Stop whining about pedal assist. It’s here to stay and it’s totally rad.
The haters are going to hate, but e-bikes are the future, especially in the urban and utility realms. And before you jump all over the holier-than-thou, don’t-be-so-lazy arguments, ask yourself, “Would you rather see more electric-assist bicycles in your city or more cars?” The momentum and growth in this segment at Interbike reflected the enthusiasm, with pretty much every major manufacturer showing some iteration of a pedal-assist model and dozens of upstarts launching models, too. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of excellent new analog commuters for those who don’t have the money—or desire—for electric.
Faraday Porteur ($3,500)
The Porteur has everything we want in a city bike: a hard-working steel frame and fork, Gates carbon belt drive mated to an internal-hub drivetrain, disc brakes, a 250-watt pedal-assist motor to help get it done, and style galore, including handmade, steam-bent bamboo fenders. We love that, though it looks like a classic British sportster, the Porteur actually houses some very modern tech, including a battery with a 20-mile range, an E-ink battery display, and integrated head- and taillights. It’s not the most cutting-edge of e-bikes on the market, but it manages a fine balance between advancements and style. At Interbike, the company introduced a second model, the Porteur S, which brings the look and ride at a less expensive price ($2,800) by subbing in a chain and five-speed drivetrain, instead of the Porteur's eight-speed.
Yuba Spicy Curry ($4,500)
A few years ago, after I ditched my car for a month in favor of a Trek Transport+, I fell in love with the cargo e-bike and told everyone I knew they should try one. The Spicy Curry is the same concept as the Trek, only three generations younger, so it’s difficult to imagine how good this bike is going to be. It’s a strange-looking beast, with a 26-inch wheel up front, a 20-inch one in the rear, and a long wheelbase with a 350-watt motor smack in the middle. That small rear wheel knocks the center of gravity down and makes it easier to carry cargo. And with the range of integrated accouterments, including child seat, bolt-on grip bars, and seat pad, it’s no hyperbole to say that the Spicy Curry could finally be the hip minivan we’ve been waiting for.
Some manufacturers are figuring out how to retrofit existing bikes with motors, but the real innovation seems to be from companies building electric bikes from the ground up. And Elby, started by two longtime, automotive industry execs, is one of the most forward-thinking, fully integrated projects we’ve seen. The sleek alloy frame looks more like a scooter than a bicycle, with the lithium-ion battery low and long to provide both easy step-through and a rooted ride. Range is a whopping 90 miles, depending on how much you rely on the BIon-X rear-hub motor, which is mated to a single-speed drivetrain for simplicity. There’s built-in lighting, smart-phone compatibility and charging, a lock hidden in the seat post, standard fenders, and a rack system with a 40-pound capacity. It’s the cyclist’s answer to the car—and we love it.
Raleigh Port Townsend ($850)
Raleigh has taken a basic, hard-working utility machine that’s been in their line for a while and dressed it up in sharp Rainier Brewing Company regalia. Result: a bike that just begs to be ridden. The 520-butted Chromoly frame is both perfect for smoothing out the urban obstacle course and tough enough for the brutal bus and bike racks. You could dwell on the parts—9-speed Shimano Sora drivetrain, Tektro canti brakes, 28mm Kenda Karv tires, metal fenders, cork grips—but really this bike is all about the function. The custom 12-pack rack up front says it all.
YendraBuilt Bootlegger (From $5,000 to $9,000)
We’ve already given a nod to the Yendra, but we liked this bike so much that we couldn’t help but mention it again. Yes, it’s an amazing hauler, with capacity for up to 500 pounds in the chromoly* steel, reverse-tricycle, pedicab-style layout. And there’s an optional motor (500 or 750 watts) and all manner of sizes, from 20- to 40-inches across, for hauling that weight. But the thing that sells the Bootlegger is the ride quality, with independent suspension in the form of two Cane Creek DBAir shocks built into the chassis for outrageous handling and tracking. The one we rode had a high-clearance, super-smooth 36-inch wheel out back as well—the best (and perhaps only good) use of that size we’ve seen. “I think cargo bikes and e-bikes are pretty dorky, so I wanted to build something badass," says Yendra co-owner and engineer Zach Yendra. As if to prove the point, he rode the Bootlegger on the Old Man Winter Bike Rally, humping along beer, tools, a stereo, plus a passenger, and still managed to keep up. Badass, indeed.
*This story has been updated to correct facts about the build.