Newb, debating ebike options for hills, trails

Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
Hi, I'm a guy in his mid-60s thinking about buying an ebike or getting a used mountain bike that can be converted. I am getting to the age where I hope to soon have a lot more time to goof off! 😊 I like to travel with a trailer and camp, especially on national forest/blm land, and I always take my Trek Pure Sport (love the upright seat position and crank-forward design). I often pedal the gravel roads and such, but in the future I would like to be able to explore more of the steep, rough trails like this:
18DSCF1813sm.jpg

This was the trail to Alpine Tunnel (east side) near St. Elmo, CO. Call me a fool; I had no idea what I was getting into. ☹️ Somehow the bike and I survived the beating, although I had to stop a half dozen times for rest and sometimes walk the bike over the roughest sections. I'd like to be able to ride trails like this with an ebike, and I'm thinking I need at least a front suspension (full would be nice).

I would welcome advice on what to get. From the reading I've done, it seems like maybe a mid-drive motor with a small-ish crank would be best? Would a folding ebike be a big mistake for rough terrain due to lack of frame strength? I get the impression that I shouldn't get wheels smaller than 26" (I'm only 5'8" though, so huge bikes are out). I can see some advantage to fat tires, but it seems like the good quality mountain bikes don't have them; why is that? I'm thinking that buying a used front-suspension MTB (I've seen some used Treks go for $150-$500) and getting it converted would result in a lighter weight bike, maybe 50 lb, versus most of the reasonably priced ready-made bikes running 65-90 lb, am I right? Today I spotted a preowned, pristine dual-suspension Gary Fisher Sugar 3 for less than $600, but would there be room on that bike to mount the battery? There is a shop in town that will do conversions for a reasonable labor charge, but the guy I talked to in that shop said dual suspension bikes don't have enough room for a battery (btw they can install a Bafang mid drive but I can tell they really are Bosch fans). I have to mind my pennies so I'm trying to keep total cost under $2500, but at the same time I don't want to buy a crap battery or motor, either.

My goal is to have a nice ebike by late next spring, because summertime is when I have the most free time and can head to the Rockies. Ahhh, the smell of pine trees and the (relative) coolness of the higher elevations (it's been 108* here)!
 

indianajo

Well-Known Member
Welcome to the site & the electric side of the hobby.
Fat tires (>3") are for powder snow & fluffy beach sand. They have maximum pressure of 25 psi or less so use too much electricity on normal trails. I ride 2.1"x26" tires @ 55 psi and can go anywhere I want to.
Weight doesn't matter so much with electricity but you have to lift it into the car or rack if you are using a motor vehicle.
True dual suspension bikes have limited space for a battery. Aftermarket batteries can be a scam, I bought one pile of garbage from amazon & another from ebay. A lot of people here recommend reentron dorado of shanghai. Or em3ev of hongkong. The place I bought my 4 year old battery, luna, quit selling 48 v batteries that are IMHO suited for low speed climbing. Bosch drives are reliable but cost $$$$ and replacement batteries are patented, often not available, and cost >$1000. Same with shimano.
I ride a geared hub drive on >80 rolling hills but climbing sustained grades at low speeds for 90 minutes, say a 1000' rise, exceed the limit Mac said would burn a winding on a hub motor. Mid drives cool better but require more chain replacements and a stupid display that inhibits turning the bike over on handlebars & seat for tire repairs.
Suggest you save your money and buy a pre-built bike to fit your needs. My hub drive conversion works fine but external wiring can be snagged by branches & bushes. I ride mostly on road. I hang the battery off the front for better balance, see the picture. But my bike has bosses welded in the frame for a "bread basket" on the front that doesn't steer. Only a surface604 werk and a $5500 specialized MTB have that feature that are not cargo bikes, that I know of.
Watch ebike bargains. There are at least 2 levels of spoke, rim, cable, housing, crank materials I'm aware of. The cheapo ones stretch or wear and require constant adjustment & replacement. My diamondback & pacific mtbs required constant adjustments until I bought this $2000 yuba. Much better. Looking that the known problems threads of the brand forums, top level bikes include trek, giant, yamaha, gazelle, cannondale, reiss & mueller, kona. Specialized has a lot of fans but has had some cracked frames reported, that took ~ a year to get replaced.
I started having trouble lifting the leg over the seat about your age and am glad I bought drop frame bikes. If you're going to spend $$$$ you need to consider that. I maintain my strength with exercise but muscles get stiffer every year.
Happy shopping & riding.
 
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Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
Today I stopped by one of the nearby bike stores to look at their ebikes. The salesman listened to what I'd like to have in an ebike, showed me one that would do everything I wanted for $4,000. But that's out of my price range, so then he showed me a Gazelle Medeo with the Bosch mid drive and 400Wh battery (non-integrated, so perhaps an older model?) for $2,650. It seemed larger than what I'd want, but he said it was just my size. He assured me that the Bosch could vastly outperform any geared hub motor, and he said I could realistically expect a 70 mile range because those Bosch motors just sip energy. The fellow talked about how much biking experience he's had on all sorts of terrain. The visit was most enlightening, as I'm sure you can gather. 😃
 

indianajo

Well-Known Member
But that's out of my price range, so then he showed me a Gazelle Medeo with the Bosch mid drive and 400Wh battery (non-integrated, so perhaps an older model?) for $2,650. He assured me that the Bosch could vastly outperform any geared hub motor, and he said I could realistically expect a 70 mile range because those Bosch motors just sip energy. 😃
A bosch makes the bike shop more profit than any geared hub motor. 1300 w geared hubs are rare or extinct, but would do just fine in Oklahoma. 750 w maybe not, 500 w definitely not. Colorado has some long grades that can overheat a geared hub motor. Gazelle is one of the brands that uses quality steel & aluminum.
 

AHicks

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Snow Bird - Summer S.E. Michigan, Winter Gulf Coast North Central Fl.
Listening to a salesman is nearly always an enlightening experience!!

So many variables here! In percentages, how much time do you think you might be spending on such a challenging trail? What about the rest of the time?

Why don't quality e-bikes have fate tires? IMHO, these fatty's are HUGE bikes, that feel HUGE in tight areas, and with the tires inflated to a level where they might do you some good off road, rolling resistance is not good - or as good as a smaller tire might be. That's my take anyway. I'm sure there are others that will argue one or all of those points.

Second the vote for mid drive, especially if you're already riding an analog mtb - very little learning curve as compared to others that have to come up to speed from ground zero.

Rear suspensions are pretty popular, but they add a layer of complexity and weight. Great for mostly off road bikes.

Folding bikes, the 20" wheel variety, are not real popular for off road, from what I've seen anyway. For clearanace issues, you might want to focus on step through style bikes?
 

Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
Oh, and when I noted the absence of a throttle, the salesman claimed that "mid drives don't come with throttles." Strange, I'm pretty sure a lot of Bafang mid drives have 'em!

I have come to the conclusion that I may as well stick to front suspension but not rear, and get a suspension seatpost.

Honestly, my best (hopeful) guess is maybe 15% Rockies riding, and only 10% of that on rough terrain or considerable grade. But sometimes those mountain slopes could go on and on for a few miles, one never knows, and mid mount sounds least likely to overheat.
 

rich c

Well-Known Member
There was a flip flop on eBikes in National Parks in the last few years. First they were banned, then that was reversed. Just saying the ability to ride them on Federal Land is not guaranteed in the future. I ride Bosch powered eBikes and am a real fan. 7,000 miles on one of them, and a total of over 15,000 miles on all of my eBikes combined. I started riding when I was 64 and will be 70 in little over 2 months. I'd suggest that saving $1,350 plus tax should not be a deal breaker on something you will love to use over 6-10 years. If you know how to shift a bicycle you don't need a throttle.
 

Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
There was a flip flop on eBikes in National Parks in the last few years. First they were banned, then that was reversed. Just saying the ability to ride them on Federal Land is not guaranteed in the future. I ride Bosch powered eBikes and am a real fan. 7,000 miles on one of them, and a total of over 15,000 miles on all of my eBikes combined. I started riding when I was 64 and will be 70 in little over 2 months. I'd suggest that saving $1,350 plus tax should not be a deal breaker on something you will love to use over 6-10 years. If you know how to shift a bicycle you don't need a throttle.
Well, I imagine it would be nice to sometimes be able to rest my legs for a while but still keep traveling. The throttle would do that.

I want to ask, how large is your Bosch battery and what sort of range are you experiencing? If you've climbed some significantly steep hills, did it make you work hard to top them? I'm not ruling that system out, but I certainly am taking the sales 'puffing' with a shaker of salt; 70 miles on 400W sounds unlikely, and 40nM torque versus the 90+nM of many other mid drives seems significant. Thanks in advance for any anecdotal evidence you'd care to share.
 

Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
Today I visited a local store and rode 3 ebikes. This is the first time I've actually been on one.

The first was a Momentum Lafree. I thought I'd really like the mid drive Yamaha's auto mode, but nope. When starting to pedal harder it would take a revolution or more before the motor responded. Power would come on and let off when I didn't expect it, and setting a PAS level felt much better. The worst aspect was how poorly the front end fared in pea gravel and when climbing a steep grassy hill; it wandered and felt unsafe. The rear mount battery allows the front to be too light, and I didn't like it. And since I couldn't keep my feet in the preferred position with the arches over the pedals, hitting my toes on the front fender whenever I turned was annoying. This ride felt the most cushy of the three, though.

Next up was a Serfas eDash Plus, with a 500W Bafang mid drive and front suspension. This bike performed well on all surfaces and felt solidly planted when plowing through loose pea gravel. Steep climbs (PAS 5, low gear) required a good amount of leg effort, but these were slopes I'd never manage on an unpowered bike. The frame comes in 3 sizes, and size medium fit me well; sitting was not as upright as my Trek Pure but still good, and minimum seat height was fine for my 31" inseam legs (I could have lowered the seat farther still). If there was one thing I didn't like, I'd have to say it was the throttle "safety feature": the throttle won't kick the motor on from a dead stop, one must be pedaling. The bike does have a walk feature. I liked it quite well. It is heavier than I'd hoped (noticeably more than the Lafree), but it didn't feel top-heavy or anything.

Unit #3 was another Serfas, with a 350W rear hub and solid fork. I just wanted to see what it would feel like to pedal with just a cadence sensor instead of a torque sensor. The lag time was more pronounced that the Lafree's auto mode. It did not handle the pea gravel as well, which surprised me; I guess the front suspension was helping in some way or other on the previous bike. And after riding a 500W mid drive, in comparison this 350W hub felt like it couldn't push the bike out of its own way.

I like to check specs on different ebikes for comparison, but the specs listed online for the Serfas models is quite skimpy. I would have liked to know the gear range, the crank tooth count, and the weight, but i couldn't locate these details. I did notice the derailleur was an Altus, so that tells us something.
(Edit: I finally spotted the weight for the mid drive model: 62 lbs.)
 
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WIVado

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Southwest Wisconsin
Today I stopped by one of the nearby bike stores to look at their ebikes. The salesman listened to what I'd like to have in an ebike, showed me one that would do everything I wanted for $4,000. But that's out of my price range, so then he showed me a Gazelle Medeo with the Bosch mid drive and 400Wh battery (non-integrated, so perhaps an older model?) for $2,650. It seemed larger than what I'd want, but he said it was just my size. He assured me that the Bosch could vastly outperform any geared hub motor, and he said I could realistically expect a 70 mile range because those Bosch motors just sip energy. The fellow talked about how much biking experience he's had on all sorts of terrain. The visit was most enlightening, as I'm sure you can gather. 😃
The salesperson you spoke with was not entirely full of hot air. If you are planning MTB'ing in terrain similar to what you pictured, I would certainly vote mid-drive.

The 70-mile Bosch range is not unrealistic (provided a large enough battery) but it will depend upon things such as 1) amount of elevation gain on your ride, 2) what power setting you have the bike on...ECO vs TURBO, etc.

I have gotten 65 miles out of my Bosch mid-drive Trek Powerfly with ~2000-3000 ft of climbing on a 60-mile ride, on the ECO power setting. Similar results with the Specialized Brose mid-drive.

These are not your ONLY options, just my experiences with what I own.
 

Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
The salesperson you spoke with was not entirely full of hot air. If you are planning MTB'ing in terrain similar to what you pictured, I would certainly vote mid-drive.

The 70-mile Bosch range is not unrealistic (provided a large enough battery) but it will depend upon things such as 1) amount of elevation gain on your ride, 2) what power setting you have the bike on...ECO vs TURBO, etc.

I have gotten 65 miles out of my Bosch mid-drive Trek Powerfly with ~2000-3000 ft of climbing on a 60-mile ride, on the ECO power setting. Similar results with the Specialized Brose mid-drive.

These are not your ONLY options, just my experiences with what I own.
That is pretty amazing distance!
 

PatriciaK

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Pacific Northwest and Piedmont Triad
Today I visited a local store and rode 3 ebikes. This is the first time I've actually been on one.

The first was a Momentum Lafree. I thought I'd really like the mid drive Yamaha's auto mode, but nope. When starting to pedal harder it would take a revolution or more before the motor responded. Power would come on and let off when I didn't expect it, and setting a PAS level felt much better. The worst aspect was how poorly the front end fared in pea gravel and when climbing a steep grassy hill; it wandered and felt unsafe. The rear mount battery allows the front to be too light, and I didn't like it. And since I couldn't keep my feet in the preferred position with the arches over the pedals, hitting my toes on the front fender whenever I turned was annoying. This ride felt the most cushy of the three, though.

Next up was a Serfas eDash Plus, with a 500W Bafang mid drive and front suspension. This bike performed well on all surfaces and felt solidly planted when plowing through loose pea gravel. Steep climbs (PAS 5, low gear) required a good amount of leg effort, but these were slopes I'd never manage on an unpowered bike. The frame comes in 3 sizes, and size medium fit me well; sitting was not as upright as my Trek Pure but still good, and minimum seat height was fine for my 31" inseam legs (I could have lowered the seat farther still). If there was one thing I didn't like, I'd have to say it was the throttle "safety feature": the throttle won't kick the motor on from a dead stop, one must be pedaling. The bike does have a walk feature. I liked it quite well. It is heavier than I'd hoped (noticeably more than the Lafree), but it didn't feel top-heavy or anything.

Unit #3 was another Serfas, with a 350W rear hub and solid fork. I just wanted to see what it would feel like to pedal with just a cadence sensor instead of a torque sensor. The lag time was more pronounced that the Lafree's auto mode. It did not handle the pea gravel as well, which surprised me; I guess the front suspension was helping in some way or other on the previous bike. And after riding a 500W mid drive, in comparison this 350W hub felt like it couldn't push the bike out of its own way.

I like to check specs on different ebikes for comparison, but the specs listed online for the Serfas models is quite skimpy. I would have liked to know the gear range, the crank tooth count, and the weight, but i couldn't locate these details. I did notice the derailleur was an Altus, so that tells us something.
(Edit: I finally spotted the weight for the mid drive model: 62 lbs.)
I love my La Free, but would never ride it in deep gravel or on MTB trails - even if I was into that, the bike sure isn't intended for that kind of riding 😉.
 

Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
I love my La Free, but would never ride it in deep gravel or on MTB trails - even if I was into that, the bike sure isn't intended for that kind of riding 😉.
Yeah, I read several of your posts, so then I thought I'd love it too! 😄 Oh well. :)
 

vado813

Member
you're not going to find much if anything E in your price range. i've seen electric conversions on tiktok but they were in asia and who knows if they would work or available or even parts
i think most mountain Ebikes are rated by time instead miles. most non-name brand have inferior E setups.
 

TrevorB

Active Member
Today I visited a local store and rode 3 ebikes. This is the first time I've actually been on one.

The first was a Momentum Lafree. I thought I'd really like the mid drive Yamaha's auto mode, but nope. When starting to pedal harder it would take a revolution or more before the motor responded. Power would come on and let off when I didn't expect it, and setting a PAS level felt much better. The worst aspect was how poorly the front end fared in pea gravel and when climbing a steep grassy hill; it wandered and felt unsafe. The rear mount battery allows the front to be too light, and I didn't like it. And since I couldn't keep my feet in the preferred position with the arches over the pedals, hitting my toes on the front fender whenever I turned was annoying. This ride felt the most cushy of the three, though.

Next up was a Serfas eDash Plus, with a 500W Bafang mid drive and front suspension. This bike performed well on all surfaces and felt solidly planted when plowing through loose pea gravel. Steep climbs (PAS 5, low gear) required a good amount of leg effort, but these were slopes I'd never manage on an unpowered bike. The frame comes in 3 sizes, and size medium fit me well; sitting was not as upright as my Trek Pure but still good, and minimum seat height was fine for my 31" inseam legs (I could have lowered the seat farther still). If there was one thing I didn't like, I'd have to say it was the throttle "safety feature": the throttle won't kick the motor on from a dead stop, one must be pedaling. The bike does have a walk feature. I liked it quite well. It is heavier than I'd hoped (noticeably more than the Lafree), but it didn't feel top-heavy or anything.

Unit #3 was another Serfas, with a 350W rear hub and solid fork. I just wanted to see what it would feel like to pedal with just a cadence sensor instead of a torque sensor. The lag time was more pronounced that the Lafree's auto mode. It did not handle the pea gravel as well, which surprised me; I guess the front suspension was helping in some way or other on the previous bike. And after riding a 500W mid drive, in comparison this 350W hub felt like it couldn't push the bike out of its own way.

I like to check specs on different ebikes for comparison, but the specs listed online for the Serfas models is quite skimpy. I would have liked to know the gear range, the crank tooth count, and the weight, but i couldn't locate these details. I did notice the derailleur was an Altus, so that tells us something.
(Edit: I finally spotted the weight for the mid drive model: 62 lbs.)
Lafree is cruiser/commuter so not designed for offroad. Try trekking or HT eMTBs with 80-100mm front forks, ideally 2.15-2.35 tires or clearance to handle them.

For middrive motors 60-90nm with 10spd 11-42t cassette. A 50nm with 11-42t would be OK especially if upgraded to 11-46t, unfortunately most 50nm come with 9spd 11-36t cassettes.
 

Rexlion

Active Member
Region
USA
City
Tulsa metro
Lafree is cruiser/commuter so not designed for offroad.
True enough, but other than the "steep grassy hill test" I wasn't in conditions much different from some unpaved country roads. All 3 ebikes had the same tire width, 2.35". The unusual balance of the Lafree combined with solid fork to make its front end want to dance around, by far the most of the three ebikes, in anything loose. It was dandy on pavement, no doubt. I'm not slamming the Lafree; I'm just saying I didn't know what to expect for off-pavement performance, but now I have a better idea.
 

AHicks

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Snow Bird - Summer S.E. Michigan, Winter Gulf Coast North Central Fl.
I think you mentioned you wanted a dealer to take care of your bike for you, and this one is consumer direct, so unless you can work out something with a local shop, you would have to do the work on this bike. One other option might be a mobile service like Velo.com. Anyway, just wanted to toss this bike out for you to check out. Not far from your price range, not torque sensing, but should check the rest of the boxes you've been talking about. What makes it unusual is that it's not a fatty, uses conventional 27.5" tires. And it's Bafang powered so it has a throttle that works from a stop.....

 

indianajo

Well-Known Member
If you know how to shift a bicycle you don't need a throttle.
Happy for you the Army didn't train & manage your knees 1968-1985. I couldn't walk without a cane the last 4 weeks. Twisted my knee out at my summer property, walking. Throttle & geared hub motor got me to town with minimal pedaling, just as I planned when I went looking for some emergency transportation 6 years ago. Taxis are too stupid to find their way out there; there a no street signs. Never seen a taxi north of the last 30000 population town 7 miles away. Then there is the 1/4 mile rutted grass driveway. Maybe I should have crawled out to the road and waved $50 bills. That didn't work last time I blew a tire; pushed the bike with 30 lb groceries five of the seven miles before a friend passed by and gave me a ride.
 
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dodgeman

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Macomb, Illinois
Just my opinion but I think anything you buy and convert to a e bike is going to be a disappointment unless you really know what your doing. The pic you show of a trail looks like mountain bike territory to me. I’d budget at least $5000 if you want to get serious.

How bad do you want to ride trails? For example I own a Trek Verve +3. I will ride on gravel some, no more than a mile or two but would never ride trails unless they are smooth and dry. Cost was $3200. Range is 30 to 70 miles depending on assist level and conditions. Lots of choices out there in mountain bikes, it’s a matter of what you want to spend and the quality you want.
 

AHicks

Well-Known Member
Region
USA
City
Snow Bird - Summer S.E. Michigan, Winter Gulf Coast North Central Fl.
If you know how to shift a bicycle you don't need a throttle.
Geez, are you ever going to get tired of making that comment?

If you don't NEED a throttle, do you NEED a motor? No, we don't NEED a throttle, but most that have them will tell you they're a darn nice feature, just as the motor is.....

Would you, on your non throttle equipped bike, like to race me and my throttle equipped bike to see who can get to the far side of a busy road first?

We're all human, and as such likely to screw up on a ride resulting in getting a little banged up sooner or later. If/when this were to happen to you 5 miles from home or back to the staging area you launched from, would you rather make that ride on a non throttle, or throttle equipped bike?

Are you having fun launching from a stop going up hill?