Breaking the e-Bike Taboo

Monday, September 2, 2019

Breaking the e-Bike Taboo

by Carol Linden
When I showed off my new Bianchi e-Aria – that is, an electric assist road bike – to a friend at a rest stop, he joked “you’ve broken the code”. In some ways this is true – I broke the code of judgment, silence, and frustration surrounding the notion that a “real roadie” would not ride an e-assist bike.
This past spring I did an Heart Cycle tour in Tucson, AZ. Four riders had e-bikes. One in particular stood out – it looked like a normal, drop bar road bike, with the motor in the rear hub and the battery in the down tube. The woman riding it was having a grand time. So was I, but I was working a whole lot harder at doing so. It got me thinking about “someday” getting an e-assist road bike, because I have long been frustrated by my inability to get up hills and mountains at anything but a slow crawl.
Fast forward to a short time later, when I saw an advertisement for the Bianchi e-Aria. I had already done some research on e-road bikes, and noted that all the major brands were coming out with them, with more joining the fray every day. When I learned about the Bianchi e-Aria, the pieces all fell into place, in no small part because Travis Evans, owner of our trusty local bike shop, JRABS, is a Bianchi dealer. I knew he could help me navigate this new path.
Now I am the very happy owner and rider of a shiny celeste Bianchi e-Aria. So what’s it like? For starters, yes, the bike is about 10 lbs heavier than my regular road bike. But despite the extra weight, it rides like a dream even without the motor turned on. This bike is a “class 1” with a 250 watt motor, which cuts off over 20 mph and only provides assist when you are pedaling. No pedaling, no assist. There are 3 assist levels: 75 W, 150 W, and 250 W. On climbs of 5 – 10%, I can ride at about twice the speed that I can under my own power using either the lowest or middle level of assist. I’ve only resorted to the highest level for steeper pitches over 10%. The lowest level of assist is great for undulating terrain, when you encounter bumps of 3 – 5%. It’s like having the legs I wish I had been born with.
My challenge now is to understand how long the battery charge will last depending on the length and hilliness of a ride. Recently I completed the 61 mile route of the Tour de Frederick, which stayed in the relatively flat watershed; I had just over 50% battery power remaining. I estimated that I only used the assist about half the time on that ride, because there were long flattish stretches, and some downhills. On some other rides, I’ve used the assist more often and at higher levels, and ended with less battery charge remaining. So it all depends – on how much you use the assist, length of the ride, climbing, your weight, headwinds, etc. 
Did this bike turn me from a CC rider into an A level rider? Nope. Not even close. The way I’ve used the assist, I end up with overall ride averages approximately 2 to 3 mph faster than I would have under my own power. This difference can add up to finishing a ride from several minutes to almost an hour sooner than I would otherwise, depending on the ride length. I’m still working hard, but getting a little help on the climbs. At last, I’m no longer the lanterne rouge.
So, the code has been broken! If you are considering an e-assist road bike for whatever reason – injury or other issues - there are great options available now and more coming in the future. All I can say is that this bike has added much joy to my rides!

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