My own, personal e-bike: How to riide

After my excitement about dockless e-bike share in Washington, D.C. last spring, I started shopping around for an e-bike for Double Arrow Metabolism to use for short business trips.

I wanted a bike that was adjustable so that more than one person could use it without much trouble. I tried to find refurbished Jump bikes, but I struck out. I think they’re just too new. Many of the purpose-built bikes on the market are really expensive and/or look like Kawasaki motocross bikes (you really get how some people are complaining about e-bikes being e-motorcycles in disguise).

So it took some looking. I really like the retro fabulous looks of Faraday bikes. I love the looks and techie features of Stromer bikes, but the price is way too steep (especially for Stromers), at least until I really know what I want. And for the money, the looks of the mainstream bikes like Specialized and Trek just aren't what I’m looking for.

I considered building my own e-bike by adding an aftermarket hub motor and a battery to a bike I already have. Then I looked around and found a page for refurbished Riide bikes. The price on these was what really attracted me. They don't cost the three or four grand that some of the other bikes mentioned above cost. In fact, they're within a few hundred bucks of the Money Mustache conversion that piqued my attention toward e-bikes in the last couple years. Riide has an interesting subscription-based business model for its new bikes, but more important to me, they’ll sell their old ones: 

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 6.16.12 PM.png

They'll allegedly fit a rider between 5'2" and 6'2". That easily fits my wife’s and my height, and it gets close to my daughter's. So I hit the Add to Cart button and waited. Unfortunately, when I ran out giggling to greet the FedEx guy, I found an open box and no front wheel. Somebody decided they needed it more than I did:

The front wheel is apparently in the same place as Jimmy Hoffa.

The front wheel is apparently in the same place as Jimmy Hoffa.

But not to worry. I got to spend some time talking with Riide founder and owner Amber Wason via email (and even with a personal call to my cell phone [!]), and we got it straightened out. We got the missing wheel replaced, and we had a new e-bike in no time. 

If you doubt the size difference in riders the Riide can accomodate, that's a 4'7", 60 lb human riding the same bike that'll haul my 6'1", 180 lb corpus around.

If you doubt the size difference in riders the Riide can accomodate, that's a 4'7", 60 lb human riding the same bike that'll haul my 6'1", 180 lb corpus around.

The ride of the bike is different than the Jump tanks I rode in D.C. First, the bike is a fair amount lighter, since it doesn't have the built-in racks and electronics of the Jump. Also, Riide isn't controlled by pedal assist. Instead, you twist the throttle like you're riding a Yamaha.

This doesn't really affect the sensation of riding the bike. When you twist the throttle you still get a satisfying little kick from the motor. It does affect the appearance of the bike, though, since you can easily cruise along without even turning the pedals. I’m not in love with the twist throttle, though. My thumb and forefinger get crampy from holding it in place. I think I would like a thumb throttle better.

One feature I really like is that the brakes kill the motor. My son learned the value of this the hard way on about day two, when he accidentally twisted the throttle as he was dismounting and skinned a knee. Use the brakes. 

I eventually rode it to work:

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 3.07.26 PM.png

After taking these pics, I immediately deleted the rides from Strava. Strava is the de facto place to log rides, but it doesn't feel right to post e-bike rides on it. Strava's for human power only. But I can't help but obsess over data, so I put Map My Ride on my iPhone for ebike use only. Then after a few hundred miles I deleted it and just let the abject lack of data wash over me. Digital minimalism forever.

The advertised speed of the bike is ~20 mph, but I think that estimate assumes a new bike and battery, and I think it assumes a smaller rider than me. I can only get ~17-18 mph out of the Riide on flat ground. That’s still pretty good. It gets me to where I'm going faster than I could get there on the fat bike I often commute on: 

Sure, a different route. But a significant increase in speed, with a significant decrease in sweatiness.

Sure, a different route. But a significant increase in speed, with a significant decrease in sweatiness.

At the end of the day, I think the Riide may be what I want, not the bike I ride while I'm deciding. It looks good in a way that doesn't draw a lot of attention, it is inexpensive and comes with a warranty that I've already tested and that works, and it gets me around in a satisfyingly blue-collar way.


Now I’ve ridden it a thousand miles, maybe, and I feel pretty good about it. The bike didn't come with any rack or panniers, so I had to add one. No problemo. Because buying bike stuff is. The. Best. The front rack from Velo Orange. It looks great and can hold a ton (or at least a case of beer). I’ve found it easier to strap my soft-side briefcase to the front rack than to stuff it in a pannier bag or strap it to a skinny rear rack like I do on my fatty.

A few Riide-specific tips, if you care:

Don’t air the tires up to the maximum pressure. It’s tempting to do this to try to maximize battery efficiency, but the bike rides like a lumber wagon that way. And remember that higher pressures aren’t always better. It’s way, way more comfortable to pump the tires up to a nice, soft-ish pressure to allow a little give over the bumps.

The battery is really glitchy about over-charging. I’ve found that if I accidentally leave it plugged in overnight it’s out of commission for the day. I don’t know why, and I’m no stranger to plug-in electric vehicles:


The phenomenon is reproducible. In my mind it’s a complication of over-charging. But that could be my imagination running wild. Anyway, either set up the charger on a timer that shuts it off after ~3 hours or set a manual timer to remind yourself to unplug your Riide.

Finally, if you have multiple people using the bike you’ll need to put the brake levers in a medium position. Since I’m a foot-and-a-half taller than the other people riding it but I use it 90+% of the time for work, I keep the levers pointed down a little. But not as far down as I would if I were the only rider. I tip them up just a little to make them reachable by everybody else.

Riide on!

I tried Jump Bikes. Now I think e-bikes may be the future of commuting.

I'd never been on an e-bike before I went to Washington, D.C., last week. I've seen a lot of them. I thought they looked goofy: the giant downtube, or the giant hub on the wheel providing power:

And I'm consistently annoyed by the gas-powered "Whizzer" style bikes that people ride on the bike paths in Wichita, blowing blue smoke and making noise.

So I was a skeptic. E-bikes seemed lazy and ugly. They seemed to fill a niche that didn't really exist: why not just buy a moped or scooter? But just before I left for D.C. I saw reports that Uber, the beleaguered ride share company, had bought Jump, a dockless e-bike share company that is only in a few markets (D.C., San Jose, and San Francisco). Uber riders have been able to book JUMP bikes via the Uber app since January 2018. For the time being, JUMP’s app will continue to exist, but I suspect they'll eventually be completely integrated into the Uber app. When I got off the train to my hotel, sure enough, I saw one. The bikes are aesthetically pleasing, with their little aerodynamic basket in front: 

The Jump is on the other side of the fat (phat?) downtube. 

The Jump is on the other side of the fat (phat?) downtube. 

Dockless bike shares are controversial among a certain set of people, who complain about the possiblity of "abandoned" bikes littering cities. This has naturally and appropriately drawn sarcastic scorn from critics of car culture, who point out that cars themselves are mostly "dockless":

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 10.30.12 AM.png

Uber's motivation for buying up Jump was apparently that a big fraction of Uber's trips are very short (maybe under 3 miles). And since the demographic that would tend to use the bikes is at smartphone saturation (for better or for worse), it makes sense for Uber to try to divert those rides to e-bikes, where the company wouldn't have to divert 80% of revenue toward drivers (because the "driver" of the e-bike is you, and you're paying for it. Get it?).

So, needing to entertain myself for a couple hours, I tried one. Step one was to download the app, just like Zagster and a million other such companies. 


Obviously, I tried a few other sharing services while I was there, too. All those apps on my phone? That's not even all of them I could have put on there. I know I missed D.C. Insider, Ofo, Mobike, and Capital Bikeshare (I used Capital Bikeshare, but you don't need the app to do it). There may have been others. D.C. is to bike/scooter share what the Idaho panhandle was to anti-government militias in the '90s. 

Ofo trying to capture the Blind Melon revivalist market.

Ofo trying to capture the Blind Melon revivalist market.

And that's not even counting the scooters.

Once the app was downloaded, I got an account number emailed to me, and I chose a PIN. The same email warned me to "start slowly to get familiar with its boost." 

I scoffed. Please. I've ridden a million bikes. I've ridden almost as many motorcycles. I know power.

Next was checking out the bike. The app tells you that you can either walk up to a bike and check it out, or reserve one through the app. No need in my case, since I was standing by the bike. But in case I couldn't find a bike right away, I could have held one for up to 20 minutes ahead of time, with the knowledge that the clock would start ticking once the reservation was made (if I didn't make it to the bike in time, the reservation would cancel automatically).

Next, I needed to actually rent the bike. I was instructed to enter my account number and PIN using the keypad on the back of the bike, then to remove the U-lock and slip it into the two holster loops on the left:

This is actually from the end of the ride, since I was too big a bonehead to remember to photo it up front. FYI: The solar panel only powers the electronics.

This is actually from the end of the ride, since I was too big a bonehead to remember to photo it up front. FYI: The solar panel only powers the electronics.

Then I was to adjust the seat height to one that works best for you. This was a little complicated because, as a #bikesharerenegade who often lets his kids ride bike shares with him, I needed to adjust the seat several times for my kids and me. I was not reassured that Jump bikes use the same janky, slippy clamp and post as virtually every other bike share:


Then: "Test your brakes. And get ready for the smiles." Oh, I was ready:

That goofy smile is system-delivered. Tan lines are an upgrade. 

That goofy smile is system-delivered. Tan lines are an upgrade. 

The jump bikes have a threaded bottom bracket. Yay! 


A spring keeps the front wheel from flopping around.

We headed for the proving ground, Rock Creek Park:

This is from the bottom of the park, looking up north and east.

This is from the bottom of the park, looking up north and east.

That gentle upslope you see is no joke. It's actually a pretty legit climb, a little over a quarter mile at a near-seven percent grade. It would easily qualify as the biggest hill in Wichita were you to transport it 1500 miles west: 

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 8.36.41 AM.png

We coasted down the hill without really even pedaling, then turned back uphill. And wow. When you step on the pedals, the bike really jumps. I immediately regretted my initial scoffiness. It was legit, even a little unnerving the first time. When my daughter did it, she couldn't help but laugh with delight at the acceleration. That same eleven year-old daughter of average athleticism absolutely hammered this hill on the Jump Bike. I should have timed her, because I legitimately think she would have been in Queen of the Mountain range, thanks to the e-bike boost. My friendly neighborhood wattage calculator, assuming 75 watts from my daughter, gives me this (the Jump Bikes generate 250 watts, according to WikiPedia):

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 11.02.51 AM.png

The bikes have three speeds, courtesy of Sturmey-Archer:


But honestly, you don't need the bottom two unless you want to climb Quintana-style. Even a modestly fit rider can crush hills on this thing.

The bike was cheap: $2 to rent, which buys 30 minutes, or 11 miles at 250 watts:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 11.08.06 AM.png

That's enough to get me halfway across Wichita. If you go over 30 minutes, you're $0.07/minute for additional use. If you run out of pedal assist power, you can note that when you end the rental and Jump will "take care of it from there," which I assume means swap out the battery. If you leave the service area of the bikes, you're warned that you might get charged a fee for retrieval. This is dirt cheap; about half what it costs over time to ride a scooter share (yep, they have those in DC too). This leads me to my final point on e-bikes, and potentially e-bike shares: they're the future. They're the future because they're so democratic. They're cheap, and almost anyone with even rudimentary bike skills and basic fitness can ride one. My mom is in her seventies and has not been on a bike since her teens, I suspect. But she could easily pedal an e-bike 20 miles in an hour or so. And if she couldn't, it probably wouldn't be because of leg, lung, or heart fatigue. It would be a matter of regaining some basic bike handling skills and butt toughness. 

A full charge gets you about 30 miles of range, just slightly below what my Chevy Volt gets on a charge. I drive said Chevy Volt because I can travel the vast majority of miles I travel under electric power. The reason I drive a Volt instead of, say, a Nissan Leaf is because I like the insurance policy of a gas engine behind the electric battery. If I go beyond the 40-ish miles the battery gives me I can get another 240 miles from the gas engine. The beauty of e-bikes is that I’m that insurance policy. If the battery quits, there’s a couple hundred watts of human power on the pedals to get me home. 

The advantage of the "e" in e-bikes is mostly sweat. Or lack thereof. Jump bikes make me think a future garage may have not two cars, but a car and an e-bike. The e-bike will be adjustable so that the bike can be used by multiple members of the family:

The lovely and talented Tracy Williams, MD.

The lovely and talented Tracy Williams, MD.

The bike could be shared like the car was. But the cost of owning the bike would be essentially zero compared to the cost of a fancy gas-powered wheelchair. And you can criticize the decreased work of riding an e-bike versus an unmotorized bike, but riding an e-bike is still a helluva lot more exercise than piloting a gas-powered wheelchair. And it gets you out to interact with humanity in a non-fist-shaking, non-furious way. Ever see somebody on an e-bike with road rage? Me neither. It goes fast enough, relatively sweat-free, to get you places in a reasonable amount of time, but not so fast that it turns you into a raving lunatic at every 20-second delay for a crosswalk or light. 

At the end of our test session, we locked the bike back to a rack:


Biggest criticism? That U-lock is tough to get in place if the space is tight. You have to wrassle a really heavy bike around to get the tines on the lock to line up with the holes through the frame and wheel. It's tough. A much better design would be like Zagster's here in Wichita:


I don't think security would be an issue, since 1) the bikes are tanks, and 2) they're tracked with GPS. The Jump bike automatically ends your ride when the lock is put in place, though, which is nice. To incentivize people to put the bikes back where they'll be easy use (and presumably easy for the Jump folks to pick up and charge), they offer $1 credit for returning any bike parked outside of a virtual fenced-in "hub" back to a hub. Try as I might, I cannot find a map for these. 

Updated 5/14/18 with a picture of the Sturmey-Archer shifter.