By Bruce Karnick [email protected] When I joined the staff at The Journal, one challenge I knew I would face was weight gain. Going from an active job to sitting at a desk writing meant I would …
By Bruce Karnick
When I joined the staff at The Journal, one challenge I knew I would face was weight gain. Going from an active job to sitting at a desk writing meant I would need to be active elsewhere or I would gain weight. Sure enough, I sit here today having gained even more than I thought I would, and it is not a pleasant feeling, my doctor is not pleased with it either.
Every day, millions of people struggle with weight, they either need to gain it or lose it, and in todays society, the emphasis is often on the latter. I know, love yourself the way you are, but for me, it is not a matter of hating, it is a matter of knowing I can and need to do better. As a nation, we are tipping the scales more than we were ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Bad food has become more convenient and fast food is everywhere.
In 2020, heart disease was the number one cause of death in the US at 690,882. That was nearly 100,000 more people than cancer (598,932). Behind that for 2020? COVID at 345,323 and then “Unintentional injuries” at 192,176. Looking at the top seven causes of death, heart disease killed more Americans than causes four through seven combined.
Thankfully, I was not part of the heart disease statistic, but I could have been. Yes, I have heart disease, so extra weight is not a good thing. I need to do something. I want to see my kids get married, I want to see grandbabies, just not yet. So, I did something, I bought a new bike.
Not just a bike, but an electric bike. I know, you are thinking, ‘but Bruce, it’s an electric bike, you can’t get a workout riding an electric bike!’ and what is wrong with your old bike? My old bike? Ha! I won that at the All-Night Grad Party… in 199… oh never mind. My old bike is, well, REALLY OLD.
E-Bikes are not scooters, they are not mopeds, they are bikes. You need to pedal them to get moving and more importantly, you need to pedal them to keep moving, for the most part. Yes, many of them have some form of throttle that allows full electric drive, but that is not as fun as you would think, nor is it as fast.
The main advantage of an e-bike is the Pedal Assist System, or PAS. PAS is a general term for devices that power the motor automatically when you pedal without the need to press a throttle on the handlebars. PAS uses a number of sensors in the drive train to calculate how fast you are pedaling and uses the motor to make it easier to pedal. This all happens automatically and is controlled by the settings on an LCD display on the handlebars.
In Minnesota, the maximum speed you can attain with PAS on paved trails is 20 miles per hour. Because of this, e-bikes sold in Minnesota are set to go 20 MPH max from the dealers. The LCD controller sets all the parameters of the system, including the level of assistance sent to the motor. The controller is typically set to have either three or five levels of assist. Some can be changed to have seven or nine levels of assist. When set to five levels of assist, one is the least amount of speed assistance, usually around that 4-5 mph range and level five is the max assist, helping the bike get to 20 mph very quickly. The 2-3-4 settings of assist are intervals between. The advantage of using nine levels of assists simply spreads out that middle range to give the rider more options, making it easier to match the speed of others around them. One will still be the slowest and nine will be the max speed of 20.
How will an e-bike help me? Simple. It will allow me to work out as hard as I need too without over doing it. If I ride to downtown Hasting and it turns out that was just a bit too far for me this day, I have the power assist to help me make it up the hill without over stressing my bad knee or my heart. I still have to pedal up the hill to make it, it will just be easier.
There is research you can find online to support the fact that e-bikes are still a very good workout. This information was confirmed with every bike salesperson I talked too. My first source of e-bike knowledge however was not a salesperson, it was a long-time friend, Eric Weber, co-owner of Port of Hastings Outfitters. POHO is a company in Hastings that rents e-bikes. Weber has done his research. He had to find e-bikes that would be easy for everyone to use, strong enough to handle being rented, comfortable for riders of most sizes and simple to repair. Weber echoed the sentiment from the sales folks that e-bikes indeed are a good workout.
The big thing that Weber said, “Get a step through frame and get fat tires, trust me.”
During the time we talked about different options, he mentioned two things to get, fat tires and a step through frame. The fat tires help absorb the rough spots in the road or trail you are on and have amazing traction on most surfaces. The step through frame can make it much easier to get on and off the e-bike as well as protects certain body parts in the event of a sudden stop and dismount. He did have a recommended brand, Rad Power Bikes, in fact, he was waiting for his order to arrive shortly.
Then I went to social media. Posed the question on my timeline and received a number of suggestions. Those that had ridden an e-bike sang their praises, those that had not mentioned how they were curious about them. The two that had the most suggestions were Rad Power Bikes and a newer company out of Red Wing called TUOTEG, pronounced Too-Teg. Rad was the brand that Weber had suggested from his research. As a matter of fact, by the time this hits your mailbox, he should have his recent order of them at POHO. I did more research on them my self and found their prices and products to be quite attractive. Rad makes a great looking and seemingly great functioning bike and they are very affordable. They have a lot of features that are quite useful, back rack, and built-in lights just to name a few.
After looking into Rad Power Bikes, I thought, lets check the local shops. Sadly, the closest bike shop is Woodbury, so off we went. I say we because I made my lovely daughter come with. First we stopped at Freewheel Bike just off of Lake and 494. A nice clean store, but the staff seemed less than interested in making a sale. They had a kiosk made by Trek that measured your height and inseam to suggest various Trek bikes to fit your frame. It was a cool option to try, but I had questions. Sales guys, take note, instantly bashing anything that you do not sell can be a huge turn off for potential customers. Tell me what is good about your product. We discovered that they are likely not going to have much product in stock until late into the summer, and the product type that I was looking for was their very low-end model, at $1,500 plus. Knowing the max budget I wanted to spend, the sales guy pushed me toward a bike $500 over my budget.
Next up, Eric’s. We travelled a bit further into Woodbury to Eric’s Bike, Board, ski, near Valley Creek Road and Radio Drive. Again, we were not a priority to the two employees behind the counter. When I finally made contact with one, he spoke to us for maybe a minute or two before he had to take a call. The other employee was not helping anyone and could have clearly taken the call, or the call could have at least been passed off, but it was not. We explored on our own some and the cheapest e-bike we found was $2500. The prices of the non-e-bikes we saw were $600 plus. After about five minutes of waiting for the sales guy to return and looking at the slim selection of e-bikes they had, we left.
The visit to two main stay bike shops of the Twin Cities was rather disappointing because of poor customer service. I found it very disheartening that the one shop that had something in my price range was really not interested in helping me find the right fit for me and my budget. We returned home and I went to look back on Amazon.
Amazon has everything, so I researched more. They have e-bikes as low as $600. The lower you go price wise on Amazon as far as e-bikes are concerned, the older the technology. Motor and battery quality and size play a huge role in the performance of the bike. The lower priced models come with a 250-watt motor and 36v battery, some have a 350-watt motor. This sized motor gives just a little boost during pedal assist. For folks like me with the larger frame and or a little extra weight, 500-watt+ is really the minimum range to look at. Most bikes with the 500-watt to 750-watt motor are in that $800-$1000 range. Searching on your own, you will find plenty of e-bikes on Amazon, the two choices I had narrowed it down too for me were right around that $1000 mark. But I did not pull the trigger. I just couldn’t click buy just yet. I had not tried anything in person!
E-bikes are like clothes, or guns, or cars or anything else that you may buy. You cannot just willy nilly buy one without testing the fit first. It’s a personal fit. Thursday afternoon was starting to warm up, so…. ROAD TRIP! Yep, I hopped into the truck and headed down to Redwing to the TUOTEG warehouse. No warning, no clue what I would find, but hey, SURPRISE! I’m here!
Plus, if you have a keen eye for wordplay like Pam Onnen, Guinness World Record holder for spelling words backwords, you would have caught on that TUOTEG is GET OUT spelled backwards. Yes, Pam had to point that out to me, and it makes so much sense. Get out and enjoy bicycling!
TUOTEG is a startup. So much so, they do not even have their own signs up on the building they occupy. But the thing is, it is a warehouse, not really a show room, and they are an online retailer. But what the heck, lets see what happens. Located at 5001 Moundview Drive in the old Hydratight building is the corporate office of TUOTEG. I pulled into the lot and was confused because of the signage, so I pull out my phone and hit the chat button on their website. Chris answered very quickly and confirmed I was in the right spot and that he would be happy to come out and meet me. We met and headed into the building. Had a great discussion about me, my health and desire to get in better shape and that I would like to not have to spend an arm and a leg because that would make riding a mountain bike rather difficult.
Chris was awesome! He showed me a bunch of the features of their different bikes, made sure I had a good understanding of the benefits of the motor, battery and controls they use. Explained how different body sizes would affect the efficiency of the battery and made me feel very comfortable about them as a company. One of the many things that is really cool about TUOTEG bikes? They all use the same controller and motor, a 750-watt peak motor, 500-watt continuous, and each of them have a 48v battery so if you know how one ‘drives’ you know how all of them do. The only difference is the ride because of tires or suspension. Shortly after, Pierce popped in and joined the conversation. Both guys were spectacular hosts for the unannounced guest at their not really a showroom location.
They continued to demo the bikes, controls and computer and let me try the different models, but focused on what I came there to see, the fat tire bikes they have. Why fat tires?
Go back to the suggestions from Mr. Weber, “Get a step through frame and get fat tires, trust me.”
After sizing things up, Chris knew the time was right to say, “You ready to ride them?”
Before I could take one for a ride, I had to do two things. Put on a helmet and sign a waiver. Pierce gave me a few tips while Chris brought out the demo bikes.
“Fight the urge to pedal as you turn around until you get used to the assist feature,” explained Pierce. “The assist will catch you off guard and it will launch you if you are not ready. Oh, and start on assist level one.”
First up, their fat tire, low cross bar bike, the Convert. This is their foldable bike. It has smaller height tires that stand only 20 inches tall, but they are the fat tire style. I felt a little unstable with the smaller frame and tires at first, but I loved the ride once I got my bike legs under me. Looking back on the day as I write this, I will say that I am regretting not trying this bike a second time after riding the others. It has me wondering if I would have purchased that instead. The ride was smooth and the fat tires absorbed a lot of the unevenness of the road surface and the little bit I took it ‘off road’. Next, I tried their other fat tire bike, the Conqueror. This thing is a beast, in every sense of the word. I loved everything about this bike except one thing. It was too tall for me. When I stepped down off the bike to stop, umm, let’s just say, the uh, boys would not have been happy. Basically, if you do not have at least a 32-inch inseam, use caution with this bike when stopping. The bike is listed for riders 5’8” or taller, of which I am, but I just have really short legs.
As I was contemplating the two bikes, Chris suggested I try the Explorer. The Explorer is the Conqueror with more traditional mountain bike tires. That drops the height by about two inches. Same exact frame and setup as the fat tire version, just a little shorter.
This bike, if I can steal a line from Goldie Locks, fit just right and I was ready to buy, even though it is not available in black. TUOTEG runs promotions frequently, especially being a startup, to help get their name out there. I was lucky enough to benefit from a wonderful promotion they had going for April Fools and I got a tremendous deal.
Here is where the startup has minor issues. They can only take purchases on their website, not at the location, so, you cannot walk in with cash and buy a bike. Like I said, minor issue. Pull out your phone, order the bike and use PayPal or a credit card. The other issue is, they are still sorting out the accessories they want to carry. They are researching products that are available and building prototypes of things they want to add. Choices of accessories from TUOTEG directly, like different seat options, racks and fenders are not an option right now, but they are in the works. Most of the accessories they have are specific to the Delta model cruiser bike. Again, this is a minor inconvenience for the here and now.
Where did TUOTEG shine? Customer Service. I showed up, unannounced and these guys spent an hour and a half with me, and I did not tell them I was writing this article for the paper until well into the visit, so I believe their service was genuine. When I told them, I wanted to leave with one that afternoon, the first thing Chris brought up was they would be happy to assemble it for me but they are about a week out. He asked if I was ok assembling it, and we joked about his assembly video on their website. (A must watch if you want to see the kind of folks that make up TUOTEG.) When I told him, I was because I watched his video and I had already bought a friend a few beers, seriously, watch the video, he went over the assembly process in person quickly before he went to get me the boxed bike.
A few minutes later, he came back empty handed but with a big smile on his face. As luck would have it, their main assembly guy goofed up and had the bike I was buying already assembled by mistake. To be fair, they did have a customer pick up two of the same bike I bought, only the grey color, so I could see the mistake happening. He just had to do some final adjustments and I could be on my way!
The guys helped me load the bike into my truck, and off I went. The bike is about 70 pounds compared to the 20-30 pounds for a normal mountain bike.
When I got home, I fiddled with making the bike mine, made some adjustments, swapped the seat and showed it off. This thing is fun to ride, and the PAS is sweet! It takes some experimenting with it to see where the settings and gears need to be for easy assistance getting up hills, but once you have it set up, it’s smooth. I live right next to a hill that has about a 4-degree incline for a block. On a regular bike, I would not call it a challenge, but it is a pain compared to flat travel. On the Explorer, I got to the top thinking “Hill? What hill?”
Now that I had my tests complete and the seat set right, it is time to bug the neighbor to go for a ride. Thankfully, Miss A was happy to accompany me as I learned more about the bike. We went about five miles on Sunday evening around Vermillion Park, Vermillion Linear Park and CP Adams Park. Nothing super challenging but the trails do have their hills. The biggest hill, going down, gravity pulled me to almost 20 miles per hour, going up that same hill with the pedal assist set halfway, I maintained Seven MPH no problem. It felt it, but not so much that I was winded. I am actually excited to get back on it and go for more rides around town.
E-bikes are perfect for people looking to get some exercise and have the fun experience of riding a bike. As long as you can still balance and can operate a bike safely, you can ride an e-bike. If you are unsure about e-bikes and want to give them a try, check out rentals in Hastings from www.mypoho.com and make sure to tell them you heard about them in The Journal.
If you are looking to get one yourself, a great local option is TUOTEG. Remember, they are a relatively new company, but the customer service aspect was great, and I love that they are 25 minutes from Hastings. I also give them bonus points for the creative name. Visit www.tuoteg.com to look at their bikes online. Please be nicer to them than I was if you want to visit them, make an appointment, do not just show up. If you do go visit them in person, bring a helmet for every rider to make it easier on you and be prepared to be wowed at just how fun their bikes are to ride. As with POHO, I hope you tell them you heard about their bikes in The Journal!
Side note, as of Easter Sunday, they have a sale going online 20% off their bikes!
If you see me on the trails around town or out at Vet’s for a baseball game, feel free to say hi and ask about the bike. Now that summer is here, TUOTEG! I mean GET OUT!
TUOTEG’s Explorer Electric Mountain Bike, the model I chose to purchase after my visit at TUOTEG’s corporate office last week. The Explorer features a 500-watt (750 peak) hub style motor with a 48 volt battery and has pedal assist that helps riders reach 20 MPH out of the box. Photo from TUOTEG.com