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Photo by Steve Hanley for CleanTechnica. All rights reserved.

Bicycles

A Tale Of Two E-Bikes

By my count, CleanTechnica has published 1,457 reviews about e-bikes. And why not? Over the past several years, the number of e-bikes on the market has exploded as people realized they could use them to get to work, or school, or the grocery store and leave their cars at home. Today there is an amazing variety of e-bikes available to fit every need. There are electric cruiser bikes, cargo bikes, mountain bikes, and fat tire bikes for riding on sand or snow.

In October, I decided to buy myself an electric bicycle for my birthday. I am at an age where, instead of relying on the whims of children and grandchildren, I can pick my own gift. I really simplifies the whole process and eliminates the need to send phony thank you notes for things you don’t need and can’t use. Does that sound curmudgeonly? Wait till you get to be my age and you will understand.

The Schwinn Mendocino

I live in an oceanside condo community in Florida, which is very nice or will be, at least, until the seas rise and reclaim Florida’s barrier islands once more. All of Florida has been underwater before and will be again, although hopefully not in my lifetime. The village is just big enough that it’s a bit of a walk to the restaurant, the Tiki bar, the community center, the golf shack or the pickleball courts.

Unlike many Florida communities, mine does not permit golf carts, so we can either walk, drive, or ride a bicycle. I choose not to drive if I can help it and I don’t walk so much as amble. If I am in a group, I am always the last to arrive at our destination. When I moved here, I went to Walmart and bought a cruiser style bike for $89. It has no gears or brake levers to fuss with. Just one speed and a coaster brake. I wanted no frills and no maintenance. The fact that it was bright blue and had white wall tires was a plus!

That bike has been sitting outside in the rain, and sun, and salt air for 5 years now and has been remarkably unfazed by being neglected. But I felt it was time to join the move to e-bikes. I did a Google search for “cruiser e-bikes” and found a link to the Schwinn website. I confess I have never heard of most of the companies selling e-bikes these days. There was a certain comfort level right from the start about dealing with a brand I knew and trusted.

The Schwinn Mendocino electric cruiser bike looked like exactly what I wanted. With creaky hips, I prefer a step through model and the website showed it in bright blue, which meant it would be a great replacement for my current ride. And it was on sale — $200 off. So I ordered it, only to find that blue was not available. In fact, the only color choice was matte gray. Oh. But in for a penny, in for a pound. I had already decided I wanted one, so I said I would take the gray one.

Shipping took a little over a week, but soon enough the UPS truck was at my door and unloading my first ever e-bike. Unpacking it was straightforward. Attach the quick release front wheel, handlebars, and seat, then plug in the battery to get it charged up. The next morning, all was in readiness, so I set off for my first Schwinn e-bike ride.

Wow! This bike is a beast! Although it has an aluminum frame, it weighs in at just over 66 pounds. Maybe that’s not such a big deal, but much of the weight is carried high in the frame. The battery fits just below the rear cargo rack. My first impression was that the bike felt unwieldy, like I was carrying a bocce set on the rack behind me. It took a little getting used to.

The bike came with straight handlebars. I ordered a pull back bar from Amazon, along with a trick headlight that detaches easily to double as a flashlight, and an automotive style rear view mirror. (Those convex mirrors they sell for bicycles are pretty much worthless.) I also ordered a bicycle helmet with its own rechargeable flashing rear light.

I always thought electric bikes let you pedal at you own speed with the motor helping out. I was wrong. They go at whatever speed they are set for and you turn the pedals to keep the power flowing to the hub motor. The Schwinn had three assist levels. 1 was a little slow, 2 was just about right, 3 sent me whizzing along faster than I could pedal. The bike really needs a larger front sprocket.

I understand that some e-bikes have torque assist operation. They sense how hard you are pushing on the pedals and provide enough boost to offset headwinds and hills. But they tend to be higher end models that can cost a considerable amount of money. My last bike cost me $89, remember. I am what is politely known as a “budget conscious” person.

The Lectric XP Lite

Lectric XP

Photo by Steve Hanley for CleanTechnica. All rights reserved.

My wife tried my Schwinn. She liked the motor assist, but not the weight. We have friends who told us about a couple they met that had a pair of folding electric bikes from Lectric. My wife did some research, read the reviews, and ordered one — in bright blue, my favorite color. It arrived a week later and after we got it assembled and charged up, I took it for a ride. It was love at first sight. The Lectric XP has several features the Schwinn lacked — a headlight and tail light for starters. It has a 48 volt battery instead of 36 volt, a real display screen instead of a few LED lights that are invisible in the daylight, and a 300 watt hub motor instead of 250 watt. It has 5 assist modes instead of three and a throttle that lets you use the motor to get started from rest without pedaling.

Here’s the best part. The Lectric XP Lite weighs 46 pounds — 20 less than the Schwinn (Lectric has other models that weigh about 60 pounds.) The Schwinn was like driving a Hummer. The Lectric is like driving a Miata. The weight of the battery is much lower than with the Schwinn, which allows the rider to maneuver easily and confidently at all times. It has no gears and no chain, which means less maintenance. When you are done, fold it up and slip it into the back of your car — no bike rack required. And oh, by the way, it is $400 less than the Schwinn Mendocino. I sold the Schwinn and ordered a Lectric XP Lite for myself yesterday.

The Takeaway On Electric Bikes

If you are in the market for an electric bicycle, I personally recommend the Lectric XP Lite. But bikes are like cars. What works for me may not work for you. It’s necessary to clarify what it is you want the bike to do. Fat tire bikes are all the rage, but the noise those big wide tires make is a deal breaker for me. There are very sophisticated e-bikes that have the motor integrated into the crankset. That is ideal for keeping the weight of the motor low and centered within the frame, but those machines can cost big bucks.

If you need help, you may want to check out the voluminous guide to e-bikes my colleague Jo Borras created for CleanTechnica readers recently. The bottom line is that no electric bike is right for all riders and all use cases. Find one that works for you, then charge up and ride happy. That lovely early morning ride can turn into a chore when the wind shifts and starts blowing in your face rather than against your back. But with e-bikes, you will hardly notice the difference.

We all need to do what we can to reduce our personal carbon emissions. E-bikes are one of the simplest and easiest ways to do just that. Be sure to check for local rebates that may apply, such as the one in New York that may pay for half the cost of an e-bike up to a maximum of $1,100. Get an e-bike. Ride happy!

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

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