I have been commuting to East Coast Aero Club, about 4 miles away, using a Trek T80+ electric bicycle. The machine was introduced in 2013 and discontinued in 2015 in favor of an improved design where the motor is in the bottom bracket. Fortunately the government assures us that there is no inflation because the new bikes cost $2800-3000 while the old one listed at $2100 (I paid $1300 for a closeout at Cycleloft in Burlington, Massachusetts). What does the beast weigh? Mine is an “XL” frame size and is about 52 lbs. using a bathroom scale. It seems to have started life as a Trek hybrid and was pimped out at a factory in Germany with the BionX hardware that is also available to enthusiastic hobbyists.
The bike comes with a 250-watt motor and a 250 watt-hour battery on the rear rack. Thus you can be a Tour de France rider for about one hour. Unfortunately this does not quite generate Tour de France speeds due to the fact that (a) I weigh 200 lbs., which I suspect is more than the typical pro cyclist, (b) the bike weighs about 35 lbs. more than a Tour de France bike (can be no lighter than 15 lbs.).
The bike is practical for commuting due to a sturdy rack on the back and a built-in lock that blocks the rear wheel from turning (so they can bend all of your spokes but not ride off with the bike). There is an included taillight on the back of the battery but no headlight, contrary to the magazine review cited below. There is a conventional Shimano 21-speed drivetrain that would be useful if the battery died but when commuting I find that the only gears I use are 4-7 on the largest chainring.
You control the motor by putting torque into the drivetrain via the pedals and setting a boost level from 0 to 4. With the boost on 4 your pushes on the pedals are magnified to the point that the bike will go 20 mph when you’re pedaling hard enough to go perhaps 8 mph. The electric boost cuts out at 20 mph by design. It also cuts out if you pull on a brake lever. Trek claims a range of up to 40 miles but that would be with flat terrain, a lightweight owner, and only partial boost. If I set the bike to max boost and go 10 miles over some slightly rolling hills the battery indicates a 50 percent charge. The charger is comparable in size and weight to a typical Windows notebook computer charger and therefore it would be quite reasonable to commute 20-30 miles to work, plug the bike in during the workday, and then ride back home on a fresh battery. The battery can be removed for charging, using the same key provided with the integrated lock, if there is no power outlet near where you park the bike.
What about exercise while watching the motor do all the work? It turns out that you will get as much exercise per minute of riding as on a regular bike. You will get only about one-third or one-half as much exercise as you would riding a regular bike to the same destination, however, because you won’t be riding for very long. The bike is so much more satisfying to ride and results in so many more destinations being accessible (e.g., 10-mile round-trip to the drugstore) that a typical owner should get more exercise than with just a regular bike. This is a substitute for a car rather than a substitute for a road or mountain bike.
Is it fun? Yes! I lent the Trek T80+ to an aircraft mechanic and he had a silly grin on his face as he said “This is what biking should be.” The bike is also nice on hot days because you are guaranteed to have a 12-20 mph breeze at all times.
What about the new stuff? It seems as though the 900-lb. gorilla of the bike world, Shimano, has entered the market with the Shimano Steps system, which is what Trek is using on their latest models. This may prove the point of Crossing the Chasm (that the innovators often don’t end up as market leaders because products that appeal to hobbyists and early adopters don’t necessarily appeal to the mainstream).