A few months ago I switched jobs. For twelve years I’ve been an external information/IT consultant working for local governments. Now I’m working at the municipality of Wageningen. Whereas I used to commute throughout the Netherlands to different organizations, I now have a fixed office destination. I’m not a fan of commuting to work by car, mostly due to all the traffic jams – the Netherlands is heavily congested. I therefore am a big fan of using the public transportation, which is excellent in the NL and enables me to do work on my laptop on the train. Wageningen however is a lot more difficult to get to quickly from my hometown. It takes me about an hour and a half to commute to work. Even though it’s just 37 kilometres (23 miles). This is way too long for such a short distance IMO. By car it takes me, during rush hour, an hour and twenty minutes, so a bit faster – but not by much. As a cycling nation I did consider using a bike, but that would take me even more time. While orienting on this job a stumbled upon an alternative: the speed pedelec, also known as a high speed e-bike.
So I did a bit more research about the speed pedelecs to see if this would be an interesting alternative and if it would actually be faster than public transportation and car. Short answer: yes! Here’s what I learned and experienced. I’ve written this with people who are novice to speed pedelecs (SPs) and considering buying one.
What’s a speed pedelec?
A speed pedelec is an electrified bicycle which can assist your pedalling up to 45 kilometres per hour (28 mph). It differs from mopeds and scooters in that it has pedals and you actually have to pedal for the motor to kick in. The motor is allowed to amplify the power your legs deliver up to 4 times. Due to EU and national regulations a speed pedelec is required to have a license plate, horn, rear view mirror, lighting and its rider has to wear a special helmet. An insurance is also required.
The speed pedelec depicted is a Stromer ST2. Picture was taken during my daily commute.
Differences between speed pedelecs
Doing my internet research I stumbled upon a lot of brands that have released SPs. Ranging from Dutch brands such as Gazelle, QWIC and Santos to foreign brands such as Giant, Riese & Müller, Trek, Klever, Bulls and Stromer. The differences are bigger than meets the eye. There are several key aspects on which SPs differ, most notably:
- The electric motor itself. On speeds pedelecs you see mid-drive motors and rear hub motors. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Mid-drive motors have their weight in the middle, it’s easier to change a tire and you can use a gates belt for instance. But a mid-drive also comes with its disadvantages, such as the effect it has on the durability of the drive train. You also can’t shift gears while pedalling. And mid-drive motors come tend to be less reliable. Apparently, this is due to the larger number of moving parts. Looking at user experiences and reviews on the internet I found noticeably more bad reviews on mid drive motors. So my first conclusion was to look for an SP with a rear hub motor.
- The power the motor delivers. On some SPs it’s noticeably easier to quickly reach the maximum speed AND to maintain it! The reviews showed me that some brands have even difficulty reaching the maximum allowed speed of 45 km/h (Trek, QWIC, Gazelle). Don’t be fooled by the usually higher torque you see on mid-drive compared to hubs, they are less effective to transfer this to the rear wheel. Due to regulations introduced last year in the Netherlands you are obliged to ride an SP on the road instead of the bicycle path. To not annoy car drivers and feel comfortable between cars it was imperative for me to be easily able to ride on maximum speed. Moreover, I was looking for an alternative to commuting by car of PT so I could get to work faster.
- Geometry and tire size. I did not expect the frame geometry and tire size could make such a huge impact on the ‘feel’ of riding on a speed pedelec, but it does. I tried several models from the same brand and experienced this myself. Bigger tire size (27,5” instead of 26”) does a lot for taking turns, dodging pot holes and stability (smaller tires tend to feel snappier, whereas bigger tires provide more stability).
- Battery size. Batteries tend to vary from 400 wh to a whopping 1300 wh. Depending on the energy consumption of the motor the range you can ride on a SP varies A LOT. My commute on a SP amounts to about 37 km (23 mi). So a big battery is a must. Consider also the effect cold weather has on the range you can ride and also consider a battery slowly but certainly degrades over time. So a battery as big as possible is a necessity for me.
- The front light. Also, this varies from brand to brand and from model to model. Think about it, when riding at maximum speed in the complete dark you need quite some light on the road in front of you, so you can see for instance pot holes long in advance. Take into account the reaction time to brake or perform a manoeuvre and I realized I needed a top notch light. One of the very best lights I stumbled upon is the Supernova M99 Pro which delivers 1100 to 1600 lumen (low beam – high beam)!
- Brakes, tires and gears matter a lot, but I noticed mostbrands use the same equipment from Magura, Schwalbe and Shimano.
In the end one brand came up that stands out in reliability, speed, innovation (and price unfortunately); the Swiss brand Stromer! Stromer is the best sold brand of speed pedelecs in the Netherlands and has active online communities (Dutch, Swiss and American) where I could enormous amounts of experiences and advice.
I found an excellent dealer nearby that has provided me with different Stromer models which I could then extensively test – the ST2 model I was even allowed to test for three weeks for commuting. I also tested the ST3 and ST5. In total I was able to ride a total of 1200 kilometres (750 miles) before I decided which model was for me. I’ll limit the rest of this post to focus on general observations and experiences.
Speed pedelecs go very fast! My first few drives I was actually reticent to go full speed. But I quickly gained more confidence and started feeling comfortable to go 45km/h. The trick is to know when, where and under which circumstances to go fast and when to restrain oneself. Roads with lots of pot holes, grit/gravel, bystreets and exits are not suitable for going fast. The biggest danger are the fellow road users who underestimate the speed of the speed pedelec. It has happened to me several times that cars overtake me and want to turn right on a side street with too little space. Luckily, I was prepared for this due to the online communities, having read people who had been in accidents with their SP. So I tend to drop my speed under such circumstances.
If there is one thing I’ve come to understand, both by reading and by first-hand experience, the speed pedelec is long from a fully developed product and incomparable with a car or normal bike. Not only in the respect that brand are still innovating on a lot of the parts of the speed pedelec. But more importantly also in the negative side effect of new technology: reliability and stability. The electronics (especially the torque sensor, internal wiring and computer chips) are still prone to malfunctions due weather influences and other factors. A lot of SPs experience these problems upon delivery and during the first few weeks and a good dealer solves them, after which most people have a problem-free SP. I was prepared for some issues when I got a test-SP and unfortunately some issues have indeed occurred. I then quickly learned how important a good pro active dealer is (and I was not disappointed by the dealer I had chosen). So some buying advice: don’t go for the cheapest dealer but the best one you can find within a reasonable distance. You may depend on them (especially in the first weeks) more than you expect.
Oh my, I have come to really appreciate the looks of the SPs I’ve been testing. The big and wide tires I really like, because it gives a SP a awesome look. I received a lot of positive reactions and the SP got a lot of admiration whenever I stopped at a traffic light or a bicycle ferry. Most people ask the three how-question: how fast is it, how far can you ride with it and how much does it cost. Usually in that order. When people hear the cost of an SP their enthusiasm tends to diminish somewhat. Though I explain I see this as an alternative to buying a car which makes it financially very interesting (I know, this is in part cognitive dissonance).
A speed pedelec is certainly not cheap. Expect prices ranging from 3.000 euros up to 10.000 euros (about $3.500 – $11.500). When compared to a bike this certainly a lot of many – and in itself it’s of course a lot of money as well. Bu I’ve come to see of it as an alternative means of transportation instead of a car of train. And then the difference total cost of ownership are actually quite good. A SP basically costs you a lot of money initially, but regular maintenance is quite cheap: tires, chain, drive train, brake pads and some oil and stuff and that’s it. Electricity for charging the battery is minimal, I’ve estimated it will cost my about €20,- a year ($23). Not bad, ey?
A car is significantly more expensive when considering total cost of ownership. Initial price of a car could very well be cheaper, but think of all the recurring bills: petrol, road tax, insurance, parking fees and maintenance. During the second year an SP is getting cheaper than a car and in the third year I’ll reach break-even in respect to my travel allowance. From then onwards, the SP actually makes money!
After extensively testing the SP on the daily commute I found the perfect route through farm lands and forest, mostly avoiding towns and traffic lights. It takes me an hour exactly! So this is way faster than the car and PT. I have found the perfect means of transport!
But, more aspect make it perfect for me: A ride on a SP puts a smile on my face every single time (even when riding with heavy rain). It is such a pleasure to ride on a SP through lovely landscape. It also provides me with a great workout (I shower at work). And lastly, every single day I came home with a head completely freed from contemplations about work. In the end these factors have persuaded me to order a Stromer speed pedelec; it is set to be delivered in early december. More about Stromer speed pedelecs in future blog posts and how I came to my decision which one to order.
Hopefully my post has been insightful for you. If you have any question, feel free to ask them below…