Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: There in half the time: trying out a Mercury e-bike

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  • Gareth Davidson,

    Unlike some other so-called "proper" cyclists (whatever they are) I have no problem at all with e-bikes, in fact I'm for them even though I have no need or desire for one myself. If they get more people out of their cars and on to a bike then this is a good thing. I have a couple of examples:
    - My now 80-year-old father-in-law still coaches tennis. He lost his licence a few years ago and as he doesn't work from home his livelihood was at risk. A $1200 retrofit electric motor to my wife's mountain bike with my panniers full of rackets and balls meant he was able to keep up his work.
    - There's a guy I see occasionally on my commute to work, he rides an old MTB with his two kids in a trailer to & from work/day care. There is one short-but-steep-with-a-capital-F hill on our shared route, which the first time I met him I struggled to catch him on. Because he had the e-assist he needed, which otherwise would have meant he'd be driving.

    $2500 for a decent e-bike - isn't that about 1,500 litres of petrol? At 50l a week the bike's paid for itself in a little over half a year...

    Sydney • Since Mar 2007 • 59 posts Report Reply

  • JessicaRose,

    I only tried an e-bike two weeks ago, it's transformative. I'm so excited about the Mercury initiative, I mean they are contributing to their future market, which is clever. But realistically the only way to reduce traffic congestion is to remove cars from the road, and e-bikes offer a solution that combats the 'too hilly' or 'I'll get sweaty' issues that stop people from trying a bike. While AT are already working hard on the 'it's not safe' aspect. It's an excellent transport option that not a lot of people know exists - I still regularly have people ask 'what is an e-bike' when I'm talking about them.

    Now if only Mercury's marketing person can get back to me about bringing their branded bikes to a site visit at my work...

    Auckland • Since Sep 2011 • 56 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to JessicaRose,

    It’s an excellent transport option that not a lot of people know exists – I still regularly have people ask ‘what is an e-bike’ when I’m talking about them.

    I think that’s the good thing about the campaign – it’s actually getting them on the public’s radar.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22743 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Easterbrook,

    I had my bike converted a while back with a kit from Lekkie. The first stage of any ride towards town for me includes climbing up Titirangi's Huia Rd - a pretty brutal climb for first thing in the morning.

    And I confess to avoiding it all winter.

    Interestingly, the battery life is just enough for the 32km round trip to the CBD, if I err just on the right side of lazy. When I let the electrics do too much of the work, I end up running out of juice at the last, worst uphill.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 262 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to James Butler,

    Any other Aucklanders seen the new (as in, not open yet) e-bike specialist shop on the corner of South and East streets in town?

    Yep, that's Maurice from Glow Worm - and what a sweet spot for test-rides on the pink path. They're absolutely open to callers and customers while setting up shop. I popped in yesterday just as they were unloading a truck load of cool bikes from the Sydney branch.

    (With both my bikes currently in for repairs, I've got that twitchy "the perfect number of bikes to own is n+1" feeling.... stop me before I bike shop again!)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Celia W-B, in reply to Nick Russell,

    I love my e-bike as it makes Wellington "flat and windless" for cycling. Only down-side is it doesn't burn so many calories...

    Wellington • Since Sep 2016 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin McCready, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I wear HI-VIZ and even then I always assume I am invisible to cars.

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 119 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin McCready, in reply to Shaun Lott,

    a firm flat hand on the back panel of a car makes a wonderful sound

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 119 posts Report Reply

  • Kevin McCready, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    petrol engine kits

    hmmm, missing the point?

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 119 posts Report Reply

  • Thomas Lumley,

    Smartmotion are changing their specs pretty quickly. My bike is the equivalent step-through model from a year ago, but it had simpler electronics, front-wheel motor, and 3-speed planetary gears.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2013 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Brown,

    As a committed cyclist, I love the idea of these things but the design of most leaves me cold. This is probably the nicest one I've seen - Kickstarted project - and check out the USD price http://gosondors.com

    Auckland • Since Mar 2013 • 136 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Jolisa,

    I popped in yesterday just as they were unloading a truck load of cool bikes from the Sydney branch.

    One point that might be worth mentioning - Australia, the UK and the EU all limit the power of ebikes that can be ridden without a license to 250 watts. Here it's a comparatively generous 300.This is often what's meant when a bike is touted as being "designed for NZ". While I understand that motor power can be tweaked via the onboard controller by those with the know-how, and "stealth" bikes of 500 watts or more can be difficult to detect, IMHE that legal extra 50 watts can be very nice to have.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Definitely seeing a lot more of these on the road, which is great. I e-biked for many years until finally finding I was generally peddle fit enough to just not need it any more. But that's a good thing, a great outcome from the technology, that it got me back on a bike at all. And that was with a very much lesser bike than what Russ is showing off here. Lead acid, brush motor. It was just enough to get me to the city and back and I'm a big guy, back then I'd have been 105kg.

    This was also a second hander, that I picked up for $300. I think I sold it about 4-5 years later - for $300. Net cost to me was electricity and some tyres and brake pads, and I did replace the cog set because I wanted a different ratio setup - I was regularly carrying kids on it. Probably cost me $200 all up for 4-5 years of riding.

    Since then it's been my $700 brand new commuter bike. But I'm not saying that's better, it just works better for me now. These e-bikes are a great solution for getting people who would otherwise not be cycling out there, and that's good for all cyclists.

    Motions Rd??? That's extreme. I doubt I could get all the way up that on my pushbike at all. Not without being absolutely buggered. I did go down it on my electric once, and made my all time top speed on a bicycle, 70km/h.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10629 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Nick Russell,

    Heh. Wonder how it would cope with a Wellington hill..

    A friend here in Dunedin did his own conversion 3 or so years back, he travels to work at Port from Kaikorai Valley over the old Northern Road (because the main Port road is too bloo0dy dangerous for cyclists). Another friend drags off cars going up Stuart St during rush hour ….

    In other words like electric cars they have close to infinite torque at low revs, they do great on the hills

    People from Dunedin who are interested in electric bikes should visit the Valley Community Workspace – we have a couple of people there selling electric bikes, and others doing their own conversions (both of bikes and of cars).

    I visit Shenzhen a lot these days, there the city has banned 2-stroke scooters, unlike other Asian cities rush hour is not a choking mess, electric bikes and scooters are ubiquitous, petrol taxis cost a 3 yuan tax over electric ones …. I have seen the future …. it involves kids sneaking up on you from behind on the footpath at night with their lights off to save their batteries

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2605 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Johnson, in reply to Nick Russell,

    Here's a great video of an early e-bike owning the Tour of NZ on the Rimataka hill... I've got the newer model, and it handles hills pretty well. Watch the battery weight on fast downhills, though...

    Auckland, mostly. • Since Nov 2006 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Johnson,

    I've been using my ebike on and off for the last two years for my 12km ride from Pakuranga through Botany to work. Biggest difference: 126 average heart rate vs 150 on the regular bike, and not being a grossly sweaty teacher when I arrive at my first class.

    Not being the grossly sweaty teacher, as well as the crazy grin, are the main reasons for an ebike for me!

    Auckland, mostly. • Since Nov 2006 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB,

    I haven't yet tried an e-bike... but am considering one.... but I just wanted to point out one of the fallacies against cycling in general...

    "haven't got the time"....

    I commute daily from Green Bay to Parnell, it's about 19km by car or 17km by bike. (half on roads, half on North western cycle-way)

    The bike (in rush hour) usually takes 45 mins, plus or minus 5 mins depending on wind/traffic/ energy levels... always. The only variation being an occasional flat tyre which takes an extra 10-12 mins.

    The car takes anywhere between 35 mins to 45 mins in normal traffic and weather, but frequently over an hour if theres an accident, rain, or "just because".... and occasionally 1.5 hours when there's a traffic snarl-up worthy of making the news....

    The bike cant match the non-peak drive time... but that's not when I'm commuting... I'm commuting at the same time as 90% of the rest of us... and at that time, the bike is a little slower than the cars best, but it's far more regular and predictable... and frequently beats the car.

    The time I leave home is much the same... and even allowing for the time it takes to shower on arrival at work (yes- I realise this is not available to many people) ... I'm more often late starting in the car than on the bike. I would imagine an e-bike would have even more reliable trip/arrival times than the push-bike.

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 887 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I've been mulling over what to do when the car finally dies and I think an electric cargo bike might be the perfect answer. I don't want an ebike for commuting, because I need the incidental exercise, but I do want something that makes a big load manageable over distance. Of course Christchurch being largely flat makes a difference too.

    Having said that, lots of e-bike shops nowadays I notice. I hear one of the biggest groups of customers is people who've lost their license and need to get to work.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Kevin McCready,

    There's an optional smug generator available as well.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    unlike the smog generator that comes mandatory with most cars

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2605 posts Report Reply

  • Maz, in reply to Celia W-B,

    I was just thinking of our lovely mayor, and there she was.

    Celia W-B often passes me with an encouraging "Mads, you need electric power!" - and that's me on a decent road bike going 30+km/h. It's both a joy and a pain in the arse to experience.

    I give myself another 7 years; at 60 yo I've decided that I'm allowed a little ease and luxury on my hilly Welly commute, which often starts at 5.15am.

    Thanks for a good read, Russell. And well done, Mercury.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2010 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    There was a story in the Guardian earlier this week Can e-bikes revolutionise long-distance commuting? which concluded yes but the overwhelming impression I got was that this created a whole new bunch of problems for so called "speed elecs".

    The story features a guy who cycles 80 miles a day to and from work and

    All in all it takes him about three and a half hours to commute.

    I'd suggest that if anyone thinks commuting 3.5hrs a day is a good way to organise one's working life then we have a problem right there. However that would be off-topic - just flagging the possibility that maybe people don't need to go to a workplace anyway?

    Perhaps this is an extreme example but...

    It was a speed pedelec – an electric bike that can go as fast as 28mph (45km/h) – that brought about the change. “I love cycling,” Dekker says. “I always wanted to cycle to work, and I tried to do so on my racing bike, but the distance was simply too long. And then I tried out one of these fast electric bikes. Five minutes later I knew my problem was solved.”

    The government of the Netherlands is about to reclassify such high-speed e-bikes as mopeds, meaning their owners will be banned from cycle paths, the bikes must be fitted with registration plates, and riders must wear helmets, obtain a driver’s licence and take out insurance. A similar situation already exists in Britain and many other European Union countries, with e-bikes limited to 15.5mph.

    I bolded that sentence which spells out the unintended consequences of "speed elecs." It probably doesn't apply here but I cycled for years around Auckland on roads with almost no cycle lanes and have been knocked off my bike 3 times.

    What if the irony of these ebikes is that we head back into the wild west where personal safety is again at risk? Hopefully that won't be the case.

    I can see that almost all of the NZ bikes in the Mercury range have 300watt batteries. I don't know if the NZ ebikes are considered speed elec's but perhaps someone has thought about the public policy implications of promoting more highly powered bikes than in other countries. Perhaps there is a chance to be smart about transport policy and consider what happens if a critical mass of commuters swap over to ebikes of the 300w variety.

    Most of the bikes featured look quite ugly to me with the exception of a couple of the BH models.

    I know someone in U.S who has one of the Sondors bikes (Martin Brown mentioned earlier) and the base price there is US $500 although I understand most people pay an extra $250 or so for an upgraded battery and other options. Even allowing for exchange rates that is only $NZ1050. Sure freight (US$250+) and any tax will add to the price but we are used to technology of say batteries going down in price and being reflected in the new price.

    As a "next generation" style bike it would be great if Mercury or some other bike shop investigated the Sondors range.

    OTOH it is great that Mercury are actually thinking about new products and services that are electricity related and hats off to them for the subsidy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 363 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jason Kemp,

    I can see that almost all of the NZ bikes in the Mercury range have 300watt batteries. I don’t know if the NZ ebikes are considered speed elec’s but perhaps someone has thought about the public policy implications of promoting more highly powered bikes than in other countries.

    I gather most of the European bikes available here have speed-limiters. You can still go over 30km/h, but the electric assist drops out and you're on your own.

    Most of the bikes featured look quite ugly to me with the exception of a couple of the BH models.

    Hmmm, gotta disagree there. Perhaps it's a matter of being up close to the eCity, but it really is nicely designed. And I do covet a SmartMotion Pacer – that's the one that looks like my bike.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22743 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Would hauling cargo around (perhaps in a box on the carrier) make much difference in stability and handling and acceleration to the bike you trialled? I’m pretty keen on getting an electric bike for my home/office commute in Wellington, which involves a massive hill, but would want to be carting a laptop bag and probably a couple of bags of shopping as well.
    And considering steep downhills, how are the brakes? Do they have disc brakes?

    Amendment: I can see they have disk brakes - are they good?

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 821 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    I crashed slightly the other day and made a hole in my shin where it hit a bolt head on my stem. The bone part. That meant not pedalling for a while (weeks to months, depending on which doctor is talking).

    So I borrowed an electric bike from the Sydney GlowWorm for a month. Having the electric bike in that situation meant I didn't have to take taxis everywhere, which made me a lot less unhappy. Without pedalling the battery was barely able to get me the 5-6km to work via the train and 5-6km home via the train. Albeit with about 100kg on board, with hills and absolutely no pedalling. Letting the battery fully charge helped (fast charge in an hour... wait another hour for the trickle charge to fill it up). I expect it is all the starts from zero, especially up a hill, that kill the battery (speaking as a 'lectrical engineer). Even just a couple of pedal strokes when starting out made a big difference.

    After a week I started pedalling because I am impatient and also it just felt wrong not to, and battery life came right back up.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1177 posts Report Reply

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