REI Co-op Cycles CTY e2.1 Review: Affordable and Dependable

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I fell in love with the REI CTY e2.1 the minute I saw its hot lava frame come out of the box in my garage. The racy red color and an easy-to-step-through frame screamed, “Ride me now!” There were no barriers to entry, like an app that I had to download. All I needed to do was turn the bike on and ride. (Note: If you are uncomfortable assembling the bike and live near an REI, the store will build it and also offer one year of free adjustments.)

So I did. I pedaled across the city on a scenic drive, through busy intersections, down a few steep residential streets to a cycling path that led to a rocky beach on the shoreline of Lake Superior. The bike’s upright geometry, which had me less hunched over than other e-bikes I’ve tested, made the world pop. I noticed the smell of lilacs on the breeze and the brilliant hues of green after a soggy spring, details I don’t always catch when I’m crouched over handlebars.

At the beach, I met my partner who was nice and brought a picnic. We ate cheese and crackers and sipped rosé until the sun dipped low over the hills of the city. I purposely stayed out until the mosquitoes started buzzing so I could race the sun and my boyfriend in his car back to our house. It may have partially been the glass of rosé, or the beauty of an early summer evening, but the 22-mile round trip ride on the CTY e2.1 made a Friday night especially fun.

About Town

The CTY e2.1 is the upgrade to the entry-level CTY e1.1 ($1,299). I think it’s worth the extra money, especially considering that it’s still well below $2,000 and also goes on sale quite often. The battery capacity of the CTY e2.1 is more than adequate. On that day, after a mile-long, 1,000-foot climb back up the steep hill to my house, I had 39 percent of battery power left to spare, after toggling through all four levels of assistance throughout an ambling, four-hour tour of the city.

As an urban commuter, the CTY e2.1 is a nicely packaged machine for the price. It is a class 1 ebike with a 250-watt Shimano E5000 motor, accompanied by a 36-volt, 418 watt-hour, lithium-ion battery that boosts up to 20 miles per hour, and a range of roughly 60 miles in Eco Mode. The battery runs down the entire length of the sloping downtube and, per my scale, is roughly the same weight as a sack of potatoes. But it’s still easy enough to take out with the turn of a key to charge it independent of the bike.

Closeup of electric bike handle bar and small screen displaying the distance traveled and speed

Photograph: Stephanie Pearson

A front fork dampens the road chatter and hydraulic disc brakes make stopping more precise. The Schwalbe Big Ben 2-inch-wide tires have a hefty tread pattern for an urban bike, offering nice traction. The tire’s reinforced sidewalls are also reflective to make you more visible at night.

Added amenities include comfy gel grips and a padded foam saddle, a cockpit with riser bars and a bright headlight, and a hefty kickstand for when you eventually need to park. No fenders, though, which is shocking as it got quite sloppy on a ride after a storm. Nevertheless, the bike is no doubt fun and navigates all manner of city streets well—from smooth, paved paths to bumpy, potholed roads. It’s not a bike to take on gravel roads or singletrack.

Affordable and Adequate

At this price point, you can’t expect to have it all. There still are some areas that could use some improvement. First, at 54 pounds 8 ounces (size large), it’s not light—a factor that doesn’t necessarily bog you down while tooling around a flat city, but it does make maneuvering it around the garage or hauling it up steps hard to manage.

Red electric bike propped up in a grassy patch with water and blue sky in the distance

Photograph: Stephanie Pearson

Also, the 250-watt hub motor is pretty standard-issue on many e-bikes, but this one only has 60 newton meters of torque as opposed to at least 80 on other e-bike motors. The lack of torque, which is the acceleration that keeps your bike moving forward especially up hills, makes the CTY e2.1 a wimpy climber. So, this may not be the best option in a city like San Francisco (or Duluth, where I live).

Finally, I love that the bike is minimalist in its e-ness, meaning it doesn’t require an accompanying app to ride. But the screen is about the size of a wristwatch face. And while it provides plenty of basic data, like mileage, miles per hour, and power mode, the push buttons are so close together and the screen is so hard to read that it’s almost impossible to see while riding—a factor that is not only frustrating, but can also be dangerous. Still, if all you need is an extra push on your multi-mile work commute, the CTY e2.1 is a good option—especially in the red color.

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