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Flywheel: Reflections on Lyft ebikes w/ David Moll | Vehicles from Lectric, Stromer, Magnum, Easy Motion, & Voro Motors
Reflecting on the uncertain future of Lyft ebikes & featuring the top 5 vehicles of the week
Welcome to Flywheel, a weekly exploration of owned and used micromobility. Each newsletter will highlight an observation of trends emerging in the industry and feature five of the most interesting used vehicles being sold in the secondary market.
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The observation of the week is a guest column by avid cyclist David Moll that reflects on his Lyft ebikes experience and alternative micromobility options. This week’s featured vehicles are a longtail cargo bike, a commuter, two urban cruisers, and a seated AWD scooter.
Observation of the Week
I’m super excited to introduce my friend David Moll, a Sr. Software Engineer at Google, an avid life-long bicyclist, and a Lyft bikeshare power user. Given the recent uncertainty around the future of Lyft’s bikeshare program, David is joining us as a guest columnist on this week’s Flywheel to reflect on his Lyft bike experience and alternative micromobility options. Please welcome David:
Reflections on the (potential) end of the Lyft ebike program, from a Lyft bike devotee
San Francisco is one of several cities in the United States blessed with a bike share program, with 276 docking stations and countless lone ebikes scattered in the spaces between. I’ve been a loyal devotee of the program for about four years now, even through the purchase of a car, and in time it’s become an essential component of how I live and move through the city. It’s how I get groceries, commute home from work, and see friends in other neighborhoods. I’m an avid cyclist, with an “acoustic” road bike that I use for rides to places where I know my bike will be safe and for recreational joy rides. However, for almost all other trips within the city, I use Lyft ebikes. In the last ten months alone, I’ve taken 324 Lyft ebike rides, an average of slightly more than one ride a day. The cost for all of those rides was $996 total (not including the cost of a Lyft Pink membership, which gives a slight discount on every ride and which I received gratis through a credit card, and not including several $25 parking fines I’ve received - more on those later).
With the Lyft bike program’s future in flux, it felt like the right moment to ask myself what many folks in long, complicated relationships have - has it all been worth it? I take account.
It must be said: taking a Lyft ebike somewhere in SF is a distinct pleasure. There’s the wind in your helmet as you glide up and down the city's hills and valleys, the comfortable seats and confident continuous gearing, the convenient basket in the front with an elastic strap for your backpack or groceries. Even when other transportation options are available, the ease and fun of an ebike ride is compelling. San Francisco is a bike friendly city, and to ride a Lyft ebike is to sit somewhere near the top of the city’s traffic foodchain, slightly below their beefy utilitarian food delivery ebike cousins, slightly above the legions of non-powered cyclists that course through the Wiggle and down Market Street each day. At stop signs cars generally defer, and during peak traffic hours, a combination of abundant bike lanes and well placed “green wave” streets turn easy pedaling into better travel durations for most destinations than any other transportation method available.
The program’s stations are scattered liberally throughout my neighborhood, which makes it generally pretty easy to find one within 1-2 blocks. Car parking is famously hard to find in many parts of SF, but Lyft ebikes can be parked at any bike rack on the side of the street. The benefits go on: The bikes have easily adjustable seat posts, are generally clean, and like most bike share bikes, are designed with a deeply sloped step-thru top tube that makes mounting and dismounting easy. The app (integrated with Lyft) is simple to use.
So - what (if anything) is wrong?
Mainly, it’s the price. Paying almost a thousand dollars for ten months worth of usage, when used and new options (as well as some subscription services) abound, is more than enough to make me reconsider whether the return on my investment is worthwhile. The average used ebike in SF costs $1,971.52. Amortized over an ownership period of about three years or so, I’m almost certainly losing money taking Lyft ebike rides ($1200/year) instead of purchasing a used one outright (~$650/year, plus maintenance costs). Even buying a brand new bike would likely be more economical. With ebikes comparable in performance to a Lyft ebike retailing at somewhere between $1500 to $3000, I could buy a new ebike for ~$1000/year (amortized over three years, plus maintenance costs) and save well over $200/year. The point is - I could get the same wind in my helmet, and just as comfortable of a seat, for a lot less money.
A bike of my own would also help me avoid some of the annoyances of depending on a complex distributed system of shared bikes. Occasionally, I’ll walk out of my way to a Lyft bike rack, only to get on and realize that the bike’s e-assist is broken, or has gearing that doesn’t work - inconsistencies that wouldn’t be present with an owned bike. Other times, the bike angels who rearrange the bikes throughout the city pass over the racks in my neighborhood, and there isn’t a bike anywhere nearby, forcing me to hustle to find another way to get where I want to go. Lyft bikes’ exorbitant cost for any trip more than 30 minutes or so is also a significant drawback for any riders looking to use it regularly in a recreational way. I just end up using my “accoustic” road bike for that sort of thing.
The Lyft bikes’ edge over owning my own ebike come down to two main advantages- never needing to take it in for maintenance, and being able to pick up or leave them anywhere without worrying about theft. Maintenance costs are built into Lyft’s model. In a day-to-day sense, if a bike is broken, I’ll just grab another, meaning I have very few days where a broken bike stops me in my tracks. And in a city that’s notorious for petty crime, it’s a relief to never need to concern myself with buying a bike lock and whether that lock might get cut.
There’s an additional con of owning an ebike, for most folks, which is figuring out where to store it. I have a detached garage, but for many city residents it’d be a benefit to not need to consider where in their apartment they might store an ebike, or whether it would even be permissible to do so. I recently received an email from my landlord stating that to have one in my unit would be against the rules, due to concerns around batteries causing fires.
A middle ground option which addresses many of these cons would be to pay for some kind of ebike subscription - something like Wombi's offering in Los Angeles. With Wombi’s current subscription model (assuming they eventually move to SF and keep similar pricing), the cost if my ebike was stolen would go from whatever the bike’s value is to just the insurance deductible of $500. And repair costs would be fully covered. And, for $1200/year, I could have the convenience of having my own bike in my garage accessible whenever I need it.
For me, even though owning my own ebike is a markedly more affordable option, it’s hard for it to be my preferred option without better service plans for maintenance and insurance/theft protection. That’s why subscription offerings are particularly exciting to me, and I hope to see more available soon in SF.
Until then, Lyft makes enough sense to me that I will continue to use it, if it stays in the city. I love that I can leave a Lyft ebike wherever. Almost every day I take Lyft bikes on one way rides - to the bus that I use to get to work, to the BART station to visit friends in the East Bay, to meet up with friends before we take a rideshare together to a concert. And even if I owned an ebike, I’d still end up taking many Lyft bike rides anyway, for the situations where I started my trip from somewhere besides home and didn’t get there on my ebike. I sincerely hope that Lyft bikes (or some functionally equivalent service) remain present in SF.
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Featured Vehicles of the Week
The Lectric XPedition is a budget class-2/3 longtail cargo bike and the best affordable cargo bike on the market. Its powertrain features an 85Nm rear hub motor coupled with a 672Wh battery pack, and there's even an option for a dual-battery setup. With an impressive 450lbs payload capacity, the XPedition is a worthy minivan substitute with plenty of power and torque for carrying cargo or even a second adult passenger. Although it doesn’t have a suspension, the XPedition’s 20" by 3" fat street tires make it smooth yet agile. This experience is further enhanced by Lectric's "Pedal Assist Wattage Regulation" control system, which mimics the intuitive pedal assistance of a torque sensor by adjusting pedal support based on power rather than speed. Lastly, the XPedition comes standard with all the essential urban rider accessories (i.e. a rear rack, rear cushions, running boards, lights), all at a shockingly low MSRP of $1,399. Given its exceptional utility/dollar, Lectric has quickly grown to become one of the industry’s biggest and most important ebike brands. According to CEO Levi Conlow, the brand is set to sell 400K ebikes by next month, which would make them the top ebike retailer in the US. This listing is brand new and comes with ~$300 of cargo and ride accessories. Listing can be found here.
The Stromer ST2 is a luxury, high-performance class-3 commuter. Its powertrain features a custom 42Nm Stromer rear hub motor and an 814Wh battery pack, which is paired with a 20-speed transmission and a chain drive. While this is not as smooth as the Gates carbon belt drive, it’s a higher-torque system that’s great for hilly riding. Stomer is one of the only high-end ebike OEMs to opt for a hub motor over a mid-drive motor. While this may seem unconventional, hub motors actually require far less maintenance and place less stress on the drivetrain, which makes them a great choice for high-utility, daily-use vehicles. Rounding out the ST2's is a sophisticated software and electronics system, which includes an advanced lighting system with low-beam and high-beam headlights, a brake light, over-the-air updates, and GPS tracking. This listing has a mileage of 195mi and comes with the proof of purchase, VIN, Serial Number, and Motor Number. The seller will even get the vehicle certified by Bay Area bike shop The New Wheel, which means that the vehicle will be “inspected by our service techs, the electric bike vitals (battery charge cycles, nominal voltage, etc.) will be noted, and a dollar estimate for suggested repair work will be included.” The New Wheel’s certification program is an awesome service they provide to help prospective buyers feel more comfortable buying a used ebike, and they’re one of the few shops to offer such a service. Listing can be found here.
The Magnum Low Rider is a class-1/2/3 mid-step ebike that combines a casual beach cruiser form factor with all the performance and components expected of an effective urban vehicle. Its powertrain features a high-torque 90Nm Bafang rear hub motor and a 624Wh battery pack. Beyond the excellent drive electronics, the Low Rider is made up of high-quality, name-brand components despite its affordable price point. Its front suspension fork and wide cruiser-style saddle make it highly comfortable, while its 8-speed Shimano Acera transmission, puncture-proof city tires, and hydraulic disc brakes provide the agility and responsiveness required of a high-mileage commuter. The Low Rider even comes with built-in fenders, lights, and a rear rack, all of which are an indication that this vehicle is meant to give riders maximum urban utility right out of the box. This listing is brand new yet is selling for ~$800 less than MSRP and ~$300 less than its average resale price. Listing can be found here.
The Easy Motion ATOM Diamond Wave is a comfortable class-1 step-thru commuter. Its powertrain features a 90Nm Brose mid-drive motor and a 504Wh battery pack made of Samsung cells. ATOM is the most efficient line of vehicles sold by Easy Motion, primarily due to its Brose motor system that packs and incredible amount of torque in a compact and quiet package. Despite being 6+yrs old, this motor is still one of the most efficient motors available in the market. The powertrain is rounded out by an 8-speed Shimano Nexus transmission and hydraulic brakes to give the vehicle great climbing capabilities and short stopping distances. As with many other city-focused ebikes, the ATOM Diamond Wave comes with an integrated fender, rear rack, and lights. While the lights don’t run off the vehicle battery, there is a Shimano dynamo hub that generates energy from the front wheel to power the lights. Lastly, the ATOM Diamond Wave has a premium gel saddle and a coil suspension fork to make it smooth and soft to ride. The ATOM Diamond Wave is arguably the best comfort-focused commuter in the market. A new ATOM Diamond Wave is a bit pricey, even when considering its powertrain. This listing for a used ATOM in excellent condition (Flywheel estimated mileage of 524.74mi) selling for almost ~$1K less than MSRP is a more affordable and compelling option. Listing can be found here.
The Voro Motors EMOVE RoadRunner is a seated high-speed All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) mini escooter. Its powertrain features a 350W front hub motor and a 500W rear hub motor, and is paired with a 1.25kWh swappable battery pack. This gives the RoadRunner an astounding 35mph max speed, 17° hill climbing capability, and a claimed range of 50mi. As you’d expect given the high top speed, the RoadRunner features hydraulic disc brakes and a suspension fork to help riders stay in control of the vehicle. However, the vehicle’s 14” wheels and 28” tall frame make it feel small and unstable at high speeds. The RoadRunner is somewhat of an odd vehicle that has the speed of a scrambler/emoped but is the size of a small seated scooter/pocket rocket. It also doesn’t neatly fit into the typical categorizations used for micromobility regulations, so it’s too fast for bike lanes but too small to feel safe when traveling in the same lanes as cars. The RoadRunner may not be the best option for city riding, but it’s a plenty fun recreational vehicle for thrill seekers. This listing is in like-new condition and has a Flywheel estimated mileage of 169.92mi. Listing can be found here.
That’s it for this edition. Thanks again for joining, see you next week!
- Puneeth Meruva
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