There can be few better feelings in life than riding an e-bike around town on a sun-drenched summer weekend. Yeah sex is cool, but have you tried coasting almost effortlessly at the perfect speed past shops and cafes and parks and sweltering sidewalks, natural AC blasting your body, tunes in your open earbuds, smartphone strapped on the handlebars, barely pedaling, no particular place to go, anywhere in a 60-mile radius your oyster?
I had this sensation testing the $1,900 Aventon Aventure, one of 2021’s most hotly-anticipated e-bikes, and the feeling has been a long time coming. The Aventure is the first e-bike I’ve ridden at length since I spent a whole year doing a full experiential review of the $4,000 Gazelle CityZen. That review ended right before the pandemic, during which I focused on running. Which is also cool, but tends to limit your world to the surrounding 10 miles or so.
Locked down for so long, I hadn’t experienced the miles of sexy green protected bike lanes my neighboring city of Oakland has installed (and some of which its DOT is now threatening to rip out). This was now e-bike heaven: All the vibrant culture and food of what we affectionately call Oaktown, starting to open up again after a tough year, and you’re rolling past it faster than a lot of the traffic, but in the open air, where you can make eye contact, and smile, and stop at a sidewalk BBQ place, and chat with the flirty counter person about the Aventure’s eye-grabbing fat tire design.
I’m not alone in enjoying what you could call Hot Cycle Summer. E-bike sales spiked to record highs in 2020, with imports doubling and the U.S.’ largest independent e-bike retailer selling out multiple times. In the UK, where e-bikes are hotter than EVs, one sells every three minutes. In the U.S., it’s more than one per minute. And though America is lagging in its bike infrastructure, cities around the world are turning into cycle-friendly utopias that put even Oaktown to shame — most notably Paris, through which you can now take a dedicated cycleway along the Seine all the way to the Normandy coast.
The Aventon Aventure presented some issues we’ll get into, not least the dumb name that had me saying “no, no, Ah-venture” to multiple curious passers-by. But while I wouldn’t buy one myself — same as I concluded with the pricier CityZen — it’s going to be great for some people in some circumstances. And the point is this: We should all be joining the e-bike revolution ASAP. It’s one of the best things individuals can buy for a warming planet with increasing climate emergencies, as well as the best way to see the reopening world. It doesn’t matter which one you choose; it matters that you choose, and then that you lobby your government hard for more places to ride on it.
As a record heatwave hit the west coast, the Aventure at least encouraged to start shopping for my perfect e-bike now. Here, from my casual rider’s experience with polar-opposite types, are the main points I’ll be bearing in mind.
1. It really is a seasonal thing.
I can hear the outrage from extreme cyclists now: What are you talking about? We commute every weekday and hit the trails every weekend, rain or shine! Pipe down Lycra, I’m not talking about you. I speak for the bike-curious, the trepidatious majority. In a survey for Oakland’s bike lane master plan, 56 percent of people wanted to bike but only 11 percent were “strong and fearless” or “excited and confident.” The rest of us are “interested but concerned.” We’re the ones who might buy an e-bike but stick it in the garage when colder weather arrives. Even in the supremely temperate Bay Area, I feel no need to get on two wheels when the thermometer dips below 60 Fahrenheit.
And is that such a bad thing? So long as you budget for a bike you’re only going to use half the year (or join one of the increasingly cool e-bike sharing schemes), there’s no shame in getting back into your car in the winter. One of the most potent promises of e-bike world is that it can help cure our addiction to emissions-spiking summer AC. This I discovered on the hottest day of 2019 with the CityZen: Even my swamp cooler at full tilt was no match for the cooling relief of going outside and hurtling down hills at 25 MPH (then using electric power to get back up them: wash, rinse, repeat).
Don’t be sad when Hot Cycle Summer is over. Be happy it happened, and will again, and that it can help save the world while raising our smile quotas.
2. You don’t need that much power.
There is a fine line between e-bicycle and e-motorbike, and the Aventon Aventure sidles right up to it. There’s a throttle on the handlebar, like a demon on your shoulder, offering you the opportunity to go up to 20 MPH without pedaling. My advice: Don’t touch it. The sudden lurch isn’t worth it, especially in a bike lane situation where there might be a car door opening in your future. Save it for emergencies, like if you’re out on the open road, or tired on your final uphill.
Same advice goes for pedal assist levels 3 through 5, pretty much. I didn’t like the way they made the bike lurch after a four-way stop, or the motor noise they made, or the exercise they took away. According to my Apple Watch, the average heart rate on my summer rides so far hasn’t exceeded 100. Which is fine — all workouts are good but I never slipped into the effortless cardio-boosting feeling from my CityZen year that I described as “my heart is beating happy.”
3. Fat tires feel great. But the weight!
Credit to the Aventon Aventure: its fat tires made Oakland feel like all the streets had been repaved instead of just optimized for bikes. I love me some good road bike, but it’s hard to ignore the bone-rattling sensation you get from the average city street on thin tires. There are pot holes in the Bay Area that feel like tiny concussions.
In theory, the Aventure’s fat tires should have made them great for bike trails too. In practice … well, as I discovered minutes before leaving on a vacation to the bike-trail-filled land of California’s High Sierras, they were literally too fat for my car’s bike rack. So “in practice” will have to wait until I find some other way of transporting them up there. Amtrak, maybe?
In 2019 I complained about the CityZen’s unwieldy 50-pound weight, which made it a pain to take on and off public transit. The Aventure weighs a CityZen and a half at 75 pounds. Even walking it across a street can feel like a haul. Sure, there are plenty of situations where the weight won’t matter: if you live on the ground floor next to a long stretch of beach road, I can imagine this being the perfect boardwalk e-bike. In the city, its heft is kind of a nightmare.
Your mileage may vary. My mileage has me shunning the weight-means-power tradeoff, and looking at the lighter end of the spectrum. Probably not the 19 pound HPS Domestique, 2021’s lightest production e-bike, or Trek’s lightest-ever mountain bike at 34 pounds, both of which just launched for a cool $12,000 apiece. But hopefully something closer to them than to the scales-tilting Aventure.
4. Consider your ass.
Having just slammed some tires for being too fat to fit, let me proudly stand up for the rights of people like myself with larger-than-average posteriors. The Aventure’s saddle feels our pain; it’s heavy but cozy. The upright posture you get from its handlebars is more pleasant, too. I was okay with leaning forward on the CityZen more, but there was no way I was riding on its regular seat, and immediately had it swapped out for the widest thing in the store.
Maybe one day, bike manufacturers will realize that few humans have the tiny butts required for the so-called “standard” road bike saddle.
5. Color screen no, saddlebags yes.
The Aventon Aventure arrived with a color display for your battery percentage and mileage information built in. I do not know why it would do such a thing. In the direct sunlight of Hot Cycle Summer, this screen is harder to read than a regular LCD. The screen caused the only really messy part of my confusing construction process (the Aventure ships partially built to save on costs), as its two tiny screws were missing. And it’s the main thing I worry about when leaving the bike locked up: Some opportunistic asshole with a hex key is going to mistake that for a smartphone.
Same goes for the Aventon app that connects to the bike via Bluetooth. It mostly records rides, something my watch and phone are quite happily doing already.
When thinking about the bells and whistles of the bike, consider what you’ll actually be doing with it. I got used to carrying saddlebags all the time with the CityZen; even if you only plan to ride, you will invariably pass a cool shop, or remember some grocery item you needed, or change plans to something that involves beach towels. The Aventure boasts a a front basket, which I haven’t needed once. Saddlebags are like a bag of holding or a TARDIS; each seems to have infinite internal room and are great for any random side quest.
6. E-bike security varies wildly.
The CityZen had a key that had to be stuck in the bike in order to turn it on, and to eject the battery. The Aventure has a key that has to be stuck in the bike in order to … eject the battery. In theory, a wily thief (who’d gotten past my D-lock) could turn on the bike and ride away for the length of the battery charge (which, given the Aventure’s impressive 720 Wh battery, would likely take them many miles away).
That is, if the wily thief had done what I had to do repeatedly, and Googled the manual to remember which buttons to press in which order and for how many seconds. That’s probably the bike’s best security feature: An annoying user interface.
7. Manufacturers still don’t know their market.
We are still in the very early years of the e-bike revolution. The vast majority of potential buyers are still untapped. For all those can’t-keep-them-in-stock sales, there is not one groundbreaking innovative design that matches the medium and the moment. No Model T Ford, no Tesla of e-bikes has yet taken hold of the market. I like to think that somewhere in some garage an inventor is tinkering with a design that is light and secure with moderately wide tires, a super-cozy newbie-friendly seat and handlebar setup, and plenty of options for low-level pedal assist.
Maybe this combination is impossible to manufacture at scale; maybe we just haven’t thrown enough R&D money at the problem yet. Either way, we have to live in the real and rapidly-warming world. Your e-bike purchase or rideshare subscription isn’t going to be perfect, but it is urgent — especially as we’re nearly halfway through summer already. And who knows: by the end of it, maybe you’ll be filled with the desire to buy lycra and keep going.