About 200 feet up the hill in front of me, the driver of a white Audi on a cross street rolls up to the stop sign, sees me pedaling lightly, and decides he can beat me, pulling out into the road.
The only problem is that I’m going 30 miles per hour uphill, about the average speed for a Tour de France cyclist going downhill. When the driver realizes I’m coming much faster than he thought, he hesitates and stops—right in my path. I slam on my brakes, the back tire fishtails, and I skid to a stop close enough to see the look of shock on the driver’s face.
Such is life as a Los Angeles cyclist on a Stromer ST2 S e-bike.
Inspired by Tesla, the Swiss bicycle entrepreneur Thomas Binggeli founded Stromer in 2008 as a way to tackle problems like traffic congestion, health, and sustainability, so I took the latest version for a ride in the City of Angels to test whether a post-car future is actually in our future.
Sales of e-bikes have been booming in the last decade, with double digit growth in 2015. A recent Navigant Research study estimates that by 2025 the e-bike industry could see revenues of $24.3 billion, up from an estimate of $15.7 billion in 2016.
Part of that boom is powered by lower-cost technology. As opposed to electric scooters or motorcycles, an e-bike requires some amount of pedaling, so longer commutes provide a light workout. And you don’t need a separate license to operate it. An entry-level e-bike will run about $500, but at $9,999, the ST2 S I’m riding is the most expensive on the road.
Like the Tesla, Stromer bikes use a high-capacity lithium-ion battery. And the digital interface is Tesla-like as well. A small screen on the frame shows you how much assist you’re receiving and acts as a speedometer. BikeRadar magazine went so far as to call the Stromer ST2 S “the Tesla of e-bikes” and hyped that it “could actually replace a car.”
The true luxury of the Stromer ST2 S lies in its exclusive “Syno-Drive” hub motor. Running at an efficient 48 volts, it provides approximately 500 watts of power and 40 newton meters of torque, boosting you from 0-30 in about 5 seconds. That’ll get you off the line quicker than most cars on the road.
On the e-bike, it only took me 22 minutes in the dead of rush hour to make the 6.5-mile commute down Beachwood Canyon Drive in the Hollywood Hills to downtown Beverly Hills on Santa Monica Boulevard. Compare that to 34 minutes on a regular bike or almost 40 minutes sitting in a Tesla. It’s hard not to be smug, cruising through gridlock at 30 mph. I start to imagine a city free from the shackles of cars, an empty 405 freeway, a smog-free utopia.
But biking through L.A., a city where Porsches seem to outnumber cyclists, can be a harrowing experience. Politicians fight against bike lanes even in the face of an initiative to bring pedestrian deaths to zero by 2035, and cyclist deaths hover around 80 per year, by far the highest in the nation.
And on my Stromer, car drivers are not used to seeing a bike go this fast. During my trip from the Hollywood Hills to Beverly Hills and back, I nearly T-boned six different cars that jumped in front of me, including that Audi.
That’s not to mention potholes, which are brutal if not downright dangerous on a Stromer—the bike’s suspension is for smoother streets. If my tailbone ached by the time I got back to the Hills, I fear what it’d become in a city like New York. The range varies depending on how much assist you’re using; if you’re not maxing the ST2 S out, you can get around 100 miles. After taking it up and down hills in L.A. during the day, I had to charge the battery for about four hours every night.
Stromers are beautiful bikes with a lot to love, but the harsh realities of city riding slowly crushed my initial optimism. I took it on another test out in Santa Monica, where the streets are more bike-friendly, and it fared much better. Perhaps a programmer could use one to pop from home to her job in Silicon Beach. And I can imagine it would be perfect for a high-powered lawyer in Minneapolis or a wealth management advisor in Chicago who wants some air during the warmer months.
But until Los Angeles improves its stance on cycling, and its roads, it’s probably best to hold onto that Model S. For now.