As a concept, I like ebikes. I’ve got an ecargo bike or a cargo ebike—I’m not sure which to call it. As a matter of practical and almost zero carbon footprint transportation, they are hard to beat. I like that ebikes have the ability to drive more people into bike shops and make both the bike industry and the nation healthier. No downsides. And if ebike owners start to notice the rest of us when we’re out on the road, rather than running us over, that’s another big win.
But road ebikes have flummoxed me. They are heavy enough that you wouldn’t want to put them on a roof rack. They are also heavy enough that if the battery dies mid-ride, there’s the insult of going from riding 20 mph with friends to doing 9 mph on your own. Honestly, you’re going Über your way home, rather than pedal all that weight while also overcoming the drag of the mid-drive motor. The one event where I saw someone riding an ebike was long enough that the rider was unable to finish after running out of battery on the signature climb of the day. So while I don’t have anything against them, I don’t see them as effective a solution as some other applications of that technology.
But I keep my eye on this space because aging. So far, this aging thing isn’t really working out how I’d like. My eyes aren’t what they used to be and Buddha knows I’m not as fast as I used to be. I don’t need help riding, but if this keeps up the way it’s going, I’m probably going to die, though I hope not for another 35 or 40 years, because sons.
Orbea introduced a bike to us last week that has made me look at the road ebike with a different outlook. Called the Gain, it moves in the opposite direction of most innovation. Rather than going bigger and more powerful, the Gain shrinks the components. The motor is smaller and, accordingly, the battery is smaller.
The thinking is reasonably simple: if the bike isn’t so heavy, you won’t need such a powerful motor and if the motor isn’t so powerful, the battery won’t have to be so big, so the bike won’t be so heavy.
The joke we made about the hub motor was whether we could pass it off as a PowerTap hub. That the motor’s diameter was smaller than that of both the cassette and the rotor helped to make the bike look more “normal” to our eyes. Inconspicuous continues to be a selling point with most new technologies.
There’s no turbo boost button, just four modes—off, plus three levels of assist. The mode button is built into the top tube to keep the handlebar uncluttered.
The battery resides within the down tube and while I don’t think placing the charging port at the bottom bracket/seat tube junction was maybe the best location, the design is sleek and attractive.
Orbea’s Gain product manager says that in their testing they completed a 100km ride with 1000m of climbing, so it’s got range.
When a group of us took them out along with a friend of mine (who lives at elevation) who rode the sort of bike we all ordinarily pedal, I could keep up with him, something I would not otherwise have been able to do at 6000 feet. I got back feeling like I’d been out for a relatively easy ride, which is precisely not how I ordinarily feel following any ride at altitude.
We’ve heard all the rationales for people on performance-oriented ebikes: disability, recovery from injury, mismatch in fitness levels, etc. I look at this bike and I think about what my life might have been like if my father or mother had been a rider and how this might have given me added years of riding with them. And then I think about what could still come to pass with my own sons, who will will be kicking my butt in less than 10 years.
Final thought: Father’s little helper.