Where To Buy An Ebike: The New Wheel, Bay Area

Ebikes for conquering San Francisco’s hills and transporting the family.

The New Wheel opened in San Francisco in 2012.
The New Wheel opened in San Francisco in 2012.The New Wheel

Editor’s note: This is the first in what will be a regular series of stories about distinctive ebike shops and sellers. Have a favorite ebike dealer you’d like to recommend? Then email your suggestion to Cycle Volta editor-in-chief Toby Hill at toby.hill@bonniercorp.com.

It’s a damp and chilly December morning in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood when we walk up to the front door of The New Wheel. An employee is wheeling bikes into display racks in front of the 7-year-old ebike specialty store: utilitarian pedal-assist bikes from brands like Tern, Stromer, and Riese & Müller for navigating the city’s hilly topography.

Brett Thurber, who co-owns The New Wheel with wife and partner Karen Wiener, is about a 10-minute bike ride away presiding over a mechanics’ meeting at the off-site service center where five full-time techs and one part-timer build bikes and take on excess repairs from The New Wheel’s two locations—the couple opened a second store in nearby Marin County in 2016.

When he arrives at the Bernal Heights store, Thurber shares that he divides ebikes into two categories: “vehicular” and “toys.” He and Wiener are much more interested in the former.

The New Wheel owners Brett Thurber and Karen Wiener.
The New Wheel owners Brett Thurber and Karen Wiener.The New Wheel

“I was familiar with bicycles because I had been a transportation cyclist,” Thurber says of The New Wheel’s early days. “But I also grew up in San Francisco, and the hills are daunting. So I saw ebikes as a perfect way to make cycling acceptable for everyone and make it more of a vehicle for everyone versus a vehicle for a few. That was inherently exciting for me.”

Thurber and Wiener, who met while attending the University of California, Berkeley in the East Bay, started their business on a shoestring out of their apartment in Oakland. They bought four ebikes on consignment from Canadian brand Ohm, and Thurber hauled them around town in a trailer on an ebike to sell them off.

In 2010 he helped a friend set up a shop renting traditional non-electric bikes in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. In exchange, Thurber got a small space on the shop floor to display ebikes for sale. He and Wiener then opened The New Wheel in Bernal Heights in 2012.

Wiener and Thurber opened their Larkspur store, in Marin County, in 2016.
Wiener and Thurber opened their Larkspur store, in Marin County, in 2016.The New Wheel

The couple has cultivated a strong clientele who are not afraid to pony up for their daily transportation. The New Wheel sells about 1,000 bikes a year at an average retail price around $4,300. And the volume of service coming through the San Francisco and Marin County locations necessitated the opening of the service center earlier this year. The service center also holds bike stock for the two retail locations, where all bikes on display are available to demo.

The New Wheel’s mix of ebike brands has evolved over the years. It currently sells seven brands, including Tern, Riese & Müller, Stromer, Gazelle, and Benno. All of The New Wheel’s current lines use either Bosch or Stromer mid-drive motors—a conscious choice on Wiener and Thurber’s part.

“The complexity can often be in the motor systems, and so we’re trying to hone it down and keep it more simple on that end. We can really have consistent service and support on that,” Thurber said.

About half the bikes sold in the San Francisco location are family bikes with some sort of child-carrying capacity, like the Tern GSD, Benno Boost, or front-loading cargo bikes from high-end German brand Riese & Müller.

The New Wheel
Two- or three-day service is standard at The New Wheel. Customers can also opt for same-day service for a $50 upcharge if the job is more than a half hour in labor.The New Wheel

“We carry some really unique brands that are geared toward more savvy customers, like Riese & Müller. They’ve done their research and know Riese & Müller is one of the best and most premium brands. But that’s maybe 20 percent of people who come in,” Thurber said. “Then another 30 percent are kind of aware of ebikes or maybe tried one but don’t know all that much. Then 50 percent don’t really know where to start, and are really looking for some help and expertise.”

Wiener and Thurber try to send a shop employee on every test ride to make customers more confident and comfortable—especially those who haven’t ridden a bicycle of any kind for many years—and answer their questions about the bike as they arise during the ride.

For accessories, the store focuses on top-end high-security locks from Abus, locking products for wheels and seatposts, and bags from brands like Ortlieb. It doesn’t stock lights since many of the ebikes The New Wheel carries come with their own integrated lights.

“Most bikes leave with some sort of bag and lock. But we’ve got everything. For a small store we try to pick products with a unique element to it that’s going to sell well,” Thurber said. Those unique products include Lumos’ illuminated helmet with 360-degree visibility and ebike-specific helmets from Giro and Abus.

Bikes from Riese & Müller, Gazelle, and Stromer on display in the Larkspur store.
Bikes from Riese & Müller, Gazelle, and Stromer on display in the Larkspur store.The New Wheel

The Marin County store, in the tiny city of Larkspur, carries a different product mix to serve an older demographic than the San Francisco location. “They don’t necessarily have a place to commute to, so they’re looking at it from more of a recreational perspective. But also our goal is to let them know they can use it to go to the store or go get coffee—have fun and also do useful things and not get in a car,” Thurber said.

The Larkspur store also moves a number of Stromer Class 3 ebikes (pedal assist up to 28 mph) to speed up the commute for folks riding over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

“It’s a really scenic route over the bridge,” Thurber said.