Like with all things, buying a bike has to meet a need. You have to ask yourself, “Why do I need or want this bike?” Bicycles can serve multiple needs, but normally there is one, paramount requirement that will trump all others. When I began my search for alternative conveyance, I was seriously considering a small scooter like the Honda PCX150. I weighed the pros and cons and seriously thought about my needs when e-bikes entered the mix.
What floated to the top of my needs list was commuting. I really wanted to get out of my car, at least a few days per week. I calculated the savings in gasoline and found that a $1500 e-bike would pay for itself in about 2-3 years, depending on how many days per week I commuted. At that point, I was still vacillating between a gas-powered scooter and e-bike. The health benefits to cycling, even on an e-bike, obviously outweighed the scooter. So e-bike 2, scooter 1.
The thing that made me finally settle on an e-bike was the fact that my wife and I camp often. We have a travel trailer and love getting away 4 or 5 times a year, even if it’s just to a local campground where I can still make it to work. While camping, I enjoy hiking, but having another activity like cycling as an option finally did score the final point in the e-bike’s favor.
So there’s my criteria for my decision.
1. Save gas and maybe the planet.
2. Commute to work without needing a shower.
3. Get some exercise, but not kill myself.
4. Have a little recreational fun.
5. Maybe my wife will like it and use it a little.
Now the search for the right e-bike was on. There are as many different choices as there are buyers. Getting it right is a matter of research, research, research. I read hundreds of product reviews, looked into dozens of different companies, and watched an endless stream of Youtube videos, especially the Electric Bike Review Youtube channel.
The first thing I learned is that there are a lot of cheap, Chinese bikes with a motor and battery slapped on them being pawned off as really, cool e-bikes. I even saw one company get outed on Youtube when their oh-so-slick model was found on a Chinese wholesaler’s site. The Stateside company was just slapping cheap batteries and iffy motors on them and selling them with a slick ad. I’m not naming names, but the company rhymes with Bave Wikes.
The second thing I learned is there are different motors (mid-mount, rear-wheel, etc.) and different advantages/prices for each. There are even different types of assist sensors, cadence being the most common, but even then the number of magnets can vary in those sensors. The motors commonly vary from 250 to 1000 watts, too. So finding the right power output for battery life was another research project on the side.
Thirdly, I learned there is pedal-assist and throttled features. Not all e-bike have both and I wanted a model that did. I still wanted to pedal for the exercise, but I needed a throttle that could take over if the commute was making me sweat too hard. My number 2 requirement was not needing a shower when I got to work.
Lastly, I was stunned to see the price variance. $579 for a cheapy model on Amazon. $579? A decent Li-ion battery is going to cost $400-$500. How can that be a decent product at $579? Flag on the play! $2500 for a really nice commuter-oriented model. Looks good, but $2500 is getting into “my wife is going to kill me” range. $10,000?! Holy smoldering tire fire! Oh, good, it’s illegal for road use in my country because it has a 5 KILOWATT system and can do 65 KPH (40 MPH). Crikey those Aussies live dangerously. I guess when everything in your country is trying to kill you, doing 65 KPH on a bicycle is the least of your worries.
I don’t even know where I found the company I finally ended up buying from. It’s all still a blur of websites, blogs, and videos. RadPowerBikes had 4 products to choose from, all for different purposes, 3 models at $1499 and 1 at $1599. It was easy to zero in on their commuter model and match it with my needs. Sure, their fat-tire Rover looked cool and tackled the trails, but I was tackling asphalt. The RadCity came with fenders (a must for commuting and staying clean and dry), a standard rack (a bonus for commuting and not wearing a backpack), a rear-wheel 750 watt motor (enough to give me the boost I needed), and a battery that promised a 20-40 mile range (enough to get me to work and back if necessary even without recharging at the office).
So, that’s how I made my decision and I’m sure someone out there is going through the same process. An e-bike isn’t a one-off purchase. You’re going to sink some serious money into one. Your decision should be weighed and measured before investing. Outline your needs and wants and match those to the endless companies and models available. There’s no one-size-fits-all unit out there. When budgeting, keep in mind that you’re going to spend another $200-$500 outfitting your bike with safety, comfort, and emergency equipment. Find a price you’re comfortable with, but if it comes down to price versus quality, choose quality. Those cheap, Chinese models, no matter how well disguised, will break your heart every time.
Keep chasing the odd, little happy. You might catch it on a bike.
Here you can see some of the gear I outfitted my bike with.
Here you can enjoy the wonder of a Christmas morning in March as I unbox my RadCity.