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Why E-Bikes?

Posted on 16 March 2016

The Moustache Lundi e-bike from France. The nicest we've seen. 

 

E-bikes, we feel, may be another case (like city bikes) of the bicycle getting ahead of the average bike shop. You see, the average bike shop was making money just fine when the suburbs were full of disposable income and purchasing power. Then, in 2008 the bubble burst and ever since the bike industry has been selling $10K bikes to the super-rich or near-Walmart-quality bikes to a cash-strapped middle class. Happily, the exception occurred in dense cities with high walk scores. These cities saw a massive growth in property values but also cycling. The two are related. But, what does this have to do with e-bikes?

 

THE "LIFESTYLE RADIUS"

 

The lifestyle radius. Distances inside are bikeable, distances outside are e-bikeable.

 

Back in 2008 we had coined this term called "The Lifestyle Radius." It was built on Dutch studies that showed that the average Dutch cyclist travelled no more than 7km in a single trip. The idea is that this 7km forms a radius around your home, and that a vast majority of urban-dwellers trips happen in this radius. This idea saw a North American moment in 2012 when Jeff Speck wrote a book called "The Walkable City" (which underlies the "Walk Scores" you see in Real Estate websites), but his term is not quite right. As the Dutch know, most distances within this 7km "walkable" radius are way too close to drive and way too far too walk. Density is best handled by bicycle. 

But, what if you live downtown but not quite? Let's say you work somewhere just a bit too far to bike and still just a bit too close to drive? For many, the solution is transit. But unless you like being cattle-herded or stuck blowing arteries in traffic, we have another solution: the e-bike. It may cost a bit up front, but its cheaper than your car, and far more joyful. 

 

E-SCOOTERS VERSUS E-BIKES

 

The barely-legal e-scooter. Destined for a landfill. Do those pedals even work?

 

But, before we jump into e-bikes we need to clear up their bad name. At least in Toronto, because in Toronto we have a wide prevalence of e-scooters masquerading as e-bikes. The masquerade is permitted by the Government of Ontario who, when legislating the e-bike, said that an e-bike needs to have pedals. But they never said riders needed to actually use the pedals, and that loophole is what you're looking at when you see an 80kg scooter being operated without a license or insurance bearing down on you silently in traffic, it's largely ornamental pedals swinging behind the rider on impossibly short cranks. These aren't e-bikes, they're e-scooters. And, as many notice, they seem to attract a less than savoury crowd. As the Globe and Mail's Peter Cheney reports:

"My odyssey begins at Green Choice Moto, an e-bike store near Kensington Market in Toronto with a sign that reads “No license, no insurance … no problem.” ...Already, I can see three key e-bike demographics: seekers of low-cost transportation, would-be cyclists who don’t have the required lung capacity and car drivers who have lost their licences to the breathalyzer." Globe & Mail, Sept 24, 2014

Oh boy. 

Now, in Europe they're a bit smarter because an e-bike means the rider must be pedalling at all times. Because of this, e-scooters like the ones seen in Toronto would require a drivers license and insurance in Holland (as they should here). The European bikes are called pedelecs, and because the bike needs to sense the level of assist needed, they are actually powerful computers that measure output based on pedal torque - not just a throttle that lets you take your feet off some ineffectual, yet federally legislated pedals. 

 

PEDELECS & MOTOR PLACEMENT

 

Front wheel motor. For that out-of-control-on-a-wet-day-while-cornering feeling. 

 

While most e-bike stores in North America were selling throttled e-scooters we were importing real pedelecs, and that gave us experience few had. In our last ten years importing pedelecs, it's felt the wild west. We've seen engines placed in the front, back and middle of the bike, way too many manufacturers, and way too many manufacturers here today and gone tomorrow. So, to help ourselves future-proof our buying we decided to ask two guiding questions.

1) Where is the best place for the engine?
2) Who will offer consistent after-sales service long after the bike is bought?

For years we sold Batavus, Babboe and Koga front-wheel drive systems, made by Hai Bike in Finland. Great stuff, except the front wheel could slip when powering-up around corners (scary!), and no one had really heard of Hai Bike outside of Finland. That made question two a problem. Calling someone in Finland for after-sales service wasn't exactly ideal. 

 

Rear wheel motor. Good, but you're stuck with derailleurs. 

 

The next stage was rear-wheel drive systems. These became popular because they were much safer than front-wheel drive systems. But the problem here was that low maintenance internal gear systems could no longer be used. That meant one was always stuck with a high-maintenance derailleur. Well, that's not good either. 

But, after-sales service was a problem still for both front and rear-wheel systems. Even if the bike company we carried was well-known, the motor was always some obscure European or Chinese company, and there were far too many 6am phone calls to Amersfoort asking for Dutch language software patches. So, while many other stores decided e-bikes weren't going anywhere, we decided to be patient, and in the meantime, we made two rules for ourselves. 

1) We will only carry an e-bike that allows for any type of drivetrain, whether internal or derailleur
2) We will only carry an e-bike if we have access to global serviceability. 

In other words, we don't care where the motor is as long as we can keep our internal gears and we can't be calling someone in Finland or China if we need diagnostic assistance. Years of patient waiting ensued, and then came our answer. 

 

MID-DRIVE SYSTEMS

 

Mid-drive systems. The middle road is the best road. 

 

You want to know where the motor really belongs on an e-bike? It's in the middle. Mid drive systems don't power the wheel, they power the cranks where you pedal. They allow for any type of drivetrain whether you prefer internal or derailleur and best of all they are made by companies you've heard of. Big companies, like Yamaha, Bosch, or Shimano. We suspect these big companies watched the market as small players shifted from front to rear motors, and while this was going on, they were spending tons of R&D money on a solution that meant business. Well, they did a remarkable job. 

Unlike the old front or rear drive systems, which in many ways were kits rather than fully integrated e-bikes, the mid-drive system bolts onto an e-bike frame and if anything goes wrong, we simply send it to the local service centre for rapid replacement or repair. Best of all, these e-bikes look sharp - like real bikes! - and when you ride one it feels like its reading your mind. Imagine turning the pedals once and then feeling yourself hold your breath in delight as the system kicks in and adds a little extra power. Want a little less? Reduce the torque settings. Want to hit 32km/hr (the Canadian federal limit)? Crank it up and it will kick you in the pants. These things put a smile on your face, they really do. 

So, we got our dream. And, while many "real" bike shops sniff at e-bikes in general, we understand the e-bike market like few shops can. So, here are the bikes we sell:

 

MOUSTACHE BIKES

The Europeans have been doing mid-drive bikes far longer than the North Americans, and Moustache represents the leading edge of the e-bike market. Whereas companies like Raleigh and Devinci here in North America make a perfectly fine mid-drive bike, we feel that their approach was to modify something that already existed rather than build something from scratch. And, because we import goods from Europe on a monthly basis, it wasn't hard to bring these bikes in. These are the real deal, here's why. 

An e-bike gets quite a bit of torsional twisting in the down-tube and you can see that Moustache uses a wide, square down-tube that takes stiffness and safety seriously. The front forks are also e-bike specific. But what we love is the integrated front light as well as the 'moustache' handlebar that gave the brand their name. E-bikes go much faster than regular bikes, and that means things can rattle off quite easily. So, we're glad to see the special rear-rack that is made especially for the weight of the battery and any added groceries you might carry. The lines, colour, and style are amazing. They also do collaborations with Phillipe Starck, and you can't say that about any other e-bike maker. These guys are dead serious. 

We import these bikes directly from France, and because there is no wholesale middle-man, our price ends up being no more than the Raleigh, Devinci, or Pedego bikes you see on the market today - despite the Moustache being a much, much nicer bike. Like many brands we sell, a Curbside exclusive!  Expect this bike to arrive in early April. 

 

ACHIELLE STePS

Ok, but what if you want something for those long, lovely days in the saddle when you're with your loved and one and just having fun exploring? Or, what if you just want the Land Rover of e-bikes, with all that leather trim covering up top-secret alien technology? Achielle is the only company we know of to build mid-drive e-bike systems on steel frames - all hand-built in Belgium. Unlike aluminum, steel naturally absorbs shock, so if you're doing long rides and want absolute comfort, Achielle provides a gloriously upright "dutch style" riding position on a luxuriously comfortable frame with a range of 126km. The world just opens up!

Achielle is interested in craft and doing things right. That means you'll see nice touches like the leather battery holder, hydraulic disc brakes, and the completely unnecessary but insanely powerful made-in-Germany Supernova lights - which themselves are worth an article (80LUX of power turns night into daytime and a capacitor that keeps lights running even when the bike is stopped). Add a splash of Brooks here and there and you have what can only be described as the most luxurious, hand-crafted e-bike there is. 

 

BABBOE YAMAHA SYSTEMS

While we are still waiting for Yamaha to approve their North American service center (it will happen this year), the Yamaha is one of the most exciting systems out there because it can produce a massive 80 newton meters of torque, and torque is what a cargo bike needs to get moving when fully under load. Like the Shimano systems, the Yamaha system is mid-drive and has a 250W system with roughly 100km of range. This product promises Babboe a real competitive edge in the e-cargo bike market since most competitors are still using front or rear drive systems - and all at great cost. With its internal gears, marine-grade wood, and galvanized frame, this is the one e-bike that is made for perpetual outdoor storage and we expect the cost to be more than reasonable. 

 

BUTCHERS AND BICYCLES MK1E

Ok, so now imagine speed, distance, and the ability to carry cargo whether children or groceries. Imagine tilt-steering that lets you carve into corners like a Porsche 944 supported by a 350W motor and 60 newton meters of torque. Ok ok, so there aren't kids in the front when you're doing this - and that's ok. The Butchers and Bicycles trikes were designed to be more fun than a real bike when there isn't precious cargo on board, and safe as hell when there are. This is a Jekyll and Hyde trike. Put the kids into it's ultra-safe metal frame by opening the front door hinge. Got an infant? Strap them into your Isofix car seat and it snaps right in. Now plug your iPhone into the battery, throw your wallet into the lockable glove box, and feel the perfect low-speed handling of the built-to-tilt steering. Kiss the kids goodbye, ride half a block, and then let it rip. This trike carves corners, and with its e-assist, flattens hills. It's not cheap but its the most fun you could ever have on a bike. No, that's not right. It's the most fun you could ever have on wheels. 

 

URBAN ARROW CARGO BIKE

The Urban Arrow is quite simply the best two-wheeled cargo bike on the market. In many ways, Urban Arrow represents a critical re-think of a Dutch company looking at the traditional Dutch cargo bike. Most Dutch cargo bikes are made of steel and feature heavy impact-resistant wood boxes. That makes the bikes profoundly heavy. 

Urban Arrow makes their bikes from rust-resistant and very lightweight aluminum. And, instead of using impact-resistant wood they use super lightweight EPS foam - the same stuff used in helmets - for the child carrying box. Best of all, the bike is powered by a 400W Bosch Performance Line motor which keeps power consistent no matter what the hill or the load, and tons of torque in case you're first pedal stroke happens to be a on a steep hill. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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