Bicycling in America needs a community. This is true whether you're discussing electric bikes or conventional ones. If bicycles are going to continue to grow in popularity and if they are to emerge as a serious alternative to at least some automobile trips, it will be a community of committed riders that helps them go mainstream. This is important. For example, several years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the United States could save $900 million a year if Americans rode a ride instead of driving for half of all trips less than one mile. "Many of us drive our cars for short trips," the EPA said. "We drive three blocks to work out at the local gym, we drop off our teenager at a friend’s house in the neighborhood, or we move our car to park near the entrance of the next store on our list of errands. Some short car trips are necessary; for example, health and mobility issues might limit our ability to walk. Other times, driving is convenient: when we’re in a hurry, if it’s cold or raining, or if we have a lot of groceries to carry. However, some short car trips might be easily made by foot or bike. What if we all chose to walk or bike for just half of our car trips of under a mile? Again, the answer was that that United States could save $900 million and reduce carbon emissions by two million metric tons each year. So how do we convince more folks to use bicycles for transportation? "There should be some community. People should advocate for bikes in general, but e-bikes in particular as a means of transportation around towns," said Seth Weintraub on The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO. You can listen to the full conversation with Seth Weintraub and follow along with the transcript provided below. Armando Roggio: Seth Weintraub rides his electric bike, daily. Whether it's a trip to the gym, a visit to the local store, he does his best to replace automobile trips with e-bike trips to get a little exercise, and sometimes even beat the cars stuck in traffic or hunting for a parking place. This is The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO, and my name is Armando Roggio. In this episode, we're going to learn a bit more about Seth Weintraub, and get his opinion on why electric bikes are interesting and important. We'll hear what he thinks makes a good electric bike. And oh, Seth's opinion does matter. He's an award-winning journalist, publisher, and entrepreneur with a significant amount of influence.‹ Go back to the blog
if you're really trying to brake. Some people like the manual brakes because you can kind of feel your way, and you're not going to stop too short. But I feel like you get used to a hydraulic brake pretty quickly, and it allows you to use a lot less arm, you know, like hand strength to slow the bike down. Obviously, there are more moving parts in hydraulics and you have to do some maintenance there. But overall, I think it's a better experience.
And then, as far as hubs and mid drives, that is actually a huge polarizing part of the e-bike community. But for some reason, all the bikes that I really enjoy are mid-mount. So it's weird... I don't understand why. I guess, because you have control of the gears on the front end. It uses the same gears as the chain, although because of the additional torque, you need a stronger chain and crank system with mid drives. So that's still up in the air. For whatever reason, I seem to prefer mid drives, even though in my head, I think hub motors make more sense.
Armando Roggio: So that's very different than what I expected. I often hear that people prefer riding a mid-drive electric bike, but I also hear folks say that mid-drive makes more sense mechanically and from an engineering perspective. So talk a little bit more about this. Why do you think the hub drive might make more sense?
Seth Weintraub: Well, so first, one thing is you can't regen on a mid-drive unless you want run the chain backwards or something. So for me...
You're not going to get a lot of energy back. But I think, more importantly, it reduces wear on the brakes and there have been a few bikes out there have regen, which I think is a nice addition. It's not too much of a pain to put it in the controller and there are brakes out there, so it's not rocket science.
The other thing is the additional wear on the chain. One of my favorite bikes, which was a 2017 Raleigh Redux iE, I kept on breaking the chain because the torque on from the Brose motor going through the chain would keep breaking it. I, obviously, could have got a much thicker, heavier-duty chain, but that's a little bit different of a bike experience. So just holistically, maybe hub motors make more sense. But again, in my experience, like nine out of the top 10 of my favorite bikes have been mid drives, so I don't know.
Armando Roggio: So our context for speaking about mid-drive motors and hub drive motors was explaining the cost, if you will, of an electric bike. You mentioned earlier that you thought reducing cost would be a key to continued growth for the electric bike market. So if you were going to replace or reduce the cost of an electric bike, where would you start? Which components or systems would you target?
Seth Weintraub: From a cost perspective, getting a Bosch system doesn't make any sense because they're very high-cost, especially on their higher-end models and they don't offer any opportunities for lowering price on batteries or even on some of their components, like their displays or controllers. So the newcomers or the up-and-comers, I guess, would be some of the other, like Yamaha, Shimano, which are higher-end, but maybe even Bafang. I know Bafang is doing some interesting things with mid drives, right now, especially on the high-end or ultras. I think the two kilowatts, or something crazy.
there. But personally, I find that 250 watts does most of my rides just fine. And I do want to get a little bit of exercise out of it, so that's fine.
In terms of size, I don't think you need to go all the way up. So that's another kind of area of cost-cutting. I know a lot of those who go in over a kilowatt, I think 250 to 750-watt is pretty much all you need.
As far as components, I don't want to see people like cutting on forks and things that can cause a lot of damage, but there's like really good mid-tier stuff out there. I mean, even Shimano makes pretty good derailleurs and brakes at pretty reasonable prices. I've reviewed a $600 Amazon bike, like ANCHEER, Rattan, and they still have Shimano parts on them. So you can get down to that sub 1,000 cost, but you're going to be using batteries from China. I mean, everybody's using batteries from China, but you're going to use the no-name brand batteries from China. You're going to use a motor from a company you've probably never heard of. So in my mind, I think you can save a lot of money on batteries.
I hate to say this, but because I just said that get outreach is important, but a lot of the overhead of owning a shop or working with bike shops, or those kind of things are hurting the higher-end bikes when it comes to market share.
Armando Roggio: One of the things I often hear is that if you compare, say a $600 electric bike to an electric bike in the 3,000 or $4,000 range, you see a significant difference. The components are much better. The frame is much better. Everything is significantly better and you get a lot for your money as you move up.
But if you compare a $4,000 electric bike to a $7,000 e-bike or a $10,000 e-bike, there really aren't as many differences or significant differences. What do you think of that?
Seth Weintraub: Absolutely. So I've reviewed a Riese & Muller Supercharger, which has two Bosch batteries and quite a bit of other just the highest of the high-end stuff. I think it was the $8,000 bike, and it was hands down... Well, one of the better bikes I've ever reviewed. And of course, it ought to be.
My daily is the Raleigh, which I think it's like $3,000 bike. The difference between the Raleigh and that bike wasn't huge in terms of the overall experience, and daily usage. But the difference between the Raleigh and the Rattan or the ANCHEER bike from Amazon is night and day. The experience is totally different. The wheels aren't even aligned right. They're kind of wobbly. You're not sure if the fork is making weird sounds. The gears sometimes come off. It's not put together exactly right. Maybe the handlebar is backward. It's just a lot of issues.
So your statement, there's a much bigger difference. I think kind of the sweet spot for most people is going to be around $3,000 in terms of cost. At that point, you get a lot of really good components, but you don't get maybe the Tour de France level componentry.
Armando Roggio: And frankly, not all of us need the Tour de France level.
Seth Weintraub: Exactly.
tires, and it's kind of the same size. But the experience was totally different because it has a cadence sensor, which it comes on later in the bike, maybe a second after I start pedaling. And it stops, more importantly, a second after I've stopped pedaling. So it's a little bit jarring when you get off the line.
And then, the components aren't quite as good all around. So you feel a little wiggle and wobbles here and there that you don't feel in a mid-tier bike, I would say, like my daily.
And of course, there are things that aren't the bike's fault is like I'm a six-foot guy. So a bike-sized to me with the right geometry is important rather than just the bike from ANCHEER, which comes in one size. If you're not sitting in the right position, then who cares? But yeah, so I guess, adjustability.
Power. So for instance, bikes by a Dutch company called VanMoof look amazing. They're beautiful bikes. You get on them and you're like I think the motor is broken because I can barely feel anything happening. And they're like, "Oh, no. It's fine." It just takes a while to get used to, and you're like, eh, this isn't really helping me. I'd rather just have a regular bike. The level of assist is so low on that particular bike.
So obviously, I want some sort of assist, but I don't want to feel it jarring and pushing when I pedal. I'd rather have like a slow bring up, and quiet is also nice. That's one area that Brose motors have over Bosch. And I think hub motors, in general, are a little bit quieter than the mid drives as well. So quieter.
I kind of want a bike experience. I want to think that I'm riding a bike, and I'm just extremely strong and light, I'm going 25 miles per hour on my own rather than with the assistance of the bike. So that's kind of my my philosophy there.
Founder of Five PublicationsArmando Roggio: Seth, I do appreciate you joining us for this podcast. Would you mind starting by telling us a little bit about your company, about how you got started in publishing, and come around to how you started a publication about alternative transportation, electric? Seth Weintraub: Sure. So in around 2006, my wife got a fellowship to study in France. She was, at the time, a doctoral student in French. So I had kind of a dead-end IT job at the time, and I said, you know what? I'm going to hop on the plane with you, and I'll just see what happens. So I quit my job, landed in Paris, a fantastic city, but not much to do for English-speakers. So I started writing about what I knew. I was interested in CMSs at the time. I was using Drupal. Eventually, I found my way to WordPress, but my specialty was kind of Apple products and managing Apple products in the enterprise. So that's kind of where 9to5Mac was born. And you know...this will get long-winded, but I did that for a couple of years in Paris. I had a friend who worked with Apple and sent me some iPod Nanos and the first iPod Touch. He had pictures of them, and so I had some stories to break and the site steadily grew from there.
Seth Weintraub's first publication, 9to5mac, started as a blog and grew to be a respected publication in its field.When it was time to come back to the US, I was still doing IT. So I started doing IT in the US again, but the website was starting to make almost as much money as my job was paying. So I was like maybe if I spent more time on this, it would be more lucrative, and those kinds of things. Those kinds of thoughts. But at the same time, a friend of mine recommended me for a job at Fortune covering Google. So this is Apple. I covered Apple to this point. And now, Fortune wanted me to cover Google like I was covering Apple. So I covered Google at Fortune for a year. I thought it was a great job because it was Fortune and I was covering Google. I got all kinds of introductions at Google. I got a book offer to write about Google in China, which right now is kind of a big deal. And then, at the end of that year term, I was kind of like, you know what? 9to5Mac at that point had as many page views per day as Fortune's website did. So I was like, you know what? I think I see where this is going. But when I worked at Fortune, they didn't have a Twitter account, or a Facebook account, or an RSS reader. So I created all those from my Google account and then leaving them, I still owned all these things. So I said, you know what? I have these thousands and thousands of Google News followers, I'll start up 9to5Google. I was doing 9to5Mac.com/toys, which was kind of like deals on Apple products. But when I broke out 9to5Toys, there were deals on everything. So at that point, I had three sites. That was going for a while, and the sites continued to grow. And in 2012, I bought a Tesla, and that's a whole nother story in itself, but I bought a Tesla. I had the Tesla, and I was like there's nothing. Nobody's writing intelligently about Teslas, or electric vehicles, or solar panels, or any kind of electric mobility. So I jumped on that train, and I just started kind of writing as a hobby, still doing the 9to5 stuff. But I would do three or four posts a day on the electric car, green energy news of the day as well.
Weintraub's also founded Electrek, a publication covering electric transportation and technology.And then, that started going slowly, picking up a little bit. It's kind of hard to get a site off the ground, and it's kind of nice to do that every once in a while. But having the other two sites to point to it at times was beneficial, the other three sites. So I think 2015, I hired the first full-time writer, who is a Fred Lambert, and he's got quite a Tesla following, right now. I think last year... Maybe a couple of years ago, I found Micah Toll, who's fantastic. He runs EbikeSchool.com. It's a great YouTube channel on batteries and bikes. If you're into that, an engineer and you want to get into that stuff, it's a great resource. I'd been following his work for a while. I kept on asking him and asking him. Hey, you should join us to talk about e-bikes. We're not really covering e-bikes. Obviously, he is an expert. I hired a couple of other people as well, but we brought him on, last year. Actually, two years ago, I think. And he moved to the US, and then he just recently moved back to Israel, but he's still covering all the electric. It's kind of like the two-wheeler news, the mobility news, scooters. I guess, one wheels as well, but kind of the wider mobility. But be honest with you, that's one of the more exciting areas for me. I think we see more innovation in those vehicles. And frankly, in India and in China, and a lot of the rest of the world, these are the vehicles that are going to get used by the majority of the population. And frankly, around here in the US, my personal feeling is e-bikes are a whole lot more fun than driving to work. So that's where I am.