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Jun 10, 2023

The entry-level model in REI's house brand e-bike lineup, the Co-op Cycles Generation e1.1 is a near-perfect utility bike for the first-time e-bike rider or anyone electric-curious and looking for an affordable new ride.

The Generation e1.1 has an impressive component spec for the money, rides well and fits a huge range of people. While its price is very competitive with direct-to-consumer brands that leave you to fend for yourself mechanically, you get the easy access to the bike shop support that comes with REI's brick-and-mortar stores. If you want an e-bike that’ll get you and your stuff from A to B with minimum fuss and don't need a whole lot of bells and whistles, it's hard to think of a better solution.

With a solid component spec, dependable motor and brakes and a compact frame that fits a wide range of riders, the Generation e1.1 is a great utility e-bike for almost any rider — and you can even test it and get it serviced at any of REI's bike shops.

The Generation e1.1 is built around a compact aluminum frame with an extended integrated luggage rack, riding on 20-inch wheels. At 54 pounds, it's about average for commuter/recreational e-bikes, but the low center of gravity, small wheels, suspension fork and compact overall dimensions give it an easy-handling, secure ride that should make even occasional riders feel confident negotiating any reasonable terrain.

We tested the bike over several weeks of everyday errands — grocery hauling, appointments, mail and package runs and the like — in our hilly neighborhood, negotiating several significant grades that top out at 12%. The e1.1 always felt surefooted ascending and descending, even in wet conditions on cracked, gravely asphalt. It's well-balanced with loads right up to the suggested limit (with a few limitations that we’ll cover below).

The one-size-fits-all e1.1 serves a size range from 5 feet up to 6 feet 3 inches, which is something we really like to see in everyday utility bikes overall and in e-bikes in particular. These vehicles don't really requires the specific fits of performance bikes and it's really nice to have an errand runner that can serve a whole household — it's like having an extra station wagon around that anybody can hop on to run to the store.

At this price, we’re used to seeing e-bikes with component specs clearly rooted more in cost-savings than utility. The e1.1. is a refreshing surprise, with a name-brand hub drive motor and battery from Bafang and a capable set of Tektro hydraulic disc brakes with oversized 180-millimeter rotors providing dependable power and stopping ability that's beyond what's offered by most of the direct-to-consumer brands offering e-bikes at a similar price.

Running lights; a simple display that gives you feedback on power modes, runtimes, and the like; and comfortable grips and saddle round out the package. The 350-watt motor isn't going to win any races, but it's very capable of getting the bike up to speed and we regularly got the expected 30-40-mile range out of a battery charge.

Initially, this bike shipped with an undersized chainring, which made it easy to spin the bike out under pedaling power on flat ground or descending, but after feedback from professional reviewers and consumers, REI revised the spec and now supplies a more appropriate 48-tooth chainring up front, neatly solving the problem (and giving us more confidence in the brand's support for this model and the Generation e lineup overall).

The biggest problem facing the direct-to-consumer bike purchaser is assembly. While bike assembly isn't exactly rocket science, it does take a bit of know-how to assemble a bicycle safely and the relative weight and bulk of e-bikes can make e-bikes especially difficult for a solo buyer to put together.

Some mail-order brands have gotten very creative with packaging that lets them ship a bike in a state that requires only minimal assembly, and almost all of the bikes we’ve tested have done a good job in supplying toolkits and video instructions to help buyers assemble their bikes. REI simply takes advantage of their network of 170 brick-and-mortar shops with onsite bike mechanics. If you purchase a Generation e, you get in-store assembly and a year (or two, if you’re an REI member) of free adjustments.

Since many e-bike purchasers — especially those shopping for lower-priced models — aren't necessarily experienced bicycle mechanics, this makes the Generation e1.1 a great option for first-time buyers.

Plus — and this is a great benefit — if you’re near an REI you can test-ride before you buy, which isn't likely with a bike from a direct-to-consumer brand. It's something that gives it the edge over popular mail-order models. Most of these brands, while they produce excellent bicycles like the Velotric Thunder 1, have very limited retail shop support. Other direct-to-consumer brands, such as Rad Power, which build the Rad Power RadRunner 2, sell through a larger network of brand shops and third-party brick-and-mortar retailers, but don't have the nationwide coverage and expert mechanical support that REI can offer.

We didn't find much to complain about with the Generation e1.1, but nothing's perfect. The integrated rack is a nice idea, but we didn't love the overall design. The lower anchor points for pannier hooks are placed far to the rear, behind the dropouts, and they’re difficult to access for a secure attachment, making it unnecessarily hard to keep heavily loaded bags secure. There isn't a centrally placed vertical support strut either, meaning there's not a good place to secure the Ortleib-style plastic clips used by many modern pannier designs either.

We had better luck strapping heavy loads to the top of the rack with bungies. While this was perfectly secure, with the load up high, it makes the bike less stable than it could be with more-securely-anchored panniers. We imagine that many purchasers will either use the lengthy rack for a child seat or stick a basket on top for light load hauling, but if you’re tempted to run the bike up to its 59-pound cargo load limit on a regular basis, it's something to keep in mind.

A minor note, but the compact frame design (there's no traditional front triangle), places the top bottle cage in a position that may interfere with the knees of taller riders when mounting or dismounting. Again, this is a very minor issue, but something to be aware of.

It's hard to find fault with the Generation e1.1 — REI has done a great job putting together a bike with real bike shop support at a price that's competitive with direct-to-consumer brands, and that's a very compelling proposition for new e-bike purchasers. If you’re in the market for a first e-bike and want something utilitarian you can share with your household, family or friends, it should be on your list. It even looks pretty snazzy in its range of earth tones and cool colors.