Built by a company that’s made cycling equipment for more than four decades, the Vado feels more like a traditional bicycle than almost any other ebike. Its frame and components have been tuned to provide a familiar experience, making it easy for new and long-time cyclists to jump on and start pedaling. Specialized’s heritage shines through nicely, helping separate itself from the competition in an increasingly crowded ebike market.
“First, Taiwan and China have been building almost all the bikes for the entire world for the past 30-40 years. They have ecosystems and two generations of tradesmen that result in the best bikes in the world. Look at all the top brands—Giant, Specialized, Cannondale— they all make their top end bikes in China and Taiwan. Even look at the Italian brands and you’ll see they build their frames in China and Taiwan and paint them in Italy.”
Pedelecs are much like conventional bicycles in use and function — the electric motor only provides assistance, for example, when the rider is climbing or struggling against a headwind. Pedelecs are therefore especially useful for people in hilly areas where riding a bike would prove too strenuous for many to consider taking up cycling as a daily means of transport. They are also useful for riders who more generally need some assistance, e.g. for people with heart, leg muscle or knee joint issues.
Electric bikes are categorized by classes: Class 1 ebikes are pedal-assist cycles with a top speed of 20 mph. (Some localities have banned Class 2 and Class 3 ebikes, which are throttle on demand.) The trick to using a Class 1 bike is to, well, pedal. “If the pedals stop, the bike doesn’t go,” says Saltvold, who describes using an ebike as akin to running on a moving walkway in an airport terminal. Whitaker notes that customers say they switch off the pedal-assist to get more exercise, then turn it back on when going up a hill or wanting to increase their speed.
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Electric bikes are a green alternative to driving a vehicle. Studies carried out in several towns and cities show that the average car speed in rush hour traffic can dip as low as 18 to 20 mph. Electric bike speed can be as high as 15 mph. With an electric bike, you can reduce pollution, improve fitness, and still arrive at the same time as your car-bound colleagues.
E-bikes use rechargeable batteries, electric motors and some form of control. Battery systems in use include sealed lead-acid (SLA), nickel-cadmium (NiCad), nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) or lithium-ion polymer (Li-ion). Batteries vary according to the voltage, total charge capacity (amp hours), weight, the number of charging cycles before performance degrades, and ability to handle over-voltage charging conditions. The energy costs of operating e-bikes are small, but there can be considerable battery replacement costs. The lifespan of a battery pack varies depending on the type of usage. Shallow discharge/recharge cycles will help extend the overall battery life.
For many bikes, battery range is more important that total power (because they're all pretty powerful). You want a bike that delivers a range long enough for your rides at the power levels you want. Most e-bikes will have three to five levels of assist kicking in anywhere from 25 percent of you pedal power to 200 percent boost. Consider how fast the battery takes to recharge, especially if you'll be using your bike for long commutes.