What’s your ideal two-car garage? Ask any gearhead, and you’re going to get a host of answers: a blistering-fast Ferrari F40 and a go-anywhere Unimog; a dashing Aston Martin and a genteel Rolls-Royce; a classic Alfa Romeo and a tow truck for when it gets temperamental. Well, here’s a garage full of fun for you, and only one is actually a car.
Initially, this pairing was conceived of as an oddball comparison. However, a mountain bike can get to places no car can, while a car can ferry around kids and groceries or hit the highway much more easily than a bicycle can.
When you electrify both, things really get interesting. Even during the pandemic, interest in electric vehicles has been increasing rapidly, such that the stock of new electric cars is low. The same is true of electric-assist bicycles, which are having a banner sales year.
Here we are, then, with the 2020 Chevy Bolt ($51,093 with options, before rebates and freight) and a 2020 Sight VLT C1 29 from Canadian cycling company Norco ($9,499). After a $5,000 federal rebate for electric cars plus a $3,000 provincial rebate in British Columbia, the total price tag of $52,592 is about the same as for one conventional, mid-range enthusiast vehicle such as a Toyota 4Runner or a Ford Mustang GT, to choose two widely varying examples.
Next to sleeker, more expensive models from Tesla, the Bolt’s stubby profile looks more like a generic electric vehicle. However, it’s hiding its light under a bushel. GM’s all-electric runabout provides accessible electric performance and is a genuine hoot to drive.
With 200 horsepower available from its AC drive unit and a nearly instantaneous 266 lb.-ft. of torque, the Bolt only takes a half-second longer to reach highway speeds than a previous-generation Volkswagen GTI. Get the Bolt going so its low-rolling-resistance Michelin tires don’t squeal and then punch the accelerator, and it’s just as quick as the GTI. The Chevrolet weighs 160 kilograms more than the VW, but the battery mass is mounted low on the chassis, and with a short wheelbase, the Bolt has handling to match its name.
Together, it adds up to a car that provides what that original Volkswagen GTI did 30-odd years ago: a flexible family hatchback that’s really good fun to drive. On the short and curving highway on-ramp near my house, where modestly powered crossovers can make merging tricky, the little Bolt scooted forward eagerly. Both of my kids in the rear literally shouted, “Whee!”
Something that’s often missed in discussions of electric vehicles is how enjoyable they are to drive. Yes, Tesla makes the headlines as the Model S battles the Porsche Taycan over super-electric-sedan supremacy, but down where price tags are more reasonable, there’s still a great deal of fun to be had.
Further, with 417 km of range from its 66 kWh battery, a roomy cabin and 479 litres of cargo space with the rear seats up, there’s nothing to prevent the Bolt from being the sole vehicle for a family of four. Yes, cold weather and quick driving can sap range, but even with half its range depleted, the Bolt will still have plenty of juice for daily use. Add in a clever left-hand steering-wheel paddle that uses regenerative braking to slow the car, and the entire Bolt driving experience is low stress.
Perhaps the only drawback is the car’s interior which, while spacious and practically laid out, doesn’t look like that of a $50,000-plus vehicle. You’re paying for the batteries and the technology here, so expect the Bolt to be not much nicer than your average GM mid-sized sedan. The rear cargo cover is particularly flimsy.
However, all the expected technology is on offer, displayed on a bright, clear, and not oversized screen. Driver assists such as cross-traffic alerts and automatic headlights are available on the Premier model.
Now, for the e-bike. Hold on to your seat: If the Bolt is a fun little scooter for racing about town, then the Sight VLT is a single-minded bike for racing up and down mountains.
The Sight VLT adds Shimano’s STEPS E8000 pedal-assist unit to Norco’s All Mountain range. The company also offers more reasonable options in trail or cross-country bikes, starting at slightly less than half the price. The C1 29 is a top-level model with a 630 watt-hour in-tube battery pack and roughly 50 kilometres of range.
For this kind of money, you could buy a used Mazda Miata, which, until now, I would have said was the best bang for your buck on wheels. However, riding the VLT, as it absolutely ironed-out hills in its loose-surface Trail mode and then sprinted toward a packed-dirt berm, I’ve had to change my mind. You can make a Miata jump, I suppose, but only the once.
The VLT comes with a weight penalty over a normal mountain bike because of the battery and experienced downhill riders report that it’s not quite as playful as the manual-bike experience. Further, electric-assist bikes are not without their detractors in the mountain-bike crowd, some of whom point out that inexperienced riders can get into big trouble on a heavy, fast bike.
Yet if a sports car on a lonely road offers an intoxicating kind of freedom, then the VLT offers, perhaps, an even more exhilarating kind. You really feel as if you could just ride this thing straight up the side of one of the rugged North Shore mountains. It opens up a whole playground of trails.
Two rides, then: One for treading lightly on the grocery run yet still enjoying yourself behind the wheel; the other for tripling your downhill time on the weekends and seeking out new trails.
There is, of course, no one answer to the perfect two-car garage. This pair, however, is hard to beat.
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