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Biketown 2.0 is here and the electric bike share era has begun

Posted by on September 9th, 2020 at 11:25 am

All ready to go.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

It’s a big day for Portland’s transportation system. Last night the transportation bureau flipped the switch on a long-awaited Biketown expansion.

Old (left) versus new (right).

The Biketown app is now fully upgraded and 500 electric bikes are ready to be rented and currently spread over the expanded, 32 square-mile service area. And since Biketown’s operator Motivate Inc. is owned by ride-hailing juggernaut Lyft, the bikes can also be rented via the Lyft app (which also offers excellent public transit info).

I grabbed one of the new bikes from a station on Northeast Killingsworth this morning and gave it a test ride.

The first big upgrade I noticed was that the bikes no longer rely on a clunky, unreliable keypad. With the app open on my phone all I had to do was scan the QR code, answer a few quick questions, and the bike was mine. I also like the new locks much better. It’s a flexible cable instead of a hard metal u-lock.

How does it ride?

I’ve owned an e-bike for a while now, so the added boost wasn’t a major revelation. But boy-oh-boy the new Biketowns are so much easier to ride than the old ones! The 250 watt motor zipped me along effortlessly. I was able to ride 16-20 mph and felt confident merging with drivers and taking the full lane on residential streets. And I barely noticed the hills. I pedaled the uphill on SW Broadway from Burnside to Portland State University and easily hit all the green lights. No heavy breathing and no sweat. That’s what these bikes make possible.

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I don’t think people realize how much it changes your perspective to ride with a motor. The balance of power on the street — especially with posted speeds of 25 mph or lower — almost levels out. Like it or not, American road culture equates might with right (of way). And motors give bicycle riders more might. This gives you a confidence and sense of safety that’s hard to explain until you’ve experienced it.

I also like how the new bikes are quieter than the old ones — even with the slight hum of the motor. This is because the new bikes are chain-driven instead of a shaft drive. One thing I didn’t like was how bumpy the ride was. PBOT has the large Schwalbe Marathon tires pumped way up to avoid flats and extend the time between air refills, but the downside of the high pressure is a jarring ride over any crack or bump.

Other minor changes with the new bike include a shallower step-through frame, a much more shallow front basket, and a full rear fender. I thought the old bikes looked pretty cool, but the new ones look even better. The design is minimal and everything is integrated and sturdy. I came across an old bike and snapped a few shots to help you compare side-by-side…

As I rode around I started to worry about the battery level and didn’t see any gauge on the bike to monitor it with. Then I discovered I could view the remaining estimated range of the battery just by pulling up the app. One of the things I’m curious about is how well crews are able to keep batteries charged at all times since I didn’t see any stations with built-in charging capability.

PBOT says they plan to add 1,000 more bikes to the fleet in the coming weeks. That will bring the total number of bikes to 1,500 — compared to the 1,000 we had with the old system. And by 2024 PBOT says we can expect 3,000 bikes in the system and a six square mile expansion of the service area.

As I reported back in July, the price of using this new system has gone up. I haven’t gotten an annual membership yet so I was on the “Single Ride” plan which charges $0.20 per minute plus a $1.00 “unlock fee”. This morning I had the bike out for 109 minutes and it cost me $22.80. Ouch! (Yes I realize the Single Ride plan is meant for quick trips, so it’s partly my fault.) The Annual Membership plan is $99 plus $0.10 per minute and gets you free unlocks. Sort of a bummer that there are no more free minutes; but PBOT says there was just no way to keep costs low while also upgrading the bikes and expanding the service area.

Have you tried out the new bikes yet? Please share your experiences with us.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Momo
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Momo

There is a way to keep costs low for users, which is to provide a public subsidy like we do for public transit. TriMet would be something like $10 per ride if there were no subsidy, and ridership would plummet. Transportation services meant for a broad swathe of the population instead of a wealthy niche pretty much always has to be subsidized to truly be successful. It’s great that we have e-bikes, but I think bike advocates should push on this issue of the lack of subsidy and what it does for the long-term health and success and accessibility of Biketown. Treat it like a transit system! Lyft can still be the operator, many transit systems are operated by a private company. But there’s still typically an operating subsidy to keep user costs low.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

And without a public subsidy (and ADA law) most public paratransit would be $35 to $50 per ride (that last time I looked locally at the firebox recovery v cost).

maccoinnich
Subscriber

This is all true, and yet it remains a fact that the old system was cheaper to operate and that it got scrapped without any public input into the decision.

squareman
Subscriber

Scrapped or subsumed by buyout from Lyft?

maccoinnich
Subscriber

The bikes in the old system were owned by the City, but they contracted with Lyft to operate the system (in the same way that the City owns the streetcar, but contracts with TriMet to operate it). The City then put out an RFP for operators for a new system, and accepted a proposal from Lyft (after negotiations with Uber failed) that included scrapping the existing system.

Zack Rules
Guest
Zack Rules

The problem with the old bikes is that their OEM was destroyed by Uber/Jump. They could hang on for a while longer but at some point, parts and tech support are needed. Plus, there would have been no way to expand the system with new bikes. PBOT could have gone thru another RFP but that would have taken a lot more time and the outcome would have likely been similar. While there are other bikeshare operators like Lyft, few can match their willingness to provide ebikes for no investment by the city. If you want a cheaper to use system, you have to convince your electeds to pony up some more operations funding, staff and apply for grants for capital expansion.

Jabroni
Guest
Jabroni

And it doesn’t seem like it would take a huge subsidy to make the e-bikes more affordable. In 2019 there were 324,081 trips on the old system with an average trip time of 24 minutes.

Some back of the napkin math… For the sake of simplicity I’m assuming all of those were casual trips (even though many were member trips) and applying the new casual user pricing scheme ($1 unlock + $0.20/minute):

($1 unlock x 324,081 trips) + ($0.20 x 24 minute ave trip duration) = $1.88 million in revenue. That seems hardly worth it when you consider the admin cost of collecting payments. I feel like one fairly wealthy environmentalist/bike advocate could fund all Biketown trips for an entire year. What channels are there to present this kind of information to the type of philanthropists who would be interested in this. This seems like such a no-brainer. For < $2 million per year you could provide free, clean mobility to many thousands of people. I understand that trips would go up if prices dropped to zero, but even if trips doubled, we're still talking about $3.76 million to provide this kind of mobility at a city scale. Am I missing something here?

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

“Something missing”:

1. People tend to value things and services they pay for far more than if the same thing or service is free (or nearly free.) If you need to upgrade your infrastructure for example, or maintain it, the public is more willing to ante up the funds needed if they are already paying something for it.

2. Micro-mobility services that are paid through a credit card (either directly per ride or indirectly through a contract) allow the provider to collect massive amounts of very profitable information of your travel and buying habits and behavior related to your trips and credit card – do you shop at Fast Freddy’s? Starbucks? McDonalds? How often and when? If you are willing to pay for premium services on your micro-mobility device, would you be willing to buy this or that premium product? And like for parking and congestion-pricing, what if Lyft charged different rates depending upon demand or part of town you are in?

asdf2
Guest
asdf2

Compared to Seattle bikeshare, $100/year+$0.10/min. is a steal.

Over here, Lime bikes are around $0.35/min, plus $1/unlock, with no frequent-user discounts available. It is so expensive that the electric bikes run at about the same cost per mile (at reasonable riding speed) as riding in an Uber car.

At these prices, those that want to ride an electric bike can do so for far, far cheaper by simply buying their own.

squareman
Subscriber

Quick word of advice if you had any outstanding credit on your old BIKETOWN account:

An email went out for the old system some time ago to “convert” the account or update it so the credit would carry over (in my case, about $42 from the PBOT transportation wallet). I did that. The BIKETOWN app updated today. So I opened it, it took me through a few steps to re-confirm that I was me and my credit was nowhere to be seen. Same thing on the website. However, when I logged into the Lyft app, that app showed my available credit. Stupid, yes, but at least it’s on record.

Why they only show the credit in the Lyft app and not the BIKETOWN app I’ll never know — especially because the credit is only good for bikes or scooters, not Lyft rides. It might be that the BIKETOWN app is more for people who will hold an annual membership and Lyft expects people doing occasional one-offs like me to use the Lyft app to find a bike. I simply don’t know.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

square man – be sure to take a screen shot of your Biketown v1 “credit” on the Lyft app..in case it totally disappears.

squareman
Subscriber

Good idea. Done. Thanks.

EDIT: Oooh! Nice! Right after doing that, I got the following email from BIKETOWN:

You received a Transportation Wallet in 2020, and as part of your package we’d like to provide you with a $99 ride credit on the refreshed BIKETOWN system. … Use this promo code to redeem $99 in BIKETOWN credit: [ redacted 😉 ]

Extra nice because I haven’t really used my Transportation Wallet since the beginning of the shut in and working from home — not for TriMet, nor for BIKETOWN. I’ve barely been on my bike this summer. 🙁 I’m trying to change that with some regular exercise rides.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

I guess the Biketown Gods read BikePortland…;-)

DanG
Guest
DanG

Check in the Promos section. Weird place to put it, but it’s there

squareman
Subscriber

And there it is! Weird. Thanks.

Jon
Guest
Jon

It will be interesting to see what the plan is for charging these bikes. The shared electric scooters have a terrible carbon footprint because of the fossil fueled vehicles that drive all over the place to pick them up and recharge them. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/aug/02/electric-scooter-eco-friendly-greenhouse-gases

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Maybe, but I feel good about using them and that’s all that matters.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

This is an interesting ‘point’, …I wonder if this was considered for long term [post pilot phase]… I know the PBSC designed e-bikes (the Boost & e-Fit) allow at dock recharging when the station is connected to 110/240 power supply…but these simpler ‘docking’ stations don’t seem to have this capability [at this time].

squareman
Subscriber

I’m not thrilled with the open-back, low-profile front basket (really more of a tray now). I suppose it helps with logistics as it’s less likely to be used as a trash receptacle by passersby, but it also means I’m going to be more paranoid about using it hold anything smallish that I’m afraid of losing along the trip.

I may take one out for a spin soon just to try it out, but the cost is going to make it much less frequent as part of my transportation plan. Has anyone napkined this one out how this would compare to TriMet to get around?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Has anyone napkined this one out how this would compare to TriMet to get around?

https://bikeportland.org/2020/07/21/biketowns-new-e-bikes-will-be-nice-but-will-come-at-a-price-318547

con_tot
Subscriber
con_tot

Assuming full TriMet adult fare: $2.50 gets you 2.5 hours of unlimited transfers on Bus, MAX, Streetcar or WES.

New Biketown: $1 unlock fee + $0.20 per minute.

If you lock at a biketown station that means $2.50 would get you a 7.5 minute ride on that zippy e-bike.

If you choose to lock outside of a Biketown station, there is an additional $1 fee so that means about 2.5 minutes of riding for $2.50.

TriMet fare also scales much more effectively: $5 gets one unlimited rides all day on transit. $5 would not get one very far on this biketown system. And that’s before considering the Low Income Fare program and other discounted rates that are available on TriMet, something it does not seem that Lyft has considered.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

I don’t think you’re doing really a fair comparison. Almost every Portlander who would use Bikeshare reasonably regularly would be better off with a membership than with the single-use plan.

So let’s say, 20-minute (3-4 miles in real world conditions, there are lights and stuff to deal with so 18-20 mph is not a real average speed) trips, 15x per week (10 commute trips, 5 other trips), what is the annual cost?

BikeTown: $1,659 (20*.1*15*52+99)
TriMet: $1,100

Still more expensive. Personally, I don’t think it’s so expensive that it will barely be used. I think it’s to the point of seriously impacting use and membership, though. And, it obviously impacts *who* will use it.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Note: I used the Trimet full cost annual pass without specifying, not the low-income, honored citizen, or employer versions. Sorry for not specifying!

EP
Guest
EP

That’s the new & improved, “Self Cleaning” basket… It looks like if you put anything sizeable or bag-like in there, the stem and bars will hold it in.

squareman
Subscriber

Yeah, that’s why I mentioned something smaller. I was thinking of things like a phone or a commuter coffee mug that you might otherwise toss into the other basket and know they’re safe. In Jonathan’s photo, it looks like there’s a bungee loop in the back that can lock onto a hook at the front — perfect for securing a purse or small bag, and which I suspect will be the first feature on the bikes that will degrade or get vandalized.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Is there anyone we should email to opt-in to being able to sue them?

I remember on the old system you had to email them to allow you to sue them in the future.

https://bikeportland.org/2016/07/21/biketown-forces-users-to-waive-their-trial-rights-unless-they-act-quickly-187949

SuWonda
Guest
SuWonda

$$$$$ 🙁

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

The choice of a cable lock vs a hardened lock (u-lock or chain) makes a lot of sense “operationally” BUT in many high theft US bikeshare service areas it may make little sense…unless the bikes can be written off affordably (which I do not know). Portland may be able to get by with cable locks for now.

squareman
Subscriber

We know they have trackers on them. If they’re smart about it, they’d have multiple trackers or install them in different locations from one set of bikes to the next so they’re not so readily found or disabled. The cables are easily defeated compared to the chain or U-bar, but I’d say the heavy cable they’re using, plus the recognizably of the bike, and the GPS tracking, all work as a collective deterrent (more so than a cable lock on a private bike).

King Cully
Guest
King Cully

As long as the bike isn’t activated, it’s basically a 75 ib brick.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

itym 75lbs of free parts and metal, plus batteries are somewhat valuable as scrap

SERider
Guest
SERider

how much theft of these bikes do you really anticipate? They’re not going to resell very well.

Stephan Vertal
Guest
Stephan Vertal

I do not remember reading whether there has been any decision has been made as to the fate of the first version of the bikes.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I too am bummed about the basket; the only one was the perfect size for my travel suitcase, so I could use one to get home from the airport. I probably won’t be flying anytime soon, but still.

Mick O
Subscriber
Mick O

Looks like it should still hold the pink apple from your avatar.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Yeah… about as well as it does in my avatar photo!

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Do you like them apples?

Linda Coburn
Guest
Linda Coburn

Most front-mounted bike baskets are only rated to carry about 10 pounds max so this was likely a move to eliminate people overloading them with things like suitcases. Steering is pretty bad too with that much weight in the front so it can also be a safety issue for less confident riders.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Suitcase carrier here. “Overloading” (i.e. putting stuff into) the basket is what makes it useful; having some way to carry things securely is a necessity on a utility bike, and it looks like the front basket is the only option available.

Based on the photo above, I wouldn’t trust such a shallow basket even with a light backpack; it looks like whatever’s in there will get tossed out with the first good bump.

(On the plus side, it looks like it would be more comfortable to transport passengers on the front rack of these bikes compared to the previous generation; something I would never do, but have seen done.)

AndyK
Subscriber

So they’re fast? NICE.
Based on the fact you can go 16-20mph pretty easily, the two systems are probably similarly priced (when comparing cost per mile)

EP
Guest
EP

“the bikes no longer rely on a clunky, unreliable keypad”

OH THE RAGE that horrible pad created. And so inconsistent in it’s inconsistencies from bike to bike. Quick tap, long press, press & wiggle, nothing works, WTF! Sometimes I gave up and walked!

Momo
Guest
Momo

Agreed, this is a huge improvement over the old system. The number of times I had to try several bikes to get one with a working keypad was ridiculous. Plus it would just take forever every time to key in the numbers.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Oh, how I hated those keypads.

slabtownie
Guest
slabtownie

I can’t wait to try these out when the smoke clears. The electrification should make them much more useful for commuters. Shame they won’t be as cheap as before but that’s what we get when the city doesn’t want to pitch in.

Robert
Guest
Robert

First day riding observations:
– I am an annual member and what would have been a free day on my typical commute, has charged me $2.30.
– I took 2 minutes off my typical one way work commute!
– Hard to lock. Lock does not align with the hole in the current racks and my second attempt did not actually lock all the way.
– Easy to unlock. The QR code to unlock has saved me so much time trying to push the buttons and wait for a connection.
– Seat is farther forward than it should be. I wish I could push it back 2 inches.
– I feel a lot more of the bumps, especially Railroad tracks. Could be due to the higher speed though.
– I lost a bag of groceries rounding a corner. Basket is way too shallow.
– Very important to shift up before you stop. If your in a low gear when riding with e-power and stop, the power doesn’t kick in right away and it’s hard to get going, or even keep balance, when you start again..
– As a member I am now being charged $1 for not locking at a BIKETOWN station.
– My ride credits seem to have transferred over, so I have $176 worth of charges to decide weather to continue being a member.

Jason
Guest
Jason

2 minutes off of what time / distance?
Bumps due to higher speed, yes. Force = mass x acceleration, which is why speed bumps work. 😉
Bummer about your groceries, really takes the wind out of your sails.

robert
Guest
robert

My 1.8 mile commute went from 8 minutes to 6.

Jason
Guest
Jason

For my 11.5 mile commute: analogue bike takes between 49 and 53 minutes; on the e-bike it takes between 34 and 37 minutes. A savings of ~15 minutes. The conclusion we can draw from our collective experience is, e-bikes can save a lot of time, the longer your ride is.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Yes, I forgot to mention in my review below the need to shift before stopping, as on a derailer bike. If you stop in a tall ratio it is indeed slow to get going again. I’d assumed NuVincis would behave like other hub gears in being able to shift while stopped. Apparently not so!

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Hypothetically – if someone were to use one of these bikes to disrupt a motoring Trump rally and the bike got run over, would Lyft come after the Portland Police for not protecting their private property?

(Or does protesting while riding void the warranty?)

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Purely hypothetically, since it would never transpire, given our litigious nature and our social desire to support all lawyers everywhere, I would think Lyft would deduct their costs from your account or the credit card tied to it for the bike damages, plus for the scratches under the SUV chassis when the Trump supporter sues Lyft and PBOT for allowing you to put it in their way during a constitutionally-protected free speech protest, plus various other emotional damages to the driver. The vehicle itself might hold you liable for their personal costs, including repairs, tune ups, and PTSD therapy, depending on the make and model – A new BMW would be more sensitive than say an old Chevy. But of course this is pure speculation…

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

At least with the old bikes, this is a purely theoretical situation. Any collision between an SUV and a Biketown bike would likely cause severe damage to the SUV without much injury to the much heavier bike.

9watts
Subscriber

“I don’t think people realize how much it changes your perspective to ride with a motor.“

The Force (used to be) strong with this one…

I know we disagree about this, Jonathan, but the beauty of the bicycle is that it doesn’t (didn’t used to) have a motor, require a smart phone, a fleet of juicers, and to be thrown into the trash after, e.g., four years. The fact that in the 21st Century ‘we’ have invented a ‘bicycle’ that requires all these things won’t surprise anyone here, but I think it is worth considering what we gain and what we lose by taking this step; as well as who wins, and who loses. The dependencies of this tightly coupled system are not trivial, as we saw with the previous system which you first celebrated and then decried when the sheen wore off the fragile subsystems, people tired of it.

Ebikes are not the apex, the culmination, the advanced version of the bicycle; they instead represent a variant utterly dependent—-as the bike itself was not—-on cheap fossil fuels, breathless obsolescence, multinational corporations, and of course the breathtakingly unsustainable and toxic lithium mining.

Linda Coburn
Guest
Linda Coburn

Ebikes also allow a much wider percentage of the population to become riders. Older people, folks with disabilities, people traveling for work that need to not be sweaty when they get to their destination can all be added into the micro-mobility revolution. From a sustainability perspective, it’s much better than a car and thus should be supported by all cyclists who want more people to advocate for better bike infrastructure and be better drivers because they’ve been able to experience the road from a bicycle perspective.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Love this statement.

9watts
Subscriber

“Ebikes also allow […]. Older people, folks with disabilities, people traveling for work that need to not be sweaty[…].”

This is a familiar retort when a critical opinion of ebikes is presented, and one we’ve discussed here in the past. On its face it is of course correct, but the thrust, impetus, center of gravity of e-anything isn’t about expanding mobility, as the quote of Jonathan’s I highlighted suggests. It is about markets, subsidies, performance, and as Amory Lovins famously put it, getting ‘Energy Slaves’ to do the work for you. If there are no downsides then letting Energy Slaves do the work for you would be OK, but there are downsides, plenty of them.

“From a sustainability perspective, it’s much better than a car”

Almost *anything* is less bad than a (single occupant) car in 2020; this is not a high bar.
Just because something is less bad than a car does not ipso facto make it

“should be supported by all cyclists…”

We have fiddled too long while Rome was burning to comfort ourselves with anything-but-the-car. We should aim higher, be more self-critical, ask the tough questions.

Jason
Guest
Jason

You make a very valid point about the elegance of bicycles – analogue bicycles. There is no way to say that isn’t true. To be honest, I feel the same way.

An e-bike as a car replacement however is not without merit. The “e” in e-bike doesn’t stand for “easy”, but it should. Consider the family that does their grocery shopping by car, versus one that shops via cargo bike. There’s no doubt that the family who uses a cargo bike is “winning in life”. Albeit, cargo does not describe e-bikes explicitly, but an e-cargobike is a strong driver for getting that car based family onto a bike.

Consider also, a commuter who want’s to use a bike, but doesn’t feel that they have the hour plus needed to ride their commute. That can be cut in half by riding an e-bike, and arrive practically sweat free.

So, from my perspective, this comes down to: single car occupancy versus e-bike use. I know it’s not the only use case, but it’s a very thick silver lining. In that context, some of the issues you raise are trade offs.

While the source of the electricity is not bound to fossil fuels. There are alternatives to coal power, fracking and other fossil fuels. Which I will leave to you to decide on the merit of. I’m not here to to get into the weeds on that topic. The fact is, they are out there and they are in use.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Since they are electronic, they can be both hacked and tracked. I wonder. how long will it be before hackers remove the governors that regulate speed? Will they remove or mess up the controllers, and be responsible for increased crash and fatality rates? And of course if Lyft can track users, why can’t Uncle Sam do it too?

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I “know” a “group” that has done just this with scooters. First to go is the GPS, of course, then some reprogramming and rewiring. A souped up scooter is both terrifying and exhilarating to ride (so I’m told). As is a scooter-powered wheelchair (from what I hear).

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

When we first got Limebikes here in Greensboro NC in June 2017, some of the local kids pretty early on figured out how to hack into the locking system for free rides. Aside from not paying for the rides, they were also under age 16 (under the age of allowed users), and typically not wearing helmets. But on the other hand, there’s only so much damage a pedaled bicycle can do to other vehicles or to the riders themselves. A scooter has proven to be a bit more deadly in terms of speed and acceleration, even with the governors. An electric bike with governors helps limits speeds so that the installed 160mm disc brakes can actually stop the user at a reasonable distance. But if the governor is disabled, the same brakes ain’t gonna help much at 30 or more mph, and that worries me. If there’s a massive spike in e-bike users dying in “freak” crashes at every major intersection, then I can easily see cities restricting the use of regular bicycles, skateboards, and scooters, let alone e-bikes, as being “too dangerous at any speed” to misquote Ralph Nader. And that would be tragic.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Being hacked and tracked applies to the old analogue bikes too. Not a new issue.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

I gave you a like because you seem to like likes.

Zach
Guest
Zach

You’re mostly talking about bikeshare. You can buy a nice e-bike and it won’t require a smartphone or fleet of juicers, and will last a long time.

Matt
Guest
Matt

I think long-term durability is still in question, since e-bikes are still relatively new.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Talking with the mechanics, the main issue is that the cheaper hub-driven bikes have more breakdowns, and rear-hub-driven wheels often suffer from broken spokes even after only a few hundred miles. Front-drive isn’t as bad. The center-drive bikes last longest, but cost more. The batteries often last over 5 years before needing replacement, and battery prices are steadily dropping and becoming more standard (fewer varieties). Just about everything else is the same as with analog bicycles, including durability of parts, frame materials, and whatnot – you get what you pay for. If you didn’t buy it locally, don’t be surprised if your favorite shop refuses to fix your broken bike, let alone deal with warranty repairs.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I’d point out that the analogue BikeTown bikes had issues with spokes getting mangled. The lock goes through the spokes and people must try to force the bike forward. I have seen many examples of the spokes getting severely bent.

Additionally, mid drive motors have been known to break chains when shifting gears. The Bosch motors are much better about sensing the gear change and dialing back the torque. The after market retrofit kits from Bafang come with a lot of sensors. But it’s up to the individual to set them correctly. Bafang gets used by Rad Power, which suggests that the sensor array will do a good job if implemented correctly. I’m an experienced rider and I haven’t broken a chain on my e-bike in the year / 2000 miles I’ve owned it. The mechanic was impressed that I haven’t burned out my cassette yet (toot). I know to back off a little when shifting, so it could be a skill check.

I’d rather have a mid drive, because it’s far more natural feeling than a hub motor. And as you point out, the torque from hub drive tends to rip apart wheels. This is, to my mind, less in control of the rider than the torque on the chain. But that’s an opinion based on the Bosch motor. Not all motors are that responsive to input.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I had another thought, a cargo bike could be fitted with a lid on the cargo box. The lid could utilize a solar array to generate charge for the batteries. To optimize the solar energy, I would think four batteries would be good. Some testing would be needed, that isn’t even a “napkin” calculation. Ideally though, the bike would be completely independent of the grid to charge it’s own batteries.

Now you may say, this still relies on toxic lithium mining, but what’s worse? Toxic mining or climate chaos? Even analogue bikes contribute to toxic waste, but they contribute less. Which makes them excusable. So, I’m just saying e-bikes contribute less than cars.

9watts
Subscriber

“what’s worse? Toxic mining or climate chaos?“

I reject this false dichotomy. I also disagree that bikes which don’t rely on batteries generate toxic waste. What do you know that I don’t? There are many different kinds of bikes-without-batteries, and I am quite certain they are not all alike in their relationship to toxic waste production. The bikes I am familiar with are steel and pushing forty years old. Tires and chains and brake pads need to be replaced from time to time, but that is about it.

“e-bikes contribute less than cars”

There it is again.
Why is this lazy comparison to cars so popular?

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

If e-bikes replace car trips in a way that conventional bikes don’t, then the comparison with cars is apt.

Notice I said “conventional bikes don’t” rather than “conventional bikes can’t”. You need to consider not only human capacity, but also actual human behavior.

9watts
Subscriber

“then the comparison with cars is apt.”

I think the comparison would be more apt if we were envisioning substituting not just a trip but the-use-of the automobile. As I think many of us would agree if you still have the (slightly less oft used) car parked in front of your house it is highly likely going to get used, and for plenty of trips where other modes could have worked just fine.

We need to stop fooling ourselves that using-car-less-because-e-bike is somehow a meaningful policy answer to our climate predicament – in 2020. It is not, and we will come to regret having screwed around for so long, continued kicking this particular can down the road, before admitting this.

Jason
Guest
Jason

“It wasn’t just one thing. It was many,” he says, recounting how his lungs burned after an easy ride outside Dongguan, China, where coal-fired power plants cast a cloud over the industrial city. At the factory that was to make his frames, Kokkonen saw just how much water, electricity, and human labor is required to lay, mold, and bond the carbon, a process that entails working with toxic resins. Then there’s the waste. “We knew that carbon fiber is not recyclable, but our idea was to create a frame that was indestructible, so at least we could increase the product lifespan,” Kokkonen says. But when he asked what the facility did with the excess carbon trimmed off each frame—about a third of every carbon sheet is wasted—he was shocked by the answer: “They said they dump it in the ocean.”

Outside Magazine

Here is a study which reveals how nontransparent the bicycle manufacturing industry is. This is relevant because it demonstrates how the manufacturing industry is a black box. We can tell by the Outside Magazine link that irresponsible waste can occur. So, we can infer that there is some unknown, non zero amount of waste.

So it’s always a matter of degrees, not absolutes. It’s naive to suggest that a manufacturing process produces no toxic waste. Some companies may take care to mitigate the waste, but not all of them will.

The web of industry suppliers is wide and often obscured. To know the pedigree of every bolt on your bicycle is impossible. There will be some waste as a result of your bicycle being built and maintained.

Which is why your argument against getting single car operators on e-bikes is so shallow. Because the crisis of weather chaos is preeminent to the environmental impact of mining. If we lose the battle to save the climate, no amount of virtue signaling against toxic mining practices will matter. Do I like toxic mining? No, stopping climate chaos is the priority.

9watts
Subscriber

Thank you, Jason, for digging up those tidbits. *New* globe-spanning production of bikes (whether pedal- or lithium-powered) no doubt has a non-trivial carbon signature, which is why in my posts above I mentioned the bikes I use and love which are approaching forty years old. Not only were those not made in China, not made of carbon fiber, or aluminum, but they were simple enough and sturdy enough so that they could be easily maintained and used for decades, a lifetime. Any attempt to calculate the carbon footprint or environmental burden of a product relies crucially on the denominator, which, typically, is time (product life, years of service, how many miles it lasted, etc.).

To posit as you (perhaps unwittingly) are that the relevant two choices open to us are *new e-bike vs single occupant car* doesn’t capture the full spectrum of interesting possibilities. The climate crisis will only be averted if we are willing to interrogate all of these dimensions, ask the tough questions, recognize the problematic carbon signature of *all* current production and consumption. which raises the perhaps uncomfortable question: why do we need any new bikes? Doesn’t the US already contain what? some 300 million bicycles? Why not make those last and skip the burden of hundreds of millions of additional, ever new, soon-to-be-obsolete bikes?

Jason
Guest
Jason

To posit as you (perhaps unwittingly) are…

Please don’t misquote me. It’s irresponsible and rude.

…the bikes I use and love which are approaching forty years old.

New consumers of bicycles are struggling to find bicycles. This is self evident by listening to social media, “where can I find a bike” posts are rampant.

Further, children of today – adults of tomorrow – should have the same opportunities that you had when you bought those bikes forty years ago. That opportunity is choice.

Doesn’t the US already contain what? some 300 million bicycles?

This is a factoid. Are those 300 million bicycles owned? Are they functional? Nothing can be determined by that statement; please provide a statistical reference.

The climate crisis will only be averted if we are willing to interrogate all of these dimensions, ask the tough questions, recognize the problematic carbon signature of *all* current production and consumption.

Unfortunately, this is not something that can occur as a result of a single act.

There are so many things wrong with the world today. Encouraging a “less bad” behavior is a very coherent method of changing the trajectory of society. Marketing e-bikes as car replacements, coaxing new adopters to cycling with power assist are both beneficial in the big picture. Fewer cars on the road means fewer fatalities, less greenhouse gasses and less noise pollution. Are e-bikes susceptible to green-washing? Yes, power generation to back e-bikes can be detrimental to the environment. However, A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. An e-bike would struggle to cause that amount of emissions, to put it lightly.

If you want to approach the world in absolute terms, do so. It is not effective and I suspect that it can leave a person with a very jaded perspective. Humans pollute. That’s a fact of our society.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. An e-bike would struggle to cause that amount of emissions…”

This is not a meaningful comparison, unless as I have repeatedly suggested *the e-bike in question is REPLACING the typical passenger car, which I think we agree it generally is not.

My roller blades also don’t emit 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year…

“Please don’t misquote me.”

I didn’t misquote you. I paraphrased exactly what you have been suggesting all along: that the relevant choices are to buy an ebike or to continue driving an auto.

Jason
Guest
9watts
Subscriber

This reminds me of the people who responded to the hopelessly written PBOT survey of e-scooter users, asking if they had replaced their car with scooter trips. Of course some answered the leading question affirmatively, and Hello Kitty perceptively wondered whether when the pilot was over they repurchased the car they had ostensibly sold…

I’m sure someone can find three or three hundred people who sold their car and now use an ebike for all those trips. And it is a wonderful thing. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that for every person who verifiably did this there are a hundred or a thousand for whom the ebike is a lifestyle marker and an additional environmental burden layered on top of everything else they and we are doing.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Fewer cars on the road means fewer fatalities

Or it means people driving faster and a fatality rate not too different than when there are more vehicles. We’re running that particular experiment now, and the results aren’t positive.

9watts
Subscriber

“Which is why your argument against getting single car operators on e-bikes is so shallow. Because the crisis of weather chaos is preeminent to the environmental impact of mining. If we lose the battle to save the climate, no amount of virtue signaling against toxic mining practices will matter.“

Whoa – I missed this swipe in my first read-through.

Shallow?
You are again implying that people in cars are ditching their fossil fuel chariots for lithium-powered steeds (and I am somehow against this). I doubt this is happening, is representative. No climate chaos is being averted with lithium-powered anything, my friend. We still have as many cars; I haven’t heard that VMT is declining; and the virtue signaling to my mind is all coming from the e-crowd. What am I missing?

Jason
Guest
Jason

I notice you didn’t bother to substantiate your claim of “300 million bikes in the US”. Instead opting to get into a mud slinging match.

9watts
Subscriber

I offered that number as a place holder. I don’t know how many there are. This source says 100,000,000: https://www.bicycle-guider.com/bike-facts-stats/
This says btw 15 and 20 million bikes are sold each year in the US: https://www.statista.com/statistics/236152/us-unit-sales-of-bicycles/ which would equal about 340,000,000 sold just in the 23 years prior to that tally.

My argument doesn’t require there to be a specific number, other than: plenty.

Jason
Guest
Jason

On the one hand, your numbers only take into account bike sales. Not bicycles removed from circulation from being wrecked or otherwise destroyed by age or theft. Which is a nontrivial drain on ridable bikes.

On the other hand, your source flat out say they don’t know.

If you argue there are 300 million bikes in the US, then your argument requires that to be true. Or you risk looking like a hot headed cowboy who makes things up to suit your mood.

9watts
Subscriber

I never claimed there were 300 million bikes; I thought I remembered that being a number, but in any case the exact number is not important as I already noted. My point was/is that we very likely already have plenty of bikes for everyone, that could with some attention get us where we need to go.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Boo! Intellectual dishonesty!

Doesn’t the US already contain what? some 300 million bicycles?

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re argument is informed by emotion and not fact.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Jason, you could read more carefully. There were two (2) questions marks in that sentence of mine you are so gleefully obsessing over. Are you interested in a conversation, in learning something, or prefer to score imaginary rhetorical points?

Jason
Guest
Jason

Since you put a question mark, it’s not a claim? That’s equivocation fallacy. Equivocation happens when a word, phrase, or sentence is used deliberately to confuse, deceive, or mislead by sounding like it’s saying one thing but actually saying something else.

That seems dishonest to put forth a statistic and then later try to say it’s not a claim. Why did you inject it into the conversation if it wasn’t a detail you sought to use influentially?

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

The beauty of a bicycle is that it depends on literally NOTHING. I might ride these orange bikes depending on a whole series of contingencies like, having a broken limb, all broken bikes, a broken car. When Covid goes away, it’s bus and Max, but 30 lb bike first. Not a fan of orange right now either….

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I like bright orange, it’s one of the three main colors motorists most easily see just before they smack into you – the others being lime green and hot pink.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

These look identical to the Nice Ride (also a Lyft-run system) e-bikes we’ve had for a few months on the streets of Minneapolis. Same basket, same motor placement in front, same pink-tipped cable lock. I finally took a couple spins on them on Monday. Fun! Despite the cruiser handling. They get up to speed fairly quickly if you stand on the pedals, and boy do they zip along at 18mph. Granted I’m not one to let the motor do all the work, and I was pedaling as hard as I would have been on a regular bike, I used less of the “estimated” range that the app said I had.

My only previous rides on e-bikes were on the Lime e-bikes in Seattle, and a ride in Beaverton on a much more powerful rig (either 500W or 750W) which I thought it was total overkill. I want to have to put in some of the work. Riding this lower-powered bike, I enjoyed it more because I still have to do some of the work, but I can still cruise along. On flat ideal conditions it’s only a “few” mph (ha!) faster than a pedal bike, but the fact that you don’t slow down much for hills and headwinds is HUGE. I took a ride up a pretty good-sized hill (yes, we do have a few hills) and didn’t even slow down, which I thought might happen on a “lower-powered” bike. Still plenty of power for my purposes. Helps having the NuVinci hub: some e-bikes (like the Lime bikes) have a fairly tall singlespeed setup for pedaling, and unless they have a really huge motor you can end up walking the hills.

Also nice that it uses a crank torque sensor rather than a cadence sensor, which gives it a very natural feel. Feels like a pedaling a normal bike except that your force is amplified. Pro tip: if you adjust to maximum assist, and stand up to take off from a stop, you can get a slight bit of wheelspin off the front during the first couple of pedal strokes. Yes, on dry pavement. Kinda nifty.

One thing I don’t like is the lack of any kind of display showing your speed or remaining range, something even the cheap e-scooters had. It would be nice not to have to look at the app while I’m riding.

But overall I enjoyed it more than I expected, which tempts me more to get one of my own. I think if I did I might actually ride more, because I can cover a lot more ground.

Rain
Guest
Rain

I wonder, will E bike riders ride when it rains? If the attraction is “sweat free,” what if moisture falls from the sky rather than armpits?

Jason
Guest
Jason

I have ridden my e-bike in the rain. It’s fine. You wouldn’t want to go fording, but the bikes are designed to thwart normal environmental elements. With the caveat that ambient temperatures below 40F will sap the battery. So, I made a neoprene battery blanket which eliminates battery drain from the cold.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Did people ride the non-electric Biketown bikes? Yes, I think so. Are e-bikes sweat-free? If you let them, but some people still put some effort into the pedaling (see my post above).

Jason
Guest
Jason

There’s a huge difference between rain and sweat. Rain, you put a jacket on, sweat… you try your best to avoid it, if you have social constraints that demand it. “That’s my secret Cap, I’m always sweating”. I can say this, even when I’m going all out bonkers on my e-bike, I don’t sweat as hard as when I do the same on my analogue bike. I think the motor giving assistance informs me that, “hey, I’m going fast now” so I don’t push past the anaerobic threshold.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

One needs to be careful with sweat on bikes. The ammonia in sweat can do severe damage to aluminum and electronics (rusted aluminum is an odd sight, but permanent.) If you sweat a lot and it’s dripping, I’d recommend you cover your affected components if you value them.

Jason
Guest
Jason

I wash my bikes fairly often using the Calvin Jones method. I don’t ride an indoor trainer so the most concentrated sweat deposit is on the handle bar. As for electronics, if you mean the parts that make the bike an e-bike, those are sealed. Sealed well enough to mitigate rain, which is a much higher volume of liquid. Some sweat will invariably find it’s way to various parts of the bike. Sweat is usually low in ammonia concentration though (unless you are low carb or dehydrated). Honestly, ammonia is not something that I associate with sweat, but I’m not a high protein person or a body builder that slams protein shakes.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Or not. I’ve dripped sweat all over my bikes, not to mention now having ridden through six snowy, icy, slushy, salty Minnesota winters. I have NEVER washed my bike until spring rolled around, and yet the only maintenance has been one rusted-up brake caliper and a wheelset (replacement cost: $120) that finally gave up the ghost after this spring when the rusty spokes started to break. Bikes are tougher than you think.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

“I think the motor giving assistance informs me that, ‘hey, I’m going fast now’ so I don’t push past the anaerobic threshold.”

As I mentioned in my post above, I have specifically NOT found that to be true with a 250W sharebike. With most commercial e-bikes at either 500W or 750W, what you say may be true. 250 is a nice boost, but not so much I don’t find it fun to pedal harder and go faster.

Kimberly
Guest
Kimberly

The updated map appears to lack a legend to show riders where the hubs are to lock a bike when the ride is finished? I’m so confused by all of this. I moved out of Portland but still love to ride the bikes when in town. So for me, an occasional rider, these rides are now prohibitively expensive. And the map lacks essential information. Kinda stumped.