Viking E-Bikes, Vol. 3: The Good & The Bad

eprodigy-bikeI confess, thanks to holiday interruptions, snow, and general laziness, it’s been several weeks of not riding my Viking E-Bike.

(As the title of this post suggests, this is the third installment in my continuing series on my experiences with this loaner electric assist bicycle.)

BUT…this week I’ve been back in the saddle, despite freezing temperatures, and I have some Goods & Bads to report:

The Good

  • There’s simply no way, at least in my current state of fitness, that I’d be able to do my 5-mile each way commute without the power assist.
  • I am still getting a workout, since I’m only using just enough power assist to make the hills manageable. And, with research suggesting that riders of e-bikes, on average, may get as much exercise as riders of conventional bikes — because they ride more often and for longer distances — I’m excited about getting in better shape!
  • The upright riding position of the eProdigy Jasper is incredibly comfortable! After riding a hybrid bike with mountain bike geometry for 20+ years, I can’t believe I went so long just tolerating how uncomfortable and fatiguing the hunched over riding position was.
  • The suspension — Suntour front fork combined with seat post suspension — does a nice job of smoothing out the ride, especially welcome as some of the road shoulder along my commute route is bumpy and pothole-ridden.
  • The factory installed front headlight provides excellent visibility; critical given that the time of year has me riding to and from work in the dark. That it’s powered by the bike motor’s battery and there’s no need to change AAs or AAAs or whatever all the time is a big plus.
  • Though I haven’t braved the rain yet (forecast says this ends on my commute home this Friday), I can already tell that the full front and rear fenders will be great to have. Additionally, this bike has unusual side fenders that I’ve never seen before, two plastic panels on either side of the rear wheel, and I’ll be interested to see how they contribute to rain protection.
  • The throttle is a nice feature. With the bike as ridiculously heavy as it is (see below), if you’re at a stop, in traffic, it can be a lifesaver, to get you off the line and out of the way of cars, trucks, and buses, especially on hills.

The Bad

  • As mentioned in my last Viking E-Bikes post, the eProdigy Jasper is WAY, WAY too heavy for my taste. Pushing the thing around is ridiculously clumsy and laborious, riding it on the flats feels like the brakes are engaged, it feels like I’m riding a motorcycle, or at least a scooter. It gives the bike, despite the motor, an incredibly sluggish feeling, but worse, from a safety perspective, it feels like it would be very difficult to maneuver in a crisis moment that demands a quick, agile, response.
  • No factory installed rear light seems odd, given the front light is included. (Luckily the Viking E-Bikes program outfitted their bikes with well-made third party rear lights.)
  • The experience of shifting gears and adjusting the power assist level feels like it’s not engineered well. While I’ve not ridden other electric bikes, I HAVE read a lot of reviews, and smooth shifting and level adjusting is a primary desire, and while the eProdigy Jasper got good marks for this when it was reviewed, I find the process choppy and annoying. This could possibly be the fault of the shop — where these bikes are tuned up quarterly — not having adjusted the gears correctly.
  • Several other shop-related and no fault of the manufacturer problems: 1. The rear wheel is WAY out of true and wobbly, not fun or safe on icy roads or in the rain, and so the bike is headed back to shop today for this and the other issues; 2. The brakes are spongy, and are either not adjusted correctly or the pads need replacing; 3. There is a clicking sound coming from the front wheel, could be a loose spoke; 4. The chain guard is broken and the chain is rubbing on it when in the lowest gears.
  • The LCD display is annoying and I don’t like it. Unlike many e-bike riders who LOVE all technology (some bikes come with an app with which you can communicate with the bike using your smartphone), when I’m on a bicycle I don’t want the IT in my face. For the duration of my ride I do not need to know the time, the temperature, the speed at which I’m traveling, the number of miles I’ve ridden, etc. The battery level is useful, but redundant, since there is a battery level indicator on the battery itself, and one learns very quickly just how much they can ride between charges. Finally, the display on my bike obviously needs recalibrating, as the time and speedometer are incorrect, and I just can’t be bothered to figure out how to do that.
  • It would be great if the bike came with something to help you hold things on the rear rack. Oh, it can accommodate panniers, but sometimes you just want to go for a spin without all the luggage. A simple built-in bungee device, like I’ve seen on other rear racks would be very functional.

The Somewhere In Between

  • The step-through frame takes some getting used to: my conditioning as a male has me stupidly feeling emasculated, but I can’t shake it. Hopefully that will fade. Also, I just simply forget and swing my leg up and over for no good reason.

So, there it is, the initial assessment.

I’ll be generating more observations over the next 10 weeks I’ll be riding, and I’ll include in my last post in this series an updated Goods & Bads list, comparing the before and after.

Until next time…!

 

Friday Tweet Repeats: Pre-1-Week Vacation Edition

A selection of my tweets from the past few weeks, in case you missed them at @FishAndBicycles.

 

Dalai Lama App?

Viking E-Bikes, Vol. 2: Kicking It Off With A Bang!

viking-e-bike-displaySo, this cool thing happened!

I wrote last week that I’d signed up for the Viking E-Bikes program at the university where I work, I initially was supposed to get my 10-week loaner e-bike at the beginning of January, but one of the Fall Quarter riders turned their bike in early, so I got it yesterday!

And not only did I get the bike sooner than I expected, I got one helluva ride on it sooner than I expected.

I’ll explain.

I knew I would be picking the bike up on campus during the day, but I needed to get to campus for work in the morning, and so I drove my car with the bike rack attached, thinking I’ll just take it home and ride it in the morning.

Well, 5pm arrives, I ride the bike to my car, prep the bike rack, I go to lift the bike onto the rack, but I’m reminded instantly that the bike weighs 52 lbs, and with it’s odd geometry…

eprodigy-bike

…it wouldn’t fit on the bike rack even if I could hold it up long enough to secure it.

So, I pop the hatch of my Subaru Forester, lay the back seats down flat, and after risking a hernia and/or herniated disc, I gave up trying to fit the bike on or inside the car.

By now it’s 5:15, it’s dark out, I was supposed to meet someone somewhere about a mile away at 5:15, I call, they are ok pushing that to 5:30, but then I’m supposed to meet someone else, somewhere else, an additional 2 miles away at 6pm, and then finally I needed to go 5 more miles to my home.

I was not mentally prepared for this at all. Despite years as a hardcore bicycle commuter — rain, shine, light, dark, cold, hot — I suddenly needed to ride this e-bicycle, that was totally alien to me, in the dark, cold night, for a total of 7 miles.

Luckily, it wasn’t raining (unusual this time of year in Bellingham), and I did have with me sufficient cold-weather clothing, including gloves, and a headband to cover my ears under the helmet.

So, how did it go?

While I already don’t like a few things about the eProdigy Jasper, the overall experience was…

…exhilarating!

To be able to cover that much ground on a spur of the moment, including several sizeable hills, to make it on time to my appointments and then safely home without feeling like I’d run a marathon, to struggle for a little bit with feeling like I was cheating, using a motor like that, but to then let go of that struggle as I noticed that I was totally getting exercise, pedaling the whole time, using the minimal power assist levels as much as possible … all of that added up to a really fun time!

This morning, as I prepared to ride to work and then pedaled off, leaving the car behind, I felt that familiar, awesome feeling that had sustained me as a bicycle commuter for so many years, that I was doing my part, however small it seemed in the big picture, to reduce my carbon footprint and help usher in the era of transportation based on renewable energy.

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be blogging semi-regularly about my e-bike experience from now through March, so stay tuned for Volume 3 of my Viking E-Bikes series!

 

U2 Tweets x 2

Business As Usual

Viking E-Bikes: Putting The “Bicycle” Back In Fish & Bicycles!

Viking-E-Bike-logo-2gjswx5-200x200When I first started writing Fish & Bicycles, back in 2009, I’d already been employed by Western Washington University (WWU, Western) for nine years, and I was a devoted bicycle commuter.

Rain, shine, even snow…it was a point of great environmentalist pride, as well as the absolute best way to squeeze exercise into a ridiculously busy schedule.

But sadly, over the past two years of my now 17-year tenure at WWU, due to a combination of having moved much further away from campus, some injuries and health issues, and simply a loss of mojo for getting out on a bicycle in Bellingham’s famously wet weather, I gradually stopped my daily bike commute.

Enter, Western’s Viking E-Bike program!

I’ve been considering purchasing an electric pedal-assist bicycle for some time, thinking that the power assistance, only as needed, for the several hills along my 5-mile commute route, would be just the thing to get me back in the saddle, but with price tags ranging from $1,000-$4,000 or more, it was no easy decision.

So, when I learned about the Viking E-Bike program, when I learned that I could apply to have a loaner electric bicycle for an entire 10-week academic quarter, I jumped at the chance, applied, and was just accepted!

I had my orientation this week, in preparation for the start of my 10 weeks near the beginning of January, and I can already tell that this will be an incredible opportunity to evaluate an e-bike, learn how to use one, learn what features I like and don’t like on the eProdigy Jasper bicycle that I’ll be riding (which will guide my eventual purchase of some bike by some to-be-determined manufacturer), and whether or not the power assistance will be enough to get me back to a daily cycling commute.

Given that it’s wintertime, it will be one helluva test, and new rain gear is already on my holiday gift wish list.

I’ll be blogging about my experiences here, so keep an eye out for “Viking E-Bikes” in my post titles!