Electric-assist Bicycle Owners Share Their Story, Adventures

The first time I rode an electric-assist bicycle (ebike) was around 15 years ago.  My workplace, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, actually had ebikes as part of their vehicle fleet.  Our work site is a mile away from downtown Saint Paul and a little over a mile away from the Capitol, and many people have meetings at other state agencies or testify during the legislative session. The ebikes weren’t well known and thus weren’t being used, so staff provided an opportunity to test ride these ebikes. I’d never seen one before, so I wanted to try one out.  In less than a minute, two things happened:

  1. I couldn’t ride the bike without a smile on my face
  2. I wanted to sell my car and buy an ebike

A few years later, I moved downtown Saint Paul.  After living downtown for a year and barely using my car, I sold my car and bought an ebike. This summer, I’ll be celebrating 10 years riding an ebike and haven’t bought a car since.  To be fair, we have a Prius in our household of two people and one cat, but I only use it ~5% of the time.

I’ve owned a few different ebikes over the last 10 years and have learned a lot about them. I know at least 13 state employees, including the MnDOT commissioner, who owns an ebike. Similar to the thrill of seeing a hybrid-electric car on the road once a day 15 years ago, I’m seeing an ebike about once a day now. It’s not just me who prefers this mode of technology! By the way, I bought my last ebike mid August 2017 and I have nearly 2,500 miles on my ebike already. Besides my personal “30 days of winter biking” January 2018 challenge and the internationally-renowned 30 days of biking April challenge, I really haven’t been trying to bike anywhere; I just naturally bike so much more with my ebike.

Thanks to social media, I’ve gotten to meet three other people who also have an ebike and they all agreed to share some of their ebike adventures with you:

James, Saint Paul, March 2018 interview:

I’ve owned an ebike for about a year and a half, two in the last 8 months. I could choose a favorite bike. Each is superb at the tasks I purchased it for. My commuter ebike is for the daily grind, long trips and carrying cargo. My fat ebike is for fun and ease of winter travel.

A common question is about how to handle electrical issues. My first electrical issue was when I took my commuter ebike on a Metro Transit bus down to the Old Cedar Bridge river valley in Bloomington. To reduce weight, I always remove the battery and carry it on the bus in my backpack. When I got to my destination, I put the battery back on, but the ebike wouldn’t turn on. Turns out the magnetic charging connector picked up a tiny washer from the bottom of my backpack and was messing up the contacts.

If I can’t diagnose the issue myself, I go to my dealer, Bicycle Chain in Roseville. They have already replaced my control panel display when the backlight went out. I ride my ebike all year round, regardless of precipitation or temperature. Any good ebike manufacturer knows ebikes are intended to be used outdoors where they will be subject to a variety of temperatures and of course get wet.

When it comes to winter, if you are storing your ebike, the battery should be removed and stored indoors. Ideally it should have a charge of 40-60%. Too low or too high and the lithium ion cells may not last as long. You should also set a reminder half-way through the winter to check the charge level. Excessive drainage (more than 5-10% in over a month) could indicate serious battery problems. Most batteries will go into a deep sleep mode if not used for a month or more.

Before using it in the spring, fully charge the battery. I have ridden my ebikes in torrential downpours and blizzards. Some ebike manufacturers will publish IP (Ingress Protection) Ratings for their bikes. Typically the motor and battery will have different IP Ratings. IP Ratings tell you about how well sealed your motor and battery are from solids and water.Check out Nema Enclosures or the Turbo X YouTube video for more information.

Tips for prospective owners? Learn the difference between different motor sensors (the attribute or attributes that activate the motor and determine how much assistance it gives you). The two most common motor sensors are cadence and torque. Think of cadence as a light switch. It detects if you are pedaling and turns on the motor—it doesn’t care how hard/fast you pedal, only that you are. Torque sensors turn up the motor power depending on how hard you are pedaling—if you are pedaling light, it turns on a little, if you pedal hard, it ramps up power. Torque sensing tends to feel more like a traditional bicycle. Read this review or that review to learn more about the differences.

Go for a test ride! Even if a bike seller doesn’t have one in stock, it is worth asking if the manufacturer can provide a demo ebike. Questions to ask seller: Do you have examples of out-of-warranty replacement costs of batteries? Motors? Controllers? Displays? How many years will parts be available after this ebike is discontinued (e.g. batteries) If purchased online,  wow will I fix electrical and electronic components.


Karen, Saint Paul, March 2018 interview: (one week before ebike purchase)

My end goal of bike commuting from the western edge of Saint Paul to my work in Oakdale off the Gateway trail. I wouldn’t even try, ebike or not, if it wasn’t for bike infrastructure around me. I used to live near Summit and Snelling, and there just wasn’t that many destinations I felt comfortable riding a bike to.

But when we moved to near the border of Minneapolis, west of 280, I was delighted by the off-street bike paths, the U of MN transit way, Dinkytown Greenway, Como, along the river. At first I started I with the Nice Ride share bikes. Then we finally got our dusty old bikes fixed up and enjoyed going many places in St. Anthony Park which didn’t have Nice Ride stations.

Then I went on vacation and spent a few days in Amsterdam and took out the gearless hotel loaner bike. I was amazed at how easy biking was when everything was soooo flat. Then when I got back home and I was walking up a steep hill and and woman my age and size went zipping by on an ebike. I knew then my long dream of biking to work was within my reach. For me it was all about the biking infrastructure. I had no interest in biking in the streets with cars. But separated bike paths made me feel comfortable.

One week later: I just got my first ebike, a Pedego Interceptor! My first trip was to Surly, and shortly after I did a couple of trips for about 10 miles.

Initial thoughts: I can tell already I will be so much more likely to bike on this ebike than regular bike, it’s just way more gratifying (get places quicker), easier, and fun!  I took it up a hill I’ve commonly done with regular bike straight into a chilly, stiff wind with no worries; it was SO nice not to struggle up the hill if I don’t want to.

This is not weather I’d just go riding for fun normally, but it was fun, so I did it. It just seems to provide so many options. If you want exercise, you can ride for that. If you what to get some place faster, that’s an option. If you just need it for convenient, easy transportation, you got it.  

I love it. Just what I expected!

A week later, my observations so far: time goes differently when I’m on the ebike; of course, it still take longer to get somewhere than in a car – but it doesn’t seem long. I sort of feel this way when I’m on nice trains, like in Europe, or on LRT when its not crowded – the time doesn’t drag on like on a plane or a car. I biked from Oakdale to 35 E to check out Gateway trail part of my future commute and then came back again on my lunch hour and was amazed how quick the hour went.  It was not even a very nice day, lots of wind one way that made the extra power very nice!

With the ebike the bike trails sort of feel like getting it feels like getting on a freeway when I’m in a car!


Jenny, Saint Paul, May 2018 interview:

One year ago, I replaced my car with an electric pedal assist bicycle. My primary motivation was to foster a more sustainable lifestyle: living car-free is one of the highest impact actions an individual can take to reduce contributions to climate change.  

In financial terms, this past car-free year has also seen a lot of improvements. I paid off a couple of loans, reducing my monthly bills by several hundred dollars, and saved ~$600/month on car-related costs. When I did this budgeting initially, I was surprised by just how much it cost to own a car: auto loan, fuel, insurance, registration, maintenance, repairs. In contrast, my ebike-related costs have averaged just $100/month, and much of that went to non-recurring costs like nicer pedals or winter gloves. Overall my monthly spending has decreased by $965 over the past year – which mostly went into retirement accounts, but also funded fun things like vacation and home improvement savings.

In conclusion:

I could write so many stories about my own ebike adventures.  But I wanted to focus on other ebike owners, people I’ve met in person, gone on group rides with, and inspired me to buy my current ebike And yes, I absolutely love my Pedego ebike!  I’ll gladly give anyone a test ride, give you tips & suggestions on ebikes to consider, and ebikes to avoid. Also, I’d be happy to share with you how I secured a bike loan through Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union.

I’ll leave you with one final story. Last week while I was writing this article in my head biking to work, auto and bike traffic came to a halt on Upper Afton Road. City staff (or their contractors) were filling in cracks on the road and traffic was reduced to one lane. Two other bicyclists and myself weren’t sure how to proceed. There weren’t anyone on the sidewalks and I broke my personal rule of never riding on sidewalks to gleefully continue on my commute, as there were no pedestrians on the sidewalk. The other two cyclists happily followed.

One cyclist sped ahead and I caught up to the other bicyclist after I noticed that she too has an ebike. I’d never seen her before, so I introduced myself and where I work. She did the same and it turns out she’s also a state employee who owns an ebike!! Because the ride was an awesome one that morning for a few reasons, I tweeted about it, tagging where she works. She saw the tweet and quickly replied!

I know I’m not the only one with an ebike. But it’s still a neat treat to figuratively run into another ebike owner on such a regular basis. I guarantee that you cannot ride an ebike for the first time without having a smile on your face, and you’ll have adventures you never thought were possible.

Melissa Wenzel

About Melissa Wenzel

Car-free bicycle advocate, passionate state employee, union leader. MN's "Industrial Stormwater Sherpa." Human being first, government employee second.