden within the frame, to a multitude of conversion kits that allow you to take any bike and convert it into a rechargeable motor bike.
Generally, most eBikes have a max range of 40-50 miles and top out at 20 MPH. In most states the legal maximum speed for an eBike is 20-25 MPH before it needs to be registered and treated as a moving vehicle.
Most of the bikes on the market are street cruiser type bikes, designed for tooling around town. There are many makes and models and the pricing is all over the board. eBikes can start at $500 on the low end and go all the way to $13,000. The pricing is largely a function of brand, make, and how much wattage the battery has (more WATTs more $$).
As far as features, eBikes come with pedal assist and/or throttle. Pedal assist is a great feature. As you pedal, the bike assists you so that you go faster in higher gears. Throttle, as it sounds, is merely a twist-grip that applies a varied level of juice to the bike so that you can control how much assist you are given. Some eBikes have the ability for the rider to switch between both types of assist. Some, like the Optibike below, are only throttle.
iZip is an example of a manufacturer that makes a good entry level eBike.
The average price is $500-$2,500. They are nice for cruising down the beach boardwalk or going to work and back (provided work is not too far).
For the rider that wants a bit more versatility in a bike, then Stromer is a good fit.
Stromer is a bit of a hybrid. It is built and looks more like a mountain bike. It has sturdy front shocks and a solid frame. Its design is such that you are a bit higher up and a bit more forward, making it great for cruising the streets but less ideal for charging down a steep mountainside. The Stromer, should you choose to go off-road with it, is best suited for cruising fire roads and relatively tame off-road conditions. It is ideal for the city-slicker, turned wanna-be weekend outdoors-man. It maxes out at 20MPH, has a range of about 45 miles and costs around $3,900. A bit pricier than an iZip but definitely more versatile (and sexier looking).
Lastly, at the high end of the market is the Optibike.
I rode this for 2 months straight. This bike, built by a small company in Boulder, Colorado, is amazing. Sturdy as a tank, with tons of torque, it literally carried me up the steepest of hills. This is a hardcore mountain biker's dream. I had guys stopping me and asking, “what is that thing?" With a sleek design and top-end parts, like Fox shocks, this thing felt more motorcycle than bike. With professional front and back-end suspension, I could jump of rocks and land as if on a pillow. As I road through very extreme mountainous terrain, I was flying past experienced bikers as their mouth was a gape. I took the Optibike up some of the steepest hills, braving hills that I wouldn’t have dreamed trying on a mere mortal bike.
This bike took a beating. Like the infamous Timex ads, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” This bike ate up everything I threw at it. I was able to climb fairly steep inclines at 10-12 MPH. I mean these were inclines that if I was riding unassisted, I could have at best hoped for an average speed of 2-3 MPH. For trips that would normally have taken me 2 hours, I was cranking them out in 40 minutes easy. The only two drawbacks to this bike are as follows: 1) If you like to ride with friends, you’re gonna need to twist-back on the juice and resort to a bit more leg power or else they may not stay friends for long. 2) The price – at $11,000-$13,000 it is a steep price to pay, making it only feasible for the one-percenters.
In the end, I was sad to send back my trial Optibike. I can only liken it to driving a Ferrari for a couple of months and then switching back to a Prius.
Lastly, for those that don’t want to make the huge investment in buying an eBike or maybe have a bike they really love, you can try a conversion kit. They run from $500-$1,500 and can convert almost any bike into an environmentally conscious, 20MPH blast on wheels.
Give a hoot, don’t pollute. Go green while having a blast. Get an eBike now.