Bicycling in America needs a community. This is true whether you’re discussing electric bikes or conventional ones. If bicycles are going to continue to grow in popularity and if they are to emerge as a serious alternative to at least some automobile trips, it will be a community of committed riders that helps them go mainstream.
This is important. For example, several years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the United States could save $900 million a year if Americans rode a ride instead of driving for half of all trips less than one mile.
“Many of us drive our cars for short trips,” the EPA said. “We drive three blocks to work out at the local gym, we drop off our teenager at a friend’s house in the neighborhood, or we move our car to park near the entrance of the next store on our list of errands. Some short car trips are necessary; for example, health and mobility issues might limit our ability to walk. Other times, driving is convenient: when we’re in a hurry, if it’s cold or raining, or if we have a lot of groceries to carry. However, some short car trips might be easily made by foot or bike. What if we all chose to walk or bike for just half of our car trips of under a mile?
Again, the answer was that that United States could save $900 million and reduce carbon emissions by two million metric tons each year.
So how do we convince more folks to use bicycles for transportation?
“There should be some community. People should advocate for bikes in general, but e-bikes in particular as a means of transportation around towns,” said Seth Weintraub on The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO.
You can listen to the full conversation with Seth Weintraub and follow along with the transcript provided below.
Armando Roggio: Seth Weintraub rides his electric bike, daily. Whether it’s a trip to the gym, a visit to the local store, he does his best to replace automobile trips with e-bike trips to get a little exercise, and sometimes even beat the cars stuck in traffic or hunting for a parking place.
This is The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO, and my name is Armando Roggio. In this episode, we’re going to learn a bit more about Seth Weintraub, and get his opinion on why electric bikes are interesting and important.
We’ll hear what he thinks makes a good electric bike. And oh, Seth’s opinion does matter. He’s an award-winning journalist, publisher, and entrepreneur with a significant amount of influence.
Founder of Five Publications
Armando Roggio: Seth, I do appreciate you joining us for this podcast. Would you mind starting by telling us a little bit about your company, about how you got started in publishing, and come around to how you started a publication about alternative transportation, electric?
Seth Weintraub: Sure. So in around 2006, my wife got a fellowship to study in France. She was, at the time, a doctoral student in French. So I had kind of a dead-end IT job at the time, and I said, you know what? I’m going to hop on the plane with you, and I’ll just see what happens.
So I quit my job, landed in Paris, a fantastic city, but not much to do for English-speakers. So I started writing about what I knew. I was interested in CMSs at the time. I was using Drupal. Eventually, I found my way to WordPress, but my specialty was kind of Apple products and managing Apple products in the enterprise.
So that’s kind of where 9to5Mac was born. And you know…this will get long-winded, but I did that for a couple of years in Paris. I had a friend who worked with Apple and sent me some iPod Nanos and the first iPod Touch. He had pictures of them, and so I had some stories to break and the site steadily grew from there.
When it was time to come back to the US, I was still doing IT. So I started doing IT in the US again, but the website was starting to make almost as much money as my job was paying. So I was like maybe if I spent more time on this, it would be more lucrative, and those kinds of things. Those kinds of thoughts.
But at the same time, a friend of mine recommended me for a job at Fortune covering Google. So this is Apple. I covered Apple to this point. And now, Fortune wanted me to cover Google like I was covering Apple.
So I covered Google at Fortune for a year. I thought it was a great job because it was Fortune and I was covering Google. I got all kinds of introductions at Google. I got a book offer to write about Google in China, which right now is kind of a big deal.
And then, at the end of that year term, I was kind of like, you know what? 9to5Mac at that point had as many page views per day as Fortune’s website did. So I was like, you know what? I think I see where this is going. But when I worked at Fortune, they didn’t have a Twitter account, or a Facebook account, or an RSS reader. So I created all those from my Google account and then leaving them, I still owned all these things.
So I said, you know what? I have these thousands and thousands of Google News followers, I’ll start up 9to5Google. I was doing 9to5Mac.com/toys, which was kind of like deals on Apple products. But when I broke out 9to5Toys, there were deals on everything.
So at that point, I had three sites. That was going for a while, and the sites continued to grow. And in 2012, I bought a Tesla, and that’s a whole nother story in itself, but I bought a Tesla. I had the Tesla, and I was like there’s nothing. Nobody’s writing intelligently about Teslas, or electric vehicles, or solar panels, or any kind of electric mobility. So I jumped on that train, and I just started kind of writing as a hobby, still doing the 9to5 stuff. But I would do three or four posts a day on the electric car, green energy news of the day as well.
And then, that started going slowly, picking up a little bit. It’s kind of hard to get a site off the ground, and it’s kind of nice to do that every once in a while. But having the other two sites to point to it at times was beneficial, the other three sites.
So I think 2015, I hired the first full-time writer, who is a Fred Lambert, and he’s got quite a Tesla following, right now. I think last year… Maybe a couple of years ago, I found Micah Toll, who’s fantastic. He runs EbikeSchool.com. It’s a great YouTube channel on batteries and bikes. If you’re into that, an engineer and you want to get into that stuff, it’s a great resource.
I’d been following his work for a while. I kept on asking him and asking him. Hey, you should join us to talk about e-bikes. We’re not really covering e-bikes. Obviously, he is an expert. I hired a couple of other people as well, but we brought him on, last year. Actually, two years ago, I think. And he moved to the US, and then he just recently moved back to Israel, but he’s still covering all the electric.
It’s kind of like the two-wheeler news, the mobility news, scooters. I guess, one wheels as well, but kind of the wider mobility. But be honest with you, that’s one of the more exciting areas for me. I think we see more innovation in those vehicles. And frankly, in India and in China, and a lot of the rest of the world, these are the vehicles that are going to get used by the majority of the population. And frankly, around here in the US, my personal feeling is e-bikes are a whole lot more fun than driving to work. So that’s where I am.
Electric Bikes and Alternative Transportation
Armando Roggio: Makes sense. So you actually have several publications, including Electrek. Electrek.co, which may be the one our listeners are most familiar with.
A moment ago, you mentioned that electric bikes and similar were some of the most interesting forms of alternative transportation because they’re used by so many. Would you expand on what makes them interesting?
Seth Weintraub: So there’s a lot of things. There’s the engineering aspect, where you’ve got a pool of different companies making their own stuff. For instance, in motors you have Bosch. You have Brose. You have the Bafang. You have the Yamaha, Shimano, and like 20 other major brands competing for this market share. And they all… Like this year for Eurobike, they all have subtle updates, but everybody’s kind of pushing each other forward a little bit. This is definitely not a dead field, although sometimes it feels like in the higher echelon that Bosch kind of owns the market, but most of the innovation is happening in those outer spheres with the Bafang and other motor companies. So that’s interesting.
We’re also seeing some interesting stuff. I don’t know if you’ve seen like PEBL and a couple other small companies are doing these little solar trikes with enclosure, so that they allow you to travel at like 30 miles per hour, enclosed, sitting down comfortably. You can pedal. You can use an electric motor. Just a new kind of transportation that if they were the only vehicles on the road, you’d feel totally safe. But you know, they aren’t currently. But in a perfect world, in a utopia, I think those are the type of vehicles I’d want to be around rather than our current situation.
Armando Roggio: So you would feel more comfortable driving around in a PEBL or riding an electric bike than driving?
Seth Weintraub: Yeah. Obviously, there are snowy days and you can’t take out a little trike everywhere and do everything with it. You can’t move furniture with it, obviously, but it kind of feels like most people’s journeys that they do in their cars could be done on an e-bike or some other type of micro vehicle. In Los Angeles, maybe that’s a Bird scooter, or maybe it is an e-bike, but there just seems to be a lot of people taking cars for what could be an e-bike trip.
Electric Bikes Can be Faster than Cars for Some Trips
Armando Roggio: So thinking of an electric bike as a car alternative, a way to replace some trips in a car. I feel like it can actually be faster to take the e-bikes sometimes than to drive. Have you seen that?
Seth Weintraub: Oh, absolutely. So a couple of things, like I will ride my bike to the coffee shop. I will ride my e-bike to the store. I will ride my e-bike to the gym. And in each of those cases, I can make it from my door to the door of the venue in roughly the same time because I’m not parking. I’m not dealing with the same kind of traffic. I’m taking my… I’m not putting all my stuff in the car and reversing out of the garage and doing all that stuff.
I literally jump on my bike. I go down the street. Maybe I’m going a little bit slower than I would in a car, getting from my driveway to the venue. But then, I’m riding right up to the front door of…
Like for instance, when my kid has a concert at his school. The parking lot is full. The road getting there is full. Getting even close to the school is almost impossible. But if you have an e-bike, you just ride up to the front door. You park the e-bike, and you walk in.
It’s just so much easier on so many different levels. I live… I would say the gym is the farthest from me. It’s probably about 4.5 miles. But if I ride my bike to the gym, I don’t need to do a warmup, and I don’t need to do a cool down because I’m riding my bike as that part of the journey. So there’s just so many different areas where e-bikes are fantastic.
Armando Roggio: Electric bikes are fantastic. I agree, but they could be better. How do you think electric bikes need to evolve or should change in order to continue their growth? For example, we’ve often heard that batteries need to improve. So without specifically focusing on that example, what has to change for e-bikes to continue to grow in popularity?
Seth Weintraub: That’s a good question. There are a few areas that come to mind. You just mentioned the batteries. I think maybe a modular solution in that respect might make some sense. I’ve seen some interesting e-bike builds where somebody uses a Greenworks battery from a lawnmower and they put like 10 of them on kind of a rack and they just use those. And frankly, most of my trips, I only use about a quarter of my e-bike battery for the day, so I really don’t need to be lugging around the other three-quarters of a battery that I have. So that’s one big area, like either more variety in battery sizes or more modularity. I realize, obviously, I’m not going to get the full power out of one-fifth of my battery, but some compromise there.
Another area is… The big area, I think, is prices. Whenever somebody… I’m kind of like the e-bike guru in town, I guess. And somebody will ask me for an e-bike recommendation, and I’ll be like, yeah, there’s this, this, and this, and this. And I’ll be like, what’s your price? And they’re like, “I’d like to get something under $1,000.” And I’m like, eh, like that’s really not… I mean, there’s e-bikes out there under $1,000. You’re just not going to have a good time with that.
So some people are getting there. Some better bikes are coming down the pike that are more affordable. Prices are definitely coming down across the board, but that’s just not… I think the general perception isn’t realistic in what an e-bike can be. So a combination of prices coming down and some education, like what you’re actually getting, like good components are actually in your best interest to look to, and good motors from good reputable brands are important. So the price is another area.
And then, education. There’s a couple of e-bike companies out there that actually have their own stores set up and they don’t have the greatest e-bikes, but I’m often like, you know what? Just go check it out. Go to the store. Get on the e-bike. Ride it around. You’ll love it. And then, maybe that’s not the best e-bike for you, maybe it is, but it’s something to get on an e-back. You really… I almost feel like there should be outreach events and something. If there’s an e-bike association of America, and they would come to towns and just say, “Hey, look. Get on this bike. Ride it around town, and then come back. And then, maybe you want to think about buying an e-bike.”
Those are three big areas.
Electric Bike Prices and Components
Armando Roggio: So of those, I would like to focus on price for a moment. I think sometimes folks who are just starting to learn about electric bikes, don’t necessarily understand the components involved. Would you speak a little about the components, about motors, hydraulic versus mechanical brakes, and cadence sensors versus torque sensors?
Seth Weintraub: Yeah. So I’ll go backward there. Torque-sensing is, obviously, I think it’s more expensive, but it’s going to give the rider a more realistic feel. Like if you have just a cadence sensor, you’re going to peddle a little bit before you actually feel the kick in and it’s a very unnatural feeling. Torque sensors are obviously more expensive usually, so that’s a concern. Obviously, if you can do both and have a little bit of intelligence in there, you’ll have a great bike.
So hydraulics are a lot nicer because… Well, for me, because you don’t have to squeeze like all crazy [inaudible 00:16:05] if you’re really trying to brake. Some people like the manual brakes because you can kind of feel your way, and you’re not going to stop too short. But I feel like you get used to a hydraulic brake pretty quickly, and it allows you to use a lot less arm, you know, like hand strength to slow the bike down. Obviously, there are more moving parts in hydraulics and you have to do some maintenance there. But overall, I think it’s a better experience.
And then, as far as hubs and mid drives, that is actually a huge polarizing part of the e-bike community. But for some reason, all the bikes that I really enjoy are mid-mount. So it’s weird… I don’t understand why. I guess, because you have control of the gears on the front end. It uses the same gears as the chain, although because of the additional torque, you need a stronger chain and crank system with mid drives. So that’s still up in the air. For whatever reason, I seem to prefer mid drives, even though in my head, I think hub motors make more sense.
Armando Roggio: So that’s very different than what I expected. I often hear that people prefer riding a mid-drive electric bike, but I also hear folks say that mid-drive makes more sense mechanically and from an engineering perspective. So talk a little bit more about this. Why do you think the hub drive might make more sense?
Seth Weintraub: Well, so first, one thing is you can’t regen on a mid-drive unless you want run the chain backwards or something. So for me…
You’re not going to get a lot of energy back. But I think, more importantly, it reduces wear on the brakes and there have been a few bikes out there have regen, which I think is a nice addition. It’s not too much of a pain to put it in the controller and there are brakes out there, so it’s not rocket science.
The other thing is the additional wear on the chain. One of my favorite bikes, which was a 2017 Raleigh Redux iE, I kept on breaking the chain because the torque on from the Brose motor going through the chain would keep breaking it. I, obviously, could have got a much thicker, heavier-duty chain, but that’s a little bit different of a bike experience. So just holistically, maybe hub motors make more sense. But again, in my experience, like nine out of the top 10 of my favorite bikes have been mid drives, so I don’t know.
Armando Roggio: So our context for speaking about mid-drive motors and hub drive motors was explaining the cost, if you will, of an electric bike. You mentioned earlier that you thought reducing cost would be a key to continued growth for the electric bike market. So if you were going to replace or reduce the cost of an electric bike, where would you start? Which components or systems would you target?
Seth Weintraub: From a cost perspective, getting a Bosch system doesn’t make any sense because they’re very high-cost, especially on their higher-end models and they don’t offer any opportunities for lowering price on batteries or even on some of their components, like their displays or controllers. So the newcomers or the up-and-comers, I guess, would be some of the other, like Yamaha, Shimano, which are higher-end, but maybe even Bafang. I know Bafang is doing some interesting things with mid drives, right now, especially on the high-end or ultras. I think the two kilowatts, or something crazy. [inaudible 00:20:28] there. But personally, I find that 250 watts does most of my rides just fine. And I do want to get a little bit of exercise out of it, so that’s fine.
In terms of size, I don’t think you need to go all the way up. So that’s another kind of area of cost-cutting. I know a lot of those who go in over a kilowatt, I think 250 to 750-watt is pretty much all you need.
As far as components, I don’t want to see people like cutting on forks and things that can cause a lot of damage, but there’s like really good mid-tier stuff out there. I mean, even Shimano makes pretty good derailleurs and brakes at pretty reasonable prices. I’ve reviewed a $600 Amazon bike, like ANCHEER, Rattan, and they still have Shimano parts on them. So you can get down to that sub 1,000 cost, but you’re going to be using batteries from China. I mean, everybody’s using batteries from China, but you’re going to use the no-name brand batteries from China. You’re going to use a motor from a company you’ve probably never heard of. So in my mind, I think you can save a lot of money on batteries.
I hate to say this, but because I just said that get outreach is important, but a lot of the overhead of owning a shop or working with bike shops, or those kind of things are hurting the higher-end bikes when it comes to market share.
Armando Roggio: One of the things I often hear is that if you compare, say a $600 electric bike to an electric bike in the 3,000 or $4,000 range, you see a significant difference. The components are much better. The frame is much better. Everything is significantly better and you get a lot for your money as you move up.
But if you compare a $4,000 electric bike to a $7,000 e-bike or a $10,000 e-bike, there really aren’t as many differences or significant differences. What do you think of that?
Seth Weintraub: Absolutely. So I’ve reviewed a Riese & Muller Supercharger, which has two Bosch batteries and quite a bit of other just the highest of the high-end stuff. I think it was the $8,000 bike, and it was hands down… Well, one of the better bikes I’ve ever reviewed. And of course, it ought to be.
My daily is the Raleigh, which I think it’s like $3,000 bike. The difference between the Raleigh and that bike wasn’t huge in terms of the overall experience, and daily usage. But the difference between the Raleigh and the Rattan or the ANCHEER bike from Amazon is night and day. The experience is totally different. The wheels aren’t even aligned right. They’re kind of wobbly. You’re not sure if the fork is making weird sounds. The gears sometimes come off. It’s not put together exactly right. Maybe the handlebar is backward. It’s just a lot of issues.
So your statement, there’s a much bigger difference. I think kind of the sweet spot for most people is going to be around $3,000 in terms of cost. At that point, you get a lot of really good components, but you don’t get maybe the Tour de France level componentry.
Armando Roggio: And frankly, not all of us need the Tour de France level.
Seth Weintraub: Exactly.
Electric Bike Reviews
Armando Roggio: So you’re going to be reviewing some EVELO electric bikes soon. What is it you look for, when you review an electric bike?
Seth Weintraub: The first and foremost thing is when I get on it, can I ride it? Am I thinking about it, or is it kind of just part of my experience? And obviously, I ride an e-bike every day, so I’m biased. You know, a particular e-bike, every day.
So right now, for instance, I’m looking at a GenZe bike. And they make scooters mostly, but they dropped off a bike for me to check out. And it should be very similar to my Raleigh bike because it’s got the same [inaudible 00:25:32] tires, and it’s kind of the same size. But the experience was totally different because it has a cadence sensor, which it comes on later in the bike, maybe a second after I start pedaling. And it stops, more importantly, a second after I’ve stopped pedaling. So it’s a little bit jarring when you get off the line.
And then, the components aren’t quite as good all around. So you feel a little wiggle and wobbles here and there that you don’t feel in a mid-tier bike, I would say, like my daily.
And of course, there are things that aren’t the bike’s fault is like I’m a six-foot guy. So a bike-sized to me with the right geometry is important rather than just the bike from ANCHEER, which comes in one size. If you’re not sitting in the right position, then who cares? But yeah, so I guess, adjustability.
Power. So for instance, bikes by a Dutch company called VanMoof look amazing. They’re beautiful bikes. You get on them and you’re like I think the motor is broken because I can barely feel anything happening. And they’re like, “Oh, no. It’s fine.” It just takes a while to get used to, and you’re like, eh, this isn’t really helping me. I’d rather just have a regular bike. The level of assist is so low on that particular bike.
So obviously, I want some sort of assist, but I don’t want to feel it jarring and pushing when I pedal. I’d rather have like a slow bring up, and quiet is also nice. That’s one area that Brose motors have over Bosch. And I think hub motors, in general, are a little bit quieter than the mid drives as well. So quieter.
I kind of want a bike experience. I want to think that I’m riding a bike, and I’m just extremely strong and light, I’m going 25 miles per hour on my own rather than with the assistance of the bike. So that’s kind of my my philosophy there.
Electric Bike Throttles
Armando Roggio: One of the components that I think doesn’t get enough attention is a throttle, especially when it is used from a start, or when it is used in conjunction with a cadence sensor to give a nice smooth start. What do you think about throttles and about using them with pedal assistance perhaps to get started?
Seth Weintraub: So overall, I don’t use a throttle, when I’m riding. I just think it’s like you have a throttle and that’s basically your pedals. I don’t particularly feel the need. That’s just not how I want to ride an e-bike. I’m not like a delivery guy in New York. I’m out there to actually do some pedaling.
So overall, I don’t feel like I need one. But for instance, I have a SONDORS fat tire bike. And when I’m trying to… Like I’m in the forest, I’m going on an uphill and I need some help getting off the line, so-to-speak, a throttle comes in really handy.
So there’s a lot of times where… Not a lot of times, but there are certain situations where I feel like a throttle is an added benefit. And if a throttle is just a throttle, then it’s better than not having a throttle. So, you know.
Advocating for Electric Bikes as Transportation
Armando Roggio: Seth. I really appreciate your answers and what you’ve had to say about electric bikes on this podcast today. Is there anything else I should have asked, or are there some things that want to say to the folks listening to this podcast?
Seth Weintraub: Yeah. There should be some community. People should advocate for bikes in general, but e-bikes in particular as a means of transportation around towns. I live in a village outside of New York City. So our village is very small, but we’re 40 minutes away from New York City, so we have that component.
New York just passed some… I don’t know if it actually passed the governor, but it got out of the legislators. Some good e-bike guidelines and towns and cities are now able to kind of make their own rules.
I think getting some folks behind the wheel, like friends and neighbors behind the wheel of an e-bike is really important. Because if you’re an e-bike rider, then you understand the situation and you’re maybe not as frustrated when you’re riding by one on the road and honking the horn because you can’t get by for whatever reason, or whatever. So I think community outreach and advocacy is really important, and it has been in my experience.
Armando Roggio: Seth, it has been great to have you on the podcast. Thank you very much for being here.
Seth Weintraub: Great. Thank you very much for having me.
Armando Roggio: Thank you to everyone listening. We really appreciate the time that you take to listen to the Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO. I hope that you will connect with EVELO in other ways as well.
Come visit us at EVELO.com. You can use the contact form there, by the way, to send ideas for the podcast. We’d love to know what you’d like to hear about, who you’d like me to interview. Finally, you should check out The Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide.