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A week of mixed riding in the life of a WS commuter

An e-bike a day keeps the doctor away – or so the saying goes, right? Well, I decided to take on the experiment (challenge?) to test-ride a different e-bike each day for a week.

 

I live close to Oak Bay Bikes’ Westshore location – which makes it an almost 20km commute one way (19.29km according to my bike computer) to the Oak Bay shop. I took the exact same route every day, except for when I was driving, obviously. I’d have to take the bus at some point as well to have all transport options covered, I guess…

 

I am usually a “roadie”, mountain bike tires (and handlebars) are just too wide for me; they feel weird. And of course, I ride my own bike to work and back. Maybe not every day, but fairly often. Its name is “Cunningham” and it’s an old Italian frame. And yes, there are newer, lighter and faster bikes on the market (like the Norco Indie or Threshold which are perfect for that kind of commute), but what can I say, it looks so pretty ..

Anyway, I dare say that I now have tried almost all of our e-bikes/systems either in stock or in our rental fleet.

 

I guess personal info such as height, weight, etc. could be of interest here. Well, I am fairly “average”: 168cm (5.5 feet) tall, approx 70kg (155lbs), in my mid-thirties and in ok-shape when it comes to fitness. I like the trail infrastructure available on my commute (Galloping Goose, E&N Trail, Craigflower’s bike lane), and I am not afraid of sharing the road with cars when riding my bike. I lived in Copenhagen (Denmark) and Berlin (Germany) with my bike as the only transportation means (apart from public transport), and even though the infrastructure provided there takes better care of cyclists conflicts do occur: either amongst cyclists thinking they are in a race, or between cars and cyclists, or between cyclists, pedestrians and cars… (kinda same same everywhere)

 

Morning and evening commute, interestingly, differed slightly. On the way home there is a tiny bit more of an elevation gain than coming into town. Further, the wind seems to freshen up in the evening and I usually experience a bit more headwind on the way home. I tried to (re-)collect as much data as possible – not all bike computers provided the same info. I usually applied the two highest assist modes, draining the battery faster than the two lowest modes.

DAY ONE
CUBE Touring Pro
(50cm top tube frame)

 

— AM/PM trip time average of 45mins
— AM max. 47km/h | average 28km/h
— PM max. 42km/h | average 25km/h
— 2.5 out of 5 bars battery left/1 trip

 

Bosch system
— 500 Watt battery
— Powerline CX motor
— 75 Nm maximum torque
— 4 modes of pedal-assist
— 9 speed
— 700x40c tires
— weight 23.5kg

DAY TWO
CUBE Touring
(50cm trapeze frame)

 

— AM/PM trip time average of 45mins
— AM max. 45km/h | average 29km/h
— PM max. 48km/h | average 25km/h
— 2.5 out of 5 bars battery left/1 trip

 

Bosch system
— 400 Watt battery
— Active Line motor
— 50 Nm maximum torque
— 4 modes of pedal-assist
— 9 speed
— 700x40c tires
— weight 23.5kg

DAY THREE
CUBE Access WLS Hybrid
(… a mountain bike! 16″)

 

— AM/PM trip time average of 45mins
— AM max. 48km/h | average 28km/h
— PM max. 42km/h | average 26km/h
— 2.5 out of 5 bars battery left/1 trip

 

Bosch system
— 500 Watt battery (down tube)
— Powerline CX motor
— 75 Nm maximum torque
— 4 modes of pedal-assist
— 10 speed
— 650bx2.25 tires
— weight 20kg

DAY FOUR
Electra Townie Go! 8i
(one-size)

 

— AM/PM trip time average of 45mins
— AM max. 47km/h | average 27km/h
— PM max. 38km/h | average 20km/h
— 2 out of 5 bars battery left/1 trip

 

Bosch system
— 400 Watt battery
— Performance Line
— 60 Nm maximum torque
— 4 modes of pedal-assist
— 8 speed (internal hub)
— Schwalbe Fat Frank Balloon, 26″ x 2.35″ tires
— weight 26.5kg

DAY FIVE
EVO STEPS MD-1
(medium size frame)

 

— AM/PM trip time average of 45mins
— AM max. 41km/h | average 27km/h
— PM max. 44km/h | average 26km/h
— 3 out of 5 bars battery left/1 trip

 

— Shimano STEPS system
— 418 Watt battery
— 3 modes of pedal-assist
— 9 speed
— 700x35c tires
— weight approx. 23kg

DAY SIX
Dodge Caravan
(Sports edition..)

— trip time average of 35mins on a GOOD day
— trip time average of 60mins (or more) on a BAD day
— distance 22km
— Hwy 1, Finlayson, Blanshard, Johnson, Oak Bay Ave

 

— 180 hp at 5000 rpm
— 3.3 litre engine
— 4 speed automatic
— 175 Nm torque at 5000 rpm
— average fuel consumption approx. 12l/100km in the city
— weight 1773 kg (maybe more, it’s a mini-camper)

DAY SEVEN
“Cunningham”

— AM/PM trip time average of 55mins
— AM max. 47km/h | average 23km/h
— PM max 47km/h | average 22km/h

 

— entirely human powered
— 12 speed
— 700x25c tires
— weight 10.5kg

Looking at the data collected and numbers crunched, you notice that there is not too much difference between the bikes I tested. To take the e-bikes to the limit and see how long the battery lasts, I usually applied the two highest assist modes. With any e-bike and power pack I could have easily done both ways without running out of battery (I charged the battery up in between, just in case, which didn’t take more than 4 hours). Obviously, the rider’s position changes with the bike and the more upright you ride the more you feel the wind in your face.

 

The Evo STEPS felt like a “normal” bike the most. I can’t really pinpoint why – but the handling and responsiveness felt very natural. Some e-bikes can be quite cumbersome to handle since most of them weigh around 25-28kg, but weight was no issue with the Evo at all. You can tell that the torque is not as powerful as the Bosch systems when accelerating at a green light. The Bosch systems, however, can surprise you by kick-starting you into motion a bit too powerful – bearing in mind that I mostly used the two strongest assist-modes.

 

With the Electra Townie Go! that “kick-start” comes in super handy. The bike is designed to be a cruiser, laid-back upright seating position with almost “Dutch” handlebars and a very comfy saddle. It rides like a sofa only that it doesn’t feel as heavy as a sofa. I nicknamed it the “Sunshine Mobile” – I was enjoying my ride (especially home after work) so much that I could have continued on to Sooke and beyond. Plus, it comes with everything needed for urban commuting: fenders, lights and front and rears racks for those big grocery bags.

Both Cube Touring (top tube and trapeze frame) rode and felt fairly similar even though the power packs are slightly different. The top tube version felt a bit more “shattery” whereas the trapeze frame felt quite compact and handled nice and easy. I would call them “sporty commuters” (including lights, fenders and racks which fit panniers perfectly) and ready for bike touring (as long as you stick to paved and nicely gravelled roads). They have suspension seat posts and shocks. Cube did a very good job “transforming” a solid commuter/city bike into a pedal-assisted city allrounder which allows you to leave the paved path if you want to.

… the verdict?

 

I WANT ONE!  — Just the fact that you arrive at work less sweaty (if sweaty at all) but still have that cycling feeling is awesome! All bikes performed great on nice pavement, bad roads and gravel like the Goose or the Lochside trail. Since all e-bikes are governed at 32km/h in Canada, the minute you reach and surpass 32km/h it feels as if the bike brakes but it really just doesn’t assist anymore and any speed beyond this point is human powered (- or down hill). Those were the moments I wished I had one or two more heavy gears to not end up “spinning” downhill. This being said, maybe I should mention that cycling friends nicknamed me Jan Ullrich – apparently I have a tendency to pound the heavy gears no matter the terrain.

 

My favourite is, and who would have thought that!, the e-mountain bike. When you look at curbs or potholes or just construction debris being urban versions of roots or rocks on a single track – I my opinion the mountain bike is the softest way to get around. It doesn’t feel like pushing around a set of big tires since the motor smoothly assists your pedal stroke. Designed to provide the so-called #uphillflow, Cube put the strongest Bosch power pack on this bike. And you can tell that it pushes you up the hill (remember that “kick-start” phenomenon?) – the lighter the gear, the higher torque you get out of your pedal spin and you feel like you’re “hovering” up that mountain.

 

I saved approx. $60 in gas (per one week), I did not get stuck in traffic (sometimes it takes me over an hour to drive home), my electricity bill didn’t noticeably increase, I felt fresh and awake after riding (both ways) and I got to see “those little things that make you smile” which I would have never discovered through my car windows.

 

I think e-bikes could be the future of commuting if they experience the acceptance they deserve. An e-bike takes you places (especially with a range of almost 100km; in lowest assist-mode), it makes it easy to transport even heavy grocery bags or similar things, you don’t have to worry about a parking spot (or re-registration, insurance and other fees) and it keeps those enjoying cycling who otherwise wouldn’t be able to due to injuries, illness or age.

Susan takes care of Oak Bay Bicycles’ marketing and event coordination. After university and a few years of embracing the life of a ski bum, sofa surfer and world traveller, she set up camp on the island. Ever since she was three years old has she been riding all sorts of bicycles. It started with grandpa’s “silver star” (which was way too big for her).
— and yes, all of her bikes have names..

 

If you have any questions, you can send her an email: susan@oakbaybikes.com

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