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Search for a winter-worthy e-bike

After two years of making do with the Rad Mini I’ve decided to upgrade my e-bike. The Rad is the inexpensive hub-drive bike we bought to help Fiona get around Nelson on her own. After she graduated from high school it languished for a year or so until I took it over in 2021, making it my primary means of local transportation.

But not only is it ridiculously heavy, it has also been very difficult to use and maintain in winter. The weirdly small-but-fat wheels don’t have any studded tires available to fit them. I bought tire chains, but wore them out. The exposed drivetrain (chain and gearing sprockets) are always wet and coated in the sand and salt that are used on the roads here in the winter. The mechanical brakes and exposed shifting mechanism are prone to icing up. And while I spend ten minutes every time I arrive home spraying, wiping, lubing and wiping the moving components (yes, even at night when it’s ten below in the garage) rust and corrosion continue because I can’t get the bike dry. With the rack and other extras it weighs 85 lbs, and bringing it into the mud room would involve stairs, so that doesn’t happen. And obviously I can’t do the cleaning and lubing when I’m away from home, say for a meeting or a shopping trip. So oxidation and abrasion continued to have their way…

With hundreds and hundreds of charge cycles, the battery had reached its end of life as well. While I got nowhere near the lifetime mileage out of the battery that the manufacturer claimed was possible, this was no doubt down to the hard use I have put it through: a three-kilometer 5-13% uphill grade every time it returns home, typically laden with cargo, and using it at for a good part of the year at temperatures well below optimal. Recently the battery had been acting strange, suddenly slipping to half or a quarter of its charge, occasionally leaving me entirely in the lurch, playing random games with the headlight (and boy-oh-boy are the nights dark here when the headlight quits!).

I had been pining for something more suited to my needs, and so a few months ago I made a list of attributes my next e-bike should have:

  • Removable battery (batteries need to be charged at room temperature)
  • ~ 70+ nM of torque for my climb home with groceries i.e. a powerful mid-drive motor
  • Power-sensor assist rather than simple pedal-rotation-sensor (much more natural)
  • Carbon belt drive (no corrosion, no lube/grease on clothes)
  • Internal hub with wide gearing range (ditto)
  • Hydraulic brakes (no cables icing up like with mechanical brakes)
  • Standard-sized wheels (not small, not fat) for use with studded tires, and for better stability on fast descents (the Rad picks up a wobble at 35 km/h)
  • Available small frame size (most e-bikes are best suited to people over 5’7″ which I’m definitely not!)

Bonus items:

  • heavy-duty rack
  • integrated headlight/taillight
  • fenders, kickstand
  • lighter weight

With the Rad’s battery nearing its end of life, rather than spending far more than the residual value of the bike itself on a replacement, I decided that since for me an e-bike is my primary means of transportation year-round, it was time to buy a bike for me, and for my style of use. I started researching early in 2023.

Sadly most of the bikes produced for the North American market are sport- and recreation-focused, rather than being optimized for all-weather transportation. The belt drive / internal hub gearing in particular was a very difficult feature to find domestically.

But eventually I found a couple of Canadian shops specializing in importing European bikes. One of the shops is situated less than a 30-minute walk from where Fiona lives in Toronto, so the last time I visited her, I made a stop at Curbside Cycle. I was thrilled to discover that they still had the bike I had had my eye on: a size-small Riese & Müller hybrid commuter-style bike left over from last year and heavily discounted. One very short and very thrilling test-ride later, it had my name on it and was put in the queue for shipment to BC.

Then last week the Rad’s battery spat and popped and that was the end. Goodbye, battery. Thank goodness my replacement bike had already been identified, sourced, bought and paid for!

The R&M bike is still on its way across Canada to me, expected in about a week. It’s been challenging getting by with only my ‘acoustic’ bike or on foot in the cold end-of-winter rains. Walking the route from town takes an hour, non-electrified cycling half an hour, and both of them call for a shower afterwards because of the exertion required to get up the hill to home. But soon … sooooonnn…







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