Its time for my e-bike review. Specifically, my Giant Explore E+4 GTS.
I had always enjoyed riding bike, but after moving to a city from my rural roots (and routes), I was very nervous about riding in traffic. Lack of motivation, interest, and general overall life business made excuses till I really had forgotten it much at all.
After years of sitting in front of a computer, my overall fitness had, of course, declined. Not that I was ever elite at anything, but I used to be able to at least walk and run quite a bit.
I had started to gain interest in getting fitter, especially once my waistline hit 40, but I still didn’t do much about it. I had tried biking back in 2014, but my old man knees and lack of fitness couldn’t handle my steep hill neighbourhood, and I soon gave up again.
Finally, one day in August 2019, after needing to run up two flights to get to the bathroom in a hurry, and consequently gasping for air, I finally said “enough”
So now I was motivated to get back in a shape other than round, but how? Secondary to this post, I did join a HIIT gym (OrangeTheory), doing classes 2 times a week, which I may write about later as well, but it and the research I did are off topic for now.
I really felt like cycling (biking?) was something that would be good for me, versus running especially as my knees tended to have issues and didn’t think the impact would help.
But I also knew there was no way I could ride up the hills in my neighbourhood (or most of the city) in my round, nearing 250lbs shape.
E-bikes were something I had seen online, and I began researching them. I have to admit I was skeptical they could do the job, and I’ll come back to that, but starting to reseach led me down so many avenues things to consider, it can be, and was, a little overwhelming.
I did what I try to do with new things, like my camera, focus (pardon the pun) on one setting/feature at a time.
First off, there are multiple classes of e-bikes, and each has their own considerations.
Class 1 – Pedal Assist
This class of e-bike only assists the rider by adding more power to what the user generates. It is not self propelled. And depending on jurisdiction, is typically limited in assistance up to 25kph-32kph. This doesn’t mean you can’t go faster, but the motor will not be assisting you once you do.
FWIW, this is the type of bike I own
Class 2 – Throttle
This class of e-bike has a thumb or twist throttle similar to a motorcycle, pedaling is still available, but you don’t need to pedal to get a boost. I did consider this type, quite a bit really, but after reading many articles on the gray area of bike vs motor vehicle, and licensing and insurance regulations around them, ultimately considered it a risky proposition which could get banned or regulated. If you follow news stories, these are the type of bike that has been under scrutiny and subject to problems in British Columbia currently.
Class 3 – Speed Pedelec
This class, which seems uncommon, at least here, is similar to a class one, but allow for higher speeds, and are in most locations subject to motor vehicle regulations for licensing and insurance.
I am not a professional reviewer, and wont try to give all the pros and cons of each type, but will give basics, and tell why I chose what I did.
Front Hub Motor
In this model, the motor is built into the front wheel. This is a simple design, and often a cheaper e-bike, but when researching, and just thinking about it, I realized that
- These aren’t likely to be pedal assist which might lead to the problems of throttle based bikes
- They would be putting a lot of stress on that front wheel pulling my 250 lbs up a hill vs a more centered or rear engine (or so I feel anyway)
- Accelerating while turning, or on slick surfaces could be an issue when all my weight was over the rear wheel
Rear Hub Motor
Basically the motor is in the rear wheel. This is a, in my opionion, a much better option, but I was concerned with a couple items. One being any damage to the wheel might mean replacing the whole motor, and the second being less torque than option 3.
After riding my bike for a year, the torque thing for climbing hills, may have played more into my decision more than was necessary, but it was on my mind at the time
In this model, the motor is built into the bike frame and attached to the pedals/crank arms. Much better weight distribution, and gives more torque. As the motor is attached to the crank, its also better/more quickly able to sense the riders effort and gives a smoother, less lurchy experience.
I didn’t start this as a guide to buying an e-bike, but other avenues of research I did consider was battery wattage, engine wattage and torque.
You want to be sure you can ride without having to recharge too often, you want an engine that has enough wattage and torque to handle your weight and terrain.
I’m no expert on these features by any means, but they are considerations and if you understand the math, they may factor into your decision. Mine really came down to a test drive.
Not going to lie here, my ultimate decision came down to three things.
- I wanted a mid-drive motor as I felt it was the best option
- I wanted a local dealer that I could rely on
Ultimately, there were only a couple brands that I ended up considering, Trek, Giant, and Cannondale. Ultimately, either was likely a good choice, but Trek and Cannondale pricing was more than I had budgeted for. That may have not been so much an issue if I hadn’t been happy with my Giant experience, but I was, so that’s a moot point.
After all this research, and reading reviews and opinions, I have to admit I was still skeptical an e-bike could do what I needed, that being get me up the 8-10% grade of my local hill without giving me a heart attack in the process.
I decided to visit my local Giant dealership, and talk the fine people there at which point they offered me a test drive up Citadel Hill in Halifax. Not quite as steep as my hill, but close enough for a feel
Once on the test model, I was blown away. They set me up in assist level 3 of 5 (250% assist) – and I blew up Citadel hill like it was nothing. Obviously higher assist levels use more battery, but I can’t imagine what 5 feels like (I’ve still not used mine past 3) – After a long bike ride, when really tired I can imagine it feels like wings.
My decision was made, but the model I wanted/could afford wasn’t in stock. So I waited, and I got it a few weeks later.
After all that, I guess we get to the meat of the thing! The review! I’ll start with:
There aren’t many, but there are some, I’ll list what I’ve found in my year of riding
- Its heavy, about 45 lbs probably, not that I’ve weighed it. That’s an issue if you need to lift it or push it. I’ve only had to push once when I had a flat. It’s supposed to have a walk assist mode, but I couldn’t figure it out when I wanted it – but that’s on me, I should have tried it before I needed it. That said, pushing it wasn’t too bad. For me, getting it in and out of the house is a bit annoying with the weight, and I imagine a roof rack would be problematic.
- Lack of integrated features. For the price, I really think integrated headlights and taillights should have been included, as well as a digital display. That said, over time, I think I prefer my 3rd party bike computer in any event, but still.
- Running out of gears. This was more an issue as I got fitter, but when getting up to a good speed of 35 kph or more, you run out of gears. It has a 9 speed cassette, and you just run out of pedal resistance when you get there.
Again in point form!
- It can easily assist me up the steepest hills in power mode 3, at power mode 5, it would probably be flying. That said, I want the exercise so I keep the assist as low as I can.
- It has decent range. In my experience, I can get from about 65 to 100 km on a charge, depending on how much assist I use, and the terrain I tackle.
- The saddle, handle bars, etc are all comfortable from the get go, didn’t need to replace or change out anything there
- Disk brakes are great versus my only other experience with rim brakes. Basically those ones were the same as no brakes when wet.
- It, since a recent firmware upgrade, has an auto assist mode. This basically changes assistance levels on the fly as the sensors determine your work level. Its pretty cool. though I rarely use it as it seems to “give too much” in my opinion, but that’s also on my desire for fitness over recreation.
- You get a workout. Its not a motorcycle. You get your heart rate up, and you do have to work. Of course, the more assist you use the less work you put into it, but you have to pedal, there’s no getting around that. I’m down over 50 lbs since I started
I’m sure I’ve missed things, but feel free to ask in the comments. Happy to answer anything I have answers for!