After running up to the credit union on my regular old bicycle this afternoon, I thought I might stop around MacQueen’s to test drive one of the electric-assist bicycles they’ve started to stock. I’m intrigued by this product category, tucked between bicycles and scooters, and have wondered whether having an electric motor assisting my pedaling all or some of the time would move some of my car-driving to bicycle-riding.
The cycle they rolled out for me to test drive was an Evox City 520, equipped with a 520 Wh battery and with a range of 65 to 95 km (depending on whether you’re in “pedal assist” or “throttle” mode). This is what it looked like midway through my ride:
I took it out for what ended up being an 8.6 km ride, over from Queen Street to the Confederation Trail, out past UPEI and the Charlottetown Mall, and then back down to Belvedere Avenue, up to Queen, and back down to MacQueen’s. It took me 25 minutes, and for most of that time I was flying along at the bike’s top speed of 32 km/h.
The battery and electric motor is located right above the pedals, and the motor uses a belt-drive to power the back wheels, leaving the chain to operate as it normal would. The controls on the bike are simple: there’s a centre-mounted digital display that shows speed, distance traveled, battery level, and mode (pedal assist or throttle):
On the left-handlebar is a gear shift integrated into the hand-grip (with 8 gears) and, to the right of that, a 3-button controller. The bottom button controls the mode, the upper buttons allow the amount of pedal assist to be raised and lowered:
There are two modes.
The “pedal assist mode” makes pedaling up to 300% easier: it feels very Steve Austin, as though you’ve suddenly gained incredible strength, or are cycling on the Moon. It doesn’t kick in until 3 km/h is reached, which makes a standing start from a high gear a little tricky. But once you’re moving it seems like the most natural and amazing thing in the world.
The “throttle mode” turns the right side hand-grip into a motorcycle-like throttle: the more you crank it, the faster you go; you need not pedal at all. This turned out to be a lot less awesome than I anticipated: you quickly realize you’re on something more like an under-powered scooter, and while I can see it being occasionally useful, I wouldn’t see this mode as a must-have. It lacks all of the Bionic Man thrills of pedal assist.
The best thing that cycle shops can do to sell electric bicycles is to encourage customers to arrive on their “legacy” bicycle and then go on a test drive: once I was done with the test, riding my trusty old non-assisted bike seemed like riding on Jupiter, and I wondered why anyone would ever choose to slog it out without a battery and motor sharing the load.
Of course there are a few good reasons why not: the Evox with the 520 Wh battery retails for $3199, which puts it well outside of the range of most cyclists, including me.
But even if one has a wallet bursting with cash, there’s a more spiritual consideration to make: is electric-assisted cycling “cheating,” in the sense that the amount of physical fitness it involves is diminished? My body still worked a little to get out to the mall and back, but that work was a pale shadow of the work it would have done if I hadn’t had the motor.
That said, I probably wouldn’t have ridden 8.6 km at all without the motor, and that’s my best chance for rationalizing an electric bike: it’s not “easier cycling,” it’s “less car driving.” It’s a rare day that I’d do anything but hop in the car if I needed something from Canadian Tire; I wouldn’t hesitate to take the electric bike, however: it would be almost as fast, much more fun, and I’d get some fitness benefit while, at the same time, using greener energy to power myself there and back.
While the $3199 price of the Evox bike is too rich for my blood, MacQueen’s also sells a less expensive model from the (unrelated) Danish Evo cycle maker, that’s $1000 less expensive, and you give up throttle mode. I didn’t test drive one of those, and $2000 still ain’t cheap, but it puts it into the realm of possibility.
Years after the Segway was going to turn urban moving-around on its ear, it seems like we’re on the edge of a revolution that involves ebikes, scotters, and electric cars; I’ve a feeling that, one way or the other, the way I’ll be moving around the city in 5 years will be a lot different.