Riding an electric bike is fun. It reminds you of when you were young and you patrolled the streets and roads in your home town. This week, Pete Prebus, the founder of the Electric Bike Report joined EVELO to talk about electric bikes. Turns out they are fun for him too.
You can listen to the podcast and follow along with the transcript below.
Riding a Bike is Fun
Armando: Just this week in my own neighborhood there were two teenage boys, young men really, riding down to the community park on electric bikes. So, I asked them what they thought of their rides and they said simply, “They’re fun.” Fun is going to be the starting point for this episode of The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO. My name is Armando Roggio, shall we get started?
You know, while we all have our reasons for riding an e-bike, or being interested in electric bikes, fun is definitely a factor and that was even the case for our guest Pete Prebus.
Pete: You know, from early ages on I was just riding bikes for fun with my friends around Eugene, Oregon.
Armando: The pleasure we associate with riding often deepens our interest in bicycling so much so that it can impact the choices we make. Even something as simple as how we get around town or stay healthy.
Pete: I went on to work in a bike shop at 13-years-old and then I was racing traditional bikes, or mountain bikes and road bikes, quite a bit. And, I actually worked into the professional realm for cross-country mountain bike racing for a couple of years and that was really fun and rewarding. And then, after I finished going to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, I graduated with a civil engineering degree, and went and worked in general, civil, and structural engineering for a while. And then, I had this pull to get back into the bicycle realm and I wasn’t racing anymore, but I was still very much excited about just riding my bike as much as possible.
So, I’d go out on these long mountain bike rides and I’d come back and just be spent, and then I would jump into the car to go get groceries and go around town, and I just thought, “Man, that just doesn’t really make sense.” I really want to have a bicycle where I can easily get around town and have the easy button much like a car is where you can just get in and go and it’s very convenient.
Getting Started with Electric Bikes
Armando: Pete Prebus is, of course, the founder of the Electric Bike Report, one of the most influential electric bike publications in North America. Now, during a phone conversation, after we’d exchanged some pleasantries about our common connections to the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, and podcasts, I asked Pete about how he got started in the electric bike industry.
Pete: What about if I got a cargo bike that also had electric assist, because then I could go get groceries, and I could run errands around town, and with the electric assist then it would really lower that barrier to getting out on my bike compared to just jumping in the car. So, I started researching it and I found a little kit that I installed on a cargo bike conversion that I did and, yeah, it really was a proof-of-concept to say like, “Wow, this, for me, personally, had a lot of benefits,” because I could really commute around town and the distance I could commute really opened up. And so, it was a really nice way to have the car alternative at that point.
And so, that year, that was 2009, and then by 2010, I’d started Electric Bike Report as a website to give people some easily digestible information, because back then there really weren’t a whole lot of electric bike websites. There were some forums that were focused on very technical aspects of electric bikes, but there wasn’t really a very easily readable news source for the industry. And so, I started just posting some simple blog posts about things that I was seeing just doing internet searches and then that year I went to Interbike, which is the large bicycle trade show, or was actually because this year it’s not happening. But, it was the large, North American trade show convention where everybody shows off the new bikes.
And so, I went there and it was inspiring to see that there was a number of electric bike companies presenting there. And, it was a small showing, but it was something. And so, I was able to cover that and I was still working my engineering job full-time, but just doing this on the side. Then later, after that, after covering Interbike and doing some initial reviews of bikes, and continuing to share the news, and stories of how people are using electric bikes it started to gain some traction. And so, I was becoming more and more excited, especially what was happening in Europe, with all the systems that were being developed there, all the different bike brands. It was just amazing. And, there was still very little happening here. It was definitely growing, but it was still very small compared to the European market.
So, after, I guess it was, yeah, it was 2011, I actually had an offer to work at an electric bike motor company. They were doing electric motors for other industries as well, but it was called Motor Excellence in Flagstaff, Arizona. And so, I quit the engineering work and dove into the electric motor company and it was an amazing time. We were able to travel to Eurobike, which is the huge bicycle trade show for the European marketplace, and then we went to another show in Munich, and then a couple of other European trips. And to me, that, it just was amazing, you know? It was so cool to just jump in and see not only the industry but also just to see people riding electric bikes. In Switzerland, it was just, and in Germany, it was just, you could see electric bikes almost everywhere. And, back then in the US, it was very, very few e-bikes on the street. So, it was very inspiring to see that and to see so many different types of people using them too, you know? It was full business suits, business people riding around on their bikes and then there were just people running errands on their bikes, and delivery workers on their e-bikes. So, it was very, very cool.
And so, the motor company had some issues and I wasn’t able to continue working for them, but it was the point where I said, “All right. Well, this is time for Electric Bike Report to go.” And so, I, yeah, I really started to launch the website with full time behind it. And, another good thing was at by that point I’d really developed a lot of good relationships in the industry and was able to find some initial advertisers to support the website and it really took off from there. So, I guess, that’s a long-winded answer to how I got into electric bikes, but that’s how things have gotten to where they are today.
Purpose Built Electric Bikes Have Evolved
Armando: Pete’s e-bike experience started in 2009 when he used a conversion kit to add pedal assistance to a conventional bike. He was trying to replace some of the car trips he was taking every day, but I was curious. In the past ten years has the industry changed enough that he would’ve considered a purpose-built electric bike?
Pete: You know, and there are so many bikes out there now that are just really well dialed-in that I think, in a lot of ways, the complete e-bike makes sense. Although the kit is a good option for people who may have their current bike, if they really enjoy riding, maybe they’ve ridden it for many, many years and it’s a great fit for them, then the kit is a very good way to add assist that way. And then, sometimes, economically it can make sense, but not always. Sometimes, you can get a very expensive kit to have all the bells and whistles, or you can find a more economical kit. But, yeah, there’s just so many options out there these days. I think that one of the kits that I recommend to a lot of people that are looking for electric bikes is to try a few different types, the mid-drive, or the hub drive, and really get a feel for what they enjoy. And, in that process by test-driving some e-bikes, they can also, you’ll get an idea of like, “Well, do they want the mountain bike style or the commuter bike style, or the cruiser, or what have you?” But, yeah, I think that there’s too many options out there right now that I think anybody can find almost the perfect bike for them.
Mid-drive and Hub-drive Motors
Armando: Test rides can be very important. In fact, that’s why EVELO offers a ten-day at-home test ride. It was also interesting that Pete had described hub motors and mid-drive motors in the context of enjoying a ride. Often, hub and mid-drive motors are compared based on power at the wheel or the fact that a mid-drive takes advantage of the gears and the mechanical features of the bicycle. So, I asked Pete to describe hub and mid-drive motors based on their ride characteristics. Interestingly, his answer focused a bit on throttles, something that’s available on all Class 2 electric bikes including the mid and hub drive models.
Pete: You know, for people who, maybe, haven’t ridden their bike in a while and are just getting back into riding, the hub motor can be a nice way to just get into it without worrying too much about all the different parts of riding a bike. Just get out there and, in some cases, with a hub drive you can have the pedal assistant and the throttle option. That can be available on a mid-drive, but I think, in general, I’m seeing a lot of hub drives that have both options. And so, that’s an advantage for some people. The pedal assist isn’t always what somebody may want and I think that the ability to have the throttle to give a little bit of a boost getting through a busy intersection or just a little boost to get over a hill with the throttle can be helpful. And so, I think in a lot of ways the hub drive can be a little more simpler and also have that, generally, have the throttle and pedal assist option.
With the mid-drive, that is something that, generally, has very strong hill climbing capabilities. You can climb steeper hills by leveraging the drivetrain. So, much like a car, the engine is being run through the transmission. And so, with the mid-drive, it’s basically combining your pedal power and the motor power, and then transmitting that through the bicycle transmission. So, the nice thing about that is you can, you really gear down to climb those steeper hills and the motor can operate efficiently in a good RPM range without really getting bogged down. With some hub motors, if you’re climbing very, very steep hills, there could be a tendency for it to bog down a little bit. But, I think that, in a lot of ways, the mid-drive fits somebody who’s been accustomed to riding bicycles and really enjoys optimizing their shifting and having that, in some ways, it feels like the motor really combines with your pedal power to provide a proportional assist and give you that nice push of the systems. But, it still feels like you’re really doing a lot of the pedaling and contributing to the overall motion.
The Cost of Electric Bikes
Armando: Next, I asked Pete why do electric bikes cost what they do.
Pete: Some people get a chance to ride these and understand what they can do. I think that the price starts to make more sense, but to really answer your question I think that the battery is one of the most expensive parts of the electric bike. At this point, it’s very hard to get around. There are, I think, still some lead acid systems out there, but those are just so heavy and bulky that I wouldn’t recommend it. But, with the lithium batteries, they’re definitely the pricey part and we may see some changes in them in the future. I keep seeing news articles pop up and it sounds like there’s some technology in the works. But, many times those things don’t, either they don’t come to market, or it’s many, many, many years down the line. So, I think that when, if you were to look at the cost of an electric bicycle, I think if somebody is thinking about a bicycle as, oh, it’s just this thing that I use every once in a while, or like a kid’s toy, then, yeah, the pricing can seem expensive. But, if you look at it as something that you’re going to get out more and if you use it as, say, a commuting, or errand-running vehicle, even if you’re not using it all the time for that, the trip that you save from driving all time, that can add up substantially.
And then, if you think about the fitness that you get from just getting around by e-bike it’s, it may not be as much fitness as, say, like a traditional bike but, in general, I think studies have been showing that people who have electric bikes tend to ride even more than if you were comparing it to a traditional bike. So, it’s really a pretty awesome vehicle when you consider how much value it can actually give to your life and just the pure fun of it, you know? I think that’s really if somebody just looks at the details and the price of it on paper it is what it is. But, if you go and ride an electric bike and you have a good time, you have fun, and you can start to build that fun into your daily life then that has amazing value. It just needs to be considered when you’re talking about the prices of electric bikes because these are one of the most attainable electric vehicles on the market today and they can do so much for you. So, yeah, I guess that’s my thoughts on the price point of electric bikes.
Electric Bike Report
Armando: The value Pete is describing and the ease at which he’s able to describe it has helped the Electric Bike Report become so successful. So, I asked Pete about his readership and viewership on YouTube and why he thought those subscribers are interested in electric bikes.
Pete: Yeah, there’s definitely quite a few consumers that are part of the demographic and then there are also quite a few people from the industry. And then, I keep track of the e-mails that sign up for the newsletter and there is a fair amount of, well, there is definitely some auto industry people that I’m seeing sign up and are paying attention to the electric bike market. Because, I think, in their world, things are changing significantly. They are getting into electric bikes, and electric scooters, and just electric mobility in general. So, that’s interesting. But, yeah, from the consumer standpoint I have people regularly e-mail me and I think a lot of them are just getting into electric bikes and trying to learn as much as they can, and they’re looking to buy a bike for themselves. And then, others are people who already got their bike and are looking for just what’s happening. And, the other thing that we’re trying to do is provide guides on places for people to ride and just get the ideas flowing as far as what people can do with electric bikes. So, yeah, I’d say there’s a pretty broad spectrum of consumers where it’s from the person who’s just getting into it all the way up to somebody who, maybe, already gone through a couple of the first couple bikes and they’re really passionate about electric bikes.
So, it’s really cool and I think that that’s something that I’m really personally enjoying seeing because I grew up with the whole mountain biking buzz. Initially, mountain bikes were the random part of the bicycle industry and now it’s really developed very well as its own niche and some really passionate riders. And so, now I see this similar thing happening with electric bikes. And, the thing I really enjoy is that it’s not a segment where you have to be in really amazing physical shape. The barrier to entry for electric bikes is lower, and so more people can really enjoy this. And so, I think seeing younger people who are looking at commuting solutions, because the cost and just everything that goes into driving is painful these days. And then, you’ve got families that are looking for ways to take the kids to school. And then, you’ve got, maybe, people who are getting close to retirement and looking for something fun and active to do. And then, people who have hit retirement and they’ve got an RV and they’re traveling around and the e-bike is a great way, once they park the RV, the e-bike is a great way for them to get around the campground, or get to the local town, or what have you.
And then, also, the part that I really like, too, is getting e-mails from readers who haven’t ridden a bicycle in a long time and now they’re just getting back into it and they’re so excited about it. And, they’re just getting out and riding more and seeing more of the places where they live. And, I think that’s a really important thing, especially right now where a lot of people are really focused in on the computer, or the smartphone, or what have you. The ability for the electric bike to just set you free, just go out for a ride and just truly enjoy the outdoors. That’s a great thing without, I think about it from my personal situation. Generally, when I go out for a good ride I suit up in my gear and I go for a mountain bike ride, but with an e-bike, you can just jump on it and go and just go enjoy the place that you live.
And so, the bicycle, for me, is a great way to recenter after a stressful day. It’s a great way to just disconnect and to open up your mind to just random thoughts, you know? And, I think, in a lot of ways, these days we are very, it can be very stressful and it can be very intense, like day-to-day life. And, the ability to have a little bit of free thought and just get out and appreciate where you live, it’s important, I think. And also, just that outside connection. I try and do that every single day, you know? And, it’s something that, I think, people that I know in the bike world, they have that same feeling. There’s something rejuvenating about it. I guess, coming around to it there’s a wide spectrum of people that read Electric Bike Report and it’s, I’m just excited to see the new people who are coming into the electric bike world because I think there’s just a ton of room for what we can do with electric bikes. And, that’s the exciting part going forward, I think.
The Electric Bike Elevator Pitch
Armando: So, Pete, you’re out riding an electric bike. Maybe, you stopped on the trail, maybe you’re just chaining up in front of the grocery store and someone asks you about your electric bike. What do you say? What’s your elevator pitch for e-bikes?
Pete: Well, generally, I say that it really just amplifies your riding. And so, I think that if people talk about the cheating part of it it’s like, “Oh, yeah,” I laugh about that. But, I think, really, it amplifies everything that you can do with a bicycle. So, it can make you go faster, you can go further, and you can choose to not flood as much if you want to. But, I think, in a lot of ways, it’s like a bicycle that can do so much more for you than a traditional bicycle. And so, for some people that can be the commuting and really leaving a car at home many days. It could be running errands, it could be, realistically, taking both kids to school on a bike. It could be starting a business with a delivery bike, you know? With the whole gig economy, DoorDash, these other services, using an electric bike for that could be very reasonable.
But, yeah, I think, in a lot of ways, it’s just something that can open the door to bicycling for so many other people. And, I think, in a lot of ways, in the US we’ve focused a lot on the sports, and the racing, and the true fitness part cycling. And, what an electric bike does is it amplifies everything and you can just have fun on it. It doesn’t have to be a really hardcore exercise, or whatever. It’s just, you can get out, have a good time, and you can do so many things with it. And, I think that some of the other areas that we’re going to see people using electric bikes is touring, more adventure riding, exploring old dirt roads, and logging roads, and that kind of thing. And, obviously, the mountain biking part of it is really taking off and even seeing competitive races. There’s a lot of different ways that electric bikes are being used. And so, I think that that’s the exciting part is that it really turns up what you can do with the bike and who can use the bike. And, that really is, it’s exciting because there are so many good reasons to ride a bike and this really adds more to that pile.
Armando: Awesome. That was well said.
Electric Bike Reviews
Armando: One of the things you do on the Electric Bike Report is to review bikes. You’ve, in fact, given EVELO some great reviews. Is there a particular method you use when you review an electric bike?
Pete: Sure, yeah. Well, part one is, it’s the pictures, and real details, and the specifications of the bike. So, the idea is to really give the reader almost every angle of the bike, so they can really see everything, you know? And, I think that one of the reasons why I go so in-depth on these is because there’s not an electric bike store in every city and town in the US, you know? We’re not to that point yet. So, and especially if people are doing a lot of research online they may be buying a bicycle before they even get a chance to actually ride it. So, I want to give them every single possible angle on the bike with part one and really let them know all the intricacies of it.
And then, in part two it’s really the ride characteristics and really going into how the bike fits, what kind of a ride feel it is, you know? Is it a laid back cruiser, or is it a mountain bike, or is it a commuter, or a touring bike? And then, what kind of ride feel is like over rough roads, and then how does the assist work and all the different levels of it? How does it kick in and stop, the transitions? So, really trying to give people an idea of what that’s like to really ride the bike. And then, I also do a range test for each bike. So, I have a course and I run the bikes over the course, and I track it with a GPS application. And then, so I show people it went for so many miles and it climbs so many total feet in elevation, so I really break that down. And so, giving them the real range test. And, generally, it’s on the hardest pedal assist level, so it’s a tough range test and, generally, it’s over a couple of thousand feet of climbing. So, anyways, people can really get an idea of the tough range test and if they ride it easier then they’ll get more range and that kind of thing.
And then, after that, it’s the pros and cons and then the overall thoughts. So, it’s a little more of a real deep dive into these bikes. And, I generally spend about two weeks with each bike to really get to know them and ride them for many miles. So, yeah. And then, oh, and then I do the video part of it, which is, it’s similar to part one where it’s really looking at all the details, all the specifications, and everything. So, it’s a real overview of the bike. And then, that ties in with part two, which is all the ride characteristics and everything else.
Armando: Pete really is one of the most influential electric bike experts in North America and it was a real pleasure talking to him about electric bikes for this episode of the Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO. EVELO is one of the original electric bike makers and we really care about the industry. If you want to learn more about electric bikes please subscribe to this podcast, sign up for the EVELO newsletter, and check out The Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide. Now, take care. It’s been a pleasure.