For a month or so now, I’ve been enjoying my newest toy. It’s a Wentz electric bike… which is a bicycle with a built-in motor assist.
I need to get more exercise. I know that. And two years ago, I moved to a house about a mile from the office, so it seems logical that I should ride my bicycle. And, sometimes, I did. But I would normally find an excuse not to.
Then I started looking at electric bicycles. They come in all levels and price ranges, including some that will run all day completely without pedalling. That’s not what I needed. I just wanted a little bit of extra “oomph” so that I could get up and down the local hills without too much sweat.
(To the exercise purists: yes, sweat is good. But not when wearing a business suit and headed for a day of meetings, okay? Let’s be practical here.)
I live at the top of a hill with a 6% grade, and I have to coast down it then climb another 6% grade to get across Peachtree Street. (Ever looked at Downtown/Midtown Atlanta from the air? Peachtree runs right along the ridgetop.) So, yes, getting to and from the office is “uphill both ways.”
I asked at my local bicycle shop; they don’t carry electrics, but they knew someone who did. Ken Altshuler runs Electric Bike South, which has the Georgia/Florida distributorship for Wentz electric bikes. And he lives one neighborhood over in Virginia-Highlands. Right now, he’s selling them mail-order and out of his garage.
My wife and I went over for a test drive, and I was immediately hooked.
It’s not like a motorcycle (or even a moped). You still have to pedal, except on dead-level ground (and there’s not much of that in Atlanta). But as soon as you pedal a revolution or two—or twist the throttle grip—the rear-wheel motor kicks in and helps. It’s hard to describe… but it makes that 6% grade feel like a 3% grade. Result: less stress, less strain, less sweat.
And there’s another benefit that I haven’t seen written up anywhere. Something you would never notice in a car, but definitely notice on a bike, is how many of the roads in Atlanta are seriously crowned (bumped up in the middle) to improve drainage to the edges. If you’re stopped for a red light (yes, I stop for red lights on a bike, unlike many of the damfools around me), then you’re pedalling from a dead stop up a slope from zero speed… and, if you forgot to downshift before stopping, you’re in the wrong gear. You wobble. Wobbling is unsafe.
With the e-bike, you just twist the throttle as you step off, and the motor gives you a bit of forward momentum until your pedalling catches up. I think that’s safer than a regular bike.
There are purists who hate electric bikes. Lots of reasons: they’re heavy. They’re complicated. They have fenders. They’re “cheating.”
Yep. All those things are true.
But, to me, results matter. And my Trek commuter bike was gathering cobwebs. I’ve ridden my Wentz e-bike to work every non-rainy day since I bought it.
This model of Wentz bike comes with a rear carrier. I wanted a basket. Instead of buying an expensive bicycle basket, I went to Home Depot. $17 for a ClosetMaid wire basket, a dozen cable ties, and voilà! A sturdy rear basket able to carry my twenty-pound oversized briefcase. A couple of bungee cords, and it’s suitable for grocery shopping as well.
Range on the standard lithium battery is more than adequate for errands in Midtown Atlanta. The Web site claims twenty miles between charges; I know that I can make three round trips to the office (six miles) before the five-segment gauge drops to only having four segments lit.
And it’s built like a tank (and nearly as heavy), so potholes and rain grates and other urban hazards aren’t a concern. The style is called “step through,” which means it doesn’t have a top tube as in the traditional diamond-frame bike. To anyone raised in this country in the last fifty years, that means “girl’s bike.” That bothered me for about five minutes, until I realized how much easier it is to mount and dismount. (Especially after I added my monster rear basket! Flinging my right leg over that would probably dislocate my left knee!)
Basically: the diamond-frame you are used to is lighter and more efficient. The step-through design requires a massively heavy front frame piece to keep the whole bike from flexing. This is solved by adding metal. So you need more weight of bicycle to carry the same weight of passenger. I’m not going to go racing, or pedal across the country, so I don’t care. Oh, and while we’re adding metal, there’s a chain guard to keep my pants leg out of the front sprocket. And there’s a sturdy motorcycle-style kickstand that holds the bike vertical, so you’re not leaning it over when parking. Think Gelandewagen, not Ferrari.
It comes with a headlight and taillight (both LED-based) that run off the main battery. If I did a lot of night riding, I’d probably investigate something brighter with a more consistent illumination pattern, but this is fine for what I do. The wiring connections from the factory are lousy: friction-fit connectors that easily jostle loose. But a few minutes with a soldering iron and some heat-shrink tubing fixed that. And all the running gear parts (except the hub motor) are standard enough that your bicycle shop won’t be scared to service it.
This is a big, heavy bicycle (63 pounds, including removable battery). I could probably get one onto an SUV roof rack, but it wouldn’t be fun. And two of them would probably exceed your roof’s weight limit, anyhow. The front wheel requires tools to remove, so you can’t do the quick-release thing to stuff it in the back of your car. Basically, if you’re going to take it somewhere else, you need to have a minivan/SUV/pickup big enough to swallow it whole, or a trailer-hitch carrier. (Or you buy the Wentz folding model instead, which fits in the trunk of most cars.)
That being said… we were up in the Nantahala National Forest a couple of weekends ago, and I really wished we had had a way to bring my electric bike!
If you’re interested in trying one out for yourself, email Ken and tell him I sent you. And remember to wear your helmet!