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Buying an Electric Mountain Bike

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

I'm 64, 6'-0" and weigh a little over 200lbs. I've been riding a road bike all my years and continue to do so on a Miyata Road Touring bike I bought in 1974, yeah that''s right, it's 46 years quality, take care of it and it lasts!. Two years ago, I rode the Alleghany Passage from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland MD, about 150 miles. I rode my Miyata with full panniers and camping gear with 33cm tires, we did just fine. That trip lit an exploratory fire in my soul! I went on line and discovered there are hundreds of rails to trails across the USA worthy of exploration.

I have just "decided" to be semi-retired, as a sole proprietor architect working from home, I have the luxury of making my own hours and can travel to the rails to trails as often as I like. If you download the "TrailLink" app and research a half dozen of the trails you will find strong suggestions, from those who have traveled them, that a full suspension mountain bike is the way to go. Given my age and the fact that I didn't want to make these trips an endurance test I thought I would explore the option of e-bikes.

One of my clients has been pushing me to get one. He built his own and excitedly tells me how much fun he has on his electric mountain bike with huge tires and a throttle. I'll let him write his own blog.

My client/friend texted me a link to a bike that is made in California that was on sale, . I really liked the red model, I'm color blind and I can't see subtle colors but my kids both soon dissuaded me from that option. I was impressed with this bike nonetheless from researching their website but was worried I wouldn't get the right size so I ventured out to various bike shops to see what was the optimal size and see what else was available. Both my client/friend and various on-line info suggest you should get a size smaller than you think you require. I found this to be just the opposite. I tried the recommended large sizes and found them all to be too small. You really need to try various sizes as well as models to find your fit.

The first bike shop I visited was Carytown Bicycle Co., it was early on in the Covid 19 Pandemic, They were limiting folks in the store and when I asked to use the bathroom I was told politely no, but as you can guess it's difficult to carefully look at bikes when you have to go! I've been riding for years all across the US and Europe and one of the things I have come to detest about cycling is the snobbery of many bicycle shops and this one, in my opinion, reeks of that.

I went next door to Agee's where I was allowed to use the loo, but quickly told I couldn't touch the bikes! Now, Agee's is not a snobby shop and I can't think of a visit where I wasn't treated well, but not being able to touch or try out an expensive investment like this was absurd to me, so I moved on.

I found a new bike shop Kul Wheels on the Virginia Capital Trail in Richmond, VA, near where I live. They had a range of bikes as rentals and were more than happy to let you ride one of their e-bikes on the adjacent trail if you were thinking about purchasing one. The folks that worked there were super nice and as helpful as they could be. I tried a full suspension electric mountain bike and a hybrid electric neither of which were big enough for me. I wish I had taken notes, I did take pics, but I wasn't really sold on either, one had a throttle which made me feel uncomfortable as I passed regular cyclists on the trail who were working hard to go uphill. I also didn't appreciate the aesthetics of these bikes, the battery looked like an afterthought, and as an architect aesthetics are important to me. Their bikes were less expensive than most and for some I'm sure that is important.

More research on the internet led me to the Specialized and Trek websites. After carefully reviewing each I settled on the Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp $6,500 , Turbo Levo $5,000 and the Turbo Kenevo Comp $5,525 and the Trek Rail 9.7 and Trek Powerfly 9.7 LT Unfortunately I was not able to see or ride the Specialized bikes, see Carytown Bike Shop above, and the other local shop didn't have any models in stock, in fact Specialized had little or no stock anywhere on the east coast. I paid a lot for my bike, a little over $5,000 with taxes and a few accessories, I believe it lists for $5,999, which was a hard pill to swallow, but these bikes can cost as much as twice that amount so I drew the line at 6k. I paid over $500 for the above noted Miyata in 1974, I don't know what that would mean in todays dollars, but as I still ride it at least twice a week, it's one of the best investments I have ever made.

Here's what I discovered in my limited search. Specialized seems to market it's bikes primarily through independent dealers. Dealers that sell other brands as well. I wasn't able to test their knowledge as I couldn't find any bikes at these dealers during the COVID pandemic. Trek had severly limited inventories too but were able to tell me through their website which stores had the model in my size that I was interested . Trek has its own stores that only sell Trek or Bontrager products. The two (2) stores I visited, Stafford VA, where I tested four different models and sizes and Raleigh NC where I ultimately bought my bike were well stocked and staffed with young knowledgable sales associates trained to know all about their product. The store in Raleigh may be the best bike shop I have ever visited.

If you do a lot of research on the internet there are several other highly rated bike manufacturers as well but Trek and Specialized are the two major US based companies, the others I found were based in Europe, I want to be able to get parts and service easily, so I ruled them out.

The Trek Powerfly 9.7 I bought is pictured below. It is super comfortable and has been a blast to ride. On "Eco" mode I have ridden 60 miles with 2 out of 5 bars of power left in the battery. I plan on documenting my trips with photos in this blog. Enjoy

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