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!

In which I narrowly avoided being crushed

This morning on my morning commute I was speeding down Ontario, quite pleased with myself for how I was catching every green light on my route (due almost entirely to the efforts of a woman who was much faster than I, but ended up stopping at each light so I would catch up with her).

Coming down from the roundabout at 10th to Broadway, the woman ahead pressed the button & the light changed green for us. I sped up, so as to catch the light – it was still green as I entered the intersection. Because I had a solid green light, I didn’t do my customary traffic-check that I do as lights change (either red->green or green->yellow) – I just went. I was also riding fast, so looking ahead. I suddenly felt, rather than saw, something large immediately to my right. Turning, I saw the grill of one of those large Cube trucks seemingly feet from me. I utterly froze, convinced I was about to be hit by this truck that was in the intersection with me. Through some combination of my momentum and pure luck, the truck missed me – by inches.  I’m honestly still amazed that I wasn’t hit.

I’m going to assume the truck driver wasn’t actually trying to kill me, but just wasn’t paying attention, as the truck just kept motoring west on Broadway – no brakes, no stopping to make sure I was ok, no honking horn – nothing that would indicate he (or she) had any idea of how insanely close to hitting me they were, nor even that they had just run a red light.

I, on the other hand, had to immediately stop. I was shaking so badly I couldn’t get my legs to work right. I nearly fell over trying to get out of my clips to sit on the sidewalk for a few minutes to collect myself. A really nice homeless guy stopped to ask if I was ok, and offered some sympathetic expletives regarding the truck driver.

I’m not sure if this miss made it a bad morning or a fantastic, lucky morning. I will say that I truly enjoyed my coffee upon arrival to work.