Taking The Deep Dive
By Nick Claire
Editor’s note: In addition to his duties at his Open Trails bike shop, Nick is now an assistant editor at
Electric Bike Action.
It all started with a phone call back in 2016. It was from my friend Mike, and he was on the other end excitedly telling me he just rode an e-bike and that I had to try one. As I was still of the “pure pedaling” mindset, my immediate thought was, “Why in the world would I want to try an e-bike? I can climb anything I want on my regular bike.” So I asked Mike, “Why would I need an e-bike?”
His reply was quick and sincere: “Because you’ll love it!”
At the time of the call, I was going back and forth living between Minnesota and California. My big challenge at the time, however, was to think of an excuse to stay in California full-time. Coincidentally, not long after that first call I got from another friend who, like Mike, was not only rhapsodizing about his newfound love of e-bikes but, more interestingly, asking if I’d be interested in helping run an e-bike shop out here in SoCal. Even though I still knew nothing about e-bikes, it was just the excuse I needed to find a way to pitch my tent in the Golden State.
“Usually, by the time they’ve finished chasing me to the top of the climb, the heavy breathing starts and is usually followed with a big smile, a smile that says, ‘Okay, maybe you can get exercise on an e-bike.’”
Doing my best imitation of Jed Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies, I packed everything I could fit in my truck and headed west. As my friend had assured me that e-bikes were the future and we were getting into the right business at the right time, my excitement level on this new venture was high.
THE WOW MOMENT
No sooner had I arrived when my friend immediately put me on his all-mountain Haibike e-bike to take it for a test ride. “Wow!” I immediately understood what he had been trying to tell me. Even though it still felt a lot like a regular bike, I got that feeling of added acceleration, which brought me back to my early days racing motocross. I was beginning to feel extremely positive about the move I made.
Fast-forward three years later and here I am behind the counter of my own e-bike shop. Although my experience in the bike industry was zilch when I started, I’m now completely wrapped up in all things e-bikes. Beyond my own interests, I’ve also become a huge advocate for e-bikes in general because of the many benefits and uses they provide for all levels of riders.
BEHIND THE COUNTER
In 2016 when we opened the business it was definitely a slow start, but we had a feeling that the interest was there and building. The advantage of the early days was that it gave us a chance to get a lot of time riding different bikes and learning how to service them. We also were able to pick up on weak points of the bikes, as well as the strengths.
These days things have gotten a lot busier, and e-bikes are no longer some well-kept secret but are now enjoying wide recognition. While I’m at the shop, one of the most popular questions I get from newcomers is, “How long does the battery last?” I usually say that with a 500-watt-battery, full-suspension e-bike, the window is about 15–25 miles with 2500–4000 feet of elevation if you’re using the highest power mode. Now there will be exceptions on both extremes, but I feel that is a good window for the average rider. Fortunately, we’re starting to see bigger batteries and more efficient power curves coming from the manufacturers.
“Because of the power assist and heavier weight of e-bikes, the regular bike parts tend to wear out a little quicker than on a non-assist bike. This is often alarming to customers bringing their bikes in for maintenance to find out the drivetrain needs to be replaced after only 1000 miles.”
One thing that has become apparent is that the “Big Four” motor brands—Shimano, Bosch, Yamaha and Brose—are great companies to have at our service. They all have their own way of dealing with warranties and service, some easier than others. With that said, I think we’re in good hands and have always been taken care of with warranties. I know of some customers whose bikes have actually been slightly past the warranty and still been taken care of. The truth is that of all the bikes we’ve sold, we’ve only seen a handful of failures.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Because of the power assist and heavier weight of e-bikes, the regular bike parts tend to wear out a little quicker than on a non-assist bike. This is often alarming to customers bringing their bikes in for maintenance to find out the drivetrain needs to be replaced after only 1000 miles. On the other hand, we’ll have people who get 2500 miles out of a cassette and chain. Certain riders use more finesse when shifting, while others only ride flat terrain. The difference in riding style and technique will cause different wear life for
Just to be clear, I usually tell customers they should aim to replace two to three chains per cassette and the front chainring replacement. And don’t forget, since e-bikes are up to 20–30 pounds heavier than a non-assist bike, you’ll likely be wearing brake pads out faster.
These component issues are usually things I explain to people when they’re trying to make the decision on what level of bike to get. As with anything, you get what you pay for, and that means quality of components. Surprisingly, most customers are happy to come in and replace parts after they’ve experienced some time on the bike.
I would say that making sure the bike you buy doesn’t have too many proprietary parts on it is important. The more commonly used are usually the most accessible, and you’ll be able to more easily replace them. It’s hard to want to give up the money, but I feel that getting a bike already equipped with higher-end parts will definitely pay off in longevity and overall comfort on the ride.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
For me, one of the most rewarding parts of my job has been seeing how excited people get about a new bike and the enthusiasm they have for riding after heading out on their favorite trails. Most interesting is the similarity in reactions between customers of all different levels when they experience an e-bike for the first time. While some people need some convincing to try one, I love trying to get all the feedback I can. The usual reaction is, “Wow! That is a lot different than I thought it would be. I thought it just did all the work
Then, I get the customers who refuse to believe that riding an e-bike can be a workout. This sentiment becomes a fun challenge for me, especially when I take them out on a test ride and have them chase me up a hill in Turbo mode. Usually, by the time they’ve finished chasing me to the top of the climb, the heavy breathing starts and is usually followed with a big smile, a smile that says, “Okay, maybe you can get exercise on an e-bike.”
I’m lucky to be involved in this industry and am excited for what the future of e-biking and really cycling in general is bringing to more of the public. I’m sure the recognition of what an e-bike brings into the equation of pedaling a bike will continue to evolve. In the future, I hope to see more bikes designed for taller and heavier people. I believe pedal-assist bikes will bring in new enthusiasts who never previously would have thought to even ride.
This is definitely an interesting time with the curve of new battery technology, and the fact that it’s being used to promote a healthy, outdoor endeavor is fantastic. I’ve been blown away by how many different mindsets I’ve seen come into the shop. Everything from guilt of not exercising to “I don’t really care about getting a workout; I just wanna have fun!” We’ve had cross-country racers that use an e-bike for recovery days and scoping out the racecourses. There are too many uses for an e-bike to even list.
It sure has been a great experience thus far, and I see great things ahead for the bicycle industry as a whole, thanks to the arrival of e-bikes. The quality is improving at a rapid rate, and pretty much all the big hitter companies, as well as many small but notable builders, are involved.
Last, and most important, I would say the one thing to remember about buying an e-bike is don’t forget to
NICK’S E-BIKE-BUYING TIPS
1. Take your time when deciding which bike to get, and that the features offered suit your needs and style of riding.
2. Make sure the size feels right for you no matter what the company recommends.
3. Try to avoid buying an e-bike with essential parts that happen to be proprietary to that particular company.
4. Buying from a local shop that will be able to help with warranties and service will be more convenient than buying directly from the manufacturer.
5. The more stable and longer a company has been around is a strong point to consider when buying an e-bike. That goes for the motor and that particular brand is using as well.
6. Do your homework! Test ride, test ride, test ride!
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