It has been snowing a lot here in Cloverdale the past week or so. This naturally leads me to start thinking about Spring, from which follows feeling out of shape, and somehow mumbly-jibbly-brain stuff bicycling.
Bicycling is something I used to do out of necessity. From about six years of age, I always had a bike: and from about 15 onward, including that time I failed to get a motorcycle license when I was 18 or so, I ended up using said bike to get to places I wanted to go without having to use a bus. At times, I rode a lot: hundreds of kilometres a season, which it bears mentioning was a rather short season as I was living in Edmonton at the time. I used to like riding a bicycle quite a lot, actually: like riding a motorcycle, it was a mentally ‘focused’ process that led to a kind of zen state when I was in decent shape so that the mechanics of riding weren’t to physically challenging.
NOT AN EBIKE- Similar model to the bicycle I bought in 2015: same brand (Achielle)
A few years back with those memories in mind I bought a ‘city’ bike with the idea that I could use it to enjoy being outside a bit and get back into shape. What I didn’t count on was just how incredibly out of shape I was/am. I carry a good 40-60 pounds of ‘excess’ weight: pure fat. And that bike darn near broke my heart: I couldn’t make it up any of the hills in my neighbourhood. And one day trying to ride along while Irene (my wife) rode her horse was a complete impossibility. I ended up getting off the bike that day and never getting back on. So why am I buying a bike again this year? Read on…
A new approach: cheat!
What I’m buying this year is an eBike, and the idea at least is giving me some new hope. When I bought my city bike in 2015, eBikes were still a pretty new ‘thing’. I didn’t think about them seriously, and even if I did I don’t know if I would have bought one. I likely would have thought they were too expensive and not suitable for ‘getting exercise’.
EBikes, although about half the price that they were five years ago, are still expensive. Basically, plan on about $2,000 for a good basic eBike. That’s a lot of money for a bicycle, but my attitude about what I want to accomplish with the bike has changed. I have had a number of health situations in the past year or so that have made me concerned about where I’m going to end up if I don’t find something to make myself ‘active’. Spending a couple of grand for a bike that I might actually ride versus the one that is collecting dust now in my garage doesn’t seem like such a bad tradeoff.
I’ve also learned more about what an eBike actually is. The first thing is: you still have to work to ride. The pedals aren’t for show: you have to use them, and the electric motor is just there to assist. Those hills I couldn’t make it up won’t magically ‘disappear’ in terms of effort, but they will become surmountable obstacles on an eBike. I’ve also read a lot of articles that extoll the ‘fun’ factor an eBike brings to someone who is out of shape and wants to ride. You can cover greater distance on routes that would be impassible without months of fitness improvement. The better electric-assist bikes have variable assistance, usually a half dozen or so different ‘grades’ of help they can give, so as your fitness improves you can ‘tune down’ the boost. And the newer models can run over 50 km on a battery charge.
A lot of ‘serious’ riders consider eBikes to be ‘cheating’. To an extent, of course, they are right: certainly you’ll never see motor-assist bikes in the Olympics. But if that motor-assist permits me to enjoy the pleasures of riding while still getting a healthy bit of exercise, then I’m all for it.
EBike varieties: making a choice
Ebikes come in as many varieties as regular bikes. There are road bikes, ‘work’ bikes, city bikes, and mountain bikes. The prices range from about $1,000 to over $10,000 (there is at least one $80,000 eBike). So how do you choose?
Some choices are kind of obvious, really aren’t different from a regular bike, and depend on your purpose: do you want to go off-road? Then you should probably look at some kind of mountain bike. Do you mostly travel to work on paved roads? Then maybe a touring bike is best for you. Road bikes are for people who want to go ‘zoom’ and think of themselves as looking good in spandex.
But regardless of the purpose, there are some fundamental ‘technology’ choices that are unique to eBikes. Key to this is motor type, and the two main alternatives here are:
- mid motor: sits in the middle of the frame ‘behind’ the pedals. Some argue this is the ’superior’ choice for all purposes; mid-motor designs are ’newer’, and provide a key benefit in that the motor delivers power through the chain and gears i.e.: gears effect motor power, and pretty much all mid-motors are ’torque’ activated. Down sides: a lot more expensive; if the motor dies you can’t ride the bike (i.e.: required to drive the chain); and requires more expensive / heavy duty chain
- hub motor: basically sits in the middle of the wheel (usually rear wheel) behind the gear cassette. This is the ‘original’ eBike motor type, and the key benefit is that this is a ’tried and true’ design that is usually quite a bit cheaper; plus, if the motor or battery dies you can still power the bike purely via pedalling. Down sides: makes the wheel harder to replace; most hub motors are activated by ‘cadence’ (speed) of the human rider’s pedalling and only some are ‘torque’ (force) controlled; slightly heavier.
Heres a good video that explains the differences better than I can:
A couple of other things were important to me after reading a number of different eBike reviews and articles:
- On and Off road capable: I’m not a mountain-biker, but I want to be able to go off on a dirt trail; so wider tires, and maybe a suspension
- Weather resistant: I want fenders because it rains where I live, and spraying dirty water all over myself is not something I look forward to
- Good brakes: I want hydraulic brakes, preferably with disks, because stopping is something I don’t want to be a question mark
- Decent range of gears: I don’t need 20 speeds, but more than five gears is desirable. When looking at two otherwise equal bikes, a few extra gears might tip the choice
- Price: A lot of the bikes that I looked at, particularly the mid-engine variety, were between $3,000 and $5,000. This seemed like a steep price to pay for what is, in truth, an ‘experiment’. I decided I didn’t want to go too much over $2,000
What I picked
1) Rad bikes- Rad Rover:
- mechanical brakes
- cadence sensor (not as good as torque sensor)
- 500W Bafang hub motor
- 7 speed
2) Rize bikes- Rize-X:
- hydraulic brakes
- torque sensor
- 500W Bafang hub motor
- 9 speed
3) Volt bikes- Volt Enduro:
- hydraulic brakes
- torque sensor (I think?)
- Bafang Max drive ‘middle’ (crank) position motor
- 8 speed
- no fenders(!)
What sold me on the Rize X was a combination of price, hydraulic brakes, and inclusion of all the basic accessories e.g.: fenders and lights. It is also nice that the manufacturer is Canadian, based in Vancouver in fact. And it has about 60 km of range on a full charge, a fair amount more than either of the other choices, and a range which sounds pretty acceptable to me.
I’ve chosen to spend some money on a bike that I hope will get me back out and riding. Part of what drives this is a combination of health concerns and some thought that simply getting out and about is good for the mind. I am probably (?) a fool for spending more money, but… I can afford it, and maybe it will turn out to be a good thing for me.
I will have the bike sometime later in February, so we shall see. I’ve already started looking at good places to ride i.e.: bike-allowed trails, and have a bike rack for my car, so I’m set in that regard. Hopefully I’ll add a post here on my blog later in the spring with a tale of my great progress or sad failure.
Oh, and as further encouragement for my future cycling, here is a website (and related book) with cycle rides in the Lower Mainland BC area: Let’s Go Biking