First 1,000 miles overview - Vintage Electric Bike's Cafe

christob

Well-Known Member
Following other forum members, I wanted to share my observations now that I’ve accumulated 1,000 miles on the Café ebike from Vintage Electric Bikes Vintage Electric Bikes (“VEB”) of California.

Background: In January with my 50th birthday looming in August, being out of shape and at least 75 pounds overweight, I suddenly decided I would pursue an ebike. I hoped it would introduce enjoyable (and sustainable) exercise into my too sedentary lifestyle. I tipped the scales at 303 pounds (6 feet 2 inches tall) when I received the ebike on March 2. I figured the ebike would comfortably get me back into biking (with Assist eliminating the pedal-bike “miseries” such as hills I couldn’t tackle, range/fatigue limitations, etc.) And with a 6.7-mile one-way office commute on paved trails, I had no excuse not to attempt biking to work – which would then introduce at least 50 ‘unavoidable minutes’ of some level of exercise into those days.

I assumed the riding experience would eventually be fun – based on a throttle ebike rental years ago for a Golden Gate Bridge ride. But it has exceeded all my hopes & I’ve ridden nearly every day the weather permitted since early March 2nd (including some commutes on mornings in the low 30’s.) I now take a long detour after work to triple the ride home. With 1,000 miles and 22 office commuting days so far, I’m optimistic this has gelled into a new, enjoyable habit -- exactly what I wanted an ebike to do. I love that I can’t wait to get back on the bike – I’ve *never* looked forward to exercise, ever…! Even when I actively lost weight in the past... Now, it feels good getting home dripping sweat, as I see the pounds melting away…!

This is my first ebike, and my first sustained bike riding in at least 20 years. I took advantage of a deal on a demo bike VEB had – 74 miles clocked on the master odo plus a very minor scuff and a tiny dent on the rear fender – was enough for them to offer an attractive discount. (This was after a lengthy round of emails to answer my many newbie questions about ebikes. Eddie in Sales was very helpful and responsive.) The bike was shipped to Velofix, a mobile outfit, to do final assembly and deliver to me.

Key bike specs; 750w rear hub motor, 5 pedal-assist levels (no throttle mode), Class 3 / assist to 28mph, 48v 10.4Ah battery, chromoly steel frame, stocked tires 29x2 Schwalbe Fat Frank w/ Kevlar Guard, Shimano M365 hydraulic disc brakes, metal fenders in matching paint, Supernova 6v headlight and saddle-integrated red LED lights.

Likes / Positives (in no particular order):
  • Looks, style and finish! I was immediately drawn to the style of this bike when searching. Test rode 3 other brands, but this kept calling me back. I find it a very handsome bike with a nostalgic character that reminded me of bikes from childhood memories. I really like the “Skyline Bronze” paint color vs. the ubiquitous black. The bike draws positive comments from folks on the trail, at the local bike shop and the office.
  • VEB’s “small shop” outfit; I liked that the VEB team is a small, bike-enthusiasts-turned-makers outfit in the USA. I realize there can be pros & cons to a smaller size (vs. a huge player like Trek) but it held an appeal for me and hasn’t posed any problems (see Issue, later on.)
  • 2 - 3 hours full recharge. The charger (now) is 5 amps.
  • Power. Level 4 and 5 are impressive and a lot of fun on an empty stretch of road. I’m not a speed junkie on the bike; I tend to hit max trip speeds for brief intervals, somewhere around 22-26mph on commutes or leisure rides (usually a downhill run.) Since I want exercise from most rides, I tend to stay in Level 1 whenever possible (gear-shifting regularly) while reserving Level 2 or 3 for when losing steam or on more serious / extended grades. In hindsight, I probably would have been fine with a 20mph ebike (VEB doesn’t have one in their lineup) – but I do like having that punch of power when I need it, and when I want the rush of that smooth speed!
  • Leather-wrapped Velo saddle had integrated LED tail light. (Though I lost that in a saddle-change.)
Dislikes / Negatives (in no order):
  • No suspension elements available; makes for a stiff ride over pavement cracks, tree-root buckled asphalt, etc. I sort of wish I had focused on this more, during my research & trial rides.
  • Certainly not a lightweight ebike at 56lbs w/ battery. (But feels solid as a tank.)
  • No mounting lugs anywhere on the frame for a water bottle cage!
  • The included Supernova headlight only has steady-on; would like a daytime flash/pulse mode.
  • I sort of wish the display panel offered more detailed battery / energy data (as EBR Forum posts have made me more curious about all that. Although I’m honestly not sure how long I’d sustain interest in those detailed figures, realistically!) The display panel does provide: Current Speed, Avg Trip Speed, Max Trip Speed, Master Odometer, Trip Odometer, Trip Time Duration, a 5-bar battery gauge, plus an active ‘graphical, segmented arc’ bar-meter as a visual depiction of motor input in real time.
Gear Updates:
  • My initial purchase added a rear VO Campeur rack, Abus Bordo Centium lock & Spurcycle bell.
  • Replaced the stock, leather-wrapped cylindrical style grips with Ergon GP1 leather.
  • Added Mirrycle mirror and Topeak cage-mount accessory onto handlebar.
  • Banjo Brothers canvas pannier bag; not weatherproof, but I’m not riding in rain (at least, not deliberately, yet!)
  • Replaced stock perforated Brooks-leather-clad Velo saddle with a Brooks B67 spring saddle, which meant losing the integrated LED rear light of the stock saddle; so…
  • Added strap-on rechargeable LED’s – seatpost-mounted rear red flasher, and handlebar mounted white flasher for daytime.
Issues and Outcomes:
  • A chirping rear-wheel squeak developed in the first couple weeks of riding. Between calls to VEB and investigations at my local shop, they couldn’t eliminate the sound (regardless of Assist level, pedaling or coasting.) VEB eventually sent me a whole new rear wheel / hub motor assembly, assuming it might be something faulty with the motor itself, after exhausting everything else.
  • Curiously, the first full day of riding after the new wheel was installed (which by the way, did eliminate the chirp!) the Assist died completely, perhaps after 15 miles tallied that day on the new wheel. (This was at about 815 total miles on the bike.) It stopped assisting in any Level, on any terrain. (Although Walk Mode still worked to spin the rear wheel.) Later that same evening, the display panel would no longer power on.
    Speculation was that the new wheel’s install could have inadvertently loosened or damaged wiring inside the controller (all within the metal battery-mount-bracket on the downtube.) So VEB sent a new controller / battery-mount, installed by my local shop. That restored the power-on capability and Walk Mode but did not resolve the Assist issue. At that point, VEB decided it was time to send a brand new replacement Café bike.
    I found this outcome especially impressive since I’d purchased the first bike at a nice discount for being slightly used.
I personally suspect an electrical short occurred while riding after the new wheel went on; a short that fried the pedal-assist sensor at the bottom bracket. (I’m not a mechanic by any means!) That would seem to explain why Walk Mode worked (hub got juice from battery) yet Assist did not, with both the old and new controller. The pedal-assist sensor was the only thing that was NOT replaced during VEB’s troubleshooting… And during this failure period, the bike was behaving exactly as if it didn’t know I was actively pedaling. (I.e., it is a pedal-assist only, no throttle.)

I’m waiting on VEB’s autopsy of the first bike. But the “something shorted” idea may also be supported by what appeared to be slightly-melted plastic surrounding 2 of the female sockets on the battery mount receiving socket of the old controller. I only discovered the melted-looking bits the night Assist died, when I did an inspection of the bike at home to check all wiring connections while VEB prepared their trouble-shooting plan. I’m 99.9% sure that same plastic area was pristine when I got the bike; though it wasn’t an area I regularly examined since it was frequently covered by the installed battery.

Summary: So – now 1,000 miles in (all miles from both Café bikes) 14 weeks after delivery. (Winter weather, some travel, and finally the Assist failure left about 53 bike-able days in that 14 week span; though I managed about 25 pedal-only miles during the “no Assist” time; quite a different workout experience! ;) ) At this point, I’d say the lack of suspension is the only serious shortcoming I’ve got with the bike. Although I do plan to try out a suspension seat post (and maybe even the Redshift Shock Stop stem?) after I drop 25 more pounds… I’m thrilled to share I’ve already lost 26lbs in those 14 weeks – yay, ebikes!

VEB support and service has been exemplary during the troubleshooting and ultimate replacement; I’m happy to say their “small outfit” presented no challenges! (At one point I called their HQ to check on the latest action plan – a new guy I’d not spoken to before answered. As I said my name, he knew instantly who I was – turns out it was the owner of the company who’d answered; while I was appreciative of his apology about the situation, I was even more relieved that he was completely in the loop on my case. I’ll never know whether I would have received this level of resolution and smooth handling from one of the larger manufactures, but I’m glad I don’t have to find out, either!
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opimax

Well-Known Member
Great support story. I have both thud buster and body float you can try if we ever get together,. You welcome to make a “date” try both of them. I am at about mile marker 7
 

rich c

Well-Known Member
Nice support, but sure would worry me for the next 1,000 miles. Does a complete bike replacement mean they are having broad issues with that model? I've always been a big advocate for suspension. 28mph and bumps make for some bone jarring rides.
 

christob

Well-Known Member
At this point, taking them at their word (ie, I have no reason to do otherwise) -- they indicated they've never had a customer present this problem on this model.

Now, I wonder if I was perhaps their heaviest-starting rider to date; we'll probably never know -- ie, if that could have contributed say, to the development of the persistent wheel squeak -- I'd think a very plausible explanation for that sound developing... Even though I specifically raised my starting weight as a concern in the early rounds of emails before purchase, and was given an all-clear by them.

I can't help but think the "electrical short event" (my hunch, not yet confirmed) was somehow connected with the installation of the new hub wheel, since I'd had 815 problem-free miles other than the squeak, until that wheel-change -- then the assist died (on the new wheel) on the first day riding the new wheel... The old wheel never lost assist; that replacement only meant to address squeak. So -- hopefully their crew will be able to examine all the components & sensors, old wheel and new wheel, and diagnose what may have happened.

Anyway -- I will be continuing my monitoring; tracking my rides and notes on each ride as I did for the first bike, and will be watching for any signs of a pattern...
 

opimax

Well-Known Member
I have just verified Sat is free so that works. I am not the earliest of risers 11 for biking is good and go from there ...anybody else is welcome too
 

christob

Well-Known Member
Update; since the original June 11 post above, I've clocked another 300 miles on the new replacement bike, bringing Bike #2 to 450 miles -- that is about half the miles I'd accumulated on Bike #1, before Bike #1 "died" and was returned to V.E.B. following the electrical issue in the original post.

The only issue on Bike #2 has been 2 broken spokes on the rear hub wheel. The first spoke broke a week into riding the new bike. Got that spoke (and its bent neighbor) replaced at LBS, then this morning another spoke broke on the ride to work; it was located half way around the wheel from the first one. These 2 breaks have been surprising to my way of thinking -- ie, I've basically convinced myself that the "squeak/chirp" issue which arose on Bike #1 was likely due to my weight. Yet in the 850 miles put on that bike, no spokes broke... My weight has dropped every single week while biking since end of March -- I'm now 35 pounds lighter than when I started out on Bike #1 -- so it seems really odd that Bike #2 would suddenly suffer broken spokes in the first 400 miles. (My routes/rides have not changed in any noticeable way between Bike #1 and #2.)

Anyway -- I'm having the spoke replaced at LBS... And I've spoken with the great guys at V.E.B. about it, who continue to be surprised by my little run of issues they've not had reported to them before -- they remain superbly helpful and responsive. They agree that if another spoke breaks after this spoke replacement, their next step will be to build me a new rear hub wheel with DT Swiss Alpine spokes (vs. the standard DT Swiss spokes V.E.B. stocks on this model) -- in the hopes that would yield a more robust wheel -- for coping with both the power of the 750w hub motor and my (declining, but still substantial) weight.

Fingers crossed, that if somehow the spoke breaks are in fact weight-related (despite me being lighter now) that this could turn out to be a self-resolving issue before too long -- as my weight continues to drop over the summer, at some point I'd cross the magical threshold where my weight wouldn't actually be a contributing factor to any new problems... (he says, optimistically!)
 

rich c

Well-Known Member
Are you heavier than their maximum recommended weight? Are you riding off road or jumping curbs?
 

christob

Well-Known Member
Are you heavier than their maximum recommended weight? Are you riding off road or jumping curbs?
Yes, to being over the recommended weight by 50lbs when I first started; now, about 17lbs over. I raised that weight point with VEB twice during my pre-purchase inquiries, and they assured me they weren't concerned about it. I also raised it during the squeak issue on bike #1, but they still didn't think it was a serious problem. Still, I think it could be the culprit for the squeak developing. I'm less sure it could be the cause of the spokes breaking, since none ever broke on the first bike when I was at my heaviest vs now on bike #2.

And no; no off-road, and no jumping curbs ever. I do have plenty of root-buckled asphalt humps on the bike paths, as well as gaps or seams in concrete, and ridges where asphalt meets concrete, etc.
 

#lovefromizzy

New Member
I purchased this week a VEB Cafe. Eddie (from VEB) added the Brooks B67 saddle with the LED light. He contacted my local LBS (Trek distributor) and they will receive the bike and set it up for me. VEB can provide support over the phone.
I have been doing road cycling for 5 years now (for exercise) with a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 and the VEB will be for commuting. (7 miles each way).
Christob, thanks for your review. It was very informative.
 

christob

Well-Known Member
Christob, thanks for your review. It was very informative.
I'm glad it was useful! Please tell Eddie that, if you have a chance! ;) I don't get any gain from you buying from VEB but I'm tickled to know my review was helpful and (maybe) helped cement the purchase!
VEB has been very good to me with some unusual issues that arose on my bike this summer, and I'm really happy with their level of support. On vacation now for 8 days and will be greatly missing my Cafe!!
 

konea420

New Member
Would be interested to hear your experiences with your bikes this past year. I test rode the bike today and agree with the above cons. The bike is beautiful. I did however find the assist somewhat laggy. I previously owned a stromer st1 and that assist was spot on.
 

christob

Well-Known Member
Hi @konea420; I’ve got another thread here which may help, sort of a diary with the bike at key milestones.

My Cafe ebike thread

I’ve been very happy with the bike and with VEB. Today I’ll pass the 6,000 mile cumulative mark.
I haven’t ridden any other ebikes during this time, so I can’t compare to others... To me, the Cafe assist is what I’m used to, so I don’t notice any lag that may be there, if there is another ebike with “more seamless” assist to compare to. I think of the assist as pretty smooth and near immediate to me. Several months into riding it, I pretty much landed in Level 1 as my main riding level, I rarely go above Level 2 now, and often ride stretches in Level 0 now (aiming for a harder workout.)
I test rode several models at my local shop before buying the Cafe, but don’t remember much about them now; none of them were rear hub bikes tho, and I believe for me, I didn’t like the way their assist felt.
Very much a personal fit kinda thing you have to decide on!
 

konea420

New Member
Hi @konea420; I’ve got another thread here which may help, sort of a diary with the bike at key milestones.

My Cafe ebike thread

I’ve been very happy with the bike and with VEB. Today I’ll pass the 6,000 mile cumulative mark.
I haven’t ridden any other ebikes during this time, so I can’t compare to others... To me, the Cafe assist is what I’m used to, so I don’t notice any lag that may be there, if there is another ebike with “more seamless” assist to compare to. I think of the assist as pretty smooth and near immediate to me. Several months into riding it, I pretty much landed in Level 1 as my main riding level, I rarely go above Level 2 now, and often ride stretches in Level 0 now (aiming for a harder workout.)
I test rode several models at my local shop before buying the Cafe, but don’t remember much about them now; none of them were rear hub bikes tho, and I believe for me, I didn’t like the way their assist felt.
Very much a personal fit kinda thing you have to decide on!
Thanks christob. The power of the bike is intoxicating. When I had my Stromer, my motor was changed after 200 kms. I understand from my visit to the local VEB dealer that their bikes uses the same brand motor as the Stromer. I’m currently cross shopping the cafe against the Riese and Müller Nevo/charger. The Nevo/chargeris a bit more expensive but it has all the necessary accessories with the exception of a mirror. Air front suspension along with a short travel suspension seat post. Plus a bit better components. Order lead time is the biggest issue with Riese and Müller. The cafe has unique styling which I like very much.
 

christob

Well-Known Member
Yeah, opening up the bike to level 5 is insane. I haven’t really found a use case for it. Nor a riding place (pavement in good repair, no other traffic; where I could just enjoy going fast for speed’s sake!) where I’d feel comfortable using Level 5 for prolonged stretches! Which means in retrospect I ended up with more power than I realistically need. Tho it was extremely useful having level 3 and sometimes 4 in the early days until I improved my endurance and stamina a bit...