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e-bike as a gateway drug to a regular bicycle

Someone near and dear to me may be moving to Pittsburgh and I'd love him to find the city as open as I do, and for him to have activity built into his routine, in a way that works for him at the start (he is currently sedentary and has a lot of weight to loose), but if he chooses, but also allows him to measure his physical progress easily and get on a path toward eventual unassisted bicycle riding. I'm wondering whether anyone had success with this journey personally or with a friend or loved one. Some pre-conceptions I have gear-wise about what would help... a confidence inspiringly overbuilt frame and wheels. A boost that's in tune-able proportion to peddling power. Emphasis in all component choices on durability. A bottom gear that's really, REALLY low. Fender/rack are nice to haves but easy to replicate. Best if the battery placement doesn't prevent a rack or the built-in can accept panniers. Cold weather battery performance seems important, but could be somewhat less important if the battery is trivial to swap in and out. Additional cargo hauling friendly features could be a plus. Probably the most critical would just be beefy disc brakes. If it happens to be a cargo bike, that might remove a bit of the stigma of riding with an assist and make the bike something that retains extra usefulness for having the assist even after his fitness level rises, though probably a large one wouldn't be best just because of bus rack-ability concerns. I could cobble things together a bit, but the less of that I have to do, the better. Which directly weighs against the other concern, which obviously is cost. I don't know what his upper end might be. He has the funds for something pretty nice I'd guess, but is pretty anti-materialistic in orientation and is a little skeptical of this whole idea.
2016-02-01 16:12:38
Instead of trying to get him started on utility biking why not start with trail riding? Much easier to start with and easier to find a bike for not too much money that's just perfect.
2016-02-01 16:18:02
If you're even halfway thinking about bus-rack assist, I would make it an absolute requirement to have the maximum weight be in the 35-40 pound range. Super low gears are far more important than motors and batteries. Keep it simple. @Mick, this is a question you've addressed before, I believe?
2016-02-01 16:32:24
I agree with Stu. A well-built bike, with reliable parts and mountain gearing, would be a better way to start, especially if there's a possibility of multi-modal stuff. Add an e-assist if the simple system doesn't work, perhaps?
2016-02-01 18:18:55
Trails wouldn't be frequent enough or demanding enough and the bike would be a toy. Mountain gearing is important and should be available when he's ready, but at the outset, just getting back into it after the longest and being very heavy make for more coordination/balance issues and the possibility of a more painful fall trying and failing to battle up a hill at below 5mph. I think we, broadly, on this board, very commonly overlook how deeply discouraging that prospect is. Yes, I recognize racking a bike that's 60 pounds is much tougher than racking one half the weight, but he could do it if he had to. The goal is to use the bus as AAA, to have the bike open the city for him the way it has for me. And of course all the other good stuff that comes with regular exercise of course, but the key being, exercise that's automatic, that's built into the routine. The possibility of a front hub motor on a regular absurdly low geared mountain bike or hybrid may be the way this goes. Clearly there are now advantages to being able to eventually swap the front wheel to un-powered when he's ready and e-bikes often omit basic information about gearing and almost certainly don't go as low as I'd like for him to have available when he more confidently gets the very low speed balance. But I don't know. I am a little worried by the fact that I can't seem to find a fork that advertises itself ok for a front hub motor and it looks like the way to go would be additional torque arms and who knows what goes with what exactly spacing/etc wise, how steady those mounts are... and how else to evaluate a bike for the addition of motorization (geometry???). I'm looking for experiences on this journey, and hopefully success stories. He's a great guy, he deserves his to be one.
2016-02-01 19:16:51
Well, if you are serious about looking into e-bikes, perhaps you should contact Adam at ASR? He sells complete bikes, but I bet he'd have an educated opinion regarding bolt-on kits and other options.
2016-02-01 20:45:51
Hills can be walked up... There used to be a woman who walked up Greenfield Ave everyday with her bike. I think part of regularly cycling involves setting aside pride and preconceived notions. If you need to hop off and walk up a hill, walk. If you need to take a break, take a break. It's not necessarily going to be easy, but it's good for you and that's what you're doing it for. This guy may have some thoughts, he was active around here a few years ago: From memory, he just had a regular mountain bike
2016-02-01 20:49:59
@myddrin was another rider who lost a lot of weight with help of the bike, though I haven't seen him on the board for a while, either. I think I'm connected with both these individuals via other social media. I'll see if I can contact them & have them chime in here.
2016-02-02 07:54:07
I agree on the walking part- even though I have been riding for many years, and consider myself to have a pretty good fitness level, (especially for my age) I sometimes hit a point where my motor just won't turn the cranks and I finish the hill on my feet. Still gets me where I want to go. I occasionally attempt to ride up Negly just to see how far I get- used to be able to go all the way, but that was also with a triple.
2016-02-02 09:23:15
I would test whatever e-bike you choose before purchasing. I personally have doubts about powering the bike from the front. It seems like it would throw off the handling. I favor a low-cost starting point; if he's going to be utility biking, try it around the neighborhood first. He shouldn't need an e-bike for that, just something like a HelBike would be fine.
2016-02-02 11:43:36
My main dislike of newbies on Ebikes is that they allow a rider to go faster than their bike-handling skills can safely perform. Usually you learn these skills over a longer period of time so that by the time you are physically able to go fast you have spent many hours in the saddle, so have learned how to steer/lean/brake/turn-your-head and all the other subtle things that come with experience. This doesn't mean that they should be outlawed or whatever, but if you are recommending an Ebike as a way to get someone on two wheels recognise the additional safety risks that come with it.
2016-02-02 12:33:12
@ Stu I *have* talked about this. A lot. Not only do you want an extremely low bottom gear, you probably want the second gear to be fairly close to the first - like less than a 20% increase in gear-inches, ratios, or whatever). There are cassettes with one super large gear and the rest normal - I bought one once. :( It made little difference (in my case no difference) whether I switched chainrings or cogs from my lowest gear - it was a leap to the next gear. In that case, there's plenty of hills around here (I'm lookin' at YOU, 18th St.) where the lowest gear is too low and if the next gear is too high, you have a long unpleasant climb. If I don't have the exact best high gear? Then I'm still going down hill pretty fast and comfortably. I spend a lot more time and more difficult time going uphill though, so options are important
2016-02-02 12:47:05
@pierce Hills can be walked up… There used to be a woman who walked up Greenfield Ave everyday with her bike. I think part of regularly cycling involves setting aside pride and preconceived notions. If you need to hop off and walk up a hill, walk. I'm a big proponent of that, too. When I push a bike uphill, I'm usually going 3 mph or maybe less. So, what I said about 1st and 2nd gear applies. If your small chain ring is 28 and you largest cog 32 , then you start losing power serousolya t 5 mph (~70 rpm). For me, I want my lowest gear to get me comfortably within a "one shift" range from walking speed. Currently my smallest chain ring has 22 teeth. On the rare occassions I switch to walking, it's smooth shift.
2016-02-02 13:00:55
uh.... I can go on-and-on about this. With an out of shape newbie, it's important to start him slowly.
2016-02-02 13:02:17
With the hills in Pittsburgh, and given that he's a beginner and overweight, I think you should look at mid-drive motors rather than front hub. For one thing, the extra weight will be in the middle of the bike (and low down) vs. in the front. That'll make it easier to lift up and will also help with traction. The battery can then also be mounted on the down tube rather than the rack, to keep the weight in the middle. Secondly, you can put a more powerful motor in the middle than you can in the front because the front can't handle too much torque. With some of the hills here, and given his size, I think you're going to want a 500w motor rather than a 250.
2016-02-02 22:09:56
The mid drive retrofit does look somewhat less daunting than I supposed. I do hear of people having bad luck with controllers and am not sure how to guard against that. I don't recall what the wattage limit was on trails, I thought possibly 250w... I do want him to feel free to use the trails (though I may have to kill him if he uses the assist there no matter what's on the bike). I'm pretty sure 250w will get him up the hill he would most often be navigating at a safe speed. If it's slow though, that's actually good. I think for something to be a gateway drug to a regular bicycle, it ought to be, at least potentially, mostly human powered.
2016-02-03 09:13:36
I haven't seen much success with people jumping straight from a sedentary life to getting around Pittsburgh by bike. Even for fit people, that is a rare jump to make in Pittsburgh. There's too much going on, learning to shift, handle the bike and also not get run over, all at the same time. Being comfortable on a bicycle and logging time in the saddle is normally needed for someone to feel comfortable braving streets and traffic. My strategy would be to try and establish a routine of riding the riverfront trails once a week. They are flat, easy to ride, scenic and have no traffic. This can be done with an incredibly cheap bike. If the person seems to be having fun, the next step would be a bike that can be ridden up steep hills and through Pittsburgh traffic.
2016-02-04 10:58:57
I'll take him to the trails, sure, but I think the regular routine will be riding down the hill from squirrel hill to oakland, and biking/walking back up. I revisited the gearing available on my mountain bike and it's so low (24/34) that we'll definitely have to add wheelies to the list of balance related concerns, but I doubt, once he gets that balance, that producing the necessary force will actually be a problem. I'll still assume he'd rather walk from circuit drive to just past tech street on Schenley drive at the outset, though I'll strongly encourage peddling the rest of the climb. Other than that, it's just the psychological aspect of being on the road with cars. I'll ride with him, but I think a flock ride or three will also be good.
2016-02-07 12:28:07
Show him the shortcuts and oddball ways to get around. Like (even having to walk the bike up to) the extreme end of Frew St to the path along the edge of the golf course to Northumberland. Then cross Forbes and stay on Northumberland, which can take you all the way over to Dallas with a lot less traffic. You'll need to educate him about stop signs, though.
2016-02-07 17:04:35