Electric-assist bicycles continue to enter the marketplace along with electric and extended-range electric vehicles. And while they can bring tears to a cyclist's wallet without any federal or state credits to lighten the financial wallop, riding them can be addictive.
We recently rode the BMW e-bike, and now we've gotten in the saddle of the A2B Alva+, which gives a rider about an hour of electric riding before requiring a re-charge. How fast can it go? We got up to about 30 miles per hour on the straights. That's decent, but at $3,399, you have to ask what the benefit of this bike is. After all, when the battery is depleted, or you put it ion "zero-mode" with no electric assist, all you have is a 66-pound bike.
What's it like to ride? Imagine - if you haven't ridden an e-bike - that you spend enough energy with your legs to go about 13-15mph, but the electric motor, powering the rear wheel, is moving you about 24 mph. Or imagine you are on a straightaway, peddling about 14 mph. You approach a 20-degree grade. I found that I could tackle the hill using the same amount of energy I was dialing into the pedals as I did on the straightaway.
The amount of electric power helping the bike is regulated by a handle-bar mounted controller that allows a rider to select four modes: 0, 1, 2 and 3. Mode 3 gives you the biggest boost. Besides pedal assist, a rider can also twist the handle throttle and go on battery power alone up to about 13 mph in mode 1 (or 17 mph and 20 mph in modes 2 and 3). This, however, is a terrible use of the battery. The speed and battery life, again, depends on rider weight and terrain. At about 280 pounds, I was using up more of the juice than my more wiry colleague, Chris McGraw, who also reviewed the bike for Translogic.
Related GalleryA2B Alva Plus E-Bike
The Alva+ we tested cut a mean figure in black matte paint over an aluminum frame and brown seat. The bike is powered by a 500-watt hub motor and comes with a 36-volt lithium-ion battery and Shimano XT 8G derailleur. Stopping power comes from Tektro Aurigia E-Comp hydraulic disc brakes. Re-charging time is about four hours off household current.
Who is it for? Commuters. E-assist bikes like the ones A2B is making are, it seems to me, best for people who are using their bikes for serious transportation - people for whom a bike is a legitimate alternative to a car. I considered taking it on a 50-60 mile ride, but I wasn't keen on pushing 66 pounds on top of my own weight down the road once the battery was exhausted.
Who is it for? Commuters.
Where the bike excelled was in a series of 18-mile rides around Ann Arbor: home to town, errands, and back to my house. Living within 20-30 miles of one's job would make an e-bike like this a pretty slick choice when the weather and time allows riding, especially in bike-friendly cities like Minneapolis, Portland, Austin or Boston. It's one thing to be a serious biker and want the attendant exercise, calorie burn and quad tightening that comes with relying entirely on one's own muscles and heart to complete a trip. But it is another to get where you are going without necessarily arriving drenched with sweat or late because of an unexpected hill.
If a non-car machine is what you want, bikes like the Alva+ have to compete against, for example, a Vespa S50 4V, which costs $3,299, a little less than the Alva+. So, who opts for an e-assist bike? For one, convicted drunk drivers who get their licenses revoked. But there are also folks who don't want any part of gasoline and will opt for the bike for environmental reasons, as well as to get some exercise. Also, there are no insurance or registration fees required for an e-bike. The bike itself is expensive, yes, but for the right buyer and rider, the Alva+ is a delight to ride and be seen in. When we parked our test bike in downtown Ann Arbor, we certainly got plenty of stop-and-stares.