TLDR: After happily being a car and bus commuter for over a decade, the Faraday Porteur S e-bike made a biker out of me.
Before turning 16 and getting a car, I biked everywhere. I lived in Eugene, Oregon, one of the most bikeable cities in the U.S., and trekking across town was a breeze. My parents were divorced and lived on opposite sides of the Willamette river, so I did this often.
But you can’t take girls on dates or friends to parties with your bike, so I moved on to car-hood and never looked back.
That is until now. I’ve just moved to Portland from San Francisco and I’m trying to embrace the local lifestyle. And that means biking. Biking is definitely part of the San Francisco scene as well, but too many of my friends were injured while doing it for me to consider it while I was there. In SF the auto vs. bike dynamic is a borderline blood feud. Portland feels more like Eugene in its vehicular temperament, so I’m open to giving it a shot.
Not only is biking in line with the environmental ethos of PDX, but it’s almost a necessity. I’m part of a larger migration of people moving here from all over the country (for which I feel extremely guilty. Sorry, Portland), and we’re all clogging up roads that were never meant to accommodate so many commuters. Main arteries are jammed up for blocks during commuting hours and, shockingly, the locals are telling me it’s getting exponentially worse.
So not only do I not want to be part of the problem, I also don’t want to sit in traffic on the way to work—a headache I thought I was leaving that behind when I left SF.
But this presents a huge problem: Which bike to choose? It’s a daunting market and culture to get into, with so many brands, features, and variables to consider. Ugh.
Fortunately my laziness and predilection for tech toys have guided the way. Many people like myself would consider biking if we didn’t have to show up to work dripping with sweat, smelly and exhausted. These people—my people—also like biking but don’t identify with the seriousness of Bike Culture. We just want something fun, easy, and practical.
Electric bikes are growing in popularity for precisely this reason. They weren’t an option for me last time I was riding regularly so I was excited to try one out now. Getting an e-bike also seemed like a very “Portland” thing to do.
Faraday Porteur S
When I asked around, one of the most recommended models was the Faraday Porteur S. The company started out with a Kickstarter campaign and this is their second model ever produced. They’ve cut back on some of the materials to make it a bit less expensive than the first one ($3500 for the original, $2800 for the Porteur S), and the new slate gray color rather than the green is a little more inconspicuous. I actually prefer some of the downgrades, like the metal fenders instead of wood. Its biggest selling point for me was that it didn’t look like an e-bike, just a retro-looking commuter. Beyond that, I really didn’t know what to expect. How do these things work anyway?
I popped into Clever Cycles on Hawthorne, Portland’s premier e-bike shop, where Eva hooked me up with the tester from Faraday. She handed me the charger, showed me where the On button was, adjusted the seat, and sent me on my way.
Back in the Saddle
The first few minutes were spent just getting used to riding a bike again, period. Fortunately the cliché is a cliché for a reason. Next came dealing with traffic in an unfamiliar city and suddenly feeling like an unprotected meat sack. It was about 5:30 pm on a Tuesday and cars were angrily piling up on Hawthorne. Not only that, but I could feel the other bikers rolling their eyes at my n00bishness. And wait, where was I going again?
I decided to get off the busy street and figure my shit out.
Once the traffic noises receded, I could finally focus on the bike. The almost imperceptible whir of the wheels and chain. The firm support of the leather seat. Now it was time to try the motor. In the e-bike world, there are generally two types of motors: Pedal assist and throttle. Pedal assist waits for you to pedal before it engages and the throttle gives you the control. The Porteur S is a pedal assist motor with two levels of power.
While pedaling, I flipped the switch on the handlebars to the lower setting, using my left thumb. There was the briefest instant of “Is this thing working?” and then zing! It felt like an invisible hand pushing me along. It was immediately fun.
Photo: Keith Axline/Element.ly
From top to bottom: Power button, tail light, charger connector. Photo: Keith Axline/Element.ly
The head light automatically comes on when the bike is on. Photo: Keith Axline/Element.ly
Cautious to Reckless
I was flying through back streets at 20 mph on the higher power setting, with barely any effort. I know it’s 20 mph because that’s when the motor cuts out and you can feel that it’s just you pedaling. This speed clip is artificially added so that you can still ride the bike in areas designated for normal bikes. If the motor can assist you past that speed then different laws apply to your bike and you lose some of the freedom of where and how you can ride.
The Porteur S has five gear speeds which you can change from the handle opposite the motor control. I really only used gears four and five (the hardest to pedal) but the others are nice to have for steeper hills.
As I rode, I tried to think of the last time I experienced such a clear win with no downside. With the Faraday, it seemed, you get all of the fun of biking but without the effort (I know, I know, for a lot of people the fun is the effort). Also, there’s no noise or exhaust from a gas-powered motor. The bike isn’t as light as a normal commuter, but at 42 lbs. it was still relatively easy for me to carry up the 10 stairs to our rental. It’s one of the lightest comparable e-bikes out there.
The next morning was my first commute, and I’ve never been so excited to go to work. I found a route that would avoid traffic and allow me to eat up the blocks without stopping. I pressed the button on the casing behind the seat and the built-in front and back lights automatically turned on. After a few blocks I developed the habit of kicking on the motor whenever I was accelerating and then cutting it while coasting or braking. I don’t think this actually saves any battery life, but it made me feel efficient and it helped me think a few moves ahead. No regenerative braking on the Porteur S, but the disk brakes provide more stopping power than calipers so they’re ideal for city riding, especially in Portland’s rainy weather.
When I did have to get back on Hawthorne to go over the bridge, I was able to fly past three blocks of solid cars. Waiting at a light with six other cyclists, I peered out of the corner of my eye to see if anyone was scoping me out. No one cared. The hipster camouflage of the Porteur S was working. Though it might’ve tipped my fellow commuters off when I beat even some of the cars off the line. Accelerating quickly is probably where the motor helps the most.
Having ridden the bus into work for a couple of weeks, I noticed I got to the office in half the time. If you consider the need to park while driving a car, I even beat that commuting time. I’ll admit that this is due to some illegal riding on my part—running red lights and stop signs—but I don’t think I’m alone in that respect. When the coast is clear, I’ll go.
Can I Keep It?
I left the bike charging in the sitting area of our office while I worked. I got a lot of questions and impressed comments. Mostly people wanted to know what the motor assistance felt like and how powerful it was. I was still looking for a reason that not everyone was riding one of these things, and the cool factor wasn’t it. The guys at the office were into it.
One of the few negatives I could conjure about the bike was that the battery charge indicator on the handlebar is pretty difficult to read. It’s an e-ink display and even in direct light I couldn’t tell where it was at. I would estimate that I could do three days or more of commuting without charging, but I didn’t want to get stranded so I just charged the bike whenever I could.
So let’s do some math. If I save 15 minutes each way (a conservative estimate for sure), that’s 30 minutes a day. 2.5 hours per week. 10 hours per month. If I’m actually working during that time instead of traveling, then I’ve paid off the bike in under a year. Not to mention the $5/day bus fare I’m saving. Plus there’s the immeasurable value of daily exercise and actually enjoying the commute. I’m sold. Did I mention I’m good at rationalizing big purchases?
Don’t Just Sit There
Even after a week of riding, I still get a thrill when the motor kicks in. If you’ve enjoyed riding a bike at any point in your life and you commute to work, consider picking up a Porteur S or similar e-bike. Do the math and see if it’s a win for you.
Especially if you sit all day for your job like I do. Bike commuting is a great way to combat the health risks of an otherwise sedentary life. And e-bikes make it so it’s not a huge effort. Even if you’re feeling lazy, you’re not going to dread getting on your bike in the morning because you can get where you need to go with minimal effort.
Don’t let the “bike brohams” psych you out either, saying it’s cheating or somehow not real biking. That is just sour grapes. It seems they may have cornered themselves into an identity preventing them from enjoying anything that doesn’t involve some sort of pissing contest of machismo. Just do you.