Why Buying an E-Bike Online Is Not as Bad as I Thought

CC BY 2.0. So many e-bikes in the Amego store, but not everyone has access to this/ Lloyd Alter

In an earlier post, I suggested that e-bikes should be bought from and maintained by people who know what they are doing. I have always believed that we should support our local retailers and not buy stuff online, which is a point I have made about bike shops.

I have rarely had such pushback in comments, emails, and Twitter, and I have had to reconsider my position.

I was actually undercut right from the beginning, when bike journalist and author Carlton Reid noted that the major point is to get people out of cars and on to bikes, which is absolutely true. Commenters agreed: "We need to focus much more on getting people out of their cars and onto bikes. Whether those bikes are bought online or at a store should not be the biggest concern at the moment." It went downhill for me from there.

Bike shops aren't doing a good job of selling e-bikes

A number of readers noted that the selection of e-bikes was really limited. "There is so little choice at local bike shops and so much more online." Or: "There are two bike shops in my town. If you’re not wearing $500 worth spandex they don’t want to talk to you." Another: "Local bike shops: We have two. In each they give you snide looks if you mention e-bikes ... They don't get it, and they will be gone."

But in fact, there are not that many specialized e-bike stores yet.

Online dealers can be pretty good

Lots of raves about Rad bikes

I bought two Rad Power bikes; one for me and one for my wife. The first one took about thirty minutes to assemble, as the derailleur needed adjusting. The second one took about 15 minutes. Basically, all that was required was to put the front wheel on (quick-release lever, BTW) and install the handlebars (four Allen screws). Rad has an arrangement with a company that will assemble your bike for you for $199.00, but that wasn't available in my area. After having assembled my own (and learning how to adjust a derailleur and disc brakes on YouTube), I would have felt cheated if I had paid 200 bones per bike for assembly.

Some express concern that online actually might be more dependable and a safer choice than a bike shop. "Because they are relatively new and the market is growing rapidly, I am concerned that online or brick-and-mortar stores will pop up and disappear. If you are buying a well-known brand, at least you will be able to take it to other dealers if problems arise."

Putting a bike together isn't rocket science, and other dealers will help you

"There are plenty of people that can deal with the assembly and maintenance of e-bikes and, even if you can’t, no bike shop is going to deny you service, unless they are nuts."

Another reader noted that even the bike shops were resigned to this, as he took in his Internet purchase for service. "I got no attitude from him about not having purchased it from him. He said, 'More and more we're looking at selling only a few used bikes and servicing everything else. That's the way the industry is moving.'"

Thank you all, it was an almost troll-free zone

In all the comments and tweets, I only got two "This is such an ignorant sentence" and "What a load of alarmist hooey." It is a much better discussion when people don't yell at me and call me stupid.

In writing about bikes and e-bikes, my fundamental goal is to help and encourage people to get out of cars and onto bikes. If buying them online makes that easier and cheaper, then that can only be called a good thing. I do strongly believe that we should support our main streets and we should shop local, even if it costs a bit more, but I have learned here that not everyone is near a main street, not everyone can afford to pay more, and not every main street has a good e-bike store. Thanks to all for the lessons.