3 years with an e-bike

My Bike, as I unboxed it.

A little over 3 years ago, I tore my ACL. It wasn’t awesome. I was in constant pain, and worst of all, I couldn’t ride my bike – my primary means of commuting. I decided that an electric bike would help keep me moving and active.

In October 2016, I brought home a VanMoof Electrified S (that link actually goes to the current model, the S2). I was immediately in love with my bike. I think I only rode my former, much-loved MEC Hold Steady (matte-black version) once more before it was sadly stolen in March of this year.

My VanMoof is definitely a v1 device – even the 2017 version of the same bike had some notable improvements. That being said, 3 years in, I’ve come to know it pretty well, and with that in mind, here’s some things I love, and things I don’t.

The Awesome

  • the integrated lights! I don’t know why this wasn’t immediately stolen by all commuter-bike manufacturers, whether electric or not. I have mine set to “Auto”, so they just come on or turn off based on light levels, and I never have to think about bike lights again.
  • Electric-assist: I know, it’s an electric bike, but riding 10-15K a day, with assist that “smooths out the hills” is still revelatory.
  • Quiet. I’ve read that both the 2017 model and S2 are even quieter, but this bike is already much quieter than virtually every other electric bike I come across. There’s a light whisper with the regular e-assist, and a slight whine when I engage the boost feature. Speaking of…
  • Boost! There’s a button on the handlebar to get a boost of extra power beyond the assist level – this is very handy to keep chill on hills, starting up at lights, or when heavily leaden with bags.
  • The design remains distinctive and lovely. I get questions or appreciative comments monthly, even 3 years later.
  • Ride comfort. This is a well-built bike made for a comfortable ride, and is quite smooth.
  • Battery life. I bike 10-15K a day in my commute, and I generally only charge my bike once a week. I think it advertised 100K and 3 years in, I feel I regularly get pretty close to that. Except in wintertime, when the batter is notably worse.

The not-great.

  • The touch interface. Mine has simply never worked reliably enough to use. I’m supposed to be able to touch turn it on, adjust assist levels and what not. I just pretend it isn’t there.
  • The app. It’s pretty bare bones. It loses connection with the bike semi-regularly so I have to force-close and restart it. I wish it integrated with GPS tools like Strava or Runkeeper to pass on information. I’d love to look in my VanMoof app to see total miles, average speed, time spent with what level of assist/boost, etc.
  • The bike software itself. I’ve had my bike “crash” 3 times (about once a year). It takes resetting the software, a process that itself means plugging the bike into a powered micro-usb cable for a bit to reset itself. 3 times in 3 years isn’t a lot, but it does always seem to happen at the end of a long ride when the battery is low, coincidentally right when I’m about to ride up a big hill
  • Speed settings. My bike seems really happy cruising along at about 18-20 km/h. Which is fine, but definitely much slower than a lot of other e-bikes run at. The Boost, for instance, doesn’t work if you’re going more than 20km/h. I find when riding on the flat, once I hit a speed of about 22-24k, the bike feels like it is actively resisting me, rather than assisting me. So, 18k is fine, but often not as fast as I feel I could go without additional effort, but the bike feels like it is fighting me if I do.
  • Weak motor. I joke that my bike is made for Dutch Hills (Holland is famously flat). It really struggles up the bigger hills in town – from false creek up Ontario st is a daily ride for me, and it whines somewhat ominously, and even the boost, while definitely helpful, means I still get a workout up there (maybe this is good?). Compared to a Trek ebike I was able to try out, I’m clearly not getting the same level of push up a hill though.
  • No gears. I don’t want many, but from that one time I did a tour of burrard inlet, biking from home, across the lions’ gate, along and back over the second narrows, having a gear to help me climb hills better, rather than relying on the underwhelming motor would be nice.
  • Cheap/bad parts. VanMoof definitely skimped out on some of these. The stock pedals and cranks look and feel cheap. The brakes have been problematic the whole time – indeed, the first time I took my bike to a shop to get my brakes adjusted, the comment was “Oh, these are really bad – you should replace them soon”. for a $3K bike, that’s not cool.

Other notes

This isn’t so much about the bike, but rather Vancouver – I don’t feel like I can ride this bike and park it anywhere – even with the “smart lock” and tracking technology built-in, Vancouver is so bad for bike theft that unless I know I’ve got secure bike parking or The Bicycle Valet at my destination, I won’t ride anywhere I’d have to leave my bike out of sight.

You may wonder if I’m happy with my bike, based on that list of pros and cons above. In short, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. The bike is amazing, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Particularly the newer models, which all have very directly addressed several of the problems I’ve seen with it.

Everyone should ride a bike more – and if you need some help doing so, I cannot recommend an e-bike enough. And in 2019, your options are much broader as to what’s available, for a surprisingly reasonable amount!

Cycling the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

In mid-August, we strapped the bikes on the back of the car, the kids in their seats and drove out to Kelowna. There, we picked my parents up from the airport, then headed south down highway 33 to Idabel Lake. They dropped Leah and I off, and took the car & the kids to a house they’d rented near Oliver. It was just us, our bikes & 5 days.

Despite the “circuit” being from Midway to Penticton, we had decided that we’d like to start at the top of the climb, and so skipped the Midway-Idabel stretch. This turned out to have been a particularly good decision for 2 reasons:

  1. Leah was recovering from pneumonia, and still has nothing like full lung capacity: indeed, on our very first climb, she was breathing hard & needed to use her puffer. Fortunately, that turned out to be the hardest climb of the trip.
  2. We ran into a group of 4 riders who had ridden that stretch, and told horror stories of how difficult it had been: steep, technically challenging and in a bad state, maintenance-wise .

& so we set off from Idabel lake, with our destination for Day 1 being Chute Lake, some 74km away.

Idabel Lake – Myra Canyon

Setting OffThis first part of the trail was gorgeous, easy riding. The trail was pretty smooth, with only a few muddy sections or a few super-rocky sections. Really a great into, riding  through pine forests & around lakes, emerging with fantastic views down towards Kelowna as we neared Myra-Bellevue Provincial park. It was also blissfully quiet – we didn’t see a single other rider the whole time – only 1 man in a fishing boat & some horses.

Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park

Creeper on a TrestleThis is the raison d’être of the trip: the trestle-bridges of the park. It certainly is gorgeous – and will only get more so as the region recovers more from the 2006 fire that destroyed most of the original bridges. The restoration is impressive, and it is well worth the trip to ride or walk this stretch: it’s about 12km in length, and you’ll cross 18 trestle bridges and go through 2 tunnels in that stretch. For better or for worse, this part of the trail is crowded. There are several tour groups running daily trips out from Kelowna, and so yes it’s busy. But it also lives up to all the hype – and can easily be walked or biked at really any level of experience.

Myra-Chute Lake

Chute Lake ResortThis part kind of sucked. For the most part, this stretch follows an old forestry services road that is in serious need of maintenance. If you’re not on a fat-tired bike with suspension, it’s not a lot of fun. You also end up going through a bunch not scrubland without a view. On the flipside, you also get some spectacular views of Kelowna and one last trestle bridge that is truly stunning. But boy were we glad when we finally reached Chute Lake Resort. Which is almost worth a post itself. It’s a charmingly kitschy old hunting lodge, with a very limited menu, but it has cold beer & dank showers, and what more do you want after a long, hot ride? Fun side fact: with a wood/clapboard construction, you can hear everything going on in every other room. Through the gaps in the floorboards of our room, I could see the dining room below. But, a fun place.

Chute Lake – Penticton

Looking SouthThis stretch contains both the roughest stretch of the trail, from Chute Lake to ‘the little tunnel’, and the most stunning, from the tunnel to Penticton. Again, a fat-tired suspension bike strongly recommended due to thick, loose sand and lots of rocks along this stretch. But then you go through the tunnel and it becomes perhaps the most amazing, beautiful trail I’ve ever ridden, through down along the lake through vineyards and orchards right into the Penticton lakefront. This was the stretch that one of my tires finally blew out, somewhere just after the Adra Tunnel. It was also relentlessly hot, as there’s virtually no cover. On the flip-side, this section is 58km, almost entirely downhill.

Penticton – Okanagan Falls

Bridge into Okanagan FallsWe spent an extra in Penticton, staying at a lovely B&B right on the lake, and spent the day lazing down the Penticton channel in inner tubes, and eating dinner at a newly opened Brewery there, Bad Tattoo Brewing (brief review: excellent pizza, their darker beers are their better beers, all good). We then rode on to Oliver, taking the KVR route along Skaha Lake through Okanagan Falls. Signage here was an issue, as getting from Penticton on to the KVR along Skaha was not at all signed – it ends up you ride through a trailer-park campsite with a sign saying “no public access” – just ignore that and keep the lake on your left. The Skaha lake trail is very sandy – I had to walk my bike a fair bit, although Leah, with fatter tires, was fine, but really, really lovely. I could imagine really enjoying spending more time either in OK Falls or Kaleden. The bridge into Okanagan Falls, pictured above, contains a gate midway through, through which kids were jumping into the lake then climbing back out. Well worth a stop, I would think.

Okanagan Falls – Oliver

End of the RoadThis stretch is true “wine country”, and there’s little need to follow the official KVR trail – what little of it exists & is signed, particularly if you want to ride from winery to winery tasting things. The only downside is a 15km stretch alongside the highway – one with a nice, wide shoulder to ride in, but after been so far from traffic for so long, a bit of a let-down. This stretch also is quite hilly if you want to ride up to the wineries. Trust me – you want to ride to the wineries. We stayed our last night at 6 Road B&B just south of Oliver – again, spectacular, nestled into a working Orchard, and conveniently only a few-minute ride up to Tinhorn Creek Winery and Miradoro restaurant, where we ate dinner our last night out.

Final Notes:

  • Don’t ride this trail without a fat-tired bike. Tires & suspension are much  more important than gears – I barely changed gears the whole trip outside of the climbs around Oliver, as it really is mostly a 2% grade.
  • Take more water. We had 2 water bottles + a spare each, and it wasn’t enough. It gets damn hot in the Okanagan, and you’re exposed most of the time.
  • I regret not having a GoPro to take some video of the route – my makeshift camera-on-a-gorilla-pod didn’t cut it.
  • I bought a handleband to hold my phone for this trip, which was awesome. I totally recommend it. I’d also recommend extra battery packs for long rides, which I didn’t have.
  • I wish we’d had another day to ride further south down to Osoyoos and explore that last stretch.
  • Definitely add this to your bucket list. Apart from our first 74-km day, I could imagine Liam doing this trip without too much trouble, so consider it kid-friendly, if you’re willing to take it slower.