I'm not a cyclist; I'm a bike commuter. I've been happily using a ragged Trek with a ripped up seat and worn brake pads for the past eight months. Then on a recent Sunday, I did a whimsical search for electric bikes on Craigslist. Suddenly, the Trek seemed inadequate, especially on DC's huge hills. On Tuesday, I brought home a barely used Giant Twist Freedom DX for a third of the retail cost.
I'll let the manufacturer and magazine reviewers explain the technology. I want to describe the real-world experience of riding this "hybrid" cyborg bike. The most common question I get is: "Do you still sweat?" No, this bike does not magically prevent me from sweating.
|The muscle source, a Sanyo motor.|
Hill master: Cyborg bike rocks the hills. I still have to pedal to keep the motor going, but it's equivalent to pedaling an exercise bike with easy resistance. I cruise up the hills but don't lose my breath. At speeds above 15 mph, the motor stops helping out. On level ground, 15 mph comes very easily and very quickly. A lycra-clad cyclist who is in good shape on a regular bike will pass you on flat terrain. It deflated my ego the first time it happened, but these cyclists would pass me even if I rode a regular bike.) Often, I find myself wishing that the motor would boost the speed to 18 mph or 20 mph.
Riding style: Cyborg bike forced me to adjust my biking habits. At a stop, I can't rest my foot on the pedal because the computer senses tension on the drive train and engages the motor. Starting out, I learned to resist the urge to pedal hard and get myself up to speed. Instead, you pedal easily and allow the motor and its robotic mechanical whirring sound to bring you up to speed. There is no benefit to pedaling downhill, since the motor won't assist above 15 mph and seven speeds get used up quickly.
|One battery and charger. Note the Euro plug!|
Battery life: Giant estimates a top range of about 34 to 43 miles using one battery in economy mode on flat terrain with no wind. I don't intend to ever fully drain the batteries. Two battery lights remained (about 1/3 to 1/4 power remaining, according to the owner's manual) after my hilly 10-mile roundtrip ride to work in sport mode. Later that week, I rode 3 or 4 miles one day and didn't charge the battery. A day later, I rode about 12 miles round trip to Nationals Park. By the time I got home from the ballpark, one battery light remained (charging is recommended). I don't know where I will find replacement parts for this bike, especially the batteries and charger, or how much they will cost to replace, since none of these parts are found on Amazon.
Rain: I'm happy to report that cyborg bike does not fear rain. The day that I rode to Nationals Park, a fierce storm rolled through DC. The bike was parked at an unsheltered bike rack outside the stadium and got rained on for an hour or so. After the worst of the storm settled, I rode home in a fairly steady rain that eventually stopped about halfway home. The bike's electrical components worked fine the entire trip. The fenders kept my backside from getting splattered with dirt and grit.
|Battery holders keep everything snug and dry, even in rain.|
Build quality: The bike is solidly built with tons of commuter comforts, such as front suspension fork, fenders, chain guard (no more one cuffed pant leg!), kickstand, cargo rack, suspended seat post with sprung seat. This bike starts out heavy, then add an electric motor, two 4-pound batteries, my 5-pound bike lock, and water, and I estimate the rig must weigh 70 pounds. This bike's heft is evident as I manhandle it in and out of the elevator (thankfully, I am not lugging this beast up stairs). The heft doesn't affect handling or ride quality on the road, however, I would not want to be stranded with dead batteries and pedal power up the hills of DC.
Works in the rain
Rare parts, probably made of unobtanium