Find Out All About eBikes in this Live Interview with Phil Pfäffli, Owner of Pedelec SQB

Video Transcription:

Jim: Hey, it's Jim Dodson, The Florida Bike Guy, your bicycle injury and accident lawyer. So I'm here with Phil Pfaffili this morning. Phil is the Owner of Pedalec, an electric bike shop in Punta Gorda and I've been to Phil's shop, I've taken a ride on one of his fantastic eBikes, and Phil has a world of information to share with us this morning. A lot of things I was frankly surprised to understand and I have a totally new appreciation for eBikes having ridden one of Phil's bikes and I think anybody who's ever thought about it should drop by and get a free test drive, but good morning Phil.

Phil: Thank you Jim. Good morning and good morning to everybody who is watching.

Jim: So you are from Switzerland.

Phil: Yes sir, I am. - So how do you end up in Punta Gorda with an eBike shop? - Well, the short version is that I have relatives here, living here for more than 20 years and on one of my holidays, I met my wife. So once I was back in Switzerland, I was really hard thinking about how I can make a living in the United States, and since eBiking is a hobby of mine for more than 10 years, I came up with a plan and applied for an investor's visa in the United States and since I have some kind of roots in Punta Gorda, I opened a shop here and that was three years ago and we're still here.

Jim: So tell us where your shop's located and what are the products that you sell?

Phil: Well our shop is located in Punta Gorda downtown. It's actually kind of easy to find, but not. You can easily find the building where we're in. It's the big garage building where you can park your car for free, but then once you get out of the garage building, you have to come around the corner on US 41 Northbound. That's where our entrance is.

Jim: So when I went to your shop, my Mapquest takes me to Harold Court, but Harold Court is on the north side of the building, and you actually face 41. So when you pick Harold Court, you need to park and just walk 20 feet around the corner and there's Phil's shop actually facing 41. It's a little confusing when you look at your Mapquest.

Phil: It is and I end up many times guiding people on the phone around the corner.

Jim: But your shop's so different because you don't just sell bikes. You have other things. What else is going on in your shop?

Phil: Well our shop is like two units. We have everything dedicated to electric pedal assist bikes and then we also have a food corner, which comes in very handy. My wife is for 20 years into health foods. She is running that shop and we actually sell a lot of organic stuff, smoothies and sandwiches that can refuel your energy after a ride or something that you can take with you.

Jim: And as a matter of fact, this morning, we may hear your wife making a smoothie out in the front of the shop. Is that right?

Phil: Yeah you can hear when she makes a smoothie, when that blender goes off.

Jim: Alright, let's dive in a little bit about eBikes. I know that Europe is really well ahead of the United States in the eBike trend. You have a lot of brands that quite frankly a lot Americans haven't heard of. I think over here, you walk into your standard bike shop, your Trek, your Specialized, you're gonna see their version, their own eBikes in there from what I experienced, but you sell brands that I wasn't familiar with when I walked into your shop. So tell us about the brands that you sell and why those brands that you have, and really the fact that you have multiple brands makes you different than other bike shops from my experience.

Phil: Yeah, right, I'll be glad to answer some questions that people might have out there about eBikes because there's not yet all the information out there. Some think it's a scooter, and others think it's just a bicycle, but it's something on it's own. So to answer your question, why we have multiple brands is so we don't have to sell just what one brand offers. We actually can take care of the customer's needs and what they want. So if you want an off-roader, if you want a city bike, if you want a cruiser, you can everything find in this shop. There's prominently about 30 different bikes on the floor that you can pick from and go on a free test ride. That's certainly one of the main differences to other shops.

Jim: Yeah, that's a big issue for when I was there. When you walk into most traditional bike shops these days, they will have a couple of eBikes or two or three eBikes. They're not gonna have, in my experience, they're not having 30 on the floor. So it's amazing to see.

Phil: Yeah, and you know it's not that I invented that concept. It's in Switzerland, a friend of our family has his own bike shop, eBikes too, and so I spent a lot of time there before I came to the United States, and I learned from him that that is to satisfy your customer, it's the best to have every kind in your shop and especially in a good quality, which satisfies and your customers more and you have less problems with these bikes.

Jim: Well, just on the quality issue, I know that the name of your shop is actually Pedelec SQB, is that right?

Phil: SQB, yeah.

Jim: Tell us what that means.

Phil: Well, Pedelec is actually an expression that was coined by the industry, which is like a fusion of two words like pedal and electric. So I chose to pick that for my company name, while I wanted to add something distinctive to make clear this is a unique shop. So, SQB, we came up with the meaning pretty early. It used to say Swiss Quality Bicycles, but down the road, we found out that only one big Swiss brand would actually serve the American market and that's Stromer. So we had to think of something different and since Swiss are about quality, we changed it to Swiss Quality Bound, which means we were looking out for other brands that make it up to Swiss quality and maybe not Swiss but the same quality.

Jim: Okay, so let's dive in a little bit about the bikes you sell. So what are the main lines that you have in your shop?

Phil: Well, it's a multi-brand shop. We have many lines, but the main lines are like say from the top is Stromer, Easy Motion, and Magnum. That's our brands which cover pretty much every kind of rides, but then, let's say you're looking for a really nice cruiser or something unique, handmade or whatsoever, a regular manufacture could not offer that. So we also have the Ruffian, which is a handmade product from Germany or we have the Rayvolt, which is another cruiser and so on. So, we even have tricycles.

Jim: Wow, okay. So I didn't understand frankly, when you start looking at eBikes, they're really two major or two different ways that the bike responds to the torque that you're applying to the pedals. From what you and I talked about in the past, you've got a cadence sensor or you have what you call a smart sensor, and they're really two different methods for the bike to respond to what the pedal is just doing. Tell us about what the difference is and why those are unique.

Phil: There are basically two kinds of applied power from the motor to your pedaling. The way that it's easier to accomplish is the cadence sensor, which is basically a ring of magnets that is like on your crank and on the other side, there is a pickup on your frame and as soon as the crank turns, the pickup will realize and the power will apply to your pedaling. This kind of sensor has usually a lot of levels. It's a little bit like a stick shift in a car. If you want to go on different levels and have different power, you have to manually go up and down the power modes. Now what I call smart compared to that is usually the torque sensor. A torque sensor may have levels as well, maybe only three levels, but every level acts like an automatic, which means, there's no delay in applying power to your pedaling but the moment you push the pedal or if you adjust it a little bit more sensitive the moment you put your foot on the pedal, the bike already knows you're there, and as soon as you push down, the power will apply, and the power will respond to your own effort. So that's usually the kind of sensor that you find on the bikes that, let's say experienced bicyclists like that more because it feels more like a bicycle.

Jim: Yeah, when I was in the shop, I see Lee is online, morning there Lee. When I was in your shop, I took a ride on one of your Stromers and I was amazed at the feel of the bike. It responded instantly to when you apply pressure to it and I'll talk a little bit more about my experience but I was riding a torque sensor.

Phil: Correct, yeah.

Jim: And that was my experience, and I think from talking to you, generally the torque sensor is a little bit more expensive than the cadence sensors. So I think your finding it on the higher-end bikes then you're gonna get a cadence sensor most likely on the lower-end bikes, is that correct?

Phil: Correct, yes because a torque sensor is not as easy to build as a cadence sensor.

Jim: Okay, my friend has a question. He wants to know what kind of bike you'd recommend for a five-mile commute to work? Now Charlie's in Virginia. So he's not gonna deal with some the heat we deal with but he doesn't want to ride to work as a sweaty mess.

Phil: Some hills maybe.

Jim: Pardon me, he's got some hills to deal with probably, but anybody, I think in general, anybody doing a five-mile commute, what kind of bike would you recommend?

Phil: Well, for commuting, it should be a bike that has an easy setup so it would be very responsive to your pedaling because you don't want to get there and then be sweaty like on a regular bike. So if I look at it, maybe an Easy Motion or a Stromer, whereas the Stromer is a little bit more responsive, has some more high-end features like you can lock up your bike with a cell phone and stuff like this, and some of them are a also a little bit faster. So you can get as fast as you can from A to B without sweating.

Jim: Yeah, we rode the Stromer into the parking garage and it was astonishing to me. You just plug it up through the incline, it's amazing and you're applying pressure but it's just an amazing experience.

Phil: Another amazing thing that you will not recognize in the first place is the Stromer has a recuperating system, which means if you have hills and use a lot of battery uphill and you go downhill and brake, the brake would regenerate power into the battery.

Jim: Okay, which is good. That's a really good feature. You're not gonna find that on a lower-end bike.

Phil: No.

Jim: No. So maybe now's a time to talk price because I understand there's sort of a break off. You have the bikes that are like $2,000, $2500 and then you have the different quality bike at the $3000 to $4400 range. Is that a fair kind of a breakdown?

Phil: Well, yeah, it goes a little bit lower with the price sometimes if we come across brands that really can perform at that price level. So there might be one or two bikes that will show up that you find starting with around $1600, $1700, and then on the upper end, there would be the latest model of Stromer that will be delivered just on next week out into the American market, which is the ST5 and that's a $10,000 bike. So that's something like a carbon fiber road bike just the electric bike version of it.

Jim: Okay, well the interesting thing about the Stromer, I mean, in my experience, the Stromer weighs probably, what 35 pounds, but the one that I road?

Phil: Yeah, it is a little bit, if you ride it, it feels maybe like 30 pounds.

Jim: Well, I don't know, I for me, it felt like riding my road bike. I mean the weight sort of to me was not an issue when you have some power assist because the weight becomes not an issue. It would be more of an issue if you were pedaling it without any power.

Phil: Exactly, if you have a nice setup like on a Stromer, I don't know that bike would probably even weigh more heavier and you would not feel it because the setup is so fine-tuned that once you ride that bike, it feels like a way, way lighter bike.

Jim: It was like riding my road bike.

Phil: Exactly.

Jim: It's easier. You gave me an example when we talked before about when you have the bike, it's like the Stromer for instance has, you can level different levels of power and for instance, level one, you used the example, you might have your 30% of the effort is by the pedal and 70% by the motor, and then you could change that to 20%-80%, 10%-90%. So kind of explain that if you would.

Phil: More or less, that applies to all the bikes. Whatever level you choose, you have a certain ratio between your own human power and the power of the motor. So yes, as an example, you might start on level one and having like 40% you or 60% you and 40% motor and then you go on level two, and you might have 50-50. So you can actually choose how much help you want or how much help you don't want.

Jim: Right okay.

Phil: And that is, I have to mention that right now is a big misunderstanding that many people have that come into my shop and I guess it's a common understanding that most people have never ride a eBike before think there's no way to have your workout, but it's quite the contrary. You can actually adjust your workout on an eBike just like you want it.

Jim: You can have as little power assist as you want and you can work as hard as you choose. Is that fair?

Phil: Absolutely and if you switch off the power, you might have a very well workout.

Jim: I’m gonna talk to you in a little minute about like who buys them, but let's get a little information about the bikes out of the way. What's the average distance a person could expect out of an eBike today on a battery charge? Now I know there's some variabilities for weight and terrain and all that stuff, but give us some parameters.

Phil: Every manufacturer would give you a range from two. They don't give you an exact mileage. So the most good quality bikes these days, they go between 30 and 40 miles before you have to recharge them. Whatsoever, again, if you go for the top-notch models, they can support you for more than 100 miles. So that's slightly different technology, different battery management systems, different setups. You might talk about a system that works like a Tesla car, technology wise.

Jim: Right.

Phil: So, uh.

Jim: Go ahead.

Phil: Yeah, I just wanted to say between 30 and 100 miles everything is possible, it depends what you're looking for.

Jim: So when you have to charge, how long does it take to recharge the battery?

Phil: There as well it is differences in technology and costs. If you look at an entry-level model, it might go let's say 30 miles, and if you recharge it, I would call it, that's like one group of two. If you recharge that kind of battery, even though you go 13 miles, it might charge between five and six hours. If you go with more highly-efficient batteries and battery management systems, they usually have, let's call it a turbo charger. So even if you go like 100 miles on one charge, you can recharge it in three and a half hours. Almost half the time, and this group two of charging systems would also on most bikes today, give you a quick charge like you can go on 80% of the charge in only two hours if you are in a hurry. Uh, I'm not sure whether you can hear me still. On my side, your picture is frozen. Jim? I can't hear you and I only see a frozen picture right now. Wonder if I can help to restart this whole thing here.

Jim: Live technology, something happened. My computer, it cut off the signal. Phil's not able to pick me up right now. I think maybe we'll have to maybe continue this at a later time.

Phil: I just restarted here and I can see you now.

Jim: Can you hear me?

Phil: Hear you, yes.

Jim: So why don't we, I think you were talking about, I'm not sure where we left off.

Phil: Huh? - Where was that? I was a little bit…

Jim: I think we were talking about battery life. When someone is considering buying an eBike, how many years will they get out of the battery and what does it cost to replace the battery kind of typically over the course of the bike?

Phil: If you have a lithium iron battery in good quality, I've seen these batteries live up to five years. I've seen a battery on an A2B bike which is close to the quality of an Easy Motion or a Stromer that was six years old and still working. Of course the capacity of the batteries will.

Jim: Will over time.

Phil: Go down, yeah. So if you are a commuter that commutes every day like 60 miles, of course, the lifetime will be shorter. Now to replace the battery is also a matter of where you start with. You can purchase a standard tower battery, something that takes you maybe 30 to 40 miles today right on the internet, on Amazon or wherever for maybe $300, $400 and if you go for a bike like a Stromer ST5 that has a battery that takes you 110 miles, once you will want to replace that battery it's probably more than $1500.

Jim: Battery technology is gonna get better and better every year, isn't it?

Phil: Exactly, I was just about to say, if you take the prices from today, but observing the market the last 10 years, these batteries don't vary much in price over the years but they have way more capacity. So when I bought like three years ago my Stromer ST2 it had the battery that could take you like 70 miles. For the same bike today, for the same price that I paid back then for the battery, you can have a bike that goes 100 miles.

Jim: Right.

Phil: So you get amore for your money then.

Jim: So Jim, and we've had a couple of people that have joined us kind of midstream. So this is Phil from Pedelec in Punta Gorda. He's on 41 North downtown Punta Gorda. Pedelec is the name of the shop and if you didn't see the beginning of our broadcast, Phil is unique in his shop, as he has probably 30 bikes that you can choose from from mountain bike to touring to road bike, whatever, even trikes. So he's probably got the biggest selection that I'm personally aware of, of eBikes and plus, Phil's Swiss and knows eBikes because of the long culture of the electric bike industry and people using them in Europe much more than they are here. They're catching on here but they're way ahead of us over there in terms of manufacturing and technology. So what kind of warranty do people expect when they get an eBike, Phil? What is kind of the industry norm?

Phil: Most manufacturers give you one year. If you go for a higher-end bike, they give you two years, and you might expect some, also some goodwill. Like if you have something after two years and one day, they're not as picky and say, aw, your warranty's up and then I don't wanna miss to mention one company that's also one of my main brands, Easy Motion. What they do is they give you five years' warranty, but that's exceptional in the industry.

Jim: So if somebody's looking at an eBike and they walk into a bike shop like yours and you have a bike that's $2,000 and you got a bike that's $4,000, I know you typically in my view you never get more than you pay for. So what is the trade-off between the $2,000 eBike and the $4,000 eBike as an example?

Phil: Let's start with the feeling that you have when you ride the bike. The $2,000 bike might simply said, feel more like a scooter and the $4,000 bike will absolutely feel like a pedal bike, a regular bike just as you experienced on your own test ride, and then everything comes down to the components. It's always what components you take to put together a bike and of course also the experience and the management of the electric parts on these eBikes. So you might have the same technical specs on a battery on a $2,000 bike like on a $4,000 bike but the $4,000 bike will take you 70 miles and the $2,000 bike maybe only 30 miles. So the thing is in the details. So if you look at bikes, many times they look very similar, just at the picture or the screen. Every bike basically looks good today, but then if you look close, have a closer look at it, and if you test ride it and you actually touch the bike and feel it, then you will see the big difference in quality and price.

Jim: So you and I have talked before this and I've been getting on my newsfeed these announcements of these low-end electric bikes. There's crowd funding for these bikes that are $500 and $800 and they're getting these good reviews but I was talking to you about it. So there's got to be a compromise when you get a bike in that price range. I don't know if you want to make an observation about it. I know you don't sell anything in that price range.

Phil: I’m aware of most of the things that are going on in the market and I also once in a while have to deal with it when customer comes in and they give me a link to a certain website or they come in with brochures and, let's face it, it's not only bicycles or electric bikes. Every product with maybe some exceptions, if it is more expensive, it's just a better quality. There's no way around it. If you go lower in price, nobody manufactures something with not thinking to make any money on it. So if a manufacturer makes an electric bike, let's say for $800, you will have to downgrade in a certain way. There is no other way. Either it has a lack of equipment and then you still have maybe a good bike, which I personally would prefer or you look at the bike that looks like it has everything and then you should be very suspicious.

Jim: Right, tell me a little bit, who's buying eBikes and what are the needs your average person walks into your shop? Why are they buying an eBike? What are they using it for?

Phil: That's very funny from my point of view because since I was into that in Switzerland, I see that most people today use eBikes in Switzerland not only for fun but mainly for commuting for short distance transportation. For some it's in some family that sells their second car and commute with the bike to save all the money on gasoline and insurance or whatsoever. Now here, to answer your question, it's a little bit like it was in Switzerland in the beginning. More retired people buy actually these bikes because it doesn't matter for what you use these bikes or what's the purpose to use it. Riding bikes is always fun, and that's basically my main customer. They buy it because it's a lot of fun, but then also because if you get older, you might run into some issues, some, I don't know, knee surgery or they have something with their back, their short breath. I can remember many, many customers like one that used to go on a ride with his wife and then she started to be not as fit as he anymore and they lost a certain quality in their life to go together on rides. So he bought that eBike at my place for his wife and now they can go at the same pace and both are happy to go back together on the rides, and talking about go back together on a ride, I had an athlete here, a former athlete, a girl. She was very athletic and she was qualified for some, I wouldn't say she was qualified for the Olympics but she was a very good athlete and she had these health issues and could not even go riding with her friends anymore on tours. Now she come to my shop, she does a test ride on a nice torque-sensor bike, and when she come back, she literally had tears in her eyes because she could go again back with her friends and had that quality back in her life. So, with eBike, it's not only about whether you can ride an eBike or not or whether you think you're already there or you're still way too fit to do it, it's also about maybe some people in your environment having better quality in life or going together with you on rides or have back some freedom that they missed because they couldn't ride a regular bike anymore.

Jim: So, someone comes into your shop, they understand eBike is there, maybe it's something that they could use and they ride it for the first time, what's their average reaction?

Phil: That can't be described simply. Basically everybody who comes from a test ride has a smile from here to here over their whole face. That's what basically people have, and then you hear things like, oh that's amazing, or I feel like young again or stuff like this.

Jim: I think you made the comment to me, what is it about test rides? You don't sell bikes?

Phil: Yeah, I say that many times and it's actually like that. You can talk about eBikes for two hours and you can do your research online or whatsoever but if you ride one, that's the moment. It's just like everybody had it, even I had it the first time more than 10 years ago. I was on the fair and someone offered me a test ride on an eBike and I go on that eBike and it made snap, and I was into eBikes.

Jim: I think the bottom line is if you ride an eBike, you're gonna want one.

Phil: If you ride an eBike, it might, you might not want to miss it anymore.

Jim: Right, so I think I wanna thank Phil for joining us today. Again, Phil's in Punta Gorda. He's very knowledgeable, as you can tell. I would urge you to drop by his shop, get a smoothie while you're there, take a test drive. I think Phil you're offering a free test ride right now. Is that correct?

Phil: Absolutely.

Jim: Come to the shop?

Phil: Absolutely, my business is family-owned. It's not only business, it's also partly a mission and many people come back to our shop because that it is unique and that you have this family-run store, quality of service.

Jim: I can dig it. So thank you so much for joining us today. I got one piece of business to take care of. Last time we did a program on the best headlights and people entered for a chance to win a headlight and I'm gonna draw the name of the winner of that right now here on the program. Let's see here, Mike Martin. So Mike, we will reach out to you and we have this City Rover lights out of the box, but I'll send you the City Rover. I tested this bike light, it's fantastic. Wanna thank you all for joining us today. Next week, I interview Mark Scheifer and Mark is the President of Gulf Coast Velo. That's a new bike club. They've got about 80 members but they're growing and expanding and they've got some very unique things. They do a womens-only ride and they really are drawing from Lakewood range down to Venice, Englewood. So join us next time for Mark Schiefer. He's an engaging guy, this is an interesting club. You don't have to belong just to one club. These clubs fit a lot of niches. So again, thank you Phil and thank you all for joining us. This is Jim Dodson, the Florida Bike Guy signing off. Be safe out there. See you on the road.

Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.