my life

The search for new bikes

In my last post I described why we bought an electric cargo bike, the Gazelle Makki. For those who are looking for an electric cargo bike and have a budget of around € 5,000 I can certainly recommend this bike. Compared to an Urban Arrow Family the Gazelle Makki uses a belt instead of chain (less maintenance and lasts longer), the rear carrier is standard and the suspension is better. The chassis is slightly wider which gives the children slightly more space and the children can climb into the bike themselves. In its pricing the Makki has a slight edge over the Family. Another consideration is that the Makki was judged to be the winner in the cargo bikes category of the 2021 bike test published by the Algemeen Dagblad (AD), a Dutch newspaper.

I wrote that next to the cargo bike, I was also looking for an electric city bike for Stephanie. By now she has doubts and she decided to continue using her car for commuting for now. Yet I would still like to reflect on the selection criteria I used in my search for this bike. The design has to look good, but the bike has to be practical as well. This means the battery has to be integrated into the frame, the headlight has to be integrated into the frame (a non-integrated headlight is more easily damaged in a bike stand and doesn’t look as attractive), it has to use a belt rather than a chain and finally it has to have a luggage carrier at the back of the bike.

Many electric bikes fail to meet these criteria because they have their battery mounted on the rear luggage carrier. In general I think many designs are just ugly. If I allow myself to be guided by the winners of the AD Bike Test my options are narrowed down to two bikes: the Decatt Zoom for € 2,650 and the Gazelle Ultimate C8+ HMB Belt for € 3,700. Both Decatt and Gazelle are Dutch.

The Decatt meets all criteria perfectly and still manages to be relatively affordable for an electric bike. The sole complication is that there are just three physical dealers in The Netherlands. Inconvenient if you want to have a test drive, potentially difficult if you have warranty issues or need larger maintenance. The Gazelle could therefore be a safer choice because our local bike mechanic sells it. Our bike mechanic would have more possibilities to fix issues with that bike. The design of the Gazelle looks good, but it’s noticeable that the headlight is mounted on the stem. While this is an unconventional choice, it still looks nice. But compared to the Decatt the extreme difference in price for the Gazelle seems hard to justify. I don’t see so much difference between the two when comparing functionality and quality.

I’ve also investigated the bikes of VanMoof. I’ve read reviews of the S3 which were less laudable. This makes us wonder if VanMoof managed to fix the shortcoming with their latest bike, the S5. I do think this bike is the most beautiful, with it’s minimalistic design. At a price point of € 2,500 I would expect a belt drive however. I can live without the belt drive, but the rear luggage carrier not being standard is making the case for this bike even harder. Imagine the amount of sweat being secreted from your back on a hot day if you can’t put your backpack on the luggage carrier. The rear luggage carrier is available as an accessory for € 60, but you can’t use it to mount a child seat. The greatest problem of this bike may be that the battery can’t be removed. This can be a major inconvenience if you can’t park your bike next to a power socket. Finally, maintenance can apparently only be performed by a limited number of VanMoof dealers.

For myself I’d like to replace my ordinary city bike, a Gazelle Paris C7 from 2016, with a newer non-electric city bike. That will be the Union Lite, which can be purchased for € 1,000. It’s striking that the price difference with electric bikes is still so large. The Union Lite has a belt drive just like the bikes mentioned before, while my current bike has a chain. I’m attracted by the minimalistic design of this bike, which has a headlight which is nicely integrated into the frame. The fact that both the front and rear light are both powered by the dynamo is one of the most important reasons to buy this bike. I’m tired of replacing batteries for the rear light, especially in the winter months. I get surprised too often by batteries which run out sooner than I expected. This is detrimental to my safety in the traffic.

I have some limited criticism of the design choices of this bike. The rear luggage carrier can’t take a child seat and the maximum weight of the rear luggage carrier is merely 15 kilos (similar to the VanMoof S3). A much cheaper Gazelle Espirit offers a rear luggage carrier which can handle 25 kilos and a child seat for just € 550. Curiously the Espirit is slightly lighter than the Lite, 16.9 kilos versus 18.4 kilos. I had expected that the more expensive Lite would be lighter because it is marketed as a minimalistic city bike. The Espirit also has a headlight integrated into the frame and a rear light which is powered by the dynamo. The only remaining reason to get the Lite is the belt drive.

I concluded that I want to buy the Lite in early June. I have the benefit that my employer, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, contributes € 500 for a bike if it’s used for commuting. The other € 500 can be substracted from my gross income. This means I save € 235 in income taxes. If I can sell my old Gazelle Paris C7 for more than € 265, I can even make money on my new bike!

The necessity of electric bikes

Lately I’ve noticed that I see much more electric bikes riding around. We’re participating in it as well. We have bought an electric cargo bike, the Gazelle Makki, to transport our two children. We used an ordinary (non-electric) city bike to transport them before, with our oldest daughter in the child seat mounted on the back and our youngest daughter mounted on the front of the bike. Our youngest daughter became too tall for the child seat at the front however. Because of this a cargo bike was our only option if we wanted to transport two children with one adult.

Stephanie has to travel eleven kilometers to her work and is now considering to buy an electric city bike so that she doesn’t have to use the car. This would be healthier, more sustainable and cheaper because of the high petrol prices. She doesn’t cycle fast and is afraid to arrive at work all sweaty with an ordinary bike. I have to travel eight kilometers to get to work and will keep doing so on an ordinary bike.

Except for the transport of small children and commuting which previously done with the car, there of course a large group of elderly people who benefit from the electric bike as well. About twenty five years ago my grandma of over seventy years of age regularly rode her ordinary bike for several kilometers. In that time electric bikes weren’t popular. Not every senior needs an electric bike. Yet a large part of the elderly is able to travel now thanks to electric bikes. They weren’t able to do so before because an ordinary bike would have been to exhausting for them. This also applies to a group of people with handicaps, such as bad knees.

Even so, I think the trend of electric bikes has gone too far. Children who travel to school generally don’t travel long distances and are sufficiently fit, they certainly don’t need electric bikes. I also see people in their twenties and thirties on electric bikes, which make me wonder if they really travel the long distances which make an electric bike desirable. For that group an electric bike seems more like a replacement for an ordinary bike than for a car.

This is bad because we are in the middle of an climate change crisis and a health crisis. Electric bikes may use far less electricity than an average household does per day and certainly less than an electric car, but every Watt hour which is consumed without necessity is one too many. Next to that electric bikes reduce safety in traffic because of their higher speeds. Let’s be critical and consider if we really need an electric bike. My daughters certainly won’t get an electric bike to travel to school later.