My Path to Living (Mostly) Without Cars

M1Rate

Member
“How charming!” Idyllic lifestyles in quaint European towns shuttling bakery-fresh baguettes by bicycle while enjoying low risk of theft, accident, or injury. Yes: How charming it would be.

I do not, however, live in a quaint European town. I live in San Francisco which, despite its small size, is a bustling metropolis with harrowing traffic and roughly 4,000 (!!) bike thefts per year. But hold on: this staggering number is about the same as cars stolen in the City, year in and year out, and I don’t really worry about my car. Still, bicycling just seems more dangerous and fraught with risk. But is that true? Is biking around San Francisco possible?

I decided to look. And here is what I found out.

Which Bike?

As you cast about for an ebike solution in 2020, you’ll find unbelievably huge numbers of every sort imaginable from countless manufacturers, many of whom cobble together ebikes from off-the-shelf technology largely made in China. The vast majority of these (once all delivery and assembly costs are counted) hover around $2,300. A couple of years ago, Kickstarter ebikes were everywhere. Most of them did not turn into established brands, ghosting away long term support.

I like a good crowd-sourced solution as much as anyone, but was unwilling to spend roughly $2,000 on ebikes that are not market tested with proven reliability and ongoing credentials. In particular, batteries are not universal, so ensuring that you’ll be able to replace this wear item five years into ownership is a good plan. But I only discovered that later in my search.

Let me start at the beginning. My investigation began the same way I started this post: Deeply concerned about theft. So when Vanmoof showed up on Valencia Street promising an end to bike thefts, it got my attention. Vanmoof (for a nominal annual fee) promises to use GPS technology to find and recover your bike in two weeks or less. If it is not recovered, Vanmoof will replace your bike with the same model in similar or better condition.

A theft-proof bike? Tell me more!

The initial price for such peace of mind? About $4,000, out the door (Update: Vanmoof has since lowered their price for the popular S2 model by $1,200). “This,” I thought, “was for me.” I proceeded to conduct all the usual internet sleuthing, reading every available review; noting online reports of personal experiences with Vanmoof’s recovery guarantee; and even plied owners I chanced upon for their observations. What I found was robust Vanmoof marketing slathering the internet with Vanmoof tales of joy and personal delight.

Nonetheless, I felt comfortable after exhaustive community-board searches choosing the Vanmoof as my all-around car replacement.

And then I rode one.

My 1/2- to 3/4-mile test ride on the Vanmoof S2 from Valencia Street approximated a run to get groceries, toodling up to Whole Foods on 24th Street in Noe Valley. This took me on established bike routes up a significant hill, with a 200-foot elevation change and at least one short-but-30% grade.

To say that San Francisco’s roads are pock-marked with ruts and imperfections is an understatement. My ride on the solid-forked Vanmoof S2 rattled my Apple Watch right off my wrist. Twice.

Undeterred, I pressed on. The boost button delivered heightened power and was welcome at intersections where I wanted get up and go with maximum speed. Alas, a short, nearly 30% grade revealed another shortcoming: It simply did not have enough oomph.

I’m 6’4” and a fit 195 pounds. My plan to tow a Burley bike trailer hauling 50 pounds of groceries home on a Vanmoof melted away in 100 feet of unavoidable incline. Yes, I can hear you: “How lazy can you be??” Am I really that lazy? Too lazy to pedal hard?

In a word: Yes. But it’s not mere laziness. I really don’t want to replace my convenient car with a solution that relegates me and my wobbly legs to pushing a grocery-laden ebike up the steep bits of our city. I mean, be honest: Would you? Add in a ride so punishing my backside literally hurt for a week and, well, I needed to think anew.

Van Moof checked all the boxes for reliability and security, but came up short on practical ride. Hopes dashed, I returned the S2 to the very nice dealer on Valencia, explained my experience, and said I would need to think about it some more.

Next up was Specialized. This brand more or less invented mountain biking 40 years ago. Highly reputable, they also checked all the right boxes for durability and commitment to product longevity. Still smarting from my test ride on the Vanmoof, I went looking for more power and, most of all, comfort.

Motors, Gears, Suspensions, and Cost

Here we have to take a little side trip that summarizes what I learned about each of these things:

Motors

— Motors are regulated: Federal, State, County, Parkland, and even EU standards.

— 250-Watt motors are common, though some high-power models are 500-Watt and even 750 Watts. Going above 750 Watts gets into legally uncertain territory on whether it is still considered a “bicycle.”

— There is a difference between speed and torque. Torque is off-the-line alacrity and hill-climbing grunt, while speed is, well, speed. Ebikes are generally limited to either 20 mph assist, or 28 mph assist. You can usually travel faster than these speeds, but it’ll be without any motorized assistance.

— Hub motors sit on the front or rear hubs (the Vanmoof is a front-hub solution). Mid-mounted motors (e.g., Bosch, Brose, Yamaha, Fazua, some Bafang) are at the pedal crankshaft. In general, hub motors are less efficient in energy transfer than mid-mounted motors. Pricier bikes that include full cassette gearing make the best use of hub motors.

Gears

— Gearing is either internal or external; manual or semi-automatic; limited (2-3 gears) or complete (7-14 gears or more).

— Hub motors often have internal or limited gearing configurations with as little as two gears. This is not so great for chugging up hills.

— The relationship between gearing and motor strength is too-little appreciated, but is really easy to understand. Would you have more trouble climbing hills on a non-motorized bike if you had only one or two gears? Yes, you would. The same applies to ebikes.

— Finally, there are (1) standard gear cassettes with chains and derailleurs, and (2) internally-geared solutions, often with carbon belts. The forces applied to gears are greater on ebikes than non-motorized bikes. Standard gearing with cassettes, chains, and derailleurs will always need periodic replacement due to wear. On ebikes, replacement will be even more frequent. Alternatively, internally-geared solutions are sealed and bathed in oil and will generally be much more durable — maybe even last a lifetime. The Rohloff internally-geared 14-speed hub is an outstanding solution paired with a mid-mounted motor, but will add roughly $1,500 to the cost of your ebike. For slightly less, the continuously variable NuVinci transmission will provide similar utility, if less range at either end of the gearing spectrum. Unlike cassettes, Rohloff and NuVinci can be shifted while not pedaling. And then there is the relatively exotic Fazua pinion transmission/motor option.

Suspensions

— eBikes come equipped variously with: No suspension; fat-tire approximate suspension; fork suspension; seat suspension; and/or rear suspension. Would you buy a car without a suspension? No. Would a car without suspension even be safe? I doubt it.

— Without delving into exotic lightweight frame materials and designs that offset weight and manage ride quality, the more suspension options added to an ebike, the heavier it will be. Sometimes: a LOT heavier. Many will be impossible to carry up stairs, as a practical matter.

— I deem fork suspensions to be the minimum required for comfortable city riding. They muffle vibrations from San Francisco’s imperfect roads (and keep your watch from rattling off your wrist).

— Seat-post or rear suspensions are a close second on my list of must-haves. After my week hobbling around with my sensitive parts screaming in protest, I decided ebikes without protection for my backside (technically: perineum) were out of the question.

— Seat and tires significantly impact the ride experience. A cushy seat and big, fat balloon tires are going to give you the comfort you desire, but come at the expense of seat durability and wearying, battery-depleting road resistance.

Cost

— Guess what? If you add high-end, well-reputed motors powered by first-rate batteries; and sealed, low-maintenance gearboxes; and front- and rear- or seat-post suspensions to your ebike, it’s going to cost more. Quite a bit more.

— High-quality puncture-resistant tires cost more.

— Once you seek the comfort and durability from ebikes that even the lowliest car comes with as standard, prices jump quickly from around $2,500 to $5,500 and more.

— In my (limited) experience, there are vast numbers of ebikes below $3,000 extolling various amenities and virtues. But there are surprisingly few between $5,000 to $10,000+.

— On the low end, there exist quite a few sub-$1,000 ebikes. After coming to understand all the things I am trying to convey here, I strongly advise against these sub-$1,000 ebikes as ‘car replacements.’ They just do not have the required durability, comfort, manufacturer support, and ease of use that will keep you on the road.

— In general, once you jump above a $6,000 purchase price, ebikes tend to offer high-end durability and components that lesser bikes simply do not. In short: There is no free lunch.

In this sidebar summary, I did not touch on: complexities related to legal issues (becoming much better thanks to many jurisdictions generally accepting a 3-class system); how motor assistance is applied (pedal pressure/cadence vs throttle); nor braking systems (hydraulic disc-brake systems are best and require the least maintenance, but are more expensive).

And I certainly did not attempt to weigh the cost-benefit of one option over another — and there are many, many choices. These personal choices everyone must judge for themselves with the help of a qualified expert.

Now, back to my journey evaluating ebikes.

Which Bike? (Continued)

Where was I? Ah, yes: Specialized. These are well-regarded bikes with substantial commitment to the ebike market. They have what I understand to be customized Brose motors, tailoring them to Specialized-branded solutions that are very well integrated and come with electronic-monitoring solutions via a bike-mounted head unit or a Bluetooth-connected app on your smartphone.

Specialized ebikes are from-the-ground-up designed and engineered as ebikes. This generally means that frames and posts and transmissions are much more robust than other, less expensive brands.

But could they replace my car?

The comfort was certainly better on the fat-tired Specialized ‘Como’ or the fork-suspension ‘Vado’ ($3,000 and $5,500, respectively). And the hill-climbing torque on both models was superior to the Vanmoof, equipped as they are with full-range cassette/derailleur gearing. None of the Specialized ebikes come with the Vanmoof anti-theft security blanket; but I decided at this point to choose a bike I’d regret having stolen, not one that rode like a brick.

I spent the next ten days educating myself about motors, gears, suspensions, and cost, summarized above. Which, you should note, means that this post is based on a few weeks of investigation, not years of experience. It’s solid information, but I am no expert.

Anyway, I slowly readjusted what I was really looking for in an ebike: An actually-livable car replacement. Could I durably replace my car with a $2,000 solution? No. That turned out to be a fantasy.

Could I choose to buy a series of $2,000 ebikes and just throw them away as they each wore out? Sure. But that goes against my grain, and I’d end up unhappy with them all. And unhappy with myself.

Therefore, with my new understanding of the actual cost of a quality ebike, I investigated all the options above $5,000. Specialized would happily sell me an $8,000 ebike with full suspension and a 625-Watt battery, but did I like the bike’s geometry (could I sit upright with a good view of traffic, not craning my neck)?

The answer ended up being “No.” I wanted “Dutch-style” upright seating so I could easily view traffic and not strain my neck. Specialized has long been focused on competitive downhill mountain-bike racing, much like the more expensive ‘Santa Cruz’ brand; or road touring bikes. So Specialized bikes tend to hunch the rider forward. I’m not against those things, of course. But I wasn’t looking for a sports car; I needed an SUV.

What I really wanted was: (1) all the durability and suspension of a mountain bike with (2) splash-managing fenders and high-utility cargo racks normally found on long-distance road bikes (which, by the way, have face-down seating geometries); all with (3) an upright seating position so I could see the world. And so it could see me.

“Dutch-style” seating, naturally, evolved from bikes developed for Holland’s flat terrain, where hills are no problem. But they certainly are a problem here in San Francisco. So who makes ebikes with an upright geometry that equally gives me all the suspension comforts of a mountain bike and the load-carrying capacity of a touring road bike? One that could even haul a trailer?

The Alps-nestled Germans, of course.

Riese & Müller

When I first contacted The New Wheel dealership in Bernal Heights (or Marin) and explained what I was looking for, they suggested one of Riese & Müller’s several load-carrying ebikes. While I did consider cargo ebikes out of sheer utility, I also wanted a ride that could be enjoyed on fire trails and other light off-road duty.

Many, many people choose load-carrying ebikes because they accommodate 2 or 3 kids. If I had a couple of 2-10 year-olds, I’d choose a load-carrying ebike in a heartbeat. The R&M ‘Packster’ or ‘Load’ variants are truly useful child transport. Several well-regarded manufacturers like Tern and others also produce very similar models.

But I wanted a durable car replacement that could reliably tow a trailerful of groceries, have more than enough power and range, be enjoyed for pleasure rides through Golden Gate Park or to the Headlands, and have low maintenance.

For Riese & Müller, my choice narrowed down to just two models: The Supercharger or the Delite/Superdelite. Are there other manufacturers that produce an ebike with:

— Durability (high-quality parts)

— An upright seating position (bike geometry)

— Comfort (full or front+seat suspension)

— Power (enough to always get up a hill), and

— Reputation and commitment to long-term serviceability?

The only other that came close is Moustache. For a similar price, Moustache bike geometries and design are similar to R&M; but Riese & Müller are in their third generation of these models, not their first. Moreover, Moustache has yet to embrace the Rohloff drive train. Stromer is a good manufacturer with a high-quality sleek build, but at about the same price as the Superdelite, it lacks the baseline, built-in comfort. The Specialized ‘Levo’ model is a great, full-suspension bike, but has the crouched-down ride geometry I just do not prefer — and for nearly the same price as R&M. Costlier, actually, once I add racks and fenders, a second battery, and different handlebars to the rig.

Moreover, all the alternatives generally use a single, 500- or 625-Watt battery to power generally 250-Watt motors. The first thing you learn about lithium ion batteries is that you want to keep them charged at about 80% to extend their lives. And, as a rule, you will get about 1,000 charge cycles (i.e., full-deplete to full charge) from well-reputed brands before they must be replaced.

One way to extend a battery’s useful life is to use two batteries. Done correctly, this will sip power from each battery, not fully-depleting either in the course of day-to-day errands. Dual batteries have the added benefit of doubling range. In the case of the R&M Superdelite (dual-battery), range reliably will be around 70 miles, on average — even heavily using assist.

Ebike batteries are expensive, costing between $600 and $1,000 each. In this age of Prius’s and Teslas, everyone is familiar with the cost and maintenance of battery-powered transport. Since I’ll be replacing my car with an ebike, I decided I wanted the utility of maximum range built right in, right from the start.

The Bottom Line

As I’ve tried to convey, my wish-list of amenities expanded as I tested available bikes. Every item adds cost and weight. In this case, the bike I chose with all the options I wanted totaled just over $12,500, including tax; and it weighs more than 73 pounds (that is not a typo).

“TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS?!!? Omergawsh. That’s a lot of shekels.”

Yes. Yes, it is. At first glance, $12 large is an absurd amount to pay for a bicycle. Are these bikes overpriced? Hard to say. Some analyses break hyper-expensive bikes down, component by component, wondering where all the money is going. I am not competent to do that, and instead look at the overall market to see what it has produced, and at what price.

What I found is relatively few options in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. I suspect this is because bicycling in America traditionally has been a niche sporting activity instead of a common mode of transport. I bet value will get better in the coming decade, but I don’t want to wait.

At the end of the day, can such an extravagant purchase be justified? In my circumstance, I found some surprising results.

As you can see in the attachments, I thought about a new ‘city car’ (one primarily for driving on errands in and around San Francisco). I have a garage at home, which is significant (I plan to rent the empty garage out, by the way, making my net transportation costs virtually zero). I researched and test drove my ‘cheap car,’ a Fiat 500c. And by ‘cheap’ I mean $24,900, all in.

I also considered buying nothing and relying on ride-shares. Upshot? Being chauffeured around town is really expensive. An astonishing $7,400 per year, in my case. I did not consider just renting bikeshares because they are not very good bikes (sorry: it’s true. Not good car replacements). Nor could I use a trailer nor panniers on rentals, so just not viable.

I also did not consider using shared scooters, with Uber/Lyft home from the store. Rentable scooters are not really suited to hill climbing. Finally, I attributed additional ride-share/rental costs to the ebike, knowing that no bicycle, however nice, could totally replace every necessity.

So will my cost-benefit scenario apply to you? Maybe. YMMV, as they say. I’ve attached a few screenshots from the spreadsheet I created to evaluate and compare costs, showing:

— A New Fiat 500 City Car vs Riese & Müller Superdelite

— A USED Fiat 500 City Car vs Riese & Müller Superdelite

— Amortized Loss: A New Fiat 500 City Car vs Riese & Müller Superdelite

Is this analysis convincing? It was convincing enough for me to shell out more than $12,000 (including tax) and commit to replacing my car with an electric bicycle. You’ll notice I did NOT include any information about health benefits nor savings on gym memberships, though such benefits and savings certainly exist.

Nor did I remark upon obvious environmental benefits in which we all share.

What I hope — and there are living examples to prove that this hope can become reality — is that traveling by ebike instead of car will engage me more with life and my community. That I will have more adventurous and more healthful and more fulfilling days by making this change.

I cannot help but romanticize the calming effect of slowing the pace of life just a little. According to Google maps (that allow navigation by official bike lanes in San Francisco), travel time will most frequently increase by a mere 5 minutes for the places I regularly visit.

Five minutes per day to save thousands per year, reduce stress, do my part for environmental stewardship, and live out the more calming life to which I’ve always aspired?

Count me in. What about security and safety? High visibility clothing, lighted helmets with turn signals, bike locks, service plans, and insurance will have me covered for the security I seek.

You see, I started this journey in fear. Fear of injury and theft and harm; but I ended it in hope. Hope for a life well lived, carrying bakery-fresh Tartine loaves on re-engineered streets with protected bike lanes in a small town that is just aching for a future where we all belong, and solutions that work. How charming it will be.

But will it? Will San Francisco be charming and quaint? To be honest, I do not know. But if it can be — if a more hopeful, connected life exists in this town — a Riese & Müller Superdelite is how I plan to get there.

— M1Rate

(Nota Bene, to see what my reaction has been to my recent receipt of the 2020 Superdelite, see:

https://electricbikereview.com/foru...help-solutions-fixes.12917/page-8#post-316565)
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Bigal1463

Well-Known Member
Hello and welcome to EBR. People are generally friendly and informative, but your post reads like a novel and should be kept short and to the point, if you want to get responses. Good luck with your bike and travels. Theft is always going to be a problem, so you need to read on this site how people deal with it.
 

M1Rate

Member
Hello and welcome to EBR. People are generally friendly and informative, but your post reads like a novel and should be kept short and to the point, if you want to get responses. Good luck with your bike and travels. Theft is always going to be a problem, so you need to read on this site how people deal with it.
Sorry you did not care for my post. Welcoming me with a ’shut up’ is an interesting way to go about life.

Conveniently, there are many, many ways for you to ignore it, and to ignore me.

If your intent was to tell me that, if I intend to share information on this site, I’d better make it Twitter-length to accommodate your sensibilities, I will take that under advisement.
 

J.R.

Well-Known Member
Sorry you did not care for my post. Welcoming me with a ’shut up’ is an interesting way to go about life.

Conveniently, there are many, many ways for you to ignore it, and to ignore me.

If your intent was to tell me that, if I intend to share information on this site, I’d better make it Twitter-length to accommodate your sensibilities, I will take that under advisement.
You should click on Al's profile, click on posts and see what kind of person he is. One of the nicest guys around here. I don't know Al, I think I've interacted with him on one thread, but I see him welcoming every new member. Your reading something between the lines that isn't there.
 

M1Rate

Member
You should click on Al's profile, click on posts and see what kind of person he is. One of the nicest guys around here. I don't know Al, I think I've interacted with him on one thread, but I see him welcoming every new member. Your reading something between the lines that isn't there.

That may very well be.

If Al prefers to welcome me by dismissing my content as inappropriate in length, though it is painfully obvious even by the title that I would be discussing a lengthy process, then Al will garner the reply he got.
 

NightRider

New Member
Interesting read, I enjoyed it very much. You didn't talk about weather issues. Will that come in to play at all? Riding in downpours, safety, visibility etc? Around my neck of the woods we have that four letter word SNOW, not to mention cold that puts a damper on year round riding. Enjoy your bike!
 

Ravi Kempaiah

Well-Known Member
“How charming!” Idyllic lifestyles in quaint European towns shuttling bakery-fresh baguettes by bicycle while enjoying low risk of theft, accident, or injury. Yes: How charming it would be.

I do not, however, live in a quaint European town. I live in San Francisco which, despite its small size, is a bustling metropolis with harrowing traffic and roughly 4,000 (!!) bike thefts per year. But hold on: this staggering number is about the same as cars stolen in the City, year in and year out, and I don’t really worry about my car. Still, bicycling just seems more dangerous and fraught with risk. But is that true? Is biking around San Francisco possible?

I decided to look. And here is what I found out.

Which Bike?

As you cast about for an ebike solution in 2020, you’ll find unbelievably huge numbers of every sort imaginable from countless manufacturers, many of whom cobble together ebikes from off-the-shelf technology largely made in China. The vast majority of these (once all delivery and assembly costs are counted) hover around $2,300. A couple of years ago, Kickstarter ebikes were everywhere. Most of them did not turn into established brands, ghosting away long term support.

I like a good crowd-sourced solution as much as anyone, but was unwilling to spend roughly $2,000 on ebikes that are not market tested with proven reliability and ongoing credentials. In particular, batteries are not universal, so ensuring that you’ll be able to replace this wear item five years into ownership is a good plan. But I only discovered that later in my search.

Let me start at the beginning. My investigation began the same way I started this post: Deeply concerned about theft. So when Vanmoof showed up on Valencia Street promising an end to bike thefts, it got my attention. Vanmoof (for a nominal annual fee) promises to use GPS technology to find and recover your bike in two weeks or less. If it is not recovered, Vanmoof will replace your bike with the same model in similar or better condition.

A theft-proof bike? Tell me more!

The initial price for such peace of mind? About $4,000, out the door (Update: Vanmoof has since lowered their price for the popular S2 model by $1,200). “This,” I thought, “was for me.” I proceeded to conduct all the usual internet sleuthing, reading every available review; noting online reports of personal experiences with Vanmoof’s recovery guarantee; and even plied owners I chanced upon for their observations. What I found was robust Vanmoof marketing slathering the internet with Vanmoof tales of joy and personal delight.

Nonetheless, I felt comfortable after exhaustive community-board searches choosing the Vanmoof as my all-around car replacement.

And then I rode one.

My 1/2- to 3/4-mile test ride on the Vanmoof S2 from Valencia Street approximated a run to get groceries, toodling up to Whole Foods on 24th Street in Noe Valley. This took me on established bike routes up a significant hill, with a 200-foot elevation change and at least one short-but-30% grade.

To say that San Francisco’s roads are pock-marked with ruts and imperfections is an understatement. My ride on the solid-forked Vanmoof S2 rattled my Apple Watch right off my wrist. Twice.

Undeterred, I pressed on. The boost button delivered heightened power and was welcome at intersections where I wanted get up and go with maximum speed. Alas, a short, nearly 30% grade revealed another shortcoming: It simply did not have enough oomph.

I’m 6’4” and a fit 195 pounds. My plan to tow a Burley bike trailer hauling 50 pounds of groceries home on a Vanmoof melted away in 100 feet of unavoidable incline. Yes, I can hear you: “How lazy can you be??” Am I really that lazy? Too lazy to peddle hard?

In a word: Yes. But it’s not mere laziness. I really don’t want to replace my convenient car with a solution that relegates me and my wobbly legs to pushing a grocery-laden ebike up the steep bits of our city. I mean, be honest: Would you? Add in a ride so punishing my backside literally hurt for a week and, well, I needed to think anew.

Van Moof checked all the boxes for reliability and security, but came up short on practical ride. Hopes dashed, I returned the S2 to the very nice dealer on Valencia, explained my experience, and said I would need to think about it some more.

Next up was Specialized. This brand more or less invented mountain biking 40 years ago. Highly reputable, they also checked all the right boxes for durability and commitment to product longevity. Still smarting from my test ride on the Vanmoof, I went looking for more power and, most of all, comfort.

Motors, Gears, Suspensions, and Cost

Here we have to take a little side trip that summarizes what I learned about each of these things:

Motors

— Motors are regulated: Federal, State, County, Parkland, and even EU standards.

— 250-Watt motors are common, though some high-power models are 500-Watt and even 750 Watts. Going above 750 Watts gets into legally uncertain territory on whether it is still considered a “bicycle.”

— There is a difference between speed and torque. Torque is off-the-line alacrity and hill-climbing grunt, while speed is, well, speed. Ebikes are generally limited to either 20 mph assist, or 28 mph assist. You can usually travel faster than these speeds, but it’ll be without any motorized assistance.

— Hub motors sit on the front or rear hubs (the Vanmoof is a front-hub solution). Mid-mounted motors (e.g., Bosch, Brose, Yamaha, Fazua, some Bafang) are at the pedal crankshaft. In general, hub motors are less efficient in energy transfer than mid-mounted motors. Pricier bikes that include full cassette gearing make the best use of hub motors.

Gears

— Gearing is either internal or external; manual or semi-automatic; limited (2-3 gears) or complete (7-14 gears or more).

— Hub motors often have internal or limited gearing configurations with as little as two gears. This is not so great for chugging up hills.

— The relationship between gearing and motor strength is too-little appreciated, but is really easy to understand. Would you have more trouble climbing hills on a non-motorized bike if you had only one or two gears? Yes, you would. The same applies to ebikes.

— Finally, there are (1) standard gear cassettes with chains and derailleurs, and (2) internally-geared solutions, often with carbon belts. The forces applied to gears are greater on ebikes than non-motorized bikes. Standard gearing with cassettes, chains, and derailleurs will always need periodic replacement due to wear. On ebikes, replacement will be even more frequent. Alternatively, internally-geared solutions are sealed and bathed in oil and will generally be much more durable — maybe even last a lifetime. The Rohloff internally-geared 14-speed hub is an outstanding solution paired with a mid-mounted motor, but will add roughly $1,500 to the cost of your ebike. For slightly less, the continuously variable NuVinci transmission will provide similar utility, if less range at either end of the gearing spectrum. Unlike cassettes, Rohloff and NuVinci can be shifted while not pedaling. And then there is the relatively exotic Fazua pinion transmission/motor option.

Suspensions

— eBikes come equipped variously with: No suspension; fat-tire approximate suspension; fork suspension; seat suspension; and/or rear suspension. Would you buy a car without a suspension? No. Would a car without suspension even be safe? I doubt it.

— Without delving into exotic lightweight frame materials and designs that offset weight and manage ride quality, the more suspension options added to an ebike, the heavier it will be. Sometimes: a LOT heavier. Many will be impossible to carry up stairs, as a practical matter.

— I deem fork suspensions to be the minimum required for comfortable city riding. They muffle vibrations from San Francisco’s imperfect roads (and keep your watch from rattling off your wrist).

— Seat-post or rear suspensions are a close second on my list of must-haves. After my week hobbling around with my sensitive parts screaming in protest, I decided ebikes without protection for my backside (technically: perineum) were out of the question.

— Seat and tires significantly impact the ride experience. A cushy seat and big, fat balloon tires are going to give you the comfort you desire, but come at the expense of seat durability and wearying, battery-depleting road resistance.

Cost

— Guess what? If you add high-end, well-reputed motors powered by first-rate batteries; and sealed, low-maintenance gearboxes; and front- and rear- or seat-post suspensions to your ebike, it’s going to cost more. Quite a bit more.

— High-quality puncture-resistant tires cost more.

— Once you seek the comfort and durability from ebikes that even the lowliest car comes with as standard, prices jump quickly from around $2,500 to $5,500 and more.

— In my (limited) experience, there are vast numbers of ebikes below $3,000 extolling various amenities and virtues. But there are surprisingly few between $5,000 to $10,000+.

— On the low end, there exist quite a few sub-$1,000 ebikes. After coming to understand all the things I am trying to convey here, I strongly advise against these sub-$1,000 ebikes as ‘car replacements.’ They just do not have the required durability, comfort, manufacturer support, and ease of use that will keep you on the road.

— In general, once you jump above a $6,000 purchase price, ebikes tend to offer high-end durability and components that lesser bikes simply do not. In short: There is no free lunch.

In this sidebar summary, I did not touch on: complexities related to legal issues (becoming much better thanks to many jurisdictions generally accepting a 3-class system); how motor assistance is applied (pedal pressure/cadence vs throttle); nor braking systems (hydraulic disc-brake systems are best and require the least maintenance, but are more expensive).

And I certainly did not attempt to weigh the cost-benefit of one option over another — and there are many, many choices. These personal choices everyone must judge for themselves with the help of a qualified expert.

Now, back to my journey evaluating ebikes.

Which Bike? (Continued)

Where was I? Ah, yes: Specialized. These are well-regarded bikes with substantial commitment to the ebike market. They have what I understand to be customized Brose motors, tailoring them to Specialized-branded solutions that are very well integrated and come with electronic-monitoring solutions via a bike-mounted head unit or a Bluetooth-connected app on your smartphone.

Specialized ebikes are from-the-ground-up designed and engineered as ebikes. This generally means that frames and posts and transmissions are much more robust than other, less expensive brands.

But could they replace my car?

The comfort was certainly better on the fat-tired Specialized ‘Como’ or the fork-suspension ‘Vado’ ($3,000 and $5,500, respectively). And the hill-climbing torque on both models was superior to the Vanmoof, equipped as they are with full-range cassette/derailleur gearing. None of the Specialized ebikes come with the Vanmoof anti-theft security blanket; but I decided at this point to choose a bike I’d regret having stolen, not one that rode like a brick.

I spent the next ten days educating myself about motors, gears, suspensions, and cost, summarized above. Which, you should note, means that this post is based on a few weeks of investigation, not years of experience. It’s solid information, but I am no expert.

Anyway, I slowly readjusted what I was really looking for in an ebike: An actually-livable car replacement. Could I durably replace my car with a $2,000 solution? No. That turned out to be a fantasy.

Could I choose to buy a series of $2,000 ebikes and just throw them away as they each wore out? Sure. But that goes against my grain, and I’d end up unhappy with them all. And unhappy with myself.

Therefore, with my new understanding of the actual cost of a quality ebike, I investigated all the options above $5,000. Specialized would happily sell me an $8,000 ebike with full suspension and a 625-Watt battery, but did I like the bike’s geometry (could I sit upright with a good view of traffic, not craning my neck)?

The answer ended up being “No.” I wanted “Dutch-style” upright seating so I could easily view traffic and not strain my neck. Specialized has long been focused on competitive downhill mountain-bike racing, much like the more expensive ‘Santa Cruz’ brand; or road touring bikes. So Specialized bikes tend to hunch the rider forward. I’m not against those things, of course. But I wasn’t looking for a sports car; I needed an SUV.

What I really wanted was: (1) all the durability and suspension of a mountain bike with (2) splash-managing fenders and high-utility cargo racks normally found on long-distance road bikes (which, by the way, have face-down seating geometries); all with (3) an upright seating position so I could see the world. And so it could see me.

“Dutch-style” seating, naturally, evolved from bikes developed for Holland’s flat terrain, where hills are no problem. But they certainly are a problem here in San Francisco. So who makes ebikes with an upright geometry that equally gives me all the suspension comforts of a mountain bike and the load-carrying capacity of a touring road bike? One that could even haul a trailer?

The Alps-nestled Germans, of course.

Riese & Müller

When I first contacted The New Wheel dealership in Bernal Heights (or Marin) and explained what I was looking for, they suggested one of Riese & Müller’s several load-carrying ebikes. While I did consider cargo ebikes out of sheer utility, I also wanted a ride that could be enjoyed on fire trails and other light off-road duty.

Many, many people choose load-carrying ebikes because they accommodate 2 or 3 kids. If I had a couple of 2-10 year-olds, I’d choose a load-carrying ebike in a heartbeat. The R&M ‘Packster’ or ‘Load’ variants are truly useful child transport. Several well-regarded manufacturers like Tern and others also produce very similar models.

But I wanted a durable car replacement that could reliably tow a trailerful of groceries, have more than enough power and range, be enjoyed for pleasure rides through Golden Gate Park or to the Headlands, and have low maintenance.

For Riese & Müller, my choice narrowed down to just two models: The Supercharger or the Delite/Superdelite. Are there other manufacturers that produce an ebike with:

— Durability (high-quality parts)

— An upright seating position (bike geometry)

— Comfort (full or front+seat suspension)

— Power (enough to always get up a hill), and

— Reputation and commitment to long-term serviceability?

The only other that came close is Moustache. For a similar price, Moustache bike geometries and design are similar to R&M; but Riese & Müller are in their third generation of these models, not their first. Moreover, Moustache has yet to embrace the Rohloff drive train. Stromer is a good manufacturer with a high-quality sleek build, but at about the same price as the Superdelite, it lacks the baseline, built-in comfort. The Specialized ‘Levo’ model is a great, full-suspension bike, but has the crouched-down ride geometry I just do not prefer — and for nearly the same price as R&M. Costlier, actually, once I add racks and fenders, a second battery, and different handlebars to the rig.

Moreover, all the alternatives generally use a single, 500- or 625-Watt battery to power generally 250-Watt motors. The first thing you learn about lithium ion batteries is that you want to keep them charged at about 80% to extend their lives. And, as a rule, you will get about 1,000 charge cycles (i.e., full-deplete to full charge) from well-reputed brands before they must be replaced.

One way to extend a battery’s useful life is to use two batteries. Done correctly, this will sip power from each battery, not fully-depleting either in the course of day-to-day errands. Dual batteries have the added benefit of doubling range. In the case of the R&M Superdelite (dual-battery), range reliably will be around 70 miles, on average — even heavily using assist.

Ebike batteries are expensive, costing between $600 and $1,000 each. In this age of Prius’s and Teslas, everyone is familiar with the cost and maintenance of battery-powered transport. Since I’ll be replacing my car with an ebike, I decided I wanted the utility of maximum range built right in, right from the start.

The Bottom Line

As I’ve tried to convey, my wish-list of amenities expanded as I tested available bikes. Every item adds cost and weight. In this case, the bike I chose with all the options I wanted totaled just over $12,500, including tax; and it weighs more than 73 pounds (that is not a typo).

“TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS?!!? Omergawsh. That’s a lot of shekels.”

Yes. Yes, it is. At first glance, $12 large is an absurd amount to pay for a bicycle. Are these bikes overpriced? Hard to say. Some analyses break hyper-expensive bikes down, component by component, wondering where all the money is going. I am not competent to do that, and instead look at the overall market to see what it has produced, and at what price.

What I found is relatively few options in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. I suspect this is because bicycling in America traditionally has been a niche sporting activity instead of a common mode of transport. I bet value will get better in the coming decade, but I don’t want to wait.

At the end of the day, can such an extravagant purchase be justified? In my circumstance, I found some surprising results.

As you can see in the attachments, I thought about a new ‘city car’ (one primarily for driving on errands in and around San Francisco). I have a garage at home, which is significant (I plan to rent the empty garage out, by the way, making my net transportation costs virtually zero). I researched and test drove my ‘cheap car,’ a Fiat 500c. And by ‘cheap’ I mean $24,900, all in.

I also considered buying nothing and relying on ride-shares. Upshot? Being chauffeured around town is really expensive. An astonishing $7,400 per year, in my case. I did not consider just renting bikeshares because they are not very good bikes (sorry: it’s true. Not good car replacements). Nor could I use a trailer nor panniers on rentals, so just not viable.

I also did not consider using shared scooters, with Uber/Lyft home from the store. Rentable scooters are not really suited to hill climbing. Finally, I attributed additional ride-share/rental costs to the ebike, knowing that no bicycle, however nice, could totally replace every necessity.

So will my cost-benefit scenario apply to you? Maybe. YMMV, as they say. I’ve attached a few screenshots from the spreadsheet I created to evaluate and compare costs, showing:

— A New Fiat 500 City Car vs Riese & Müller Superdelite

— A USED Fiat 500 City Car vs Riese & Müller Superdelite

— Amortized Loss: A New Fiat 500 City Car vs Riese & Müller Superdelite

Is this analysis convincing? It was convincing enough for me to shell out more than $12,000 (including tax) and commit to replacing my car with an electric bicycle. You’ll notice I did NOT include any information about health benefits nor savings on gym memberships, though such benefits and savings certainly exist.

Nor did I remark upon obvious environmental benefits in which we all share.

What I hope — and there are living examples to prove that this hope can become reality — is that traveling by ebike instead of car will engage me more with life and my community. That I will have more adventurous and more healthful and more fulfilling days by making this change.

I cannot help but romanticize the calming effect of slowing the pace of life just a little. According to Google maps (that allow navigation by official bike lanes in San Francisco), travel time will most frequently increase by a mere 5 minutes for the places I regularly visit.

Five minutes per day to save thousands per year, reduce stress, do my part for environmental stewardship, and live out the more calming life to which I’ve always aspired?

Count me in. What about security and safety? High visibility clothing, lighted helmets with turn signals, bike locks, service plans, and insurance will have me covered for the security I seek.

You see, I started this journey in fear. Fear of injury and theft and harm; but I ended it in hope. Hope for a life well lived, carrying bakery-fresh Tartine loaves on re-engineered streets with protected bike lanes in a small town that is just aching for a future where we all belong, and solutions that work. How charming it will be.

But will it? Will San Francisco be charming and quaint? To be honest, I do not know. But if it can be — if a more hopeful, connected life exists in this town — a Riese & Müller Superdelite is how I plan to get there.

— M1Rate

(Nota Bene, to see what my reaction has been to my recent receipt of the 2020 Superdelite, see:

https://electricbikereview.com/foru...help-solutions-fixes.12917/page-8#post-316565)

@M1Rate ,


That was a first rate analysis and decision. Seems like you did a thorough analysis before jumping into the world of E-bikes.
Where you live (the heart of Bay area w/ 100's of hi-tech companies), 12K is a round off error ;) and it will be quickly forgotten but you will really enjoy owning an E-bike.
It is one of those rare technologies that gets us addicted in a very positive way (unlike Gaming, porn, drugs).

I have heard about the bike theft in SF but your tools and insurance would come in Handy. New wheel has one of the best service department. If you're a high mileage rider, their service subscriptions would help and make bike maintenance a breeze.

The best way to engage in EBR forum is to share your experience via ride stories, photos etc.
 

M1Rate

Member
Interesting read, I enjoyed it very much. You didn't talk about weather issues. Will that come in to play at all? Riding in downpours, safety, visibility etc? Around my neck of the woods we have that four letter word SNOW, not to mention cold that puts a damper on year round riding. Enjoy your bike!

Thank you. My hope is that it is helpful to those who, like me recently, are without any information at all about ebikes, searching for answers.

The weather here in San Francisco is generally pretty good. Not SoCal good. But good enough.

I have some foul weather gear by Showers Pass and Arc’teryx that I’m willing to use in light rain, but not during real howlers that do pass through a few times per year.

My snow equivalent is sand on the beach. I discovered last Sunday that Rock Razors are not up to the challenge of loose sand, and promptly fell over.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
 

M1Rate

Member
@M1Rate ,


That was a first rate analysis and decision. Seems like you did a thorough analysis before jumping into the world of E-bikes.
Where you live (the heart of Bay area w/ 100's of hi-tech companies), 12K is a round off error ;) and it will be quickly forgotten but you will really enjoy owning an E-bike.
It is one of those rare technologies that gets us addicted in a very positive way (unlike Gaming, porn, drugs).

I have heard about the bike theft in SF but your tools and insurance would come in Handy. New wheel has one of the best service department. If you're a high mileage rider, their service subscriptions would help and make bike maintenance a breeze.

The best way to engage in EBR forum is to share your experience via ride stories, photos etc.

Why, thank you. I ended up being surprised that ebikes are more complicated and complex than I ever imagined. So when I pulled on a thread, it was I who got pulled in. Thought I‘d document it.

The cost may be a rounding error to some, but $12 grand is $12 grand. I mean: You could get dinner out around here for that kinda splash.

Totally agree about New Wheel and their service subscription. Already signed up, in fact.

As to photos: I intend to post them when I get to some of the more scenic vistas SF is known for. It Is, after all (as Oscar Wilde reputedly said), “a slum with a view.”
 

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Ebiker01

Well-Known Member
. I ended up being surprised that ebikes are more complicated and complex than I ever imagined


They are not. It only has a few computers/processors vs a car having hundreds of them.
But at first , a good hi end ebike can be overwhelming. You already know too much about them 😉

I highly suggest that the ebike for you should be a TERN. Go check them out. The R&M is a strectch , but indeed a very well made ebike. No need to go with the 12k fully loaded one. Some are already on sale @ 6-7k .



Anyway, the health is paramount. Driving a car will not extend longevity or improve well being.

Riding an ebike will do wanders for health. Then there is the absolute lack of expenses besides brake pads once every 5-6months.
 

M1Rate

Member
They are not. It only has a few computers/processors vs a car having hundreds of them.
But at first , a good hi end ebike can be overwhelming. You already know too much about them 😉

I highly suggest that the ebike for you should be a TERN. Go check them out. The R&M is a strectch , but indeed a very well made ebike. No need to go with the 12k fully loaded one. Some are already on sale @ 6-7k .



Anyway, the health is paramount. Driving a car will not extend longevity or improve well being.

Riding an ebike will do wanders for health. Then there is the absolute lack of expenses besides brake pads once every 5-6months.

Agree about ebikes being excellent for health. The studies are proved out by my experience: I ride far more and further than I ever would on my acoustic MTB. It turns out that regular extended exercise with less work is bettah than relatively short sprints of concentrated exertion. Who knew?

Well, tbh, everyone knew. We’ve been told for years that short, brisk walks 20 minutes per day are all you really need, for most people.

I did try the Tern. The GSD model, I think. HSD? It was the higher-end one. A nimble and great bike.

But, as I noted here:


...At 6’4”, I felt somewhat like I’d taken off with a child’s bike.
 

Stefan Mikes

Well-Known Member
Very interesting read (if not the word "peddle" that hurt my eyes: it's pedal).

I greatly disagree with the statement about the necessity of having full-suspension. Although the FS is a good thing, it is justified in mountain bikes (the OP was probably looking at Specialized Turbo Levo) where expensive front and rear suspension are lightweight. Yet a mountain bike is neither a city nor a commuter bike; it is for riding off-road, especially for climbing, hence the forward riding position.

Full suspension on a hybrid e-bike such as Moustache or R&M is very heavy and very expensive. It is not true a good e-bike must have a suspension at all. No. High volume tyres, shock handlebars and quality suspension seat-post make miracles. And a bike is not a car. A car weighs several tonnes and the sprung mass is the key there. We don't need to compare pears to apples.

I'm really surprised the OP hasn't stopped at Specialized Turbo Como or Vado; or Trek Allant+ 7s or 8S. These e-bikes weigh around 53 lbs and can be made comfy, and adjusted to more upright riding position. Excellent climbers these are.

The OP chose R&M. Okay, that's a SUV unlike Como/Vado/Allant+ that are like racing cars. A very heavy and expensive SUV. I can only congratulate the OP the choice, since to each their own. I only have a feeling that the OP over-analysed the e-bike choice instead of looking for practical solutions :)
 
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M1Rate

Member
Very interesting read (if not the word "peddle" that hurt my eyes: it's pedal).

I greatly disagree with the statement about the necessity of having full-suspension. Although the FS is a good thing, it is justified in mountain bikes (the OP was probably looking at Specialized Turbo Levo) where expensive front and rear suspension are lightweight. Yet a mountain bike is neither a city nor a commuter bike; it is for riding off-road, especially for climbing, hence the forward riding position.

Full suspension on a hybrid e-bike such as Moustache or R&M is very heavy and very expensive. It is not true a good e-bike must have a suspension at all. No. High volume tyres, shock handlebars and quality suspension seat-post make miracles. And a bike is not a car. A car weighs several tonnes and the unsprung mass is the key there. We don't need to compare pears to apples.

I'm really surprised the OP hasn't stopped at Specialized Turbo Como or Vado; or Trek Allant+ 7s or 8S. These e-bikes weigh around 53 lbs and can be made comfy, and adjusted to more upright riding position. Excellent climbers these are.

The OP chose R&M. Okay, that's a SUV unlike Como/Vado/Allant+ that are like racing cars. A very heavy and expensive SUV. I can only congratulate the OP the choice, since to each their own. I only have a feeling that the OP over-analysed the e-bike choice instead of looking for practical solutions :)

Well, as the OP, I can tell you that I investigated the options quite thoroughly, evaluated Specialized bikes from the Como, the Vado, and the Levo, each of the latest iterations; as well as other bikes, evaluating transmissions and motors and maintenance and service costs for all of them.

I evaluated ride quality as well as performance on 30%+ grades. I evaluated ride position for my personal comfort. And I evaluated the practical utility and apparent strength and build quality of each.

Suspension is not merely about comfort, but about safety. For the very same reasons you praise suspensions on MTBs I gain performance improvement on imperfect tarmac. Moreover, suspension properties are increasingly important as speeds increase, which is the case for 28 mph+ ebikes. Are suspensions necessary? The entire lark of buying an ebike is not ‘necessary.’ Get what you want.

Finally, I evaluated modifying bikes like the Levo and discovered that altering the bike to upright seating is like trying to turn a sportscar into a sedan: It is not what the bike is designed to be.

What I found to be true is what was true based upon my criteria. Others have different needs and may choose differently.

Your assertion that I somehow made the choice I made out of ignorance or ‘over analyzing’ — whatever the hell that is — is insulting, rude, and unwelcome.
 

Stefan Mikes

Well-Known Member
Your assertion that I somehow made the choice I made out of ignorance or ‘over analyzing’ — whatever the hell that is — is insulting, rude, and unwelcome.
Not my intention, I apologise if you thought so.

On topic: I believe you overestimate the value of the full suspension in e-bikes. Yes, FS is necessary for safety in technical MTB single-track riding. The terrain there is extremely uneven. Compared to single-track, riding up or down the United States Capitol stairs (for example) is very easy. What matters in the single-track riding is maintaining the constant contact of wheels with the terrain (rocks, mud, sand, fallen tree, etc.) That's why the suspension fork travel in MTB ranges from 100 to even 200 mm (the latter for expert-level Downhill racing). There are jumps, and the bike has to regain the full contact with the soil after the bike & rider fall from 6 ft or more. No city situation is adequate in comparison.

On contrary, Speed (Class 3) e-bikes are often intentionally equipped with a rigid blade fork: It ensures stability at high speed as well as higher efficiency on climbing (ask yourself what the "Firm" settings on MTB air-spring shocks are for). The bike industry has had a long time of learning things. (The 2020 Specialized Stumpjumper (for instance) is completely different from the 1981 one). It is not the matter of cutting corners with the carbon-fibre Trek Allant 9.9s (that is not a cheap e-bike by any means), which is equipped with CF rigid blade fork. It is intentional.

You have got your e-bike SUV and I can only congratulate you. I can only mention that the city is not the SUV original environment...
 
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Stefan Mikes

Well-Known Member
He or she didn't bought it yet. Is just the model that fits their criteria.
An R&M fully loaded is heavy and if you don't have some mechanic\ebike knowledge it can be a hassle in first few months.
Besides... Bull Bikes E-Stream EVO 45 AM 4 is a FS, MTB, Class 3. Just saying :)
 

shiruba

Member
Hmm I have a road bike that I never use, and two mountain bikes that I also use in the road. Suspension is nice, just heavy - and heavy isn't a big deal on an Ebike. I have never had any issue with stability, but I do use the lockout when I stand to pedal.

I haven't ridden Specialized bikes before, but I would assume the angle can be adjusted by changing the seat height?

Nevertheless, if you want a big soft seat, a mountain bike might not be the best, even for the "mountains" of San Francisco.

I have been to SF before, but not with my bikes. Something tells me that shipping them would cost a pretty penny, and then I would fear them getting stolen.

Anyway, welcome!
 

Luto

Member
At 80 pounds, this bike is on the extreme. At 16K final cost with accessories also an extreme. At 1000 Watts (2x) battery not a total extreme but close. Fox suspension on a road bike, is at the extreme. I considered the same setup. I rode the bike but decided not the right fit FOR ME. But this seems like it fits your needs, and that is what is important but it does seem it is pretty specialized to be a car replacement and not so much the "calming effect of slowing the pace of life" bike.

Also nothing really replaces a car in wet weather, wearing nice clothing, or taking a adult passenger, so I find a small EV or hybrid, or ride share a great compliment to an e-bike.

PS: ride the moustache bikes if you get a chance.
 

CodyDog

Well-Known Member
Interesting read, you have obviously done your research. A lot to consider and you have shared a lot of solid information. I hope people that are searching for their first ebike take time and read your post.