A year and 10,000km – an ebike love affair

In July 2016 I plonked down several thousand dollars on a bicycle from Saint Cycles in Takapuna. For the same money – as people pointed out – I could have bought quite a nice motor scooter. My justification was that I was commuting in a car for 46km a day, at 40c/km that was $3680 a year. So in my business case my bike outlay had around a 1.5year payback. That excluded parking which at the time was provided for free by my employer. All completely rational. Max budget set, I tried lots of bikes. My other criterion was that it needed to be faster than my road bike on which averaged about an hour each way for my commute.

I thought about a Bosch, Impulse or Yamaha-powered mid-drive, but I’d have to add a dongle to make it go fast enough (I didn’t have $7k for a Bosch Speed). I was concerned about longevity and the warranty implications, so I settled on a Specialized Turbo which did it all out of the box. Battery life was my only concern so I got an overnight trial and got each way at full speed with some 30-35% remaining – and 15min faster than on my roadie and a big smile on my face. Sold!

Now committed to riding every day I had some things to figure out, including rain gear, what to wear, handling cold. I’ve accumulated a veritable cycling wardrobe accumulated by surfing specials on overseas websites. They have great range and being off-season means there are some bargains to be had. [One day I’ll write a blog called “Rudolph the Red knows Rain-gear”]. Some of my favourite items are my Gore Bike Wear Power rain jacket, Castelli Perfetto jacket, Sealskinz Dragoneye gloves and various brands of thick woollen sock. My other secret is to wear a ‘cycling cap’ under my helmet. While it looks dorky, it stops my helmet from getting stinky and the visor is handy for low sun, and keeping wind and rain out of the eyes. I have a cotton one for the dry and a gore-tex one for rainy days.

Talking of rainy days, in my 370 journeys in Auckland I experienced heavy rain on around 12 occasions. Of course there was light rain on perhaps 50 more of those journeys but that is easily handled by reasonable rain gear. On those ‘heavy’ days you get wet no matter what, but it hardly happens and a bus is always an option. I have chosen just to tough it out and perversely enjoy the challenge. I see people in their cars and on the bus look at me with pity but I really don’t mind it. It is just temporary wetness.

One of my most puzzling ‘issues’ with my bike was a speed wobble that I’d randomly get at speed. I had all sorts of theories about why and resigned myself to ‘design fault’. I adjusted the mudguards (aerodynamics), tightened the headset (obvious thing to try), changed the tyres and pressure (bounce). It was only when ElectricMeg bought me a set of Ortlieb pannier bags that I discovered that it was my backpack strapped to the carrier that was the culprit. Hallelujah! The Ortlieb panniers are a revelation in themselves – durable, easy to take off and on, and 100% waterproof. Expensive though.

My bike has crashed three times. The first time was when my son had an off in our cul-de-sac resulting in a bent derailleur hanger and bent pedal shaft. Ebikes are heavy and land hard! Fortunately Specialized only use a few hangers in their range so it was easy to get a replacement the same day. Something to consider with any ebike. The second time was tooling around in town and I clipped a sandwich board sign. More embarrassing than anything. The third was a bit more traumatic – my front wheel washed out on a corner in the dark and rain, luckily not getting crushed by any following cars. I fell quite hard, smashing my helmet and glasses, grazing myself and putting holes in my jacket. The insurance claim was over $1200. I caught it all on camera, and still can’t figure out what my front wheel slid on. I was quite rattled and suffice to say I am a bit more cautious in the wet now.

 

It was a couple of months before I got my first puncture. It was on the rear tyre and I did not enjoy getting the wheel off and fixing it. This is a royal pain with any rear hub bike; at least mine uses a small allen key that you find on a multi-tool, not a #17 spanner like many common ebikes. In fact, that is one thing that is different about a bike brand bike vs a generic bike. Everything on my bike can be sorted with a multi-tool. After that I replaced the tyres with Schwalbe Energizer puncture-proof tyres and 8000km later have had no issues at all. Highly recommended.

 

The original brakes on the bike were just plain horrid. I could be heard coming from miles away, not the zen-like experience I was after. After a forum recommendation, I ordered Kool Stop pads. The squealing stopped, they are powerful and I’ve now done 7500km and still have 1mm of pad remaining! Yuss!

 

The biggest problem I had with the bike was broken spokes. Ping! Ping! Specialized offered to rebuild the wheel under warranty and when inspected it turned out that the whole hub was cracked – a unique failure that seems to have been a manufacturing issue. Once again Specialized’s magic customer care kicked in – a loaner wheel was delivered to the store and a new (better) motor was ordered. I only have good things to say about Specialized NZ customer care. This starts with a huge demo fleet available to the stores and continues through the life of the bike. There is a commitment to having spares available for at least 5 years after sale. For an ebike that is a huge comfort; you’ll definitely need to replace some major components including a battery during that time. When you look at the price of a bike, take all these factors into consideration: did you get to try the model you want on the trip you plan to ride; are parts readily available and will they be available in five years time?

Now that I’ve done 10,000km, what has cost of ownership been like? I maintain and service the bike myself (it isn’t hard) so no cost there – mostly a two-weekly chain clean and lube, make sure the bike is clean and everything it tight, pump tyres. I replaced the chain at 6000km ($40), still running the original chainring and cassette. I replaced the brake pads at 2500 km for $35 each end and they are still good. Tyres cost $70 a pair from Germany, have done 8000km and still look new. A derailleur cable is $10 and easy to replace for great effect. Apart from that the bike still looks like new and rides better than new. I have ordered a new (bigger) 19Ah battery as I am regularly down to 20% and sometimes less, and that’s running the motor on ‘Eco40%’ (for the record, I can still keep up with cars on that setting). I also upgraded to a suspension fork which upped the awesomeness level somewhat.

However, having done 10,000 the odometer has reset to zero and can’t get past that! I thought programmers learned the folly of not handling that condition in 1999.

I still love my bike, I love getting on it every day and I love the buzz that riding it give me. If I wound back a year, I’d buy the same bike again. Thanks Saints for selling it to me and looking after me, and thanks Specialized for an great bike and great service.

I have also learned that from riding my ebike twice daily for 45-50mins I am very fit. I can happily get on my MTB or roadie and do anything I want. Ebikes get you fit. I am not shattered at the end of the week as I was when riding 2-3x a week on the roadie. And I don’t miss doing my commute hunched over drop bars on skinny tyres worrying about punctures, headwinds and homeward hills. I love my road bike too and ride it when I actually want to, with fitness and power earned electrically. It’s not cheating, is it?

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18 comments

  • I have the same bike and have had very similar experiences; squeaky brakes, broken rear wheel spokes etc. I have now completed 15,000 km in 30 months and had to replace the motor and battery, 1 tyre, 4 chains, 1 chainwheel, 1 gear change cable, 3 disc pad sets, 2 pedal sets, 1 saddle and 1 hand grip set. In short maintenance has been much more expensive than I thought it would, although total cost is still less than a car. It is still a great bike and faster than ever with upgraded motor (250W) although interestingly the new battery made much more difference. I actually enjoy commuting on this bike, and it has made me loose 5kg and have lower cholesterol which must be the biggest benefit of all.

  • Great review. I shelled out 4k 4 years ago for a fabulous quality BH Emotion 29er which I ride to work (up Dunedin hills) at least 3 days per week. Its a 27 speed bike. Multiple gears separate it from lots of other single front ring 8 speed models which in testing, I found a struggle on Dunedin’s steep hills. Out of curiosity, I hope to try the Catalyst from Smart Motion as it has 2 front rings and should climb quite well. Come on manufacturers, when it comes to steep hills, gears do matter even on E bikes!

    A word of caution to e bike buyers would be around buying models with batteries that mould into frames. When that model gets a face lift (new frame shape) you may be where I am with my local shop (Specialized) telling me they cant be sure they can get me a new battery for my 4 year old pre face lift model. Its worth checking future battery availability in advance of buying. Rectangular carrier mounted batteries may look bland but they are appear to be a very enduring shape.

    Now that e bikes have been around a while, it would be good to read a battery comparison across models to see how batteries have stacked up and how the most popular e bike manufacturers are responding to replacement requests.

    • Hi Stephen. Ive had a Catalyst for a year now and its brilliant. I tested many bikes and this was the fastest and safest feeling of all E MBikes. Very smooth and quiet braking, stable at speed, and the shocks take most bumps in their wake. Hills are OK but you have to put quite a bit of pedal work up steep hills (usually in first gear) as the electric motor feels quite highly geared. Along the flat at 40 KPH under pure electric power means you cover ground very quickly indeed. I also have a Magnum MI5 for the wife and this is slower on the flat but slightly better up hills (and has a throttle), brakes are awful though and squeel like a stuck pig.

  • Hey

    Amazing review. I have the 2015 model and my charger has recently died on me. Do you know of anywhere I could get one or where I could get mine repaired?

    You seem to be in the know!

  • Interesting review. Now would be a good time to try a Scott / moustache – have another 10.000 km feedback .
    Maybe its something to look into – we do about 150000km each year with our own fleet. And a few customers rock 20.000 on their bikes year on year. Some at a 1/4 of the Turbos budget – with as big a smile on their face .
    Btw We got 6 Scott silence Speed on way – could you do a review ?. Cheers chris aka bikes and barbers

  • Great article Barry. Thank you for sharing your experience with your e-Bike.

  • hi barry, enjoyable article. brought my first ebike this week – ezee forza and love it. your hill climbing reviews clinced it for me and it also fitted my budget ($4k). it is such fun and i really look forward to the morning/evening commute. the only issue to date is that cars dont appreciate your faster speeds so a bit more care is needed. as an aside the second car will go on the market soon as no longer need it :-).

  • peterelectrodebikescom

    Nice article. I’ve been riding ebikes for 9 years and also learnt some lessons: never put mountain bike tyres onto a commuter ebike. I ended up changing out 6 flat tyres over two months!

  • I went the other way: 15 months / 7000km ago I bought a 50cc Peugeot Kisbee scooter for $2k. Henderson to CBD 14km daily commute. $2 day petrol. I’m satisfied with that decision for speed, safety, free parking, ease etc. Although if some kind of subsidy was provided i’d happily switch to an e-bike. I do feel a tad unfit as a result.

  • Awesome review, Barry, almost has me tempted to get one!

  • Hi Barry Good article and as above an inspiration for others. I purchased a Smartmotion Pacer partially based on your review in June this year. Travelled 700km so far and loving it. My commute is only 10-12kms each way (depending on the route I take) and more often than not takes less time than it would to drive. I read somewhere that people who ride to work arrive 30% happier which I agree with. I’m a 100% happier on the return trip!

  • So true. I started on the E-Bike Journey last month with Trek Powerfly 7 (Bosch Performance CX + Dongle) and love it. I’ve previously used both a Road Bike and Mountain Bike for the commute into town and was absolutely smashed by the end of the week and started dreading it. Now it is just fun, still hard work to maintain the cadence at the end of my current gearing, but fun. I’ve just clocked over 450km with many more to come.

    • Richard seems to be flying around town on his Powerfly, knocking off my Strava eKOMs. Would be interesting to get a long-term view on Bosch + dongle pros and cons. Clearly range is an issue – the day I saw him he had run out!

  • Great write up Barry. I am currently looking for my first E-bike and this helps a lot. Nige

  • Great review and inspiration for others

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