No LBS & I wanted the ‘right' bike. Here’s what I did…

Jack Tyler

Active Member
We just moved to Bozeman, Montana - a small city full of avid bikers and bike paths, some of which lead you right up (please note: I said ‘UP’…) into the national forests. I wanted to escape the silliness of a 2nd car since we rarely used our last one. However, I also wanted ‘wheels’ in order to commute 10 miles to the airport - whether planned or on a whim - to tinker with the plane or go fly. Given all that, I was convinced my solution lay in buying an ebike, a sorta-commuter that could still handle maintained trails (and help me go ‘Up’). And of course EBR, Court’s 500+ reviews and this Community all provided helpful guidance.

But one troubling theme kept surfacing over and over in the advice I received here: Try before you buy. ‘The bike needs to feel ‘right’ to you,’ said the gurus who’d gone before. (Their corollary: What feels ‘right’ to the last guy won’t necessarily feel ‘right’ to you. So much for putting lots of weight on the reviews alone). Bozeman lacked a ‘real’ ebike dealer and even those who were some hours away offered very few demo bikes to ride. What was I to do? Turns out I saw many others posting here with the same exact dilemma. So FWIW I thought I’d report on what I did and how it worked out for me.

“If the mountain won't come to Muhammad…” So the plan was to go where the bikes were, which from Montana could mean Seattle, or maybe Oregon or down to Southern California or…well, there seemingly were lots of choices. But since it meant a Com Air flight and a multi-day hotel room (I wanted lots of ‘wheel time’), cost was the first concern. (As it turned out my spending produced savings I didn’t expect. More on that below). A second concern was that a given dealer not just have ‘lots of ebikes’ but rather had - on hand - a hefty percentage of the models that were on my short list. Turns out I didn’t find that many of those dealers. So folding together el cheapo airfares (from Montana, there aren’t many…) with affordable hotel rates, the handy presence of Uber for ground transport, and a dealer with a solid rep and large, relevant inventory, I ended up making the pilgrimage to Len Mattioni's store (aka: Crazy Lenny’s) in Madison, WI. Which BTW happened to offer an affordable Best Western only a short walk away, so I could even ignore Uber most of the time.
By happenstance this choice coincided with a mixture of some really bad news with some very good fortune. Most folks here have heard of Len’s store suffering serious fire damage recently, and I (selfishly) wondered how that would affect my shopping trip. Well, it turned out not at all, thanks to the staff and their workarounds. However, Len must summon the patience of Job each morning to deal with an unresponsive insurance company, contractors working in space he needs for customers, and the amazing, on-going march of FedEx, Pilot, UPS and other carriers as the ebikes pour in day after day. My good fortune was Ravi Kempaiah, who most of you know from EBR and who happened to be there helping Len’s biz ‘get more virtual’. Ravi had been extremely helpful to me as I wandered through the legions of on-line bike reviews, component discussions & EBR threads. Want to know exactly why one rear drive motor is better then the other, or why that Brose mid-drive motor doesn’t have shift sensing but still shifts smoothly as tho’ it does? Ravi be ‘da Man!

But let’s cut to the chase: Len’s store is adjacent to a bike path which, in turn, ties into bike lanes & bike paths that range all over Madison, a very bike friendly city. My ‘short list’ was in truth not short. And Len’s inventory of demo bikes is very complete, even including bikes I haven’t yet seen thoroughly reviewed (e.g. the CrossCurrent) and bikes barely announced as available in the U.S. (several Bulls models, which were very impressive). So I began testing ebikes. And then testing some more. And still more. It was true: Each given review turned out to be only two-dimensional and very different from the experience of actually riding that bike. And what seemed to be only a ‘specs detail’ - e.g. the difference between SLX gears and the surgical precision of an XT set when matched up with a mid-drive motor - had a feel and a flavor to it that was now tangible. Moreover, the clear categories of drive trains that lived in my mind - ‘mid-drives are efficient’ and ‘rear drives won’t trash gear sets and chains’ - got clouded up by the reality that each bike and its drive train are a system, and systems aren’t so simplistically catalogued. And most important of all: That ‘system’ now included me plus the bike. How did it fit ME? And however it performed, how did I FEEL about that performance. Oh, yeah…riding these bikes was very, very different from reading/viewing reviews of them.
On my second day, Ravi and I had lunch together and he asked me what surprised me. Well, lots of things to be honest. I rode nine bike models by BH (Easy Motion), iZip, Juiced, Bulls, and Haibike. Eight of them were good rides that I could enjoy owning, a success rate I hadn’t expected. And going in, I was sure any bike that gave me as much as 20 mph speed would be just fine. Well, it wasn’t; I wanted just a bit more. Another surprise - we’ve all been there when shopping cars - is that one intuitively expects the quality, performance and driving satisfaction of a given vehicle will line up with its price. Nope. And lastly: When you have eight satisfying bikes - some great in some ways, others great in others - winnowing down those last few to a final selection was actually easier than I expected. On my very first ride with the first bike, I thought ‘Wow, will anything be better than this?’ Turns out, for me it wasn’t.

About those ‘savings’: You probably thought I was referring to what I paid, since the CC is competitively priced and Len is one of many dealers who is known to shave off some of the MAP or MSRP. And yes, it’s true I didn’t pay MSRP for my choice. But the main ‘savings’ for me were in other forms. I didn’t buy a bike that was less satisfying than I had hoped it would be. And while testing, I discovered what really mattered to me…and so was able to zero in on those characteristics and not necessarily pay more for those that weren't. Financially of most benefit, I didn’t buy a more expensive bike than I actually wanted, which was a real possibility going in. And finally, the advice I got about the gear I wanted to add vs. what actually fits on my bike probably saved me buying accessories that might subsequently disappoint.
What bike did I pick? I spilled the beans the other day: a Juiced CrossCurrent. Because it was so reasonably priced, right? Definitely one factor, but definitely not that simple since my budget was up to $3K. There are clear compromises with the CC: It has a less impressive gear set, the absence of ‘thru-frame cable routing’ that seems oh-so modern & svelte, some pretty “basic” welds, it’s stripped of ‘extras’, and forget about a this-decade display. So why did the CC seem to surprise me - in a good way - with that very first ride (and the other three I ended up doing)? Tora mentioned it a l-o-n-g time ago, early in the main CC thread in the Juiced Forum. It’s that oh-so sweet & smooth, linear & proportional application of power that the motor’s torque sensor (now relocated to the rear hub) gives you in any gear and any speed. Maybe that is less important to others. To me it was the Secret Sauce. The other biggies were its Pedelec speed capability, the range of gear ratios he’s chosen for the bike (which I found nowhere else), it’s first-class brakes with motor inhibitors (safety first and also second, at those speeds) and - very subjective, I know - how it just seemed to ‘fit’.

As I said, there were lots of other ‘winners’. To ride the Bosch CX powered FS Bulls was to experience the best drive train of the visit. Yet the Brose-powered FS Bulls was also exceptional when coupled with the XT gear train; it all but didn’t need shift sensing. Away from work hours, Ravi and I did a 13-mile circle of Lake Monona. I rode a Bosch-powered FS Haibike, it was all joy and no stress despite my having ridden little in years, and the battery bar never budged. And on a different scale the winners were Len and his staff, pummeled with adversity but offering only patience and encouragement to ‘get it right’ and - especially - to have some fun while doing so.
I haven’t a clue if this approach - when no LBS is available and/or the biker buyer wants to be sure of getting the ‘right’ bike - is the best option for anyone else. But for me, it was a great success and I would do it again in a heart beat. And it isn’t great that, even tho’ there will no doubt be better products next year and the next year again, there are so many enjoyable ways to simply ride a bike and find the joy it can bring.

With grateful thanks to those of you here who served as my ‘coaches’ this year, to the EBR moderators who help us maintain perspective, and to Court for creating this Community and for his many thorough reviews. Court: You’ll be pleased to know…I got bottle bosses!

I haven’t a clue if this approach - when no LBS is available and/or the biker buyer wants to be sure of getting the ‘right’ bike - is the best option for anyone else. But for me, it was a great success and I would do it again in a heart beat. And it isn’t great that, even tho’ there will no doubt be better products next year and the next year again, there are so many enjoyable ways to simply ride a bike and find the joy it can bring.

With grateful thanks to those of you here who served as my ‘coaches’ this year,to the EBR moderators who help us maintain perspective, and to Court for creating this Community and for his many thorough reviews. Court: You’ll be pleased to know…I got bottle bosses!

Way to go Jack! Very happy for you. I'm also glad for you, you didn't get stuck in the shopping/research mode. I'm sure you've seen that happen to others in the time you've been here. The right bike for you! I hope everyone gets to that point. Looking forward to many ride reports and pictures from out there.
awesome write up! thanks so much for sharing

have a feeling my next bike that i will make a similar trip!
Thanks for the congrats, guys. It really is true this site made the fun and results from that trip possible. And now @J.R. won't have to answer yet another batch of Q's from least for a while. And @JayVee the bikes come in M & L, both R & B, and with 7.8 & (when they are in stock, which at the moment they are not) 10.4 AH batteries.
I'm guessing this is @Rindy 's bike, altho' it seems to be spec'd out the same way I ordered mine except that I added a Body Float.

CrossCurrent Pic - Rindy's.jpg
@JayVee I think your basic premise is quite valid: "Basically the CC makers have stripped the bike of all the fancy stuff off and focused on the essentials instead." And 'focused' doesn't just mean using a higher caliber, off-the-shelf component where it matters the most, which would be the excellent 180mm front/back Tektro Dorado brakes with motor inhibitors. It also means the development effort Tora made with the motor which, as I understand it, is wound differently than the typical Bafang unit.

However, I'm not sure your examples quite apply. The bike really doesn't have a 'computer' at all. It's just an on/off switch, LED-type voltage indicator (like you usually find on the bike battery itself) and a way to alter the excitation of the motor, all combined onto a small panel. There's no internal cabling. It's all external, using zip ties thru welded-on eyelets on the frame. We've seen several similar battery form factors introduced recently, but I'm not sure they are physically interchangeable. (That would be interesting to know). As mentioned above, I think the motor is wound differently to produce, in concert with the torque sensor, that 'dynamic assistance' described on the CC web page. So stripped down to the essentials? Yes. Mostly generic or 'kit like'? That's not my impression.

Going back to the display for just a moment: One result of buying a CC is that one is quickly invited to consider smart phone apps and/or bike computers. Which in a way is a good thing. For those of us with a smart phone - and isn't that almost everyone who can afford to buy an ebike? - we're able to benefit from the technology (and always increasing capability) of something we already own and carry rather than a second, less capable, often physically 'fixed' computer/display that comes with the bike. Apps like Ride With GPS and eBikeMaps actually bring an interesting new dimension to owning this kind of bike. I'm looking forward to learning more about and using both those apps. However for the typical buyer, owning a turnkey bike that already has that capability built-in is probably preferred. Less so for us nutballs, bozos and other weirdos who like to invest even more time with our bikes.
I do agree with your point, @JayVee. Moreover, we tend to forget that, in this still immature marketplace, we've yet to see evidence of an industry standard for how long the major manufacturers of finished ebikes will insure retrofittable battery banks and other proprietary components. I happened to see evidence of this at Len's store, which has now run out of their supply of last-generation Schwinn batteries. The solution? Apparently, Schwinn has nothing to offer beyond a shrug. Can something likely be cobbled together? Perhaps. Might this evoke the creation of some new third-party vendors? Maybe. But this issue certainly isn't an endorsement for the purchase of a factory-finished bike, especially for those companies who do major mods of many models each year.
I thoroughly enjoyed your company.
Thank you for the very kind words.

Managing a store of that magnitude has challenges but connecting with people like you and seeing them smile on an Ebike makes up for all those challenges.

Keep in touch.

@Jack Tyler , the problem you mention with the Schwinn batteries (and it's good they're gone--not the best to begin with) is to send the old battery to a company like Rechargeable Power Energy in Nevada or Electric Rider in Texas for a possible rebuild. Many times the case can be reused and either cells or cells and BMS are replaced, often with higher power output since the newer technology lithium cells pack more punch in the same size battery. These are resources that our shop use that specialize in lithium battery rebuilds. No reason to ditch a good ebike!
If someone is reading this thread, I thought of elucidating on the Schwinn Tailwind batteries.
First of all, this bike was released in 2009 and it was way ahead of the pack at that time. With new Li-ion tech, tailwind batteries have become close to obsolete.

Here is a truly excellent, detailed tear-down of the tailwind battery pack.

Being a materials scientist, I can attest that this chemistry is rare and has some great + and -'s.
This is the only Li-ion battery that can be charged 90% in the first 15 mins. Also, has insanely huge lifecycle (~1500) if cared for properly.
But runs at a lower 24V and has proprietary BMS.

Coming back,
Ann is right in saying that you can rebuild the battery in most cases (like the bike was a generic chinese bike w/ commonly used BMS).

I have been working on rebuilding an Easy Motion EVO pack with higher capacity cells and have realized that it's not easy at all. You need a new BMS (in this case, TD Hitech won't send me one) and you have to be very very careful with soldering the Ni strips.
Easy Motion rebuild.JPG

On top of all that, you need a Hazmat certified person to ship these batteries anywhere. So, all that costs quickly add up.

My recommendation would be to get the latest batteries with highest range and use it for 3-4 years and dispose/recycle it.
On top of all that, you need a Hazmat certified person to ship these batteries anywhere. So, all that costs quickly add up.
Having been on an industrial receiving end of hazmats, it's a huge problem and those costs are passed along in B to B work. It would be a shocker to most individuals if you had your standard shipping costs plus $50 hazmat on top. As for getting an existing ebike battery re-engineered, the problem is the consumer doesn't have a legal avenue to get the old battery to the rebuilder. So you're left with a couple of options; the company sends the consumer the propper packing materials and instructions on how to pack, along with a 'call tag' from their shipping account with UPS, for ground only shipping. Or the consumer is sent a video on how to gut the battery case (most consumers wouldn't do this) and send the empty to the rebuilder. Hazmat shipping laws would have to be tweaked for consumer Li-Ion batteries and still, anyway it's done, will likely cost 25-50% more, just for shipping. The last possibility is to illegally ship these batteries to and fro, as it's often done now. Legal hazmat shipping and liability has to be sussed out, if there is any hope that your cherished ebike will last more than 3-4 years.

One other way is if RPE went into contractual agreements with ebike dealers around the country to handle the dirty work for the consumer. That would add a middle man that needs to be paid and would the brands of said ebike dealers allow that?

It's a tough one!
Actually, @J.R , RPE does do that. Not as a contractual agreement but on an as need basis, providing the labels & packaging. RPE can work with the shop and handle the repair or directly with the bike owner if there's no shop nearby. I'm pretty sure that Electric Rider does it the same way.
@TenBlinkers , when I mention 'our shop' that is the ebike & escooter store that I've had for 15 years. Court doesn't have anything to do with the shop; however, we met about 4 years ago when he would drop by the shop to check out new product for review or see some of the older electric bikes that we repaired or sold. Specializing in electric bikes for all those years (and regular bikes for a bunch of decades :D) along with a lot of experience researching China sourced ebikes helps me help folks visiting the EBR Forum.