Anybody who knows me also knows that I’m a big fan of DIY electric bicycles conversions over buying a retail electric bicycle. I love the freedom you get from starting with a blank slate and making all of your own decisions about parts and accessories without having to compromise for what the manufacturer thought you needed.
One of the biggest freedoms of building your own ebike is choosing the bicycle you start with. More than any other part, the bicycle you use is going to have the largest affect on how your ebike feels and rides. And for anybody looking for a laid back, comfortable cruiser-style ebike, look no further than the Electra Townie bicycle.
The Electra Townie is one of my favorite bicycles to convert into an electric bicycle. I’ve converted and worked on dozens of Electra Townie ebikes and each one has proven what a perfect bike it is for ebike conversions.
Allow to me to break down some of my favorite parts aspects of the Townie.
Comfort is king
Let’s be honest, if you’re already riding an electric bike then you’re probably not planning on pedaling as much as you do on a normal bike – or even much at all. In that case, finding a bike that is comfortable to sit on in one position without moving is very important.
The Electra Townie is in a class of bikes known as “crank forward” or “pedal forward” bicycles. This simply means that the pedals are located further forward than normal on the bicycle, which allows your feet to touch the ground while keeping your rear end firmly on the saddle.
Electra calls this “Flat Foot Technology” which to be honest makes it sound like more of a technological breakthrough than it really is; it’s simply changing the position of the pedals. But it does make a big difference in comfort.
With this riding style, you sit in a very upright position with your feet out in front of you instead of down below you. It’s more like sitting in a chair where your shoulders are back and chest is elevated, as opposed to the normal riding posture of a bicycle which has you hunched forward towards the handlebars.
Not everyone will find this seating position comfortable, but most people consider it a major improvement even if it takes a few days to get used to.
The crank forward design will change the handling of the bike if you’re used to riding a mountain bike or road bike. Unlike other more traditional bicycle designs where you lean out over the handlebars and have twitchier, more sensitive steering adjustments, the Townie is a slow-and-steady type of ride. To me it almost feels like I’m in a boat and controlling the rudder. Steering is a slower, smoother experience.
For that reason though, the Electra Townie makes a better comfort cruiser bike than a mix-it-up-with-cars-in-traffic type of bicycle, so it really depends on your preferences and specific needs. When I’m commuting in the city, I prefer my mountain bike as I can cut through the cars and traffic nimbly. But when I’m cruising along the beach roads and out for pleasure rides, the Electra Townie gives a much more laid-back and enjoyable riding experience. The difference is striking.
The Electra Townie has room for everything
One of the biggest problems with DIY electric bicycle conversions is finding room to put everything, especially the battery. I like to build my own batteries so that they can fit any custom space on a bicycle frame, but not many people do that yet. Instead, the majority of DIY ebike conversions use off the shelf batteries. These retail ebike batteries generally come in a fairly boxy shape that can make it difficult to fit them in a bicycle frame. Even on bikes with fairly large front triangles, it can be hard to squeeze a decent-sized four cornered battery into a three-legged frame triangle.
But this has never been an issue for me with the Electra Townie. Its front frame triangle (or quadrilateral, I guess) is gigantic! I’ve never seen an ebike battery that wouldn’t fit in there! With my custom packs I could probably stuff enough battery into that frame to ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco on a single charge!
But not only that, the long frame has room for all sorts of bags, racks, panniers and other storage possibilities. Combine that with the roomy handlebars for bar-mounted accessories and you’ve got more room than you could dream of for loading your ebike full of accessories.
Big on space, small on the scale
The Townie isn’t a small bike by any means, probably about a foot (30 cm) longer than most bikes, but it isn’t terribly heavy like you might expect. Thanks to its lightweight 6061-T6 aluminum frame, it only tips the scales at about 28 lbs (13 kg). Now that’s no featherweight, but it’s definitely lighter than other bikes of this size.
That aluminum frame allows the bike to be as large as it is and offer such a comfortable riding position without making it a beast to haul around. It’s not going to turn the corner into your studio apartment any easier, but it might just make carrying it up the stairs a possibility.
A seat you don’t have to throw away!
I don’t know about you, but I need a good seat on my electric bicycles to keep my tuchus happy and complaint-free. That usually means getting rid of whatever tiny stock seat came with a bicycle and replacing it with something bigger and more comfortable. But not with the Townie!
The Townie comes with a great seat right out of the box! It’s wide, molds to your own, ummm, special shape? …and it has suspension built right into it to smooth out any bumps in the road. Finally a bicycle with a seat that doesn’t need immediate replacing!
Good (enough) quality components
One of the best things about the Electra Townie is the price, usually around $400-$500 depending on where you live. How do they keep the price relatively low while offering such a great bike? Partly by not breaking the bank on components. The Townie comes with everything you need and nothing you don’t. The components themselves are quite good even though they aren’t necessarily the top-of-the-line parts in any category. But that’s ok! We’re building a comfort ebike here, not a record-setting speed demon!
The Townie comes with good quality Shimano shifters and gears, and linear pull brakes that will be more than strong enough to bring you to a comfortable stop at any normal speeds. If you plan on regularly doing 30 mph or more then you might want to consider a frame with disk brakes, but most comfort ebikes built on a Townie base will have more than enough quality braking power with the stock linear pull rim brakes.
The stock tires are great for cruising along any paved paths, whether you prefer roads or sidewalks. I wouldn’t do any serious off-roading with them (or this bike in general) but if you need to wind your way down a gravel or sandy path to reach your secret beach spot, these tires will get you there.
Looks aren’t everything, but they don’t hurt!
I’m just going to say it, I think the Townie is a sexy bike. I like the long, flowing lines, the color combinations offered, the frame geometery – it all works together so well. The designers of the Townie really paid attention to the details and it shows. Even simple things like the internally routed brake and shifter cables help to add to the clean, polished look of the Townie. The bike is simply a beautiful piece of design from so many different angles.
And the kicker is that performing an electric bicycle conversion on the bike doesn’t ruin it! If you take the extra time to run your wires internally through the holes in the frame already created for the shifter and brake cables then you won’t even have to zip tie them to the frame. A hub motor or mid drive motor is easily hidden in comparison to the large frame, and the front triangle is so large that batteries look small and well contained inside of it!
There are a lot of good looking bicycles out there, but there are only a few that retain those good looks even after a DIY ebike conversion. The Townie is definitely one of them.
And all around great quality bike
If I had to describe the Electra Townie in one sentence, I would say that it’s simply an all around great quality, comfortable bicycle.
Granted, it may not be the best in any single category. You could spend a few hundred dollars more and probably find an even more comfortable bicycle, or shave a few pounds off the total weight, or include disk brakes, or this or that, etc etc etc. But the point is that for an affordable price the Townie is already a great bicycle in so many different regards.
Do you own an Electra Townie bicycle? Tell us about it in the comments section below! And if you’ve electrified it, consider adding it to the International Ebike Garage as well!