Travelling to China about 10 years ago I was surprised and overwhelmed by the proliferation of electric bikes. It seemed like everyone everywhere owned an ebike. Hundreds of them would be lined up inside the super markets for consumers to impulse buy a new bike while they were busy with their morning grocery shopping. They were attractive looking and cheap, but most of them ran off lead acid batteries and in general were heavy and not that powerful. I toyed with the idea of importing them to the US to try to sell them here, but once I started to research the shipping costs and the weights I realized it was pretty impractical.
Over the last 10 years batteries have gotten much, much cheaper and far more powerful. There is a new explosion of interest in electric bikes in the US as people look towards reasonable solutions to deal with the escalating costs of owning a car as well as all the time wasted stuck in city traffic. The traffic in Ithaca has gotten particularly bad on Rt 13 and often seems backed up for miles all the way to Stewart Park. The traffic and lack of parking in town was starting to drive me totally batty.
A new store opened up in town called Boxy Bikes owned by my friend Larry Clarkburg that specialized in selling ebikes. I swung by and tried out a used Giant Twist ebike he had for sale and I instantly fell in love. It was a love affair that would interfere dramatically will my sex life and anything else I would want to do for the next several months. I jokingly thanked Larry for destroying my life every time I saw him. The first time I used my electric bike in town I was amazed at how quickly I could get from one place to another. No more waiting for traffic, no more driving around looking for free parking, I could arrive right at the doorstep of the customer site and had a lot of extra time to spare. The best part was that I was no longer isolated in my car in an artificial environment that separated me from people on the street. People I knew would wave hello, I felt like part of the community instead of an outsider just driving through.
This was just the beginning, I had bought one ebike from Larry, but I started spending countless hours on the online ebike forums reading mods people had made and crazy ebikes that would use tens or hundreds of thousands of watts. An entire community of people were on the cutting edge of ebike development, and they were all doing it in their garage. I had stumbled on the golden age of ebikes and I was hooked. I would stay up till odd hours in the morning trying to learn everything I could and then I would wakeup at 5:00 AM and start in again on the forums. It became a complete and all-consuming obsession.
I bought a 750watt BBS02 mid drive kit and had it shipped from China. I mounted it to an old Full suspension mountain bike that I had sunk about $1500 into but never rode anymore because it was too small for me. I also purchased a giant 48 volt 23 lb LiFeO4 battery off ebay from China for $500 that would do 40 amps continuous and 60 amps peak. The heavy battery went in a backpack to try to keep weight off the bike and the 8.5 lb motor got mounted low near the crankset which is the best place for extra weight to be on a bike. I installed the kit in a few hours, disabled the pedal assist which totally sucked by pulling apart the controller and disconnecting a cable then I started riding it with only the thumb throttle.
My first ride out I was impressed with the power, it was really hard for me to keep my front wheel on the ground. It seemed that if I was in the right gear I could climb almost anything nearly effortlessly, but if I stalled out I was stuck, it was really hard for the motor to start uphill from a standstill. It took a lot of getting used to but after a while I was riding through the woods and having a really, really great time. I wanted to ride every day, I rode until my legs were too sore to stand, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The lightness of the motor preserved the mountain biking experience and the motor allowed me to cruise up bumpy hills at 10mph. Instead of having only about 25% of the time spent riding be fun, suddenly it was more like 95% of the riding was really enjoyable. I started spending countless hours making single track trails all over Thilde’s backyard. I felt like a kid lost in a candy store.
I’ve had a lifelong love affair with bicycles that has only been soiled by my own laziness of hating to pedal up hills. Ebikes give me all the pleasures of riding without any of the slogging. After hitting the trails with world circuit Freeride racer Alex McAndrew last week I realized that I’m getting old, I’m getting slow.
My son absolutely abhors riding bikes, yet the first time he was on an electric bike I asked him,
“On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being absolutely misery and 10 being the most fun you’ve ever had how much are you enjoying yourself?”
He responded with “an 11”.
That pretty much sums up how I feel about it.