Why you don’t need a kickstarter to buy an ebike

Here’s something I need to get off my chest, so much so that I caved in and gave this post a meaningful title. Older readers will know I am an advocate and owner of an ebike, but one of my pet hates is the gimmicky ebike Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. For one thing, there’s no need, of which more below. For another, yuck. I hate capitalism and I hate entrepreneurs, so I don’t feel any more warmly towards a business just because it’s (claiming to be) indie. Petit bourgeoisie, whatever. You’re designing a thing and then getting it made where the labour is cheapest (at some mega factory, no doubt) and trying to make a profit. Excuse me if I don’t worship at your capitalist feet.

This story alleging that a funding campaign appears to have been flogging an already-available bike from China is an emblem for me. The thing that makes Kickstarter/Indiegogo etc kick when it comes to ebikes is simply the kind of person who doesn’t do their research, and therefore backs something because they either think they’re getting a bargain or thinks that there’s something unique and clever and innovative about the ebike in question.

Smart phone connectivity is often a thing that attracts people, I reckon, or some kind of anti-theft feature. But both of these things are available on the market, and all you need to do is research.

The market is broad. And, yes, there are some large companies involved — but relative to other businesses, no bike manufacturer is really that huge. In fact, even without Indiegogo or whatever, there is a healthy competition in the bike and ebike market that puts other sectors to shame.

Most bikes use similar components. But the remarkable thing about cycling is that there is still competition even for those. Gears and shifters etc. could come from Shimano, SRAM, or Campagnolo — even Rohloff for hub gears. Motors could come from Bosch, Shimano, Fazua, Bafang, Brose, Kalkhoff and more. With this open market in components, anybody can come along with a frame design and put together a bike. And plenty do! All of the main manufacturers, from Bianchi and Giant to Specialized and Trek offer ebikes with a variety of setups and systems, and even the smaller/elite players, from Ribble and Scott and Pinarello and Williers and beyond all offer systems. Then there are the folders, the cargo bikes, and the ebike specialists, from Moustache and Riese and Müller to Kalkhoff, the latter of whom made the bike I ride. Then there are your out of town big box stores like Halfords and Decathlon, who offer their own brand bikes, or sell household names like Boardman and Raleigh.

In other words, it’s a healthy market with an already bewildering range of options and configurations: if you’re a fan of free market capitalism, it’s working – probably – better with bicycles than it is with, say, mobile phones. Prices range from the low end (around £1000 for an ebike) to the you-could-get-a-car kind of money you’d pay for a carbon frame from an elite manufacturer or a useful cargo bike with a belt drive and an extra battery. And while I accept that it’s a lot to wade through, I still don’t think that’s a reason for backing a kickstarter which offers nothing over and above the main market (and – whispers – might even be a bit shit). There is already something for everyone, from the couldn’t-tell-it-was-an-ebike lightweight road bikes to the specialised, whether you’re looking for a commuting bike with built-in lights and a frame lock or a fat bike for an alpine hire scheme.

And there’s no real trick to knowing where to start with all this information. Just look at countries where cycling is safe and culturally accepted (Holland, Denmark, even Germany) and see what’s available. Check out ebiketips or the Electric Bike Review YouTube channel. 

My final tip is to check out particular manufacturers who offer a wide range of models and styles.

  1. Kalkhoff really specialise in bulletproof, practical ebikes, although you won’t find a lightweight road racing model in their range.
  2. Riese and Müller offer cutting edge designs from touring and commuting through car replacements and some configure-to-order options, although always pricey. They’ll do you a cruiser but not a racer, but if you want something that looks like it might be a Kickstarter design, look here.
  3. Moustache have a good range of attractive designs, including road and gravel bikes, in step over and step through frame styles. They can be pricey and there are a lot of configurations with some fairly frustrating component choices. For example, Shimano 105 in one place but Tiagra elsewhere on the bike. In the end, you’ll get the one that fits your budget.
  4. Trek have a great range, and offer some excellent commuting options, on the one hand, and some decent lighter weight road bikes at the other. The latest Trek road range are fairly typical of what you can get elsewhere. The big advantage with Trek is that they do have showrooms.

In terms of the latter, your location will dictate what you can easily see. A trip to Milton Keynes for example, and you can see the range in the Trek shop, but also visit Rutland Cycles and see other options. There’s an Evans too, but they always seem to have a limited range of ebikes — though this situation might have changed since I was there. Away from the town centre, there’s Phil Corley cycles, too, though again I don’t know how much floor space they dedicate to ebikes. Anyway, one trip to MK, and you can visit three or four different bike shops, plus a Halfords and a Decathlon, which means at least five locations in one day.

You will have to pay for something decent. Electric bikes add at least £500 over the price of a regular bike, so a £500-ish model becomes £1000 as an ebike, with lots of compromises in terms of equipment and components. Down at the low end, you’ll be lucky to get a range of more than 50km on the ‘Eco” setting. My own bike has a range of about 70km even on the highest, “Turbo” setting, but this will set you back considerably more.

As with all bikes, it’s worth thinking about (and upgrading) your contact points (handlebar/grips, saddle, pedals) but it’s also important to think about practicality and quality. For example, if like me you have no mechanical aptitude, consider hub gears and a carbon belt drive. If you want to be able to put it on the back/roof of your car consider how much it weighs. If you want a bike that weighs less that 15kg, you’re looking at at least £2400, I reckon. If you want a kind of car replacement with lights, a good battery, and some way to carry panniers/bags, you’re probably looking at something closer to £3000.

And not a scam in sight.

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