Confession: The Faraday Porteur e-bike (above) knocked my eyes out when it debuted, and I was hardly alone. It attracted plenty of attention when it was introduced as a collaboration between the design firm IDEO and master builder Rock Lobster Cycles at the 2011 Oregon Manifest, a competition to develop the ultimate utility bicycle. Propelled by a People’s Choice win there, and with the assistance of a successful crowd-funding campaign the following year, Faraday rolled its first bikes into the marketplace in 2014.
The elegance of the Porteur is undeniable. And the ride is pretty dreamy, as I discovered on a recent trip to San Francisco, thanks to a demo arranged by Huckleberry Bicycles.
In its ground-up imagining of the bicycle and its electromechanical systems, Faraday departed from typical e-bike design taxonomy. The vaguely retro-style steel frame with back-swept handlebars, creamy paint scheme with just-so touches of crimson and hits of mint, the handmade leather grips, the smooth, bentwood fenders and the (optional) sturdy front-mounted rack, all tally up to a thoughtful and pleasing balance of materials and features for the urban ride.
Absent are those e-bike telltales: a thickened, angular down tube, or rectangular battery case appended to the frame or rear rack. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers the integrated electric hub motor on the front wheel is housed in the down tube. The slim case nestled between the double top tubes, almost like a tail fin (photo below), is the controller.
A Boost to Human Pedal Power
I’ll get to the part where I confounded some road cyclists in the Presidio in a minute.
But first, let’s be clear about what electric-assist bicycles are not. Also known in some places as pedelecs, e-bikes do not replace human power; rather, they augment it, using sensors that measure speed, pedal force or both. Pedal harder and you get more of a boost; quit pedaling, and the motor cuts out. (Laws governing e-bikes vary and are beyond the scope of this post, but the requirement to pedal, along with a limit on power and the speed it can deliver, generally separate e-bikes from the categories of mopeds or motorcycles.)
For commuting and neighborhood cycling in cities, the features of the Faraday Porteur e-bike answer the needs for durability, convenience and comfort. Among these: a chromoly steel frame and fork, easy-maintenance carbon belt drive with Shimano 8-speed internal hub, chain ring guard, scissoring dual kickstand, steam-bent bamboo fenders, and front and back LED lights.
The user charges the battery, which powers a 250-watt (350-watt peak) motor, using a wall outlet; a full charge of 3 hours delivers a range of 20 miles.
Rounding out distinguishing elements is the generous front rack. (The French porteur describes a freight bike on which the cargo rack is front-mounted.) On the Faraday, the rack attaches to the frame via rigid mounts for front-end stability when carrying loads of up to 25 pounds.
The E-Bike Riding Experience
I pedaled the Faraday as an ordinary bicycle for much of my group outing, which began on Market Street, proceeded through San Francisco’s famous Wiggle, ascended into Gold Gate Park and the Presidio and descended to Crissy Field.
In my view, that versatility, the ability to achieve ride comfort and performance with or without electric assist, is one of the Faraday’s most compelling selling points. The bike, which weighs 39 pounds, didn’t feel sluggish or lack maneuverability when I pedaled it under my own power. Strip away the motor and I can imagine still being happy with the everyday ride.
This bike takes its name from the English scientist whose discoveries formed the basis of electric motor technology. So, let’s get to what it’s like to use the e-assist. As the first steep climb loomed at the Presidio, I turned the electric-assist on via the button beneath the seat. I advanced the three-position selector on the handlebar from the off position to “low” to put the motor to work for me.
I’m not sure what I expected — perhaps some gripping sensation, a mild jolt, an audible clue? But no. The subtlety is such that the moment of the motor’s engagement is almost indiscernible. To me, it felt like a silent, invisible guide wire began pulling me up the incline. The more oomph I put into my pedal stroke, the more deliberate the pull. To an e-bike newbie, the sensation was exhilarating, at once powerful and light. As effort was diminished, the feeling of freedom was enhanced.
The “high” electric-assist mode came in particularly handy when I veered away to snap some photos of the vista from Inspiration Point and almost lost contact with my group.
When I steered back to the main road, I could just glimpse the last rider in the distance. I advanced the mode selector to the third position. In the spirited quest to reel in my fellow riders, I passed about a half a dozen road cyclists. Imagine their surprise when I breezed by them them on the flat on my upright bicycle. Remember, I was pedaling the whole time, and from behind, there are few clues to the presence of a motor on the Faraday. I pictured thought bubbles hovering over their heads that read alternately: What the f***? and I’ll have what she’s having!
While there are more powerful e-bikes out there, my thinking is that if the Faraday delivers on the hills of San Francisco, it could do quite nicely, thank you, in spots like East River bridge crossings or Washington Heights inclines in New York City.
Beyond the electric assist, be prepared for one more dimension of the Faraday experience: It’s power to fascinate. The look of the bike attracts attention; people want to chat about it, because it is at once familiar, and not.
The Cool Factor?
Maybe there’s a part of me that has considered riding an e-bike, well, cheating. But fans of electric assist point out that this technology may encourage more people, especially those who are unwilling or unable to ride conventional bicycles, to consider two-wheels for transportation and recreation. For example, a little extra punch can take the sting out of an otherwise intimidating climb. It can help people who want to get fit ride farther and more frequently. It can relieve the sweat factor that many cite as an impediment to bicycle commuting in cities. All of which sounds pretty good.
And those who associate e-bikes exclusively with anonymous food delivery bikes, sometimes with suspect, souped-up motors, might want to think again. The Faraday and some of its stylish sisters and brothers might just be propelling e-bikes into the category of cool.
The Faraday Porteur is available in New York City at Propel Bikes in Brooklyn.
Product photos: Faraday