The Comeback of the Electric Bike

With the current election and the cratered economy making it real clear that we need to conserve gas, I picked up my first second generation Electric Bike from a company called (E +). I have two of the first generation high performance electric bikes from a company called Wavecrest who built them for the US Military and these puppies, while expensive, blew away everything else that was out there.

The Wavecrest TidalForce IO

The Bikes came in three configurations: a military grade collapsible mountain bike (I would love to see someone actually parachute in with this – kind of a James Bond thing) and  two less expensive cruisers. The cruisers had two models: a women’s model, which I got my wife, and a men’s bike, which to me resembled a tank. None of the bikes were even remotely wimpy.

What made them particularly fun was that the battery was in the front hub of the front tire while the engine, a very advanced, high torque, high speed 750 watt model, adoptive motor was in the rear hub. The motor had two settings: a regular setting for distance and a turbo setting for power (I always used the turbo setting because, well, it was there.)  With the motor and batteries concealed the bike looked like a regular bike unless you looked more closely. It was a real kick to pass someone struggling mightily to climb a hill on an expensive mountain bike when my electric bike looked like it was clearly much heavier and less advanced.

What was particularly cool is that the bikes had a cruise control, that when set, you could just pedal at the speed and force you wanted and the electric engine would make up the difference.   We live in a very hilly area and without this engine I’m afraid the bikes would never make it out of the garage. Oh, and it also had regenerative breaking, which means when you are going down hills it is charging the battery.

But this first generation had issues. The batteries, which cost around $1,000, would wear reportedly out in a year of use. The bikes were so heavy that it took two rather strong people to put them on a bike rack, which also had to be incredibly reinforced to hold the bike. The kickstands just weren’t as well built as the rest of the bike and tended to grind on the wheels, and the frames were so big and hefty there were few accessories that would fit them. The motor had a governor that prevented it from going over 22 miles per hour even though it was clearly capable of more.  Not bad for a first generation, but it clearly needed another revision to become perfect.

Unfortunately Wavecrest had financial problems and had to stop selling to consumers so I thought this experiment of electric bike was finished.

The E+ Arrives

Fortunately, the technology was sold and now forms the basis for the E+, which is a vastly improved bike over the Wavecrest bikes, except for in a few areas. It is much lighter. It feels around 30% lighter than the Wavecrest models we have, and it is a bit smaller. The size and weight difference make the E+ bike vastly easier for one person to put it on a bike rack (which still needs to be strong.) The batteries and motor are in the same place but they are even less distinctive adding to the stealth value of the bike. I opted for the 1,000-watt model, which doesn’t have a governor. This means 30+ miles per hour speeds are possible on the flats and down hills, all while still looking like a normal bike.

The controller is updated and now has resistance settings, just in case the weather sucks outside but you still want to get some exercise, just like an exercise bike. It has 9 levels of power and 9 levels of resistance, which gives it another level of adjustment the Wavecrest didn’t have.

Overall the bike feels more refined in all ways but two. The first: it still uses the Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries, which didn’t hold up well in the old bike. My hope was they would move to Lithium Ion by now, but the company tells me the new charger will condition them better allowing them to last longer (500 cycles) and the batteries themselves are improved.  I got a two year warranty just in case.

The second: the connector to the charger.  On the Wavecrest it was a small simple plug, on the E+ you have to disconnect the main battery waterproof connector and hook it to the charger.  It is not the easiest thing in the world to do and far from the plug and go experience I wanted, though, to be fair the Wavecrest plug was fragile and likely would break.

Wrapping Up

These bikes aren’t cheap, fully configured the Wavecrest bikes were $2,600 and the new E+ base price is around $3,400. With the larger engine, shipping and 2-year warranty, mine set me back nearly $4,300.   Still the E+ bike is a higher quality build, much faster, and I’m told will hold up better. Overall I’m very pleased. The company is in the process of building Lithium Ion extended battery packs which they hope to have out as an option next year.

If you see someone riding up a hill flying past people that are pumping hard on their bikes but only going 2 MPH, that is probably me cruising by at 10+ MPH with a huge grin. The big grin is because I’m having a ball watching folks in a lot better shape than me give me the "huh" look as I blaze past them. Who says you have to grow up?

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.