Photos: Jen See
If you’re looking to spend less time in your car, an ebike might just be what you need. Toronto-based brand Elby makes stylish electric-assist bikes that offer a fun alternative to driving. The Elby S1 9-speed shifts just like the bikes you’ve always ridden, but it also has an electric motor stashed in the rear hub. The result is a fun, easy-to-ride bike that’ll get you around town – and beyond.
We recently had the chance to test Elby’s S1 9-speed. Here’s what it’s like to cruise around town with an electric motor built into your bike.
First Ride: Morning Coffee
One of our favorite local coffee roasters, Handlebar Coffee, opened a new shop several months ago. We’ve been wanting to try it, but the nearby hills deterred us. Checking out our roaster’s new digs felt like a perfect first ride for the Elby.
A small button on the handlebar powers up the S1. It takes a few seconds before the BionX display lights up. The basic screen shows battery levels, bike speed, and assistance level. Additional screens show trip distances, time, and other data about your rides. Elby also offers an app that allows you to use your smartphone for navigation and ride information.
The Elby offers four levels of pedaling assistance. There’s also a throttle lever that provides near-instant acceleration up to 20 mph. We found the controls to be super intuitive and easy to reach while riding. Pedaling the Elby S1 is smooth like butter. The BionX electric motor runs silently and if it weren’t for our unusually quick progress through town, we would not notice the assistance at all.
Because of the Elby’s easy speed and the traffic on our local roads, we chose to wear a helmet for all our rides. We felt like a super hero pedaling easily up the climbs and we arrived at the coffee shop fresh and relaxed.
Uphill Both Ways: Grocery Run
Our go-to grocery store for fresh produce sits at the top of a long, steady climb. We typically drive, because the ride is literally uphill both ways for a round trip. For our grocery run, we outfitted the Elby S1 with a set of Blackburn’s Local Cooler panniers. The bags are insulated to help keep perishables cool and they’re also great for carting beers to the beach (check your local laws, obviously). The built-in bottle opener is a nice touch.
We secured the panniers to the Elby’s hybrid fender-rack. While the built-in rack worked for us, we’d recommend a traditional rack system such as Blackburn’s EX-1 for a more solid set-up. It was a bit tricky to position the panniers on the curved surface of the fender.
Cruising the flat roads along the beach, we used the S1’s second motor-assist level. We found this to be the sweetspot for flat riding, because it offered just enough assistance to help us pass the miles more quickly.
Once we hit the long climb to the grocery store, we increased the assist level to four. As we pedaled harder, it felt like the electric motor assisted our efforts even more. We managed to hold a steady 15-17 mph while riding uphill into a headwind.
We pushed the Elby’s throttle button and zipped up the steep driveway to the grocery store. We don’t usually arrive at the grocery store giggling. The Local Cooler panniers remove easily, thanks to their velcro straps. They easily fit dinner for two and some other assorted items. If you’re a weekly shopper or shop for several people, you’ll want something bigger.
On the way back down the hill, we put the Elby in generate mode, which recharges the battery. It also slows the bike, so we could brake less often. Generate mode makes the bike harder to pedal, so you’ll want to save it for the downhills.
Back in the flats, we flipped back to assist mode. With the loaded bike, we especially appreciated the e-assist when bringing the bike back up to speed after the stoplights on our route.
The Elby made it easy to mix a boring errand — fetching groceries — with some outside playtime. And we’re definitely fans of outside play. It also cut the time we spent on our trip to almost half when compared with our standard bike.
Chasing Sunsets: Evening Surf Session
After our adventures around town, we decided to take the Elby surfing. First we topped off the battery charge. The Elby charges through an outlet on the side of the bike and an LED glows green when the process completes. You can also remove the battery and charge it separately. The manufacturer says the battery has a 90-mile range, which is at the higher end for ebikes.
To carry our surfboard, we used Moved By Bikes’ shortboard rack, which attached to the Elby’s seatpost. We liked how solid the rack felt when mounted. It didn’t turn on the seatpost or wobble like some racks we’ve tried. MBB also makes a rack designed for big boards, if noseriding is your jam.
The MBB rack’s arms are removable, which is a feature we loved. Storing a bike with a side rack on it is cumbersome, but we aren’t fans of fiddling with allen bolts every time we want to go surf. While the mount stayed on the bike, we removed the rack arms in between surf sessions. MBB does not include a cord to secure your board, so we grabbed a bungee from the hardware store.
By now, we felt pretty pro with the Elby. Anyone who’s spent time in coastal California knows that hills are part of the deal. The Elby’s e-assist ensured that we arrived at the beach ready to surf, instead of trashed from the ride to get there. Thanks to our ability to slide through the slow-moving traffic, we actually made the trip more quickly on the Elby than we would have by car. We also skipped the search for parking. Just lock up, grab the board, go surf.
To carry our surf stuff, we used Dakine’s Cyclone II dry bag. At 36 liters, it’s plenty big enough to carry a wetsuit and small pockets hold essentials such as phone and wallet. On the way home, our wet 4/3mm suit was not especially comfortable to carry by backpack. Next time, we’d bungee our bag to a rear rack or use a pannier for our suit. We arrived home even more envious than usual of our friends who surf warm water.
The Elby S1 comes equipped with front and rear lights. We found the headlight plenty bright, but we’d recommend an additional tail light for evening rides for more visibility.
We definitely enjoyed jetting around town on the Elby and it makes a nice car substitute. It definitely extended the range we’d usually travel with our regular town bike, too. The e-assist made it easier to carry cargo such as groceries and surfboards, which we found especially handy.
At $3000, the Elby is not inexpensive, but we found the build and parts to be high quality. It is easy to ride and charge — and definitely fun to ride.
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