In which I test a rock solid, rather pretty commuter bike from Blix
When I wrote about my extremely positive experience of the Magnum Ui5 e-bike, I offered a fairly major caveat: I don't really have any idea what I am talking about.
Yes, I've followed the ins and outs of the e-bike trend for a while, and believe they could play a major role in shaping our cities. But I don't know my hub motor from my chain drive, and don't really have enough experience with different e-bikes to offer a comparative experience between models.
I do, however, know what I like. And I really like the Blix Aveny low step. The good folks at Blix were kind enough to send one for an extended review, which has meant I'm getting a better sense of what life with an e-bike might look like.
I've ridden on medium-sized grocery runs that I might otherwise have taken the used Nissan Leaf for. I've hauled large bags of coffee grounds for compost from my local coffee shop. And I rode a 14 mile journey—partially along busy, four lane roads—to a morning meeting without breaking a sweat. (And I got there in 50 minutes, 25 minutes before Google Maps said I should...)
That's the thing with e-bikes. While, for purists, they might seem like cheating compared to pedal bikes, for the rest of us they override a large number of the excuses we use for jumping in the car—while still delivering on a majority of the social, environmental and health benefits of a regular bicycle too. (Yes, I did genuinely feel like I got a workout on my longer ride.)
The other thing I'm realizing is that e-bikes offer a number of advantages in busy streets. While you're still vulnerable to getting 'doored', or clipped by an over aggressive motorist, the ability to accelerate quickly, maintain speed uphills or in head winds, and generally maneuver more nimbly gives you a confidence in navigating less bike-friendly environments like the intersection below.
As for the bike itself, I've already said that I'm no technical expert, so I'll be careful about how far to go down any specifics. But I will say I love the sturdy, old-fashioned feel and the sit-up-and-beg riding style. The solid front basket (complete with cup holder!) is a nice touch, and the battery was super easy to take on and off for charging. The hub motor is almost silent, and the lights are integrated into the system, so as long as the battery is charged, your lights are too—and you can turn them on directly from your control panel. It also looks darned pretty with its matching paint for the luggage rack and other accessories, and doesn't have that bike-turned-terminator look of some more aggressively-styled e-bikes. (It often took friends a little while to notice that it wasn't your regular bicycle.)
Range-wise, I made it out on my 14 mile journey with more than half the battery left using the highest level assist, and traveling at 20 miles an hour for much of the way. It's fun to watch people's faces as they see you speed by on what looks like a bike out of the 30s. (Remembering, of course, to ride responsibly around other cyclists and not give the genre a bad name.) Unlike the Magnum Ui5 (which comes in about $200 cheaper), this doesn't have shocks and certainly feels more like an around town bike than a long-distance or semi-off road travel option. But that commuter/shopper market seems to be what Blix is going for.
I had also heard from a more e-bike knowledgeable friend that the rear mounted battery might offer less-than-ideal handling compared to a more central mount, but I can't say I noticed. Like I say, I'm a newbie and an amateur. Mostly I just liked buzzing around pretending I'm Lance Armstrong on an old bone shaker.
In fact, I liked the bike so much I'm talking to Blix about purchasing their review model. I'll keep you posted and write some more about my experiences if I do. In the meantime, here's a more technically-minded review from the folks at Electric Bike Review.