E-Bikes Will Charge You Up

It’s hot out there, people. So, let’s take a break from the serious stuff and talk bicycles.

My wife, Dianne, bought an electric bike a couple of years ago. This year, after stubborn, but futile, resistance (a common theme in married life, I’ve found) I caved and bought one myself.

For those of you who think e-bikes are cheating, I used to agree. But the truth is that with “pedal assist” you’re still getting a decent workout. No, not as much as if you were propelling yourself, unassisted, up all those hills, but you’re still working. And, frankly, as we age, if the little boost you get gets you out on a bike or keeps you on the road longer, that’s a net plus.

And they’re fun as hell. That’s especially true on the trails we like to ride in northern Wisconsin, like the beautiful Heart of Vilas County Trail. What you get there are a lot of sudden hills. These are very short, but steep hills that pop up all at once, sometimes right around a blind corner without enough warning to gear down. That’s a buzz killer on a conventional bike. But on an electric model the e-assist kicks in and you conquer the little demon, no problem .

If you want quality and don’t want the hassles, spend the money and buy a Trek or something in its class.

As for equipment, Dianne and I took our typical paths. She went for quality; I went for cheap. Dianne bought a Trek. It’s quality all around and it’s a Wisconsin company. The components are top notch, the bike came fully assembled and if anything goes wrong the company and the bike shop are there to back things up. It’s a great product, but it comes at a price. In her case, that price was about $2,500.

I just didn’t want to spend that much, so I violated all the rules of liberal conscientious consumption. I bought a bike on Amazon and it came direct from China. (Dianne’s Trek was built in China too, though she was supporting American jobs since the corporate offices, design and marketing all come out of the U.S.)

I only spent about $800 and I got what I paid for. It came in a box, so I had to assemble it myself. I’m reasonably handy and that was a good thing because the instructions were in broken English and, even at that, they were inadequate. There were parts that were there with no explanation. There was a lot of just figuring stuff out and looking online to see what the finished product was supposed to look like. I still haven’t figured out how to attach the front light or how to get the control system to report in miles instead of kilometers. If there was a key to lock up the valuable battery pack, I couldn’t find it in the box. The plastic holder for the electric control panel was broken, so I had to attach it with electrician’s tape. And, God and Xi Jinping help me if I should ever need service on the thing.

But, I have to say, for the price the thing works just fine. The actual functioning of the e-assist works just as well as Dianne’s Trek. The battery life isn’t as long as her’s but it really doesn’t matter. I like to go about 20 miles at a time and when I’m done the computer tells me that I’m still at over 90% capacity. (The specs will tell you that a battery pack is good for, say, 24 miles in my case, but that’s full out for 24 miles. Using the assist only when necessary extends that by a bunch. If you’re not planning on doing centuries on your e-bike, I wouldn’t spend a lot on a more powerful battery that you won’t need.)

The bottom line is that I love my e-bike. Far from cheating the exercise, I bike a lot more than I would otherwise and it’s just a blast. And my recommendation is that if you like quality and you’re not into solving the hassles yourself, spend the extra dough and buy a Trek. But, for me, cheap as I am, pretty handy with a wrench and some electrician’s tape, and not especially sensitive to guilt for making Jeff Bezos richer, my Go Trax, direct from China, was a bargain and does what I need it to do.

Happy biking.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “E-Bikes Will Charge You Up

  1. Why didn’t you at least buy from a local shop like Crazy Lenny’s e-bikes? At least you’d have supported a local business doing some of the work and had the thing put fully together and someplace to service what wasn’t put together right. We all need to read the stories and learn of the harm we are doing as Amazon comes to dominate ever aspect of commerce in America. From what I’ve seen of the local stores you could have gotten something for about the same price.


    1. The short answer is that it was just the most convenient choice at the time. I shopped online from the comfort of my living room, found what I wanted at the price I wanted and got it delivered to my door Up North. Didn’t have to schlep it up there. I accepted the fact that it would probably be an inferior produce to what I could have gotten from Trek and maybe Lenny and it might have some service issues down the line. But I took all that into account, asked myself if that other stuff was worth the $1,700 price differential and decided to go with the less expensive product. Maybe I’ll regret that down the line, but for now I like my choice. Free market working.


  2. Frankly I think it’s an understatement. I think e-bikes offer the opportunity to vastly exceed what was previously our wildest imagination for bike use in many American cities.

    Everyone has a limit for the amount of normal biking they’re willing to do (I will go x distance in x temperature in x circumstances). E-bikes dramatically increase everyone’s limit and broadens the set of circumstances in which they’re willing to bike. In Austin we have big hills and horrible summer temperatures … e-bikes eliminate hills and make the heat more bearable.

    I’ve had a Batch e-bike for a year-and-a-half and it has made it much easier for us to remain a one-car household. I often take my daughter to and from her daycare, three miles away, on it. I would never ever consider doing that on a normal bike.

    We are now a two e-bike and one car family!

    One thing that is frustrating about the debate over the infrastructure package is that even the pie-in-the-sky $2.3 trillion proposal that Biden offered did not include any dedicated money for pedestrian and bike infrastructure. And there was $176B proposed for electric car incentives but no mention of e-bike incentives.

    A major push by the federal government and local governments on behalf of e-bikes and bike infrastructure may be one of the most cost-effective ways to fight climate change, improve public health and deliver financial relief to the poor/middle class. It should be a slam fucking dunk.


  3. I also think e-bikes are great. I had one for about 10 years. I used it to commute from the SW side of Madison (Elver park-ish) to the NE side (by American Family) 2-3x/week and used it year-round. I had a Surly Big Dummy with an Xtracycle and a ‘Stokemonkey’ motor and LiPo battery. I could load 6 bags of groceries from the East side co-op and haul ass out to the SW side. Personal record was -10F with an Arctic-grade wind chill. Loved the looks I would get from people in my winter gear walking up and down the aisles.

    I ditto the comment about shopping locally. Supporting Amazon is supporting our own demise. Convenience is the card the devil uses to help us out.

    Crazy Lenny deserves our support. He got out there early.

    My only concern is seeing people whose bike handling skills do not match the speed with which they can travel. I see this somewhat often on Madison’s bike trails. Someone is going to get hurt, maybe badly, when the inevitable collision happens.


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