Read about my experience with this bicycle below the fold.
To get started with a big problem that’s bothering electric bicycles: they are suffering from an image-problem. When you ask random people what they think of electric bicycles you’ll probably get answers like ‘that’s for old people’ or ‘for people who get tired easily’. I you would have asked me a few months ago about what thought about electric bicycles I would have probably answered something similar.
Testing an electric bicycle for a few days has convinced me that image is undeserved. The electric bicycle is sporty and dynamic. I covered about 100km in a few days time and I noticed that it very quickly became second nature to be the very first person to accelerate away from a traffic light. With the pedalsupprt set to ‘high’ I could attain average speed which would make the average amateur speed cyclist jealous.
So try to look beyond the ‘dusty’ image, that might have been true for previous generations of electric bicycles but not anymore.
(The funny thing is that electric scooter suffer from a similar, but still different, image-problem: those are mostly associated with 16-year old anti-social kids.)
It’s good to know a bit of the technical backgroud of electric bicycles. Basically there are two types of systems: moped and pedelec. With the moped-system there is a twist-throttle on the handlebars which you use to control the speed of the bicycle Bij de snorfiets kun je zelf ‘gas geven’ en het nadeel daarvan is dat je de fiets moet verzekeren als snorfiets, je moet een bromfiets-rijbewijs hebben, etc. Bij dit type aandrijving kun je er voor kiezen om zonder mee te trappen toch vooruit te komen. Dat spreekt mij niet zo aan.
The bicycle I tested, and I think most bikes sold, use the so-called pedelec-principle. This means that there’s sensor near the pedal axle which measures the pedalling speed. That sensor determines with how much power the system can support you. When you stop pedalling, the support also stops. This means that you have to ride this bicycle actively. The support will kep adding power up to a speed of 25 km/h, rider faster is certainly possible but you’ll have to do that on your own power. The amount of support can be set, so it’s possible to make a ride as sporty or relaxed as you like.
I live at 22km from work and I travel that distance, depending on the weather, by train or by bicycle. When travelling by trein (actually: walking-train-bicycle) it takes me just a bit less than fifty minutes. If I go by bicycle (a mountainbike with road tyres) it usually takes about seventy minutes on my way to work, and between fifty and sxty minutes on my way to home. That difference is because I don’t want to arive al sweaty at work (which I don’t really mind on the way back because then I can change clothes and shower) and because the prevailing wind in my region is usually a headwind on my way to work and a tailwind on the way back.
Although I don’t mind travelling by train I still prefer to go by bicycle. With some music playing on my MP3-player I can go through the day in my head on my way to work, and on the way back I can exercise the stress of the working day away. When I arrive home I am really home, and it’s great (and free!) exercise. Although this is all great, I don’t always feel like doing it, for instance when there’s a powerful (head)wind. Sometimes I’m not completely fit and then it can take me an hour and a half to cover the same distance, or sometimes I have an appointment directly after work for which I need the energy.
For those instances an (electric) scooter could be an alternative, but a disadvantage is that it would probably get very boring after a while because you’re just sitting around doing nothing – abd you’re not exercising at all. An (electric) automobile is on my route not an option at all, I estimate that the trip would take at least an hour and a half – and that is within delays because of overturned lorries, bad weather, etc. Besides that, we don’t have a car, and we don’t need one.
An electric bicycle would be ideally suited to my situation. First of all, travelling time would become very dependable: no matter how much headwind there is, the electric motor will provide support up to 25km/h so the trip would take about as long each time. Secondly: one doesn’t arrive tired and sweaty, but you’re completely passive, either. And thirdly, it would be a great way to usefully consume a part of our surplus of solar generator electricity.
Besides travelling to and and from work, the electric bicycle is very usuful for all the normal daily errands: getting the groceries, visiting family and friends, everything that’s within a reasonable distance. I you would own a car, the electric bicycle could easily displace many carkilometers.
Using the bicycle couldn’t be easier. The battery has a key lock, which switches the electric system on. The control unit on the handelbars allow you to set the amount of support and after that you simply cycle away. That’s all there is to it
The bicycle I tested was of the model ‘Trend’. This model is available in 26 and 28 inch, with not a men’s and women’s frame, and I got the 26 inch with a women’s frame.
When casually glancing the bicycle (see the picture at the top) it’s not at all apparent that this is an electric bicycle. The battery, which is integrated in the luggage carrier, is visible but it could very well be a bread box or a storage box. The electric motor is hidden in the rear wheel axle and is only visible if you know where to look.
The bicycle has suspension in both the front fork and the seat post which is very comfortable, especially because the electric support makes it easy to ride at higher speeds.
I was not impressed by the stiffness of the frame. When seated on the bicycle I could quite easily move the handlebars sideways. This might very well be because of the inherently less stiff women’s frame, but I’m curious if the version with a men’s frame is much stiffer.
The weight of the bicycle is reasonable: according to the specifications it should weigh 25kg and when I lift it that feels about right. When walking with the bicycle, for instance up a ramp to a bike storage, the extra weight is certainly noticable but not annoying. Even when you’re not very strong the bicycle can easily be maneuvered around.
The bicycle has a SRAM derailleur gear system with seven gears. Just like on my mountainbike I only used four of these. The three ‘bottom’ gears are way to light to be of any use on level terrain, although they might come in useful when going up a steep hill. To my taste, one more gear ‘on top’ would be useful, because I used the bicycle for long distances and thus at higher speeds. For city traffic the gears are usefully spaced.
The control unit / bicycle computer is located on the handle bars. The amount of support can be set and things like the charge level and current speed can be read. The display has a light blue backlight for use at night.
The electric motor in the rear wheel makes a sound not unlike an subway when accelerating. The sound is audible when there’s not much sound around but it’s certainly not annoying. How loud it is depends on the amount of support set. As soon as some speed has been reached the motor sound drowns in the wind noise.
Battery + energy
According to the specifications this model should a electrically supported range of up to ninety kilometers (depending on the circumstances). I can imagine that this has been measured with the support level set to ‘low’ and other favourable circumstances (well-inflated tyres, no headwind, long stretches with little stopping and starting) . I did not measure this but I think my driving style would result in a lower maximum range.
The 22km I travel to and from work was no problem at all. On the last day I had the bicycle I did another experiment: I did not charge at work, which had me riding 44km on one battery change. That succeeded without a problem. When I arrived home it was just noticable that the bicycle was a little less ‘jumpy’ at the traffic light, but the motor kept supporting me right up to 25km/h. Even with a dynamic riding style I think a range of at least 50km should be easily possible.
If you manage to drain the battery while underway, that’s not the end of the world. Even without the electric support you can still cycle. To test this I deliberately turned off the electric support and this immediately makes it clear how fast you get used to it: immediately the bicycle feels like lead. This is for a large part psychological because after a couple of hundred meters it felt much more natural. It’s not the lightest of bicycles and, yes, that’s noticable, but you don’t have to be afraid that you can’t make it to home.
Charging the battery couldn’t be simpler. The supplied charger has the size of a large bread box and can easily be transported in a backpack or something. It plugs into any normal electric socket and operates fully automatically: when the battery is full it stops charging. The battery can either be charged when it’s still attached to the bicycle, or it can be detached from the bicycle and charged indoors. That way even people who live in an apartment can own and charge an electric bicycle. Because it’s a lithium-ion battery it can be charged whenever necessary or possible, even when it’s half empty (of half full). It doesn’t suffer from the memory effect of older types of batteries. A nice detail is that the battery itself has a charge level indicator, so you can always check the charge level, even when it’s connected to the bicycle.
Charging a fully depleted battery takes about 2,5 hours according to the specifications, and when I look at the energy consumption of the charger that sounds about right. The charger starts drawing about 200W from the electric socket, and this lowers when the battery fills up. The energy consumption of the electric bicycle in kWh per kilometer is very low: in the few days I had it I measured just a bit less than one kWh per one hundred kilometer. This means that, in theory, our surplus solar electricity of 250kWh could be used to travel 25000km by electric bicycle for ‘free’. When compared to the current generation of electric cars – which generally use between 20 and 25 kWh per 100 km – it’s easy to see that the electric bicycle is much efficient and sustainable means of transportation.
To put it in perspective of an average Dutch household: if this bicycle is ridden for 4000km per year this would increase the electricity bill by about 1%, which is hardly noticable. If the bicycle is used to displace a substantial amount of car-kilometers the picture becomes even more attractive. The small extra cost in electricity will save much more money on the car. The is certainly worth considering.
(These calculations and estimates are valid for my riding style with the support set to ‘high’ – with a somewhat calmer style the energy consumption will be even lower)
I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort, ease of use and speed of this electric bicycle. I had never ridden one so I was reasonably open-minded about it all. An electric bicycle would be ideal for my situation. Because we don’t have a car it’s sometimes nice to have a means of transportation for which you don’t have to generate all the energy yourself.
The best thing about electric bicycles is, I think, that it strikes the right balance between support and inactivity. Because you’re not entirely inactive it stays fun and interesting (I love cycling) but you don’t have to exercise yourself into the ground. Because the amount of support can be set, you decide how this is balanced.
The very low energy consumption keeps the total cost per km low. If the electric bicycle is used to displace a number of car-kilometers this is a financially very attractive proposition. Besides that: it’s much more sustainable than a fossil car and you get some exercise at the same time.
The image of the electric bicycle will make some people reluctant to seriously consider it, but I didn’t have that problem. If you look at this means of transportation objectively you would see that this is, in many cases, a nearly ideal means of transportation. It’s fast, flexible, sustainable, sporty, etc. Besides, this model hardly shows it’s electric.
At the start of next year I am allowed to buy a bicycle from my gross salary. I was thinking about a new mountainbike, but now that I’ve had a taste of the electric bicycle I’m not so sure anymore. I am really considering an electric bicycle.