Alternatives to the Automobile
Two people at my workplace evaluated the EV Global
"Ebike" for a few days each.
The two evaluators were myself (De Clarke) and Dr
Richard Stover. The ebike was kindly loaned to
us by the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District
so that we might evaluate and review it.
This review is a composite of the two evaluation periods,
Some general comments:
- Two visits to the local Subaru dealer, with a spin around
parking lot each time
- Using a borrowed ebike for several days for errands and
commuting to work
- Hill climbing and other challenges that were undertaken
just to stress-test the bike
(Richard) I rode to campus five times during one week, using three
different routes up from Escalona to the base of the UCSC campus and
two routes on campus up to "Science Hill." As a long-time biker it has
taken me a while to learn to ride the ebike efficiently. I started out
expecting too much from the ebike - but it is not a motorcycle or
scooter. It is a motor assisted bicycle. Rider and motor must work
together and it takes practice and experience to learn how to do this.
(De) I have owned and ridden a Zap-equipped MTB for several years,
have built and driven an electric pickup truck, and am also
a long-time cyclist and one-time motorcycle rider. So with
this varied background I found the ebike easy to adapt to.
I rode it from my Westside home to Santa Cruz Small Craft
Harbour and back; down to the Mall area and back with
a trailer; to UCSC and back two days running; and (on the
flat) to local Westside grocery store and back with 2
bags of groceries in panniers.
Somewhat better than anticipated, but don't expect
this to feel like a bicycle. The overall feel is
very reminiscent of a light motorcycle or moped.
This having been said, the bike is quite manoeuvrable
and responsive. Acceleration is startlingly good.
Braking is adequate with an optional front disk
brake, see below.
People who have never ridden a motorcycle or scooter
will need a little adjustment period. Conventional
bicycle skills will not transfer immediately to ebike
riding. The weight distrib seems a little odd:
the battery and frame weight put the center of gravity
significantly higher than the axles. Fore-and-aft
weight distrib is reasonably centered, but the COG
is definitely too high, see next entry.
There is nothing good about the weight of this bike. It's
As bicycles go this is a heavy bike. The model we
evaluated weighs over 60 lb without the battery pack,
and 83 lb with the pack. This is a lot heavier
than a Zap-equipped bike. If I (De) remove the battery
pack I can lift the ebike and carry it up 3 steps
onto my porch, but not easily. If I lift the whole
bike with battery in place, it is very difficult to handle
and feels like an incipient back injury. We would not
recommend that children ride a machine this heavy and tall.
Collisions with lighter bikes or with pedestrians
could be serious.
Both testers were able to get up the UCSC hill, which is
a challenging grade, on just over a half a "tank" (battery
full charge) according to the indicator. The range
indicator, though crude, is effective (see Controls).
For reference, the UCSC trip is about 4 miles and
about 800 ft elevation.
Like most EV technology, range is the problem and hills
are the killer. In a flat topographical region, this
bike would have a very long range, assuming that the rider
pedalled a reasonable share of the load. But our
city and county are not flat. We figure a rider could
probably get from downtown or Eastside to UCSC, but
from Capitola or points East, it might get dicey.
And you don't want to "run out of gas" -- remember
that the bike weighs 83 lbs. That's a very heavy
(De says) As compared to the Zap kit, it is easier to get
up a grade on the heavy ebike than a lighter Zap bike.
The power-to-weight ratio is clearly pretty good. I am
not an athletic cyclist, and cumulative knee problems
prevent me from riding a conventional bike up the 800 ft
elevation gain from my house to my office. However,
I could "putt" up the hill on the ebike while pedalling
at a mildly exerting, but not painful intensity.
(Richard says) It is certainly easier and faster to get to
campus using the ebike than using my current bike. But my
current bike is old and heavy and it would be instructive
to compare to a modern, light-weight bike.
You won't get up that hill very fast, and you won't get
up without working at it. You will just work a lot
less than with a conventional bike.
The "comfort seat" option gives you a sprung and
padded saddle that is fairly comfortable. Front
shocks absorb the worst of uneven road surfaces.
The entry-level model is probably less comfortable
Once again I (De) warn you that the seat/bars geometry is
motorcycle- rather than bicycle-like, with a very
upright posture. I found this comfortable for short
trips on flatland, but for me (I'm rather short)
there was something wrong with the geometry of seat,
crankshaft, and bars. The crankshaft seems too
high off the ground. If I adjust the seat for my
height (so I can put one foot on the ground safely
when stopping) then my knees are flexing too much while
pedalling. If I adjust the seat for pedalling
then I can't touch the ground with my toe when
stopping (and this is not a bike that you want to
be leaning hard over to stop). Moving the seat back
on the rails might help. Also the comfort seat cover
material is a "sticky" textured vinyl, doubtless
intended to keep you from slipping around on it.
I think the stickiness would be very hard on
your pants or shorts after a while. It certainly
unravelled the crotch seam on an old knockaround
pair of cotton trousers I wore on one ride!
Perforated disk front brake, caliper rear brake.
It is reassuring that the brakes are very good,
quite adequate for the weight of bike and passenger.
This is crucial given the weight and momentum
of the ebike.
The disk brake is an option, not standard! We were
lucky to get a slightly dressed-up model to test.
From our experience of the bike, the disk brake should
be standard. It's an expensive option too, over
$200. I (De) would call it a safety requirement.
I don't think the bike should be sold without it.
Note that the brake lever assignment is backwards
to most bicycles, i.e. front brake on the right.
7 speed rear cone, 1 speed crank.
The indexed shifting works pretty well. The model
we tested was misadjusted, so that you couldn't get
to 1st gear without torquing the shift grip and
holding it in place. But the other gears shifted
accurately and reliably.
The gear spread seems wrong.
The low gear is not really low enough to pedal the
monster home if the electric drive gives out (not
unless you live in Kansas or Holland). The high
gear is not very high -- the bike is quite slow
in top gear compared to a stock MTB! This is
very noticeable when riding on the flat or down
a slight grade; conventional bikes are whizzing
past you. To get to normal bike speeds you would
have to pedal like a demon. When I (De) handed in
the ebike and went back to my regular Zap-equipped
MTB, it was wonderful to travel at normal speeds
The electric drive is a rear hub motor similar to
those made by Heinzmann, direct drive with no
gearing. Speed control is by a potentiometer
regulating DC volts applied to the motor.
Acceleration is smooth and torque is pretty
good most of the way through the limited
rev range. The smooth and controllable speed
is nice when pulling away from a stop sign
or crossing a street. The bike is heavy enough
that pedal-based acceleration is kinda slow.
Unlike the Zap motor, which causes drag if
engaged when you are pedalling, this hub motor
is completely dragless when pedalling. This
I (De) like. On the flat you can pedal the bike without
the motor, and it feels like an old heavy "sidewalk
However, the hub motor does
drag in reverse (?). When you wheel the
bike backwards, the hub motor will resist the
reverse motion. If your feet barely touch the
ground as mine do, (says De) this is a bit annoying.
The motor is not quiet. It emits a grating whine.
If you are used to mopeds or cars, it seems quiet.
To a cyclist it seems noisy and obnoxious.
Under motor/pedal power, acceptably moped-like. About
5-12mph depending on the grade, your weight, how much
you pedal, etc. Figure closer to 5 mph up hills.
The e-drive has two settings, "economy" which limits the
top motor speed for battery savings, and "normal" which
allows you to go faster (but not as far!). In practise,
we found that for hill climbing it made very little
difference whether you chose Economy or Normal. The
range was about the same, because for hill climbing it
is load (amps) that matters and not top speed (volts).
(see above) It's kinda slow on the flat.
The hub motor looks weatherproof, which is
an improvement over the Zap-style friction drive
technology. Zap drives can slip under wet or
muddy conditions, and water/dirt gets into
the drive mechanism and builds up a layer
of rust and crud. This can't happen with
a hub motor.
The plastic housing where the battery lives
does not look weatherproof, but you can't see
light through it from inside, so maybe it's
OK. It could be fixed with just a little
electrician's tape and patience. What's worse
is that there's a louvered vent in the front of
this assembly, right where the front wheel
will throw mud and water at the body. And
this vent (it gets better) lines up exactly
with the vent in the charging portion of the
battery pack inside, so the odds are good on
your getting water into your charger. The electronics
on the handle bars don't look at all weather-tight
to either of us. The sales person didn't seem
to believe that anyone would ride a bike in the rain
(bikes are just for entertainment, right?).
All in all, I would hesitate to leave this
vehicle outside in rainy conditions or even to
ride it in heavy rain unless I had a poncho that
completely covered the bars, and some tape to
cover the vent.
The throttle is pretty smooth and easy to reach.
Various switches are installed in convenient locations on the
bars, very much modelled after a motorcycle or scooter
layout. Warning lights tell you the approximate state
of your battery pack: Full, Half, and Empty. As you
get really close to zero charge, audible alarms go off.
[Richard says: When it says "Empty," you'd better believe it!]
It also beeps plaintively if you're exceeding the
recommended current drain on the battery, i.e.
better pedal harder, lazybones.
In fact, this bike is pretty talkative (see CON).
"Cruise control" allows you to set the
throttle level and leave it set. Cruise control
and throttle are automatically defeated when you
use the brakes, or when you are not sitting on
The horn is loud enough that a car driver would actually
hear it. The headlight and tail light are both very large
and bright, and the headlight angle is easily adjusted.
(De says) The rear view mirror is rather nice (once
I got used to it), giving a fairly good rear view
when rotated into "landscape" position. Richard
disagrees, see CON.
The "ignition" switch is incredibly chintzy and
fragile. A child could easily break off the key
or break the interlock. The horn is so loud that
in sidewalk or crossing situations it might scare
a pedestrian half to death. Get a bell as well.
The throttle lever hasn't enough stiffness to be
stable over bumps and potholes, so if you
are running on manual throttle you are wildly
varying the voltage. So you really need that
cruise control. The brakes lock out the throttle,
which makes uphill-starts rather difficult.
Richard thought the mirror was awful: distorted,
unstable, and useless. Although some audio alarms
are useful, the bike beeps too much. It beeps
when you put a freshly charged battery in. It
beeps when you turn it on. It's rather noisy.
The "Comfort" model has a nice sturdy (over-sturdy,
actually) rack with a custom bag, a sprung seat
(whoopee), and a lock. Although the rack is
heftier than the standard Blackburn or equivalent
rack, standard luggage like Jandd clipons will work
with it. The stock Burley trailer hitch will work
OK on the rear triangle, though you have to unscrew
the "wingnut" all the way to get the hitch on.
You pay $150 extra for things like a luggage
rack and a nice seat. Ouch! The rear frame
is non standard and I doubt a stock rack would
fit, so you're pretty much stuck with the official
expensive one. The rack finish is powdercoat,
not anodized (bad) and it does chip.
The bars are a non-bikey shape and the headlight
is obtrusive, so I doubt that any conventional
handlebar luggage would fit. This is a drawback.
The front fork is totally nonstandard and though there
is enough metal present to build your own luggage
support, I doubt any standard luggage would fit.
So the ebike is rather luggage-impaired.
Cheaper than a car by a long shot.
Not so cheap compared to mopeds and other bikes:
$995 for the standard, $1150 for the cruiser, add
another $200 for decent brakes.
Allegedly a new model is coming out with even more moped-y
features like fenders. But (says De) I think the vehicle is over
heavy for its batt capacity already. The price point is
a problem, imho. You could retrofit a Heinzmann or similar
hub onto an MTB for about $700 total cost (bike + kit) not
counting your labour, and you would end up with a lighter
and more standard bike. It would be front-wheel drive, but
that's not a crazy idea. Lots of motor-assist bikes have
been FWD. They need to get the price point down around
$750 to make it more attractive.
The Subaru dealer in our town is centrally located and most
people can easily get there by public transit.
The whole idea of selling an electric moped exclusively through
car dealerships seems questionable. At the Subaru dealership
we found that the sales staff, though nice people, knew nothing
about bicycles, nothing about EV's, and essentially nothing about
the ebike. Their response to any question was to hand out a
brochure. The brochures were completely devoid of technical info
and didn't answer the question either. Several of the bikes on
display were fully discharged and could not be demo'd... great
publicity, eh? I (De) feel that a motorcycle or bicycle shop
would be a far better place to buy an ebike, and that the sales
staff need some kind of training. Also, many people really
don't like visiting car dealerships. It seems a weird marketing
strategy. If a competitor like Jazz markets bikes through normal
moped or bicycle outlets it should give them some advantage.
The mfr claims 4 hours from dead flat and no memory
effect; our results seem to uphold this claim.
The battery is conventional lead-acid, which
you will believe when you lift it out... replacement
battery costs $75 or so and is good for 400 recharges,
so figure a little over a year before a battery
swap. This is not bad at all.
The charging setup is convenient. The
battery pack can be removed or left in place
for charging, the charger is built into the
battery assembly. The power cord is hidden in
a cute little "drug stash" compartment in the
lower frame near the crank.
The 24v batt pack weighs about 20 lbs. As noted
above, it's challenging to lift or carry the bike
with the pack in place, and the pack itself is no
lightweight to cart around. Also (doh!) the battery
compartment doesn't lock -- if these bikes
become popular, battery packs will be quite
a theft-sensitive item, and you sure won't want
to detach it and carry it with you.
A full battery charge takes about 0.36 KWH of electrical energy which
at current electricity rates is about 4 cents. The battery cost is
reported to be about $75 and it is supposed to be good for about 400
recharges or about 19 cents per recharge. But to be realistic you
have to compare this with a moped at 75 to 100 MPG.
The ride from King Street up to the top of the campus core requires about
0.17 KWH (or about 1/2 of the battery capacity). It would be interesting to
compare the pollution (emissions elsewhere) resulting from using the
ebike compared to an efficient gas-powered moped.
The battery is monitored by a sensor. Motor performance seemed to be
good up to the moment the battery sensor decided that the battery was
too low to go further. At that point the motor is disabled. Boom! No
power. Good luck pedalling it home. But even after the motor was disabled
the headlight and taillight worked well -- a good feature.
I (Richard) haven't been able to measure the ebike's range on flat roads.
I've used it only for commuting to campus. Note: on a ride from the top of
Science Hill on campus out to the Aptos fire station, with significant pedalling
on the flat stretches of the road, the battery monitor was still reading
"Full" and the recharge took only about 1 hour (1/4 of battery capacity.)
I estimate that the trip to Aptos was about 10 miles from the starting
point at my office. A lot of it was downhill. From the fire station I
rode it home (about 8.5 miles) with much less pedalling over more
mixed terrain, on about 1/2 a "tank".
To get the best performance out of any e-assisted bike, when hill climbing,
you should lock the motor on and then choose a gear that allows you to
maintain a reasonable stroke without straining. Try to do about half
the work of the climb. The bike will go up each severity of grade at
just one optimal speed: any slower and you're asking it to do too
much work, any faster and you're working too hard. You have to find
this balance point, and it's not hard to find after a little practise.
The ebike is technically "not a motor vehicle". No license,
registration, or age limits apply (but see our notes above,
about the unsuitability of the bike for small children).
However, you may decide to insure it, and if you do, be
prepared for some fun and games.
SCMTD wouldn't loan the bike to us without liability insurance.
This turned into quite an epic and delayed our borrowing of the
bike by a week or so! When I (Richard) first contacted my
insurance agent he said that since it wasn't registered with the
DMV it can't be covered by motorcycle insurance, but since it is
motorized it is explicitly excluded by my home-owner's insurance
(I am insured by State Farm). This same exclusion probably exists in
many home-owner policies in California.
But (says De, who is insured by CSAA) my insurer said that
the ebike was covered under my homeowner's liability policy because
(although motorized) it was not registered with DMV, hence it was a
non-vehicle. This decision took one phone call to state HQ in San
Francisco. State Farm had to think harder. After a week of deliberations
at their corporate offices, they decided the market for ebikes in
Santa Cruz could be significant and that the ebike could be
covered under a moped policy.
Not all insurance companies offer
moped policies. CSAA (De's insurer) does not. Cal Casualty,
De's automotive insurer, has a subdivision which allegedly offers
"recreational vehicle" insurance, but De never got a call back
In other words, given the weight of the bike you might want to
carry liability insurance on it. But you may have trouble getting
any from insurers who have not yet figured out that these ebikes
exist and are a growing market. If you want to keep it simple you
could call the Capitola office of State Farm and talk to Kirk.
He has it all figured out now, and for $30 per 6 months you can get
moped insurance through State Farm. We are not endorsing or advertising
State Farm above any other company; they are just the first company
we know of in town that admits the existence of ebikes. We'll be happy
to post the names of other insurance agents who are equally
It takes more than one or two rides to learn how to get the best
performance out of an ebike, unless you are already familiar with
electric vehicles and e-assisted bikes specifically.
The lack of weatherproofing may make this ebike unsuitable for winter
commuting in this area. I (Richard) don't know how serious this will
prove to be.
I (De) think it is pretty serious. A vehicle that
you can only ride in the dry season is not vehicle, it's a toy.
And then there's storage. A lot of potential ebike riders are
renters and students, without garages -- and a lot of local
homeowners have converted their garages to living space, or
live in condos with carports instead of enclosed garages.
A regular bike can be stored indoors, on a bike hook or in the
laundry room. A regular bike can be easily carried up and down
short flights of steps. The ebike is too large and too heavy for
convenient indoor storage. If I bought one, I would have to
build a bike shed for it, since my house is garage-less.
I would be more enthusiastic about a vehicle that could be
left outside in the rain, or under minimal shelter like a
tarp or cover.
Weatherproofing is definitely an issue --
the lack of it puts electric vehicles at a distinct disadvantage
compared to ICE vehicles. My old motorbike could be left out
in the rain for hours without any compromise of the electrical
systems, and that was 20 years ago. There's no excuse for not
waterproofing the controls and battery compartment, or for
putting the power connectors at the bottom of the battery
compartment, where any water that gets in will collect.
This ebike is not as versatile as a normal bike, and both of us agree
that we would not spend $1K or more on it today. However, for the person
who is not an habitual cyclist, but just wants a way to commute
or shop without using their car, this may be a very nice choice.
For commuting 10 miles or less around the Santa Cruz area this
ebike would probably work fine. It can haul enough cargo to make
ordinary shopping trips practical, and it tames moderate hills
enough that the elderly or non-athletic can easily use it to get
Both of us felt that the ebike was flawed in several aspects and
that we personally would wait to see how the technology develops
before committing this much money to a purchase. However, we are
both more or less 'out of our cars' already, being regular bike and
bus travellers. If we were not already cyclists and comfortable
with alternative transit, we would be more enthusiastic about
the ebike and would probably buy one. If the price were lowered
(by the mfr or by a local subsidy of some kind) then I (De) would
be much more likely to buy one.
De would like to see recumbents made using hub motors (it would
be nice to get the weight lower to the ground and have a more
ergonomic frame). Richard thinks upright bikes are OK, but the
ebike itself will improve, or its competitors will be better.
There are likely to be other choices on the market soon. The
"Jazz" bike from BAT (see
press release and
sales brochure seems to be available now,
and it's a direct competitor to the ebike. I've contacted
BAT (the mfr) to find out whether a demo model can be obtained