There’s a lot of reasons to own a bike; maybe its the feeling of the wind in your hair as you speed though the outdoors, perhaps you’re using it to get or stay fit, maybe your bike is how you get to work. However, sometimes cycling isn’t easy. Knee pain, health or breathing issues or just not being in great shape can all impact how you’d use a bike. But there’s a way to get all the benefits of a new bike, and get some help if you’re not Lance Armstrong yet. Electric bikes are growing in popularity. I had a chance to test out a couple bikes from Canadian company Vorpal …
… but first a quick crash course on e-bikes.
What’s an e-bike?
Electric bikes or ‘e-bikes’ have a battery which can power the bike during tough uphills, long commutes or when you’re just plain tired. They’re great for bike commuters, and for people looking for an exercise regimen that can give them a little help when they need it.
There are two kinds of electric bikes that we’ll look at today; rear drive or mid drive. Mid drive bikes incorporate the motor into the central pedal/gear, while rear drive (not surprisingly) has the motor affixed to the rear wheel.
How electric bikes work
There are two mains types of electric bike. There’s something called a “pedelec” or “pedal-electric” where the computer system monitors your peddling and automatically adds a boost to make it easier, depending on the speed you’ve chosen and how much pedalling you’re doing.
The second type uses a throttle, so it’s also known as “twist n go”. By pushing a lever you can give yourself a speed boost with ease.
How fast can I go on an e-bike?
In Canada, power-assisted bikes don’t require a license to operate. The motor must be electric and have a power output of 500W or less, and a maximum speed capability of 32 km/h (from the motor over level ground) and there must be working pedals on the bike.
With all that e-bike info in mind, I picked up my Vorpal e-bikes and hit the road.
I tried out two bikes from Vorpal; the rear drive Vorpal Pulsar and the mid-drive Vorpal Drive model. They were very similar, aside from the location of the motor. The Pulsar model did have the addition of a throttle to give a boost of speed when you need it.
First ride on Vorpal Drive & Pulsar electric bikes
The first time on an e-bike was really interesting. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised about how easy the bikes were to operate. In short, you turn on the power, then get on the bike and start pedalling. When you do, the motor kicks in and the bike takes over some of the work. The faster you pedal, the more power it puts behind you. It was a weird feeling when the power kicks in and propels you forward but it was addictive!
You can shift gears to make pedalling easier, and the bike adjusts to it. It was really cool how easily and automatically the bikes adjusted. You can also control speed on the bikes.
On the Pulsar model, you can put more power behind your pedalling by using different speed settings on a small keypad from 1 to 5.
Same story on the Pulsar model, except this one has the addition of a throttle for a boost of speed and power. I could shoot forward on the bike without even pedalling! A digital info screen keeps track of your speed, gears and battery.
The folks at Vorpal told me I might notice a difference in power and torque between the Drive and the Pulsar, but really I didn’t. Perhaps more experienced cyclists might have a preference, but I found both bikes responsive and quick to boost the power.
Designed in Canada
Vorpal is a Canadian company, based in Calgary. The bikes are designed in Vancouver and manufactured overseas.
How long do electric bike batteries last?
The lithium-ion batteries on the bikes are fully rechargeable using an AC plug with a long cord. You can plug the battery in while it’s still on the bike, or unlock it from the frame and charge it elsewhere. Either way it should take about six hours to fully recharge the battery. The lifespan of the batteries is five to eight years according to Vorpal, depending on how many times its been charged and depleted. Replacement batteries aren’t cheap and can run about $700-1200.
Range on a single charge
Vorpal says each of these bikes, the Drive and Pulsar, should give you a range of between 40 to 60 km under what are termed “normal riding conditions and demand”. While that’s not specified, presumably that means you’re not riding up a mountain every day.
How to maintain your electric bike
Maintenance considerations are pretty much the same as for a regular bike; keep the tires properly inflated, grease the chain and moving parts, keep it clean, don’t leave it out in the rain… you get the idea. You’ll of course need to keep an eye on the battery as it ages too.
Vorpal electric bike stats:
• Aluminum hydro-formed frame geometry is available in three sizes
• Extremely light weight, only 5 LBS. Overall bike weight with battery is 46.3 lbs.
• Shimano M4000 9 speed mechanical cassette, shifters, bottom bracket, KMC chain. •Suntour XCR DS 120mm front suspension fork, hydraulic Tektro Auriga disk brakes.
• Extra-large Bafang display shows total kilometers traveled, max kilometers available, and average km/h.
• Large control buttons on this display make for easy use, even while wearing cycling gloves.
• Warranty and Support – The best in the industry 5-year bicycle and 2 years electronics warranty, including Li-Ion battery.
Overall review of Vorpal electric bikes
I really enjoyed my e-bike experience. I own a regular bike already and I know what it can be like to get up a tough hill, or to slug your way across a grassy field. Having the drive from a small motor makes cycling easier but also more enjoyable. It means I can stay out longer, work less hard and even carry more groceries home in my basket since I’ve got extra power.
I was able to get up as fast as 33 km/h by pedalling across level ground, and was amazed at the speed. I can imagine pedalling downhill could get your going even faster.
I didn’t notice a vast difference between the mid and rear drives, but that’s possibly due to my inexperience with electric bikes. If I were buying one, I’d definitely spend a bit extra and get one with a throttle. Having the ability to add a burst of speed or power makes life so much easier, and means I can coast while my bike does all the work if I want.