How I got into E-Bikes

Everyone has different reasons; from commuting to throttle-driven delivery service, exercise, even physicla therapy I suppose - here’s mine.

Quick background

I was never really into bicycles as an adult, although have memories of riding all over hte place, and some trails we’d rip through on single-speeds, and later stripped and rebuilt my 18-speed as a teen.  

After that, I really got into riding dirt bikes, some much bigger than me; first minibikes, then an RM-125 set up for racing I about needed a ladder to get onto (I was 13 or so..).  I ran through a series of bikes between myself as well as some friends swapping off-road toys - a small but awesome DR100 (so throwable), older Yamaha XTs, IT and DTs in the 175-350cc range, a CB800 street bike for a while, Suzuki Savage for something ‘entirely different,’ and then was ‘on pause’ for a little while after leaving WA state and an old-but-kicking-butt TT175 I’d throw in a truck and go scout out property I could ride on using an ORV(Off-Road-Vehicle) sticker.  (Mine was newer than the pic to the right.. ;)  

I went through a series of motorcycles over time and still have a DRZ and SV650 today - more on these in my Motorcycles section of the site, including riding a few foreign countries...


Moving on...

My wife and I have family on her side overseas, and occasionally visit, usually trying to do at least 2 weeks when possibly, lining up with her breaks at work and me usually working remotely for part of the trip.  

So - off we went for a few weeks to the Czech Republic.  I grew up going on two vacationsa year with my parents - one of which was usually driving to Florida, then the ‘real one’ as I called it - we’d go and fly <somewhere>.  Usually it was somewhere reasonably close to the US - Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, but also had been to Aruba and Puerto Rico, and I just kind of kept on traveling both inside and outside the US.  I highly recommend it, especially if able to see and appreciate the viewpoints or reality of others - I’m still amazed at just how many tiny motorcycles (~100-150cc) are all over the Dominican Republic, sometimes carrying 3 people along with propane tanks, but also the sheer poverty the closer you get to the border with Haiti… most of Europe of course, is first world, with some things similar to the US, some pretty different, regardless of the languages spoken, and of course, being thousands of years older than the US, tend to have some pretty interesting old castles and such (at least those surviving or being rebuilt after WWII).

With the time difference, I will say that it was incredibly nice to not be jumping into the usual set of work meetings nearly as soon as I woke up.. ;)  

Once you make some allowances for the different cultures and cuisine, we ate pretty well - you can find ‘American’ breakfasts (although not quite), pizza and Italian, and we found one of the best ‘steak places' ever, ‘disguised’ as an Argentinian place.. La Casa Argentina.

We also did some hiking which nearly killed me (in work / casual shows) at a multi-national park nicknamed ‘Bohemian Switzerland.'

2020 shadow-phantom-matte_pearl_white-1950x1140

Meanwhile, we realized something..

The drive from Prague to Bohemian Switzerland wasn’t all that far, maybe an hour or two.  Yes, a map could have let me know this sooner, especially as it wasn’t out first time there, but it sort of clicked when we were at Bohemian Switzerland - the other side of the park was Germany’s Saxon Switzerland, so yeah - Germany was only a short distance away.  

The drive from Prague to Bohemian Switzerland wasn’t all that far, maybe an hour or two.  Yes, a map could have let me know this sooner, especially as it wasn’t out first time there, but it sort of clicked when we were at Bohemian Switzerland - the other side of the park was Germany’s Saxon Switzerland, so yeah - Germany was only a short distance away.  

Have passport and vaccination cards - will travel!

So we planned an impromptu vacation within a vacation, pretty much by the seat of our pants.  I took Friday off, and we’d go to Dresden, Germany by train.  Yeah, we’d be kind of ‘double paying’ as we’d rented the apartment in Czech for the duration, but who knows the next time we’d have the opportunity?

I booked a place online initially for Friday night, and we’d figure it out from there..

The train was mostly uneventful, although getting the actual tickets posed a few challenges with the machine not loking my wife’s card nor my usual go-to Discover card, but eventually we got it done and stepped of fin Dresden.  One thing to note - in general, trains are much nicer to ride on than in the US.  Some are still fairly basic, but you can also do sleeper cars, get meals served on some, while I’m not sure I’d want to do any sort of travel by train in the US...

You’re in Dresden, Germany - now what?

We got in in the afternoon, eventually making our way to the hotel successfully.  There are buses and trams, but we hadn’t quite figured those out yet.  I did some scanning for where we’d wind up eating, and also figuring - 'ok, we’ve got most of a full day tomorrow to play super-tourist and see what we could - now what?’

This wasn’t our collective first time in Germany - my wife had been previously for a few days, and I’d been stranded overnight in the middle of a major storm due to missing a connecting flight, but it was the first time for me with any amount of time, so wanted to make the best of it.  

Power-scanning through Google, Yelp, Travelocity and others, as well as seeing apparently Dresden was quite busy at the moment, what had started as maybe some kind of river/walk or open-top bus hop on/off kind of thing had me coming back to one thing - 

Let’s rent ‘ebikes’ and go on a tour!

I’ll just go ahead and say it now - at the time, my wife would say this was not a good idea.  She hadn’t ridden even a ‘normal’ bicycle since she was a teen.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but knew they wouldn’t be anything like my motorcycles, and I kinda like the Nike motto - Just Do It!  

We found out just how busy Dresden was, apparently with a festival going on, when we’d tried to get dinner - eventually we lucked out on a decent place and I got some goulash (meat + potato stew basically) and my wife loved <whatever she got ;)>, and went a bit early the next day to go for our ‘ebike tour.'

A bit of confusion

There was some confusion when we made it to the rental place, as apparently they thought we’d rented normal bikes.  Yeah, we probably could have ridden them, but hey, we were already in the middle of an unknown-to-us city in a not-really-known-to-us country, with traffic laws also not known to us, let alone - hills.  

We sorted things out and we had two Bosch-powered ebikes brought out.  In hindsight, the bikes are pretty typical EU style bikes - 250W Bosch motors, with Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo modes available for progressively more assistance or help from the motor.

I think my wife was nervous, but after taking a quick ride on the sidewalk, she settled into it.  The tour itself was great - almost 3 hours with stops and breaks for pictures, the the tour guide was awesome.  The rest of the group had normal bikes, and the group was reasonalbe sized - a family of 4, and I think 2 other couples besides us.  

I had fun playing around with the different power modes, while I think my wife mostly kept hers in ECO mode, although on a stop or two I’d put hers into Sport mode and wondered if she’d notice… 

How did they ride?

The bikes weren’t exactly the one pictured above, but pretty close.  Rear-rack mounted batter, Bosch motor, front suspension fork with short travel, etc.  My wife got a ‘step-through’ like what’s pictures, and mine had a traditional top tube but lower than a standard bike.  Disc brakes front and rear and I believe a Shimano Deore 7 speed.  

I was a little bit nervous being in so-so shape, as I had no idea how many hills we’d be going up and down, while everyone on the ‘normal’ bikes seemed to be effectively avid riders, with one of the couples saying they do bike trips all over Europe and such.  

In reality, it just wasn’t an issue.  My wife’s nervousness about being on any kind of bike was gone within a few blocks, and as soon as I played with the modes and felt the bike’s reaction, my concern on any city/urban hills pretty much went away.

The bike’s power did stop around 20mph or lower(the bike’s speedo was in kM/hour of course..), but considering the density of traffic and the purpose of sight-seeing, it wasn’t an issue.  Changing assistance modes was easy via a single control on the left-hand bars, and the display was reasonable enough in black and white - battery remaining percentage in bars, current speed, tripmeter/odometer and ‘power mode.’  You could also turn off assistance altogether, and the bike is ride-able although heavier than a normal bike.

The bikes in general really felt ‘like you, but more’ meaning you could feel yourself moving the bike, but easier than normally, and according to the power level selected.  I later found out my wife really wasn’t changing gears very often but seemed to do fine.. the motor’s assistance would allow for less than ideal gear selection and it wasn’t a real issue, although things are smoother overall when geared appropriately. 

Overall, we had a great time - a combination of just being outside, doing something ‘a bit different,’ seeing as many places as we could in a short time, and the tour guide’s narratives - a really good time was had.

Aftermath, or ‘And then…..?'

After the ride, we talked about it a bit and decided that for any/all subsequent ‘condensed tourism’ types of trips - ebikes were the answer.  We generally aren’t fans of structured tours, and hey - we could always rent them and go solo if desired.

Meanwhile, another ‘spurt’ of ‘Why not?’ hit starting with - 'you know Berlin is only another couple of hours away, right?’ and we headed to Berlin, where we tried desperately to find a place to rent an ebike but wound up on a Segway tour, which was ok overall, but we definitely preferred the ebikes.

Seeing how positive my wife was on the experience, I started looking into them to learn what’s what, and when we were back in Czech, I managed to find a place renting a ‘fat tire’ bike which I wanted to rent but didn’t work out.

Once we made it back stateside, I continued to look into them, as it was pretty easy to see it checked a few boxes - getting more outside time, something we’d do together, and the ability to get more exercise, literally ‘tuning’ the amount of exercise via the specific ride, distance and the mode/power levels.  

What was probably the biggest shock in the research was the price on some of these - while you could find some ebikes for ~$1000, some of them cost more than my motorcycles, or even used cars.  I’ll cover that in another article...