Karel’s Korner: 8/10/15

In the April issue of Electric Bike Action, we had a favorite quote from Gary Fisher. Fisher, of course, is considered one of the founding fathers of mountain biking. To repeat what he said, “Electric bikes are so cool. What’s going on with them now is like what we were doing with mountain bikes back in the early ’70s. We weren’t sure what they [mountain bikes] were going to be, but we knew they would be something. I think the same thing can be said about electric bikes today.” As we put this latest issue to bed, I can only say, amen! Just as with the previous issues, this edition of EBA is full of a variety of interesting bikes that really reflect the eclectic and widely divergent designs that make up the current e-bike market.

We have the Swiss Stromer, which is the banker-in-a-suit version of the electric bicycle. The Stromer is almost sterile in its seamless excellence. Certainly that excellence fights its way into your consciousness as you spend more time on it blistering the toughest routes that you ride. The electric assist is so seamless that it does not feel quick. Fortunately, Stromer gave it a speedometer, which puts the evidence right in front of you as you eat up the miles. And best of all, it feels like a bicycle. There is no throttle option. You must pedal to get in on the fun.

At the opposite end of the e-bike spectrum is the delightfully quirky Hanebrink. You actually fear that hikers, joggers and other cyclists you pass will injure themselves gawking as you pedal past. It looks like they could twist their heads right off. Well, maybe just loose. In my time spent on the wild-looking Hanebrink, I’ve learned to read lips, and practically everyone I pass mouths  the same thing: “What is that?!” My little fat-tired friend has had rangers slam on the brakes to make sure that it is actually a bicycle. What the Stromer does best is nothing like what the Hanebrink does well.

We are confident stating that. What the Hanebrink does well, no other bicycle does well. To keep it simple, if you are currently riding on a rough-and-tumble surface that is giving you fits, the Hanebrink just hits stride. It loves snow, sand, gravel, greasy mud, pine needles, leaves, acorns and silt. It struggles most on surfaces where your bicycle sings.

Karl Kramer and an e-bike
Electric bikes can look like other bicycles, but a look around the industry will convince you that looking “normal” is not a prerequisite.

Electric bikes can look like other bicycles, but a look around the industry will convince you that looking “normal” is not a prerequisite. An electric bike has a motor, a battery, a control system and a frame to hold it all together. But what keeps things so exciting (at least to us) is that there is no agreement on motor placement, battery location or what constitutes optimum performance.

As I see it, the performance question is answered for bicycles by the federal law limiting them to 20 miles per hour. Where it muddies is where the bike designer comes from. Companies (or individuals) working up from radical green leanings or die-hard pedaling feel that any amount of assist is too much. They may even view assist as a necessary evil, palatable in the greater good, getting more people out of cars and onto a bicycle seat. Those with a motorized background are working from internal combustion down. They are willing to lower personal performance desires for the greater freedom of a silent, economical method of motivation that requires no registration or insurance.

So where are electric bikes—both motorcycles and bicycles—going? For motorcycles, the performance is absolutely in place. The thrill of massive acceleration is made all the more surreal when it is silent. The steps forward will be toward more range and less cost. Battery technology is the key on both fronts, and this is one thing that low-speed electric bicycles (the federal designation) and high-performance electric motorcycles have in common.

At all Hi-Torque magazines, we hear, “What does it take to get a good test in your magazine?” The answer has always been, “Build a good machine and you will get a good test.” That goes for EBA as well. We don’t care where the battery is, what motor is used or where it is located. We don’t care if it’s a cruiser, a commuter, a racer or a bike that folds up as luggage. But, it needs to work for what it is intended to do. Back to part of that Gary Fisher quote: “We knew they would be something.” That is as true a statement as you will find about electric bikes. We are enjoying the ride.

No wheeled sport we have ever been involved in requires actually getting on and riding like electric-assist bicycles. We will continue to bring the experience of e-bikes to you with words, photos, and even video. But trust us on this one: find a way to ride one, if you haven’t done so already. They are a blast!