This summer, biking has seen a U.S. resurgence like no other. The day-to-day impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic has created increased demands for two-wheeled transportation, entertainment, and solace. The New York Times reports that in March alone, national bike sales doubled. That was just the beginning.
There’s something to the newfound national obsession with bikes. Pre-COVID enthusiasts have long espoused the benefits of bicycling: fresh air, exercise, a connection with local community and nearby trails, plus the positive impact on the environment. Now, the rest of the country has caught on.
If you’re in the market for a bike that can take you around town, help you escape into the wild, and meet a reasonable price point, we suggest going electric. There’s plenty of reasons they’re worth the investment (and we’ll outline them), but let’s state the most obvious first: They are fun. Really fun.
We got our e-bikes in March, during the first true surge of COVID-19 cases. In the ensuing months, we’ve taken them camping, explored rural areas surrounding our home, and buzzed around town. We’ve experimented with gear, racks, power usage, and rideability.
What follows is a list of the gear we tested that has best held up during countless trips on all types of roads and trails.
Yamaha YDX TORC
First off, I’m not an avid biker, but can hold my own. In 31 years of knowing how to ride, I’ve taken to road, mountain, BMX and track bikes—falling in and out of good shape along the way (currently falling back in). Why should that matter? Well, you might share the sense that certain activities are just a bit out of reach, or too heavy to lift alone. What’s the point? Yes, getting back on two wheels can be challenging, and that is where the beauty of pedal assist comes in clutch—especially on the Yamaha YDX TORC e-bike, which incorporates a PW-X Drive Unit as you pedal.
There’s no throttle, and you still have to put in work, but the feeling produced from the PW-X Drive Unit has often been described as a “strong wind to your back.” With five levels of assist to choose from, along with a speed sensor built into the rear hub, you customize the level of power.
Depending on the setting, such as the highest level EXPN, it’s a serious jolt of power, which makes tough climbs feel like flats and allows you to sit back, relaxed in your saddle. That boost translates to riding being enjoyable, not brutal. The pedal assist shifts your focus to the riding journey, away from concerns you might keel over the handlebars, succumbing to cramped leg muscles. More riding confidence (and less fatigue) has you noticing the surrounding scenery, more acute to obstacles on the trail ahead. The added attention helps you ease into the bike settings up to maximum power, or choose a lower mode to get more of a workout.
The 27.5-inch hardtail itself is light enough to add to that riding confidence, along with quality components—Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, an LCD display screen, ergonomic control switches—all packed into a nice frame with a decent weight (46.7 pounds). It’s not the professional $10K bike that costs more than most cars cars, but it’s a great entry-level offering that can handle most terrain you’re willing to tread on.
You can obviously upgrade components, like a compatible dropper seatpost. The 500 watt-hour battery isn’t a work of art aesthetically, but the power it packs is hard to beat: I’ve experienced up to 50 miles per charge, depending on the setting. And I’ve confidently ridden 30 miles at a time on EXPN setting (the highest) and never felt a lack of power or worried about running out of battery.
Cons include trying to finding a bike rack that you feel comfortable leaving it locked to while you responsibly enjoy a cold one. A bike like this takes care, and educating yourself on the proper methods to prolong its lifespan. Tires, chain, gears, battery care, maintenance schedule, and proper storage will keep your e-bike in proper condition and ready to ride at all times. I’ve ridden desert trails, mountain singletrack, fire roads, paved backroads, steep grades, rocky, sandy, wet and lonely roads—almost anywhere you can fit two wheels. [$3,499, yamahabicycles.com]
Yamaha Wabash Gravel Bike
The Wabash is Yamaha’s newest electric bike, billed as a hybrid/gravel bike that can handle access roads, easy trails, and the open road. However, I found riding the Wabash so fun, I couldn’t help but take it to the limit. Technical trails, rock gardens, steep inclines and rutted-out descents: The Wabash handled it all capably. Non-believers might bring up the extra weight that an e-bike carries, but it was hard to notice Yamaha’s PWSeries SE motor and triple sensor system. The smooth action of the sensor only enhanced my speed and agility on the trail, where I remained wary of the Maxxis Speed Terrane tires. Would tires this thin stand up mountain bike trails? After riding the bike for four months, I can say with confidence that the Wabash excels on a variety of terrain, besides more technical downhill trails truly meant for mountain bikes and not much else.
Sandy, washed-out trail sections were a little sketchy with thinner tires, but knowing I had the pedal assist in my back pocket, I would crank up the speed a level and power through hills and rockier areas where I needed the speed to carry over obstacles I wouldn’t have pedaled through otherwise—especially near the end of a ride. The e-bike’s ability to push you faster, farther, and longer holds true with Wabash, however, unlike a throttle e-bike, where the machine is doing most of the work, Yamaha’s take has you still feeling the burn. So, the same fitness end result, just on a ride that logs extra hours and mileage that you’d have never hit without intensive training. [$3,499; yamahabicycles.com]
POC Axion Spin Helmet
When shopping for a helmet, you want something that’s going to be comfortable and protective. One of the most annoying, distracting, and therefore potentially dangerous things about riding is an uncomfortable or ill-fitting helmet. Unfortunately, shopping in a local brick and mortar isn’t a widely available option currently. Buying online means you aren’t trying that new helmet on and really getting a feel for it. That’s why you need a brand you can trust, that has been reviewed and ridden by countless riders.
Renowned for its helmet technology and fit, POC has been making quality equipment for years, and it Axion Spin is no different. Featuring POC’s SPIN technology (Shearing Pad INside), the Axion uses a patent-pending silicone pad technology system to provide optimum safety. It also features a breakaway visor in case of heavier spills, a full-wrapped shell to enhance the integrity of the overall helmet, and vents designed to provide ultimate comfort and breathability. The size adjustment system means that if you fall between sizes, you can still achieve optimum fit. Breathable, lightweight, and so secure, you may forget you’re wearing it. [$150; pocsports.com]
Pro Tip: If the Axion Spin sounds good to you, but you’re looking for a little tech mixed in, check out POC’s Tectal Race Spin NFC. According to the brand, it’s the helmet that speaks for you, when you can’t. With an integrated NFC Medical ID chip, you can store your medical profile and emergency contact details in the helmet. That way, if you get into an accident where you’re unable to communicate, first responders will have access to your vital stats and have a leg up on treating you. [$250; pocsports.com]
Thule EasyFold XT 2
Thule claims its folding and compact EasyFold XT 2 hitch-mounted bike rack works for all types of bikes. And after months of overall happy use, we found the majority of the features and claims to be accurate. The rack is compact and makes storing a breeze—it tucks into any small garage nook or even a small coat closet, with wheels that make transporting easy. However, using both e-bikes on this rack proved a challenge. Our total bike weight of just under 100 pounds seemed lot for the EasyFold XT 2 to manage, where dips on a freeway at 70 mph had the bikes visibly flopping around. Also, the size and shape of some mountain bike top tubes makes for challenging fit with the frame clamps.
Fortunately, all of the knobs, straps and bars are easily adjustable for intuitive bike attachment. Two people make the job effortless; alone is no problem. AcuTight torque knobs make the install a tool-less job. Keyed knobs make everything secure and lockable and the ratchet straps are so simple, my 5-year-old can do it. The rack comes with everything you need out of the box and effortlessly attaches and locks to your 1.25” or 2” receiver.
We pushed this rack hard, and although we had a few close calls with some big dips causing loosening to occur in a nut and bolt on the rack, some scratching from bike-to-bike contact, and some other rack-to-bike wear, nothing broke on us, and for that we are grateful. E-Bikes are not cheap, and therefore should be transported with full awareness that you’re pushing most hitch-mounted bike racks to the limit. Even though we were well under the max weight, I wouldn’t recommend loading this rack with more than half of the 130-pound load capacity Thule cites. [$779; thule.com]
POC Resistance Enduro Adj.Gloves
A good glove needs to do it all. Its jobs include: protecting hands from scrapes, shielding from elements, plus keeping cool where you aren’t overheating, but thick enough to offer more protection than a surgical glove. Providing protection, dexterity and simple design, all in one package. Many gloves fail to meet half the criteria above, so when you find one that checks all your boxes, hold onto it tight. In fact, buy two pairs. The POC Resistance Enduro Adjustable Glove does all-day protection and performance. Although it’s not the burliest glove on the market, and the price point is a little steep, it’s made for both enduro or downhill riding. It’s breathable, smartphone friendly, and has an adjustable velcro wrist closure that allows you to customize your fit. [$55; pocsports.com]
Pro Tip: This glove runs small, and if you’ve got longer fingers, we recommend sizing up. POC’s lightweight, breathable, and soft enough Essential Shorts are also worth a look—featuring a raised back, DWR coating, two zipped hand pockets and a separate zipped card pocket for max storage, plus a seamless design to fit knee pads. [$100; pocsports.com]
Smartwool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie
If you aren’t familiar with Smartwool, you may be skeptical that a jacket this thin and lightweight could be so effective. However, if you’re familiar with the brand, you know all about its stalwart ability to combine function with comfort, and throw in style for good measure. I tested out Smartwool’s Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie in a variety of climates. From chilly spring rides to hot summer climbs, I’ve taken this jacket along for the last four months, and been impressed with it each time for its maximum utility and extreme packability. Smartwool uses body mapping technology to place its merino wool mesh panels exactly where the body needs them to provide comfort during outdoor activities. It’s also included a DWR finish to the surface of the jacket to deal with inclement weather. Thoughtful details like reflective elements kept me safe on road rides and during low light conditions as well. [$130; smartwool.com]
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