A year ago I might have seen 1 or 2 e-bikes per week on the paths I cycling daily. This past Sunday I counted a new one-day record; 11 e-bikes. I regularly see 4 or 5 a day now.
Cycling Industry News projects a 60% growth of e-bike sales per year over the next 5 years. Europe saw a 50% growth just this past year and there has been a 340% growth in the number of e-bike makers importing or manufacturing bikes for the USA market. Like them or not; they are only going to become more frequent.
The argument against them sounds trite when you actually discuss it with a non-hardcore cyclist. Any means of power assisted cycling is strictly forboden. Most of the hard core road cyclists I’ve spoken with feel like it’s “cheating” – as if riding on your bike path for fitness or enjoyment is some sort of UCI sanctioned competition.
My issue with e-bikes has stemmed from my primary use of the bicycle: fitness. If your e-bike’s motor is doing the majority of the hard work you are not getting the maximum benefit from your ride.
I’ve been against e-bikes for people who want to ride bikes for health and fitness improvement… until now.
Then comes a 73 year-old gentleman named Hans on the bike path today. To date, I’ve not come across an e-bike rider who even with their bike’s motor wide-open can take me on the flat paths I ride each day. I can cruise at 25-28 miles an hour for the entire length of the course (3.56 miles) and if need be can burst for 200 yards or so at 30-33 miles per hour (depending on wind speed and direction). So I came up on Hans and after a couple of minutes of closing the gap between us I passed him. It was in passing him that I became interested in learning his story.
I came to the only intersection that you have to stop at on the course – where the dedicated bike path crosses a residential street, and I waited for him.
He was happy to discuss why he purchased his e-bike and what he thought about it. He’d had it a week and had put 45 miles on it. Wait. Hold on. A 73 year old who hasn’t ridden a bicycle in years had put 45 miles on a bicycle in a week? He said he’d gotten rid of his BMW motorcycle and missed the freedom and sensation of riding on two wheels. Plus he didn’t always let his bike do the work. He was getting exercise out of the deal.
I asked him if he’d be out riding a bicycle, miles from his house if it wasn’t an e-bike and he said probably not.
He said that having the ability to use the bike’s motor to quickly get up to speed or tackle a big hill gave him the security he felt he needed to get out and explore on a bicycle.
And like that, with one conversation; I was sold.
If having the security of knowing that you can get back up the hill that you live on is what you need to get out on a bicycle in the first place, then YES! Go get an e-bike. So long as you are using your legs to power the bike in times when you can feel safe to do so.
Remember that you only need to get your heart above 125 beats per minute for 20 minutes a day to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer by 50%!
I can see where the convenience of the e-bike for everything from commuting back and forth to work or the grocery store, to light fitness and enjoying nature, can introduce new market segments to cycling that otherwise would not have ever considered cycling as a choice.
I’m now looking at e-bikes as sort of a gateway drug for cycling; use them to get started with cycling and move towards traditional bicycles once the fever takes hold.
What’s great about e-bikes is that they can be as frivolous or as utilitarian as standard bicycles. The cargo e-bike looks especially intelligent for the commuter or for those who want to use their bike for shopping.
And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m very intrigued by the fat-tire mountain e-bike. To me that thing looks like it’s so much fun it should be illegal. Which brings me to my last point about e-bikes; there’s a big dark legal cloud hanging over them here in the USA.
Basically the questions about e-bikes from the government standpoint are:
- Should they be taxed like cars and motorcycles?
- Should they require a special driver’s permit like cars and motorcycles?
- Where should they be allowed?
The first two are pretty straight forward and the general thought is that the e-bike is very similar to the gasoline powered moped. It’s when we get to #3 that things get really dicey for the argument can be made that powered bikes are dangerous on cycling paths AND on roads.
I’m not your typical weekend warrior cyclist. I’m the fastest cyclist on my local courses each day I go out. Not bragging. It’s just fact. If I can pass you, you can’t keep up with me. And I’ve yet to come across anyone who could pass me. So when I say that I can pass e-bikes or draft off them (much to the chagrin of their riders which amuses me); I know this isn’t the norm.
The average cyclist pedals between 12 and 17 miles per hour. The typical e-bike is capable of 23 – 25 miles per hour; plus e-bike accelerate rapidly. I know from experience that you really need to be ultra aware of any cyclist you are approaching at 25 miles per hour for if they are distracted with music or wind noise they might drift in front of you and you have milliseconds to respond and evade. Most e-bike riders probably won’t be able to because e-bikes are VERY HEAVY – they weigh 5 or 6 times more than a standard road bike.
So what about riding e-bikes on the street? It’s the opposite issue. They are fast for bicycles but no where near as fast as a car. Unless the street has a bike lane on the shoulder it’s not safe to ride in a lane on street like a car or motorcycle would. If you ride your e-bike in the bicycle lane on a street we’re back to the issue in the previous paragraph.
Many cities are drafting laws restricting or outright outlawing e-bikes. If you have your heart set on one make sure you thoroughly investigate your city and state’s laws first.
Legal issues and scornful looks from snobby cyclists aside; I now feel that if the difference between you riding a bike and not riding a bike at all (ever) – is the difference between your bike having an electric assist motor or not – GET THE E-BIKE AND I’LL LOOK FOR YOU ON THE BIKE PATHS!