Alternatives to the Automobile

Ebike Review

October 1999

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, based on Some general comments:

(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 a monster.
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 trainer :-)

Hill Climbing
(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 all round.
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.

Transmission (pedal)
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 again.

Transmission (electric)
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 cruiser" Schwinn.
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 bike. 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.

Price tag
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.

General Notes

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.

Legal Issues

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 from them.

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 ebike-friendly.


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 around.

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 for review.
De Clarke