A Transportation E-Bike Buyer’s Guide
Looking for a commuter e-bike? Read our insights on three new electric bikes from Vvolt, REI, and NCM.
Dreaming of an e-road bike for riding STP? We tested a rocket from Specialized.
A recent New York Times headline asked, “Can E-Bikes Go Mainstream?”
The answer is pretty simple: Yes, they can!
In fact, they must. Replacing car trips with battery-powered bicycle trips saves money, reduces pollution and carbon emissions, and improves public health.
Are you considering buying your first e-bike? Test a variety of different models and brands to ensure you find one that fits your budget and lifestyle.
In our previous post, “Pro Tips for Buying a Transportation E-Bike,” we detailed the pros and cons of 10 electric bikes designed for getting from A to B car-free. In this post we offer insights on three more daily transportation e-bikes–plus an e-road bike for riding STP.
From Portland: the Vvolt Centauri
Vvolt is a new e-bike brand from our friends at Showers Pass, the Portland-based bicycling apparel and gear brand that provides Cascade members with a 40 percent discount.
The Centauri, priced at $2,999, is designed for daily riding. It features a low-maintenance Gates Carbon Drive belt instead of a chain. Belt drives are ideal for commuting and year-round bicycling because they are grease-free, don’t rust or stretch, and last up to three times longer than chains.
The Centauri also features a sealed Enviolo shifting system rather than a derailleur. So-called internal hubs like the Enviolo require almost no maintenance, which makes them perfect for no-fuss daily transportation bikes.
A mid-drive MPF motor provides the pedaling assistance, delivering 550 peak watts of power with 80Nm (Newton meters) of torque, which we found sufficient for Seattle’s hills. The battery is integrated into the downtube, with an advertised range of 20 to 40 miles per charge.
The Centauri can be purchased as a Class 1 (assist up to 20 mph) or Class 3 (assist to 28 mph) e-bike. My wife and I rode the Centauri for two months over the summer and found it to be sporty and comfortable.
With the proliferation of online e-bike sellers hawking cheap products of dubious quality, it’s nice to find a Pacific Northwest brand devoted to creating practical transportation e-bikes. If you’re in Portland, you can email or call Vvolt to schedule a test ride.
Vvolt also sells two lower-priced models, the Alpha and Alpha S, also with belt drives, for $1,599. Vvolt.com
A Comfortable Commuter: Co-Op Cycles Generation e1.1
At $1,499, the Co-op Cycles Gen e1.1 is one of the better entry-level e-bikes on the market, created by one of Seattle’s most trusted brands–REI.
This Class 1 e-bike is designed to be accessible and non-intimidating, with an attractive low-step frame. It has 20-inch wheels, which lower the height of the rider and make it easy to put your feet down.
The petite wheels are outfitted with wide 2.4-inch-wide Schwalbe Super Moto-X tires with puncture protection. The e1.1 weighs 54 pounds and comes with an integrated rack rated to carry 68 pounds.
Pedaling power comes from a 350 Watt hub motor. Hub motors are less efficient than mid-drive motors, but they are more affordable. REI has fine-tuned the pedal assist to eliminate the jerkiness of some less-refined hub motors.
The seven-speed derailleur is geared low to climb hills and cruise at 15-16 mph on flat ground. If you like going 20 mph or more, the e1.1 isn’t for you. Getting up to 20 mph requires spinning the pedals at about 110 rpm.
The e1.1 comes without fenders, which you’ll want to add for rainy weather riding. Also consider buying some panniers for hauling groceries or a laptop.
Thanks to REI’s five-year warranty and nationwide network of stores for service and repair issues, the e1.1 is ideal for first-time buyers looking to savor life in the slow lane. rei.com
A Budget Commuter from Germany: Leon Cycles NCM C7
The NCM C7 is fully equipped for commuting, with fenders, pannier hangers, an integrated headlight and battery-powered rear light, hydraulic disc brakes, a kickstand, bell, and 700 x 38c tires with reflective stripes.The C7 looks like a regular bike and sort of rides like one, too, thanks to the 38c tires that roll fast.
A Das-Kit 350W hub motor with 60Nm of torque provides the pedal assist. Like the Vvolt Centauri, the battery is integrated into the downtube for a sleek look. The battery must be unlocked and removed from the frame for charging.
Weighing 48 pounds, relatively light for a fully equipped commuter e-bike, the NCM C7 accelerates quickly and its eight-speed derailleur offers plenty of gearing for hills.
However, with its rigid fork and slender tires, you have to be careful to avoid potholes when going at full speed. And the hub motor is a bit jerky compared to the smooth power delivery of REI’s e1.1.
The electronics on the handlebars are minimal, with just a power button and a second button for changing between the three levels of pedal assist. There’s no speedometer, which means you must guess your speed when riding on trails such as Seattle’s Burke-Gilman that have a 15-mph speed limit.
For $1,399, and with a shop in Seattle for repairs or mechanical issues, the NCM C7 is an affordable and simple e-bike for daily riding. Consumers in Seattle, as well as Vancouver, B.C., can visit their local Leon Cycles store to take a test ride. leoncycle.com
A Road Rocket: the Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert
The Turbo Creo SL Expert is a high-end recreational e-road bike. While not a commuter bike, it seemed worth including here because it’s the type of lightweight electric road bike that more people are using on STP and Cascade’s long rides.
For more on e-road bikes, read our post “The Electric Century: Riding 100 Miles on an E-Bike.”
Compared to the sturdy transportation e-bikes above, riding the Class 3 Turbo Creo SL Expert is like strapping onto a rocket. I’ve never gone from zero to 30 faster on a bike.
But speed and top-notch performance come with a steep price: $9,500 to be precise. Yikes!
For people who can afford it, e-road bikes like the Turbo Creo SL Expert are a fountain of youth that enable older riders to go fast and far like youngsters in prime fitness.
The Specialized Turbo Creo SL’s carbon fiber frame is equipped with a 240 watt mid-drive motor and a 320Wh (watt hour) battery. A 240 watt motor doesn’t sound impressive compared to some e-bikes with 750W motors, but it’s plenty powerful on a bike with a superlight Fact Carbon 11R frame and Roval carbon rims.
Specialized says the size-large weighs 26.5 pounds–likely making this one of the lightest e-bikes you may ever ride.
The motor offers three levels of assist—Eco, Sport, and Turbo. A Future Shock 2.0 stem provides 20 millimeters of damping to alleviate road vibrations and increase hand and arm comfort.
Shifting is precise and instantaneous with the SRAM Rival eTap AXS electronic shifting system. Electronic shifting is magical if you’ve never tried it. Just tap the shifting levers and it changes gears. The only downside of electronic shifting is you must occasionally re-charge a small battery on the derailleur.
The Turbo Creo SL Expert is geared big for enabling powerful pedal strokes when riding at 25 mph-plus. The speed limit on Seattle arterial streets is 25 mph, which means that confident riders can take the middle of the lane out of the car door zone while doing the speed limit.
What’s the range? Hard to say. Anyone riding 50 miles or more will become efficient at battery management, which means turning off the assist on flat ground and saving it for hills. Even if you run out of battery, pedaling a 26-pound bike home with no pedal assistance is doable for people who ride frequently.
The Turbo Creo SL Expert is a lifestyle splurge priced for individuals who can afford it. specialized.com
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