I'm about to change jobs. One of the benefits of the new job is a minuscule commute of 2.2 miles, mostly on 25mph neighborhood roads. However, the trip is almost entirely uphill in the mornings and I’m out of shape. As an added hurdle, I’m working for a bank with no cycling accommodations and a strong emphasis on a clean presentation. I cannot afford to show up to work sweating, even if it means using a throttle the whole way and getting 0 exercise.
Additionally, while I’ll be traveling mostly on 25mph roads, there are brief stretches on major roadways. For those, I’m going to need a lot more power to stay safe, and for the hills, I’m going to need a lot of torque.
I'm 6', about 190 pounds, and I'll probably be hauling another 10-20 pounds of random stuff back and forth. It'd be nice to be able to haul a few bags of groceries from time to time as well.
Finally, there's cost. If money weren't an issue, I'd be retired instead of biking to work. I don't have a strict limit on spending, but I'm most comfortable with something in the 1-2K range. I can go higher if I have to, but the closer I get to 3K, the less I'm going to like a given option.
Should I build or just buy?
This is a tough choice and I’d appreciate some advice. I’ve been losing my mind examining e-bikes from various manufacturers. Reviews are either spotty or next to useless (just about every manufactured bike gets glowing praise, with no real sense of how they compare to each other). I’m a decently handy person with a shop full of tools. I don’t have much experience with metalwork, and I’ve never built/maintained my own bicycle, but I’m confident in my ability to learn.
My biggest concern with manufactured bicycles is the rather arbitrary speed limit, and the way manufacturers have chosen to answer that limit. I’m inclined to agree with this article, which points out some of the problems with underpowered motors. This inclines me towards building my own bike. If I'm buying one, it'd be nice to get one I can hack/unlock.
However, this may also be the voice of inexperience. Maybe it's just not worth worrying about? It’s not that I want to fly along at 30-40-50mph. 20 seems plenty fast to me. Rather, I’d like to have the power available if I need it for sudden acceleration. Plus I want the ability to tackle hills, probably without pedaling if I’m being honest.
The drive train
Whether I’m building or buying, I think I’ve already settled on a couple of things about the bike’s design.
- First, I want a mid-drive system, as those are more efficient and better for hills.
- Second, I absolutely loathe derailleurs. I’m bad at shifting derailleurs and constantly pop the chain. I really want a bike that DOESN’T use standard bike gearing. I’m open to suggestions here. This article points out that in-gear-hubs are maybe a bad fit. I’ve seen some NuVinci-based designs, maybe that’d be a solution? Perhaps I should just give up on gearing altogether and get a fixed gear and rely on the motor for hills? Thoughts? Advice?
There are a few things I’m looking for in the frame for the bike. Whether I’m converting it, or buying an ebike outright.
- I need a standard wheelbase - I already own a Day-6 Journey, which I love. However, I don’t want to convert it because its massive wheelbase isn’t compatible with my city’s bus bike racks. The buses around here offer bike racks, and I’d like to be able to use them from time to time.
- I think I’m looking for a hybrid or a cruiser? - I generally like a higher stance. The less I have to stoop to ride a bike, the better. My posture is bad enough as it is. As I said, I love the Day-6, but it's massive.
- Low step-through would be nice - I’m still working out the details of this commute, but there are plenty of places where I’d like an easy mount or dismount from the bike. Hop off and walk it down some steps, hop on and drive it through a parking lot, etc.
- I don’t really care about shocks - I’m riding on well maintained paved roads, I don’t think I need fancy shock absorption. I get that shocks are nice and comfy, but they just don't strike me as a priority. Are they?
- I want a bike, not a spaceship or a motorcycle - This is probably the silliest ask here, but I don’t like bicycles that are trying to look like they belong in a SF blockbuster. I also want the social hack of cops seeing the bike and saying “that’s a bicycle” not “that’s a motor vehicle”. I have a driver's license, but that doesn't mean I enjoy traffic stops from curious law enforcement.
I've been bouncing around a lot of sites looking at recommendations, and reviews. Luna Cycles have come up a number of times. I’ve been looking at the Luna Smoothie. I like the ergonomics, but it’s ostensibly a woman’s frame. Maybe it's too small for me?
Does anyone have any other ideas? My anti-derailleur stance severely limits my options.