Getting from A2B Just Got A Whole Lot More Fun
By Bill Moore
Over the month of October, a few more Nebraskans got introduced to the surprisingly delightful experience of riding their first electric bicycle, the 350W A2B Ferber. Here's EV World's review of this eminently practical and fun utility-style commuter e-bike.
"That's a winner there," says Chip Monahan. "Oh, I can feel that. That's a winner. That feels good ."
"It's really awesome," laughed Jennifer Chaney.
What are these two people so enamored by? A bicycle.
But not just any bicycle. It's A2B's new Ferber electric bicycle. For Chip and Jennifer and everyone else who tried it while I had it loan last month here in Omaha, the experience of riding their first electric bicycle was a joyous mixture of both surprise and child-like delight. Quite obviously, it is not what they were expecting. From adults who admittedly haven't ridden a bicycle in years, to seasoned professionals who daily commute to work by bicycle, they all enjoyed the experience and almost to the man - and woman - they all commented that they'd consider buying one…. except for the little matter of its price: $2,400. (Actual MSRP is $2,395USD).
Now for a committed cyclist, that's not out of line with a good quality road or mountain bike, but for the average consumer used to $169 bikes at Walmart, it's a significant jump. That's a big reason why I am working on launching an e-bike rental business as a spin-off of EV World, and why A2B's man in Connecticut, Ryan Maccione, wanted me to try out the bike over the last month. Incidentally, here's my vision for ePEDALER.
Previously, A2B's initial electric bike foray was a distinctive, almost motorbike-like design that proved pretty popular. Paparazzi even caught actor and climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio riding one.
This bike is still the mainstay of the company, but with the rise bikesharing systems and the growth of urban bicycle commuting, e-bike manufacturers both in Europe and North America are seeing a rise in the sale of more Dutch-style utility bicycles: sturdy, practical, almost minimalist designs that can be more affordable substitutes for cars in cities. The Ferber is A2B's answer to similar types of bikes from Pedego, Currie, Prodeco Tech, Evelo and others who sell in the USA.
The frame is what's called a step-thru, designed to be ridden by both men and women. The seating and handlebar placement put the rider in a comfortable, if not particularly aerodynamic upright seating position. The beauty of the step-thru frame is that it makes getting on and off the bike much easier for everyone, especially for the 50+ generation. Throwing a leg over the frame gets harder with each passing decade for a lot of us. Come to a stop, slide off the seat and straddle the low-slung frame while you wait for the light to change.
The funny thing about the step-thru frame is that some might regard it as a 'girl's bike' from a bygone era when women cyclists tended to wear dresses. From a anatomical point of view the drop-down or step-thru frame would actually be a better choice for a man: slamming your groin into that cold steel can be a painful experience. But fashion is a fickle mistress, and I digress.
The Ferber comes in basic black, silver and white: Ryan sent me the white version. It's available in 17 and 20 inch frames: I received the 20 inch version. In my life, I've assembled four bikes literally out of the box: my original Currie folding e-bike, my current Wavecrest TidalForce M750, earlier this summer a Haibike Xduro, also courtesy of Currie, and now the A2B Ferber. The last two on loan for review purposes. In the process, I am learning to take lots of photos and to mark the various shipping pads: foam and cardboard. It really helps when it comes time to send the bike back.
With practice, I had the Ferber pretty much unpacked and assembled in around an hour. My one big goof was leaving the handlebar neck facing reward. It's supposed to face forward. On my first test ride around the cul-de-sac, I thought the handlebars were way too close. They were. Then it occurred to me, as I looked at my M750 standing nearby, that the neck needs to point forward. Out came the Allen wrench again and a few minutes latter the bike was ready to ride, the handlebars forward where they are supposed to be. I plugged in the charger to bring the rear mounted lithium-ion pack up to a full charge. The company advertises that to fully recharge the 9 amp hour battery from fully depleted takes about 4-6 hours.
One of the first questions people always ask me about any electric bike is, "How far can you ride it?" or it's corollary, "How long does the charge last?" Very similar to the questions asked about electric cars.
The beauty of a bike like the Ferber is that you can ride it as far and as long as you are physically capable. You don't have to use the electric-assist. The bike goes just fine with or without the electric motor. In fact, it's fairly comparable to riding a manual bike of similar weight at 22 kg (48.5 lbs). It has an 8-speed Shimano Alivio derailleur system. I found I could keep it in the 6 range most of the time. Draining the battery doesn't mean you're stuck pushing the bike back home, a la the stupid stunt Top Gear in UK played on the original Tesla Roadster and later the Nissan LEAF. You just have to use the gear system more and work a bit harder as you would with most any bike.
So, how long does that battery last? I never completely drained it, so I can't tell you, but on two occasions last month, my brother and I rode my M750 and the Ferber more than ten miles each time, the last through some fairly hilly terrain along the Missouri River in downtown Omaha [Vimeo video here https://vimeo.com/109481092]. We both used about 50 percent of our respective packs: the Ferber, lithium-ion; the M750, NiMH. So, I am comfortable with saying you could easily do around 20 miles in hilly terrain, but a lot depends on how much you pedal, how much you weigh and how much you have to use the 350W rear hub motor, which is 100 watts more than the Europe version.
The Ferber is a pedelec. It's original 250W drive system is configured to meet European regulations. In order to retain its classification as a 'bicycle' by EU definition, the motor can only offer assistance as long as the rider pedals the bike. Stop pedaling and the motor shuts off. To be honest, I really like that. The point of riding a bike is to not just get you efficiently from A2B (pun intended, of course), but to also get your heart pumping, blood flowing, muscles flexing, organs working, and joints moving. And when you need some mechanical assistance, the motor is there to help with the control system providing three power levels, adjustable via the toggle buttons on the handlebar.
It's the unexpected surge of torque that surprises first time riders like Chip and Jennifer, causing them to utter comments like, "That's a winner" and "It's awesome." [See their videos below]. I like to tell people that a pedelec isn't a moped. It's a bicycle with an invisible Tour de France rider helping you pedal up that hill or against that headwind. You can't sit back and let him do all the work, though, like a moped or motor scooter.
In practice, I found that I seldom used the level 2 or 3 power settings on the backlight display system mounted on the handlebar. Usually 1 is quite sufficient to get around town and I often found myself toggling down to the 0 setting, which turns off the electric drive because I was getting a bit too much assistance.
The bike goes when you pedal and stops via conventional hand brakes connected to mineral oil-based hydraulic disc brakes: front and rear.
The bike has a nicely padded saddle and front suspension fork with 75 mm of travel. While cycling purists aren't all that excited about suspension forks - they see them as reducing the efficiency of the bike, thus adding more work for the rider - it does make for a little more comfortable ride. I did, however, find myself sliding off the seat, which is just a matter of adjustment, I assume. The Ferber comes with a front LED headlight and rear LED tail light, which should be mandatory on all bikes. Last night while returning from shopping at the local Trader Joe's, my wife and I passed three cyclist well after dusk: none of them had lights: a dangerous position to be in, in my opinion.
As I write these words, the Ferber sits in the garage, boxed up and waiting for shipment back to Connecticut. I am going to miss it. I rode it one last time to the post office just before packing it back up. I was again struck by how delightful it is to ride: more so - and I hate to say this - than my M750, which now is clearly dated technology. Sure, the M750 works and really looks like a serious macho machine as the photo of the two bikes together at the Henry Doorly Zoo show, but between the two, if I needed to pick the better daily commuter, the Ferber would win hands down.
Of course, the question in Ryan's mind and mine is, will we pick it for ePEDALER? Let's say it's a strong contender, for sure. It deftly handles Omaha's hills - yes, we do have hills here - and it's easy for a novice rider to learn to operate: push the plus or minus buttons for assistance. Best of all, everyone who rode it, loved it. But then, it was the first e-bike any of them have ridden, so I'd somewhat expect that reaction. What's not to love about a stylish, practical and yes, even affordable alternative to the automobile? It's an EV just about anyone can afford.
Originally published: 09 Nov 2014
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