Electric bicycles (“e-bikes”) were, for a long time, something the Chinese understood but few Americans bought into. And so for a long time, Americans led the world in bicycle ownership but were low in actual bike use—the two-wheelers mostly sat in the garage, with flat tires.
But Covid changed all that. People wanted to venture outside, and the bicycle was a safe option. It turns out the power-assisted e-bike was an ideal solution for many folks (including seniors) who liked the help getting up hills.
Sales of e-bikes in the U.S. are up 139% to US$681 million for the year-to-date ending in April, compared to the same period in 2020, according to market research firm NPD Group.
“E-bike sales have been in a growth mode for more than five years in the U.S.,” says
sports industry analyst at NPD. “There’s an appeal to a broad set of consumers, from the new rider, to someone who wants to conquer a hard ride, or the returning rider that is uncertain of their riding skills.”
In Europe, the progress has been even greater. According to the EU Mobility Atlas, assisted bike sales in the union are likely to grow from 3.7 million to 17 million per year by 2030. At that point, e-bikes could be selling better than cars in the EU (only 9.9 million units last year).
Americans have considerable choice when it comes to e-bikes, with prices ranging from US$1,000 to US$15,000 and above. There are three basic types: Type 1 is pedal assist, meaning that you have to pedal to get the motor to kick in (maximum assisted speed, around 20 miles per hour). Type 2 features a throttle, meaning it’s more like a motorcycle (also a top speed of 20 mph). Type 3, with a top assisted speed of 28 mph, is the fastest legal e-bike, with power pedals.
Penta sampled three very different bikes, from Pedego, Cannondale (Bosch), and Vintage.
Starting in the middle, there’s the Cannondale Tesoro Neo X Speed (US$4,100), which uses a Bosch 250-watt drive unit and 625-kilowatt-hour battery. It sits on 28-inch wheels and can reach 30 mph, so definitely a Type 3, but without a throttle. Range is a stellar 72 miles.
Older e-bikes often have a detachable battery, but it’s built in on the Cannondale. This one has 12 speeds like a standard bicycle, with easy up/down levers. It’s not the most powerful e-bike, so you need to shift down to make it up hills. The motor is relatively loud, but not annoyingly so. A second battery can be added to increase range.
The brakes are hydraulic discs, as on a car, and they’re one of the nicest features, stopping the bike very progressively and safely—even in panic situations. The whole bike feels solidly built and stable, riding on fat Schwalbe Big Ben tires. The display (also Bosch) is good for speed and state of charge.
vice president, Bosch e-bike systems, said in an interview that the company started in the European e-bike market in 2009, and now has more than 100 brands using its systems (with prices starting around US$2,000).
“E-bikes proved to be an ideal and safe solution for individual transportation during the pandemic,” Wasko said.
Moving upmarket, there’s the limited-edition Vintage Shelby (US$7,249). Only 300 of this bike, licensed from the
American company that makes the Cobras, will be built. This bike, which looks somewhat like a 1920s or 1930s twin-cylinder motorcycle, is built for speed. It can reach 36 mph (taking it beyond Type 2) and has a cruising range of up to 75 miles, with 4.5-hour charge time.
The Shelby is great fun to ride, and seriously swift. It has both pedal assist and a hand throttle, which worked like a turbocharger to get the bike really moving or up big hills. It has so much torque that gear shifting is unnecessary. Instead, there are five power modes.
It has hydraulic disc brakes like the Cannondale, and regenerative brake to recapture energy in the battery. Also like the Cannondale, it has adjustable front suspension with 60 millimeters (2.3 inches) of travel. It’s a bit heavy at 86 pounds, but lightens up on the road.
The Vintage is a Type 2 electric bike, meaning 20 mph, but it has a special key that turns on race mode for up to 36 mph. “Once you thread in race mode, the bike is classified for off-road or private property use only,” Vintage says.
is president, founder and designer at Vintage, which he started soon after graduating from high school in 2010. “Performance is important to us as a company,” he tells Penta. “Most of our people have some kind of racing background. We’re always upgrading to new technology, and our older bikes are backwards compatible, meaning they can be upgraded to the latest specs.”
Davidge said most e-bikes have 500 to 750 watt-hours of power, but “with us, it’s 1,200 watt hours—and our bikes can put out that kind of power for a long time.” In race mode, that means 35 to 40 miles of range, but 70 is possible if users tap into the lower power settings. Vintage bikes blur the line between e-bikes and motorcycles.
Like the Cannondale and Shelby, the Pedego City Commuter bike boasts fat tires, a very sturdy (and somewhat heavy) frame, and a very reassuring ride quality.
The Pedego has a removable battery, and taking it off makes it easier (indeed, possible) to ride the bike without electric assistance, and also to replace the battery when it dies. The e-bike has no pedal assist, and is throttle only.
Despite being older technology, it scoots up hills, with a very good range. The Pedegos are well supported by a dealer network, and start around US$1,600. Prices top off with the Elevate model, around US$5,400. There are folding Pedegos, tandems, belt-drive bikes, mountain and cargo bikes.
who owns the Pedego store in Norwalk, Conn., tells Penta, “Since the pandemic, people have 1,000 reasons to get on e-bikes, and they’re using the unspent money from their gym memberships and vacations to pay for them. Right now, meeting the demand is our biggest hurdle. The supply chains are stretched thin.”