Riding a girl’s bike

My folding Xootr Swift is being serviced, but we’re waiting on some parts, so they gave me a loaner. Light Street Cycles is an A2B dealer, and Penny let me try out a Ferber electric bike for the weekend.

A2B used to be called Ultra Motors, and a few years ago was known for the Metro electric bike, which looks like a tiny motorcycle. That model is now called the Octave, after Octave Chanute, an engineer who pioneered the use of wood preservatives and who, in retirement, contributed wing designs to aviation. Other A2B models have names like Alva, Galvani, Shima and Ferber – all named after experimenters in electricity or transportation. Ferdinand Ferber was also in aviation, Hideo Shima was behind the bullet train, Luigi Galvani explored bioelectricity and Alva is Thomas Edison’s middle name. A2B is now part of India’s Hero Eco.

When I showed the Ferber to my wife, she said, “that looks like a girl’s bike.” Well, yes, or maybe like a skinny scooter. The Ferber is a step-through bike with 26″ wheels, assisted by a 350w motor powered by a 36V 8.8 Ah battery. The Galvani / Male has the same set of components on a retro step-over frame. Even with an open frame the Ferber is 48 lbs to the Galvani’s 50 lbs. Both models are strictly pedal assist (PAS) with no throttle.

I rode the Ferber home and even though the motor stops helping above 20 mph, I was passing all the traditional cyclists while pedaling easily. Once I found the buttons for levels 2 and 3, it became very easy to climb hills, even with only eight gears. The A2B torque sensor is great, but you must be careful to shift down while stopping. The riding position is very upright, and the handle bars have flat, ergonometric rests so that your palms don’t start to feel numb after several miles. At one point I accidentally turned the bike off, but was able to fiddle with the battery button and get it restarted. Apparently you are supposed to turn the battery on, as evidenced by some faint led displays, then push and hold a button on the handlebar. If you hold the battery button too long, you might turn it off again.

I was down to 10% charge, and the recharge took the rest of the evening and a half hour in the morning. According to the manual, charging to 80% is fairly quick, but the last 20% can take some time. Some batteries should not be topped off, but there are no warnings in the manual against doing so.

The Ferber suggests a 40 mile range, but I’m a 250 lb man, and riding the hilly ten miles into Federal Hill on Saturday took the battery from a full charge to 67%. Fortunately the elevator was still on, and since no one was around I parked the Ferber next to my desk. One of the partners showed up, and noticed that the bike seemed a lot bigger than what I usually bring to work. Bill takes spinning classes for the exercise, but had no idea that electric bikes were even a thing.

Someone turned off the elevator, and wrestling the bigger bike down the u-shaped exit stairs was a tight fit. Riding uphill back to Mt Washington (with two icepacks, yogurt and pork chops in an insulated pack) in the afternoon took the battery down to 12%, so my range seems to be about 25 miles. In all fairness, I hardly broke a sweat going either way.

I’ve seen the Ferber priced at about $2,400 and the Galvani at about $2,300, which is very competitive for 350w lithium-ion battery bikes. Add that the bikes already include lights, disc brakes, fenders and a kickstand, and either would be a great deal.

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