Is an ebike cheating? Of course. But would I be sitting on the beach now after a strenuous-ish 15-mile ride from my house without it? No. I’d be napping on the couch in my usual after-lunch tradition. I had a regular nice $500 Specialized hybrid bicycle there for a while, until it got stolen, and I did the 30-mile round trip to the Santa Ana River mouth quite a few times on it (and wrote about it here). But it took a lot out of me and the biggest part of a day by the time I was done lying around for a couple hours afterward, recuperating and rehydrating.

Let’s face it, I’m never gonna be in basic training shape again, but bicycling is a great way for middle-aged people to stay reasonably fit; also, there appears to be a high correlation between people interested in bicycles and motorcycles. The Santa Ana River trail that goes from close to my house to the Pacific is really about as scenic as my urban swath of SoCal gets, especially if you like your rivers lined with concrete and dry most of the time. Actually, the closer to the ocean you get the more natural and liquid it becomes – a nice incentive to keep pedalling.

The blue line that dumps into the ocean between Huntington and Newport Beach is the Santa Ana River; its mouth is a 30-mile round trip from my HQ.

Usually you need to head south early-ish, lest you find yourself pedalling against the ocean breeze that springs up most days. A 5-mph wind in the face feels like a hurricane on my lowly beach cruiser, upon which I have never reached the beach. On my loaner Yamaha Cross Core, I beat right into that headwind in early afternoon and laugh in its face, a HA haha!

There’s a speedo in here, odometer, tripmeter, battery life meter, etc… there’s also a USB port – and the headlight is standard equipment also.

It’s still good exercise and gets the heart pumping, but every time you glance at the cool little LCD speedo on the Yamaha, you’re going 18 or 19 mph instead of however fast I used to go on the old pedal bike. Not very.

The rocker switch at your left thumb adjusts assist between Eco, Eco+, Standard and High. After I found out how long the battery lasts, I only ever use STD and High.

To get scientific about it, this past January 2 Strava tells me I did the 28.96- miles round trip to the beach at an average speed of 16.7 mph in 1 hour, 43.58 minutes on the ebike. In September, 2015, on my dearly departed Specialized pedal bike, the same ride took 2:19.30, at an average speed of 13.4 mph. I was 5 years younger then, more than a few pounds lighter, and my right ankle’s still not 100% after having it yanked off the Rocket 3 footpeg a couple months ago…

The kid likes the ebike too.

Basically what’s going on here is that suddenly you’re Lance Armstrong, but it’s the bicycle doing the doping. I’m a casual bicycle racing fan at best, but it’s another activity that, with the slightest inquiry, will give you huge respect for professional athletes. The winner of the Tour de France, which goes on for 23 days over 2200 miles, averages about 25 mph. That is sick. On this Yamaha, in tennis shoes and flappy gym shorts, I generally roll out of it a little when passing fully Spandexed-out riders on expensive pedal bikes just because we don’t want to sow any ill will, do we? They give me dirty looks anyway. I sort of feel like since my battery, gray hair and toothpick legs are right there in plain sight, I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.

Some people, like my FB friend Robert who pedals this Wilier ebike, really should be ashamed. The battery and motor are in there somewhere…

The cool part is that the whole Yamaha system works so seamlessly, it never feels like you’re cheating. There’s no throttle to twist or nitrous button to push. Yamaha uses an exclusive speed sensor inside the rear hub, which measures pedalling cadence, torque, and rear wheel speed, and instantly adjusts motor assist as needed; the only time I really feel boost at all is when I’m climbing a hill. When droning along on my flat river trail at 18 or 19 mph, it feels like it’s all me. My only complaint is that at 20 mph, it really is all me, like hitting a soft rev limiter. I’m not sure if that’s an actual legal speed limit for ebikes or just an OEM agreed-upon one (It’s a federal regulation policed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. —DC). Probably 20 mph is fast enough, but a few more mph on a long straight doesn’t feel like it would be a bad thing.

The other place you feel the assist is when leaving from a stop. On my pedal bikes, I’d always use the pedestrian crosswalk and be grateful for the break while waiting for the light to turn. On the Cross Core, I’ll pull up alongside the cars and take off almost as fast as them when the light turns green.

The other place you really feel the assist is pulling wheelies; careful you don’t over-rotate. (Note how impressed the ladies are, o yeah…)

You’ve got a 500-watt motor sitting under your hood, with a claimed 51.6 max foot-pounds of torque to move you out smartly. A Shimano thumb-and-finger shifter at each paw moves the chain over the two sprockets, sorry, chainwheels, up front, and 9 out back flawlessly. No way do you need that many: With boost in Standard or High, it’s pretty easy to blast off from starts even in a medium gear. As for range, I have zero anxiety. After my 30-mile beach rides on flat terrain, the Core’s LCD gauge always says I’ve got at least 60% of charge remaining. For me that’s more than plenty. Any further than 30 miles, and I’m going by motorcycle. If you ever do discharge the battery, Yamaha says the fast charger that comes with the bike will juice it up in four hours via your standard 110v outlet.

Brakes? But of course, a cable-actuated Shimano 160mm disc up front and on the rear. Can anyone tell me why bicycles, especially Yamaha ones, put the front brake lever on the left? (It’s so you signal with your left arm and not risk tipping forward if you brake too hard with your right hand. —DC again)

Yamaha’s been building ebikes for decades, but just recently bringing them to the US. Motorcycle and bicycle sales are both in the doldrums; ebikes, on the other hand, are on a tear. A lot of it is no doubt due to aging boomers like yours truly, but ebike appeal also embraces a huge demographic containing many varieties of tree huggers, cheapskates (ebikes are cheap compared to a car or motorcycle, at least), commuters, and that huge swath of people who’d like to get some exercise but want to be very careful to not get too much. I’m in almost all those camps. You don’t really need a trainer or coach to exercise, but plenty of people have them anyway because they need a motivator. The ebike is just that, but electric.

And don’t forget people with injuries. Robert Buchsbaum, of the Wilier ebike pictured above and a motorcycling FB friend from North Carolina, writes:

“I’m pedaling up the Blue Ridge Parkway and there are two kids in their thirties on the side of the road taking a break, and as I approach I hear one say to the other ‘Damn…..that old guy is killin’ it!’ As I passed them, I said ‘this old guy is getting some help,’ and I winked. The kid smiled and said ‘electric assist?,’ and I nodded and yelled back… ‘beats a fuckin’ wheel chair.’ They laughed.

“Reality is,” continues Robert, “that in the month since I got this thing, in spite of the weather, I’ve been on probably a dozen rides, each between 15 and 25 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where on each ride I’m spending half my time climbing between 1000 and 1500 feet. Without this bike I’d be home on the couch. After two hip replacements, a knee held together by a plate and nine screws, and a totally fused ankle, I just couldn’t do it. It has been transformational, and how it works is ingenious; motor seamlessly engages only if you pedal and seamlessly shuts off when you hit 20 mph, so you really don’t feel it at all; it just feels like my legs got REALLY strong overnight, or like I have a REALLY stiff wind at my back whenever I pedal. It’s like I found the fountain of youth!”

The end is in sight…

The health benefits are definitely in place. As for the more utilitarian reasons for having an ebike, I’m not completely sold. On the Cross Core, you need a backpack to schlep stuff around, though for $500 dollars more the Cross Connect gets you a rear rack, taillight, fenders and a telescopic fork.

But the main thing that’s going to keep me from running errands on an ebike is how quickly nice bicycles disappear in the land of the free; they seem to be the number one target for thieves. You can unlock the Core’s battery, but then you’re having to carry a bulky 7-pound thing around with you – and that’s no guarantee some swine won’t make off with the rest of the bike anyway. I guess if you have a really good lock you can trust… I don’t trust that such a thing exists. People who own nice bicycles tell me the only real cure is never to let it out of your sight when it’s not locked up at home. Kind of inconvenient, especially when there’s a Honda PCX150 in the garage.

Why not have it all dammit? I think I need a Cross Core for fitness/fun, and the PCX for mundane errands/fun: $2,399 for the bike and $3,699 for the scooter – $6,100 all in – isn’t bad to have all your transpo needs covered, is it? Then all you need is a motorcycle(s).

2018 Yamaha eBikes Review – First Ride

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