Last Roundup in Sin City: Batter(y) up!

The Tern GSD in mango.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (MDM) — To e-bike, or not to e-bike: That is the question. …

We all know the e-bike is the latest and greatest entry in The Next Big Thing™ sweepstakes. Previous contenders include mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, single-speeds, city bikes, cargo bikes, fatbikes, etc., et al., and so on and so forth (thanks for playing).

Some of us think you can’t sell a certain subset of Americans a two-wheeler if it doesn’t have an engine — and sometimes, not even then (Harley sales hit a five-year low last year).

That said, in comments Comrade Herb warns: “Let’s all be careful and not snark too much about e-bikes. Lord [knows], anything that gets people out of the house and out from behind their SUV’s wheel is a good thing. And if it keeps my local bike shop alive I’m more than happy to go along with the addition to the two-wheel choices.”

And Consigliere Larry adds: “I’ve boiled my e-bike opinion down to this: E-bike instead of car? Wonderful. E-bike instead of bicycle? Not so good.”

Maybe this is the ticket: When it comes to commuting or cargo, a little electrical assist is preferable to dinosaur drive.

CyclingTips tech editor James Huang said on Twitter yesterday that he’s been living the e-cargo-bike life since January 2016, adding: “No other bike in the fleet has as big an impact on my life as that one, no question.”

The bike that most recently caught his eye was the Tern GSD. James first saw it at Eurobike, and the rest of us saw it at Interbike, and I have to admit it was impressive. With MSRP starting at $4,000 the GSD can haul kids, and cargo, and it can tour — the Bosch motor with dual batteries is said to have a range of more than 250km, which is further than I plan to travel on my meat-powered machine today, or even this week.

But questions remain. Who’s gonna buy it? And who’s gonna sell it?

I’ve heard some folks say the e-bike is a natural fit for cycling’s aging demographic, which means they’re hoping to pitch it to the same faces they’ve seen under helmets since hairnets were cool. Others say the e-bike is attracting an entirely new customer.

And still others want nothing to do with the goddamn things, wary of the sales-and-service downsides of becoming an early adopter. Some of these folks might be stuck holding fatbikes they can’t unload, or worried about the rules, regulations and fees that Big Gummint might decide to tack onto these beasties should they begin turning up on America’s streets in quantity.

Are these shop owners missing out? Ceding TNBT™ to specialty e-bike retailers, or motorcycle dealerships? Yamaha’s in the game now, and the bike biz is basically a rounding error on that balance sheet.

What are your thoughts? Anyone out there own an e-bike, or sell ’em? Give us the buzz in comments.

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32 Responses to “Last Roundup in Sin City: Batter(y) up!”

  1. Sharon Says:

    I think it’s interesting… though I am not a buyer at this point in life. I experienced a difference perspective this summer when riding out in the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. I met a guy out riding a battery assist in the very hilly Islands. I asked him to tell me a bit about the bike. He said it assists him to get up the steepest hills but he is strictly pedaling the rest of the time. He said it helps him ride with others, including his wife and not feel like everyone is leaving him behind. He related that he had a bad accident that had left him less than 100%. So basically, it has expanded the time he can still enjoy riding with friends. So that a very positive.

    • Sharon Says:

      I hate spell check.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’m not a buyer either, Sharon. Not yet.

      An e-bike seems a good choice for people like the gent you met. Like a compact crank and pie-plate cassette, it can help you stay in the game.

      At Interbike Focus was showing a bike, the Project Y, that to the casual observer looked nothing like an e-bike. Something like that could be very popular with a certain segment of the market.

  2. canamsteve Says:

    Despite my advancing age, e-bikes seem antithetical to cycling to me. A bicycle is a light-as-possible frame that holds two wheels and allows you to travel. An e-bike is just a small motorcycle. I have nothing against motorcycles (I own a few) at all – but if you want a motorcycle, get a motorcycle.

    E-bikes are huge in Europe now – the only growth in the market is e-bikes, in fact. And they are a dime a dozen and all over the place as far as quality, design, reliability and safety. Not cheap, either. Pretty much disposable when something breaks – no parts. Techs hate them for that and their weight and weirdness.

    If you want an e-bike, IMO you should find a nice electric scooter. I’d buy one. It will have way more range, be more stable by design and offer some storage/shopping space and some weather protection. Bolting a motor and a heavy battery into a bicycle frame is just wrong – higher CofG, etc.

    And with regard to trail riding, I agree with those that say the “wilderness” should have dedicated non-motorized areas. You have an e-bike? Fine – stick to the motorcycle trails with your powerd pals.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      “All over the place” is a fair description. I saw one with a battery good for a thousand charges, another with one rated for twice that. Some looked like regular bikes with a battery thumbtacked on, others more like standard road, hybrid or cargo bikes.

      Not quite a high standard of standardness yet, is what.

      I know at least one retailer who’s contemplating a two-tiered service menu, one for e-bikes and the other for the meat-powered models. Guess which customer would pay more?

      • JD Dallager Says:

        Did I hear “standards”? In the bike industry? Seems a bridge too far to me based on the past ten years of “innovation” in that industry. E-bikes have low barriers to entry for the big producers and are a 3-4 year growth market. Will be interesting to follow and see how the niche matures.
        That said, anything legal that gets people off couches/posteriors and outside moving in an ecologically sound way has my vote! 🙂

  3. Bret Wade Says:

    I use an e-cargo bike for errands. As someone who rides a lot, using a bike to also run errands is problematic as there’s nothing worse that returning from an errand, climbing the hill to my home with cold dead legs. The e-bike solves that issue for me. I have a Chinese made Rad Wagon imported by Rad Power bikes in Seattle. It cost just $1500. It’s heavy and has clunky components but the 750w motor makes it effortless to ride. I replaced the saddle, stem, pedals and light. It has room for two sets of panniers and can handle any grocery run I’m likely to make. I’m able to take it places (Pearl St Mall in Boulder) that I’d be reluctant to drive due to parking issues. I’ve added a pad and second set of bars so that my wife can sit on the back and we use it for transportation togther for short trips.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Does your lovely bride still rock the scooter, too? Y’all are all about the two-wheeler there in the Republic.

      An e-bike like yours would be suitable for me, as a lot of the shopping I do is downhill and far away. It’s not always pleasant to climb back to El Rancho Pendejo on a touring bike with full panniers, and the perishables can suffer, too.

      Of course, it would be easier and cheaper to change grocery stores.

      • Bret Wade Says:

        Yes, she still has the Honda Metro after 15 years and it’s going strong. Ironically, I just put a new battery in it.

  4. Carl Duellman Says:

    i could have used one this weekend to keep up with the ‘b’ group.

    one thing i don’t like about ebikes is the way the motor is at the cranks. it seems like it adds a lot of wear and tear on the chain and cassette. what happened to that powered rear wheel set up? why not front wheel power? other than that, if it gets people off the couch and outdoors interacting with other humans, i’m all for it.

    • larryatcycleitalia Says:

      “…could have used one this weekend to keep up with the ‘b’ group.” is something I don’t understand. I guess you would be “keeping up” and dressed in the same costume, but I don’t see a lot of difference between that and riding a motorcycle (electric or gas powered) or cruising along in an automobile with the window open or top down while chatting with your pals on their bicycles.
      The other thing I find hard to believe are the claims of Sharon’s friend – these folks are fit enough to pedal a bike with a heavy motor and battery around without any electric assist until they get to a hill? Really?
      A couple of months ago in Italy I saw plenty of people going up Passo Stelvio on e-bikes. While these e-bikers WERE pedaling, not one of them looked to be making much physical effort, yet they celebrated at the top just like someone who rode a solely pedal-powered bike up the legendary climb.
      Of course they’re not alone, plenty of gasoline powered moto folks get up there and act like it’s a real accomplishment too…I guess their throttle-hand must be very, very tired? In these cases I’d prefer these folks spend the time on their sofa in front of the TV as it consumes less energy

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      This takes us back to the “all over the place” observation, Carl. I’ve seen the rear-wheel-drive option and various motor-at-the-crank options.

      My seat-of-the-pants opinion is that — for me, anyway — the added complexity of the e-bike is not worth the added convenience. I liked the simplicity of the bicycle circa 1985, and still have a couple that date back nearly that far, or are comparably styled and spec’d.

      So I’m not interested in disc brakes, suspension, electronic shifting, Strava, GPS, tubeless setups, and whatnot. I already have too many e-things and iGizmos competing for my attention, and my wall sockets. A bicycle can take me away from all that. Or should, anyway.

  5. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Gee, since I have 68 trips around the sun, I better skip the ebike. Don’t want to become a statistic. I rode 65 miles today and didn’t get run over, so I guess I still have some control of my limited faculties.

    Sooner or later ebikes will be, and should be, regulated either by top speed or pedal assist only with no throttle, or both.

    Ebikes should never be allowed on single track or any wilderness area where motor vehicles are not allowed.

    $4K? I’d rather have a Vespa.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Pat, well done on the 65 miles. I haven’t logged that kind of mileage in one sitting this year, and if I don’t get off my keister right quick. it ain’t gonna happen.

      I suspect that e-bikes may be regulated like scooters before long, if they aren’t already in some locations. Too many governmental entities need money, and the gas tax isn’t cutting it.

      Scooters. There was another flash in the pan. Selling like beer at a ballgame while the gas was sky high. And now? Not so much.

      • canamsteve Says:

        Well… scooters are a big deal in large Euro cities. In The Netherlands, you can ride your (low powered) gas scooter on bike lanes, too. We just-so-happened to have pedaled (road bikes, no assist) from London to Paris a couple of weekends ago (combined age of the missus and myself is 117 – mileage about 60/day 🙂 and I can attest that Paris has the upper hand in scooter density – mostly due to very lax parking regulations for scooters and motorbikes (London is very restrictive).

        Add in the increasing restrictions on car traffic and the move to cut pollution, and I can see electric vehicle use continuing to increase – car, truck, bus, scooter and e-bike. But really – as a hop-on-and-ride-to-work, or to go get the shopping, the scooter features of two seats, low CofG, storage and weather protection must surely be more practical than (what I see as) the painful compromise of an elegant, lightweight diamond frame bicycle with a motor wedged in the wrong place and a battery hung in a worse place?

        https://www.fastcompany.com/3068522/dutch-cyclists-have-had-it-with-motorized-scooters-invading-bike-lanes

        • larryatcycleitalia Says:

          In Italian cities finding even a place to park (and then worry about theft or vandalism) a scooter is tough. More than a few have decided an e-bike, which they can drag indoors without anyone complaining about noise or gas fumes and requires no license plates, no insurance, no crash-hat and no driving license, is a far better idea. E-bike replacing car/scooter, etc? Brilliant! Replacing a proper pedal bike? Not-so-great.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I still love my Vespa, but I don’t ride it nearly as much here as I did in Bibleburg. Too many drunk, doped and/or distracted drivers in the Duke City, and speed limits, red lights and stop signs are considered strictly advisory.

  6. khal spencer Says:

    I don’t know the answer so I might as well offer an opinion. E-bikes will make people fat.

    50cc gas scoots were extremely popular in Honolulu, as costs of driving and parking were through the roof. One could scoot along at 100-200 mpg without moto insurance, a moto license, or needing to pay close to a kilo of dollars per year to store the family cage in the business district. I suspect in places like that, an e-bike will do well if e-bikes become good technology, which they seem to be doing. With fenders and a place to stow crap, they are competitive.

    When we are in Fanta Se, I use the folding pedal bike for short hauls. An e-bike would be overkill for me, at least until I am older and more feeble, as the advantage of Fanta Se is that virtually everything I need to shop for is within 3 miles (the Ace Hardware is the farthest away at 3 clicks) and I can avoid the major pedestrian-murdering six and eight lane highways that the clowns in the NMDOT installed in the city**. That said, I have a friend who works at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque who has to dress nice on base and for her, an e-bike is an option she is researching. Showing up in front of senators, governor’s aides, special interest groups, or generals looking sweaty or crumpled ain’t an option. Her main problem is how to put an M134 minigun on an e-bike to ward off Albuquerque’s increasingly brazen low-lifes.

    ** http://labikes.blogspot.com/2017/09/its-all-dead-pedestrians-fault-right.html

    My concern is safety. We just had a ped mowed down by a high speed sidewalk cyclist in Bombtown. Both the cyclist and ped ended up in the meat wagons and ER with serious injuries. An e-bike makes anyone a cyclist on steroids. If we have e-bikes capable of letting clueless idiots careen down sidewalks and multiuse paths at 20 mph using peds as speed bumps, we have a problem. Some regulation is inevitable not because I like Big Gubbmint, but because too many people need adult supervision.

    On those days I want two wheels with a gasoline motor instead of these increasingly creaky legs, I get the K1100RS out of the garage. Its big, fast, bright red, has a massive headlight, and can get out of its own way. Or at least put a sizeable dent in some moron in his SUV. But it sure does cost more than an e-bike in feeding and care.

  7. canamsteve Says:

    I think licensing is a key point. Some in the UK are crying out for some sort of cyclist “licensing” after a pedestrian was killed when she walked off a curb into the path of a cyclist (she was looking at her phone, of course). Had she been mown down by a car or bus, there would have been no question it was her fault “tragic accident” etc. However, the kid who hit her was riding a track fixie with no front brake (it is illegal to ride a bike on the road without both wheels braked in the UK). He also did not help his case by shouting abuse at her and continuing (even as she lay dying in hospital) to claim it was all her fault. So now there are rumblings of stricter laws, etc.

    Which brings me to the contrast between South Africa and Vietnam. Vietnam (and much of the surrounding areas) are home to a vast sea of scooter riders – you see five person families on scooters, fridges being moved, large panes of glass, livestock. Just incredible.

    In South Africa, which I submit has a similarly sizeable can’t-afford-a-car-yet population, you see very few scooters and when you do they are ridden by well-off middle-aged men mostly, in inner city settings.

    Now, the density of population in SA is much less than in SE Asia, with longer distances between population centers, but SA also (as a former British colony) has a strict licensing regime with a tough test. That means getting the driving licence is a struggle – sometimes perhaps involving bribing some official. It’s not simple. Then you have no real safety inspection for cars, so pretty much anything with four wheels is still in service. There is a MC helmet law as well. They do sell those cheap Chinese scooters, but they don’t sell many.

    Speaking of cheap Chinese scooters, the older electric ones used car batteries. Not ideal (voltage too low) but ubiquitous batteries and while the scooters were stashed on the street at night, the batteries were lugged upstairs for recharge. I don’t think I’d leave any $4K e-bike unattended for long….

  8. Antique Pedaler Says:

    My friend and bike shop owner has been working me to buy an ebike, I think mainly because I’m closer to 80 than 70. I tried one. Maybe when I’m closer to 90.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I still appreciate the concept of human-powered transport. It’s refreshing.

      As a kid I was a walker, a swimmer and a cyclist, and in my 30s I came to appreciate running, if only as a component of cyclocross. In my geezerhood I no longer race, but I still run a couple days a week just ’cause I can.

      I think running and swimming may be the purest forms of athletics. You don’t need a lot of expensive gear to participate (though with swimming, finding a convenient body of water is not always easy).

  9. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    I wonder whether cost will prove a barrier to entry for anyone who isn’t committed to the idea of “one less car.”

    Bret found himself a relatively affordable e-bike, but he’s an experienced cyclist, with years of dealing with the industry under his bibs. A quick check of the big outfits finds e-bikes starting in the mid-$2,000 range.

    Then again, Walmart is hawking e-bikes for six hundy, which to some folks will sound like a lot of money for a bike without a motor, but pretty a’ight for a powered model. (We saw a couple acceptable motorless road bikes under $700 at Le Shew Bigge.)

    To me this says we wind up with a two-tier e-bike population, samey same as with meat-powered bikes. There will be e-cyclists, and people who ride e-bikes. Their behavior on the street/path is likely to be worlds apart, and the people who ride like dicks will make life difficult and expensive for everyone else.

    When scooters were still all the rage here in the States I heard a lot of people complaining about scooterists using bike paths/lanes. It may or may not have been strictly legal, depending upon jurisdiction — in Colorado, IIRC, scooters under 50cc were considered motorized bicycles — but I expect we’ll be seeing similar conflicts with e-bikes, if we’re not already.

    And yeah, theft. Check out the fresh crime stats for the Duke City. You’d better be able to lug your pricey e-bike into the office if you want it to be available to you for the ride home.

  10. psobrien Says:

    E-bikes, scooters, small motorcycles, modpeds, and bicycles are not going to be very popular or useful for everyday transportations until city, state, and federal governments finally figure out that the “car is king” future planning is just wrong. America is still the land of the big SUV and pickup. We have made considerable progress, but not at the rate necessary to effectively and efficiently move people around without cooking the planet. Even in places where bike lanes and multi-use paths are being built relatively quickly, like in my little town, considerable route planning is required to run errands without mixing it up with the cars and trucks somewhere on the trip.

    And I know it’s not a good thing, but I still have Vespa envy. A red Vespa is so cool, and I haven’t given up on one yet. The Honda Metro is available at a shop right down the road from me for $2500. And a buddy of mine owns the joint and is itching to get at my wallet. But, it’s just not the same. Vespa baby; and Italian produced world standard. Larry understands.

  11. Shawn in Oregon Says:

    I have the opinion that e-bikes are a fairly good idea for a portion of the population that would like to enjoy quiet 2-wheel riding with the ability to ascend hills or other similar terrain that they normally would have significant difficulty in doing so (such as people who have medical conditions or have had medical procedures that they will not recover from).

    Those who may utilize an e-bike for climbing a mountain pass and then celebrate their accomplishment after passing the struggling human powered cyclist may be considered a bit selfish and perhaps similar to a certain political leader.

    Although I am ageing faster than I should be (I was immortal once…), I still like to keep an eye out for e-bikes on my rural rides, ready to swoop down and try to catch and pass, keep up…, and then perhaps to wave adios as they ride away from me into the distance….

    As the e-bike is industry is progressing now, regulation is, and will soon follow as to their use. This is will be necessary unless the e-bike industry begins to educate their customers as to their proper legal use. Riding on a sidewalk is not acceptable.

    As for the pure sport philosophy, I definitely agree with you Mr. O’Grady, running and swimming are great activities to continue to do with little cost of equipment. I try to keep the legs somewhat fit for those times that I want to go out and trot around the woods on a nice trail.

    And as for that “techie” stuff, anybody want to buy a little-used Garmin Fenix watch that a very kind friend bought me for Christmas? It is way beyond what my simple mind prefers using.

    Cheers and Good Riding all !

  12. khal spencer Says:

    e-bikes would be good in Bombtown. There is a 300′ elevation gain just going from one end of LANL to the other and that doesn’t even include the technical areas in White Rock, which are some 700′ lower. But as Pat O’Brien states, the real issue is sharing roads with 5000 lb. cars that are on autopilot because the driver is fiddling with the phone.

  13. DownhillBill Says:

    The only e-bikes I’ve actually encountered around here previously have all been DUI-cycles. Richmond recently started up a bike rental system w/e-bikes, similar to the far larger program in D.C. The first round of stats is out, showing that the average trip was… about a mile.

    We’ll see. Right now the scene reminds me of the early days of the moped boom.

    NB: about the only people who walk anywhere here can’t afford a car.

  14. Herb Clevenger Says:

    The long term ( in today’s world maybe that expression is passé) viability on e-bikes for commuting and reducing fossil fuel addiction comes down to this. How reliable are they? Are parts readily available (always an issue with new and fast changing technology) and above all; can one even afford the service parts and labor? I know that bike shops are worried about how customers are now shell shocked at the prices charged to fix a flat. Or investigate a creaky bottom bracket and replace it. While hard core cyclist will fork over big bucks for almost anything lighter or more trick; commuters will have no taste for hefty billings for a wheel replacement or battery upgrade. I am however optimistic that the “e” part of e-bikes is really making strides. I’ve coverted my entire fleet of Stihl saws, blowers and other instruments of weekend killing over to battery versions with great ( and quiet) success.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeah, I can see these things under the tree at solstice and at the garage sale come Valentine’s Day. “Whaddaya mean a battery costs as much as the bike, if you could find this particular battery, which you can’t? @#$%&*!!!”

      Envision the wrench at your local IBD working frantically on an e-bike with a soldering iron in one hand and a smartphone in the other. “Red wire or black wire? Red wire or black wire? @#$%&*!!!”

      I haven’t gone to batteries for lawn-care equipment, but I have gone electric for the mower and trimmer. Slightly quieter, no trips to the gas station, and a lot less stink.

  15. Stephen Newhall Says:

    We sell a few of them at the shop, about 10 in the last year. I think they are a great replacement for a car, especially for the commuter who lives 5 to 15 miles from work. The only real use I would have for e-mtbs would to get trail building/maintenance tools into the back country.
    Patrick, I didn’t see you at interbike this year, did they have you in protective custody?

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