Last week, my e-bike finally arrived, having gone missing for nearly a month on what turned out to be a mistaken courier trip to Taupo. But it's here now, it's SmartMotion's Pacer model and I am impressed.
I am also a little bit perplexed. When I wrote a couple of sponsored blog posts about trying e-bikes and their prospects for easing traffic congestion, the client (Mercury) specifically asked that I not blog about the Pacer, and instead concentrate on the E-City. SmartMotion itself seems not to have particularly pushed the Pacer either.
I get that the E-City is more affordable and perhaps more suitable for new riders – but I'm very grateful to the correspondent on Twitter who told me that the Pacer was a far superior bike, because it is. Its advantages over the E-City* range from the battery mounting (on the frame, rather than the rear rack) to the tyres, the display panel and the integrated lighting, including the "flood strip" built into the frame.
But most of all, for me, it's the torque sensor over the cadence sensor – it really does, as I had read, feel more natural to someone already used to riding bikes. It also obviates the need for a throttle – if you know how to work the gears, you can take off quickly enough not to need one.
Okay, speed. My light, narrow-tyred unpowered hybrid street bike is probably still quicker off the mark if I'm trying hard, but past the first three metres, the Pacer is a racer. And that presents problems in itself.
A fair part of riding in Auckland traffic is looking ahead at what some fool might be doing to risk your safety. It's easy enough to belt along at 35-40 km/h on this thing (NZ e-bikes are limited to a 300 watt motor, but there's not a limiter that drops the assist at 25 km/h, as is the case with European bikes) and if you're doing that, the whole safety equation changes.
You need to be looking a lot further ahead and be gauging your ability to stop differently. If you come off your bike or collide with a car at 40 km/h, you'll be a bigger mess than you would be on an ordinary bike. Given that I've been hit by errant drivers (in my car) twice in the last six months, I'm a bit edgy about this anyway. So that's taken some getting used to.
I'm also still getting used to how I relate to following cars. When should I give way and when should I just take the lane? I've already discovered that I can come off the slope on Meola Road and be doing 50 km/h on the flat – and still have cars roar past me. Apparently no one drives to the speed limit on Meola Road.
Of course, you don't need to go full-tilt all the time and I think there's a philosphical shift in simply going slower and enjoying the ride. Your battery will last longer anyway.
But I'm finding even a measured ride on this thing is getting me places far quicker and with less effort. About 12-15 minutes from my house in Point Chev to K Road quick. One of my goals with riding has always been to replace car journeys, and the Pacer has greatly increased the number of car journeys it's practical to replace.
Of course, one of my other goals is to maintain a level of fitness and I haven't quite worked out my relationship with my sweet unpowered Fuji street bike – for the reason that I haven't sat on it since the e-bike arrived. The Pacer isn't particularly heavy for an e-bike, but it's a bloody bus compared to the Fuji. There will be times when it's more fun to nip around on the light bike, surely. Work up a sweat. Must do that.
There's one more thing: security. The Pacer is worth $3600 and I had a bike (indemnity value for insurance: $320) stolen last year and that sucked. I've fitted a steel ring into the porch to lock up both bikes at home, but I don't think I'm going to be really comfortable about leaving the Pacer locked up out in the world until I shell out for a good-quality D-lock rather than a combination lock.
But, for now, I'm very happy with my new e-bike.
*The Pacer's advantage over the Catalyst lies in the fact that it's silly to encourage people to ride a knobbly-tyred mountain bike on the road – it's not a good experience. And I'm dubious about pedal-assist mountain bikes as a concept, frankly.