E-Bikes and Accessibility – An Argument for Electric Assist

E-Bike

As electric-assist bicycles (e-bikes) have become more popular in this country, a divide has developed between those who support their use, and those who view them as something other than “real” bikes. Some have even gone so far as to suggest they be totally banned. The reasons behind the negative reaction to e-bikes range from their potential incompatibility with traditional bicycles in bike lanes and on multi-use paths, to the mis-placed belief that electric-assist is somehow “cheating”.

In our view, e-bikes are all about accessibility, which is perfectly in line with our mission of getting people out of their cars and onto bikes.

In our view, e-bikes are all about accessibility, which is perfectly in line with our mission of getting people out of their cars and onto bikes. There are many reasons why a person might choose to ride an electric-assist bike. A few examples include a physical limitation or medical reason; to avoid perspiring in work or dress clothes; to overcome impossibly difficult terrain; or, to reduce the commute time of an unusually long commute. We see these as valid reasons, and if they get someone out of a car and onto a smaller, less environmentally impacting vehicle (perhaps someone who would otherwise not be on a bike), then we fully support their use. We view e-bikes as enabling and inclusive, and we certainly don’t see them as “cheating”.

Because they’re just now becoming popular in this country, where e-bikes will fit within the already confusing mix of road and trail users is yet to be seen. We’ll have to work out the details of where they’re allowed, what types of limitations should be put on maximum speed and power, and so forth. These are difficult questions, but they can be answered, and surely we can find a place for e-bike riders among other road users.

At one point we mentioned providing more e-bike coverage, but as we looked into the dizzying array of models on the market, we decided to leave it to the specialists. Fortunately, Peter Eland over at VeloVision has launched a second magazine devoted solely to e-bikes called Electric Bike Magazine. If it ends up being anything like VV, it will be the source of information for all things related to electric-assist bicycles.

Resources
Electric Bike Magazine
NYCeWheels
E-Bikes in the NYT

35 Responses to “E-Bikes and Accessibility – An Argument for Electric Assist”

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    I super disagree with the “cheating” perspective. It seems overwhelmingly macho. It’s as if to say if you’re not experiencing maximum exertion, you’re not really cycling. It’s like a runner telling a rollerblader that he’s cheating. What a load of crap. Maybe we should call it cheating if you’re using your legs. The paraplegics with hand cycles are definitely not “cheating”.

    Also, I would add cargo capacity to the list of reasons to use electric assist. It seems to me that 200 pounds of cargo up hill is a great argument for electric assist.

  • Ray says:

    I think the Idea of an electric (cordless?)bike is great. My main concern is the quantity of lead batteries which will end up in landfill because of ignorance or indifference on the part of owners and businesses. Lead batteries have very a short life when they discharged frequently. Nicad batteries can be left uncharged for long periods of time without damage and can be fully discharged on a regular basis without damage. These are not as common because of cost and they must also be disposed of properly.

  • Fergie says:

    I agree with the Gorilla’s reason for electric assist. Cargo capacity is a big one for me, and the best application of this technology for me personally. Something like a longtail bike with an electric hub motor would get me to the store with my bike where I currently use the car. Generally I’m in favor of lighter and simpler when possible, but being able to ride around with an extra passenger or equivalent cargo weight at a similar exertion level is compelling.

    As far as ‘cheating’ goes, that just points to the fact that electric assist breaks club rules. If you’re not actually part of the club, you don’t have to worry about the rules do you? Cyclists tend to self organize into like minded groups that I’ll call ‘clubs’ even if they aren’t formalized as such. If you’re a roadie who goes on club rides with your buddies and someone shows up with an electric assist bike, you can bet that will be frowned upon. If you don’t care, all the better..

  • Alan says:

    @Ray

    Certainly there needs to be information available to e-bike owners about how to properly dispose of spent batteries (and perhaps legislation to back it up), just as there needs to be information about how to dispose of retired electronics and automotive waste fluids for computer users and car owners.

    I think it’s important to consider the environmental impact of e-bikes in the context of using them as car replacements. In that regard, they’re a major improvement over the status quo.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Garth Madison says:

    The last thing we need is to call someone a cheater just because they are riding an electric bike. The more cyclists out there, the better for all of us. We have enough negative pressure on ridership numbers from unfriendly or unskilled motorists and from insufficient infrastructure. I agree with Ray, that battery technology and disposal is an issue, though that is a larger city-wide recycling issue.

    Garth-

  • Whistler says:

    The more, the merrier I say. Over here in Holland the e-bikes have really come on strong and even in a country that is 99% accessible with a single speed, the extra support of the motor can keep one less car on the (already) busy highways and keep one more person actively engaged in the out-of-doors. Any enviromental impacts need to be responsibly dealt with of course and it seems to me that now is the time for the “biking community” as a whole to get ahead of that curve through a little constructive inclusivity and coaching and not take a hands-off approach. A good friend of mine rode her regular bike, rain or shine, several miles each way to work every day until MS robbed her of the strength to do the whole ride; she is now assisted by her e-bike when a (too strong) head wind or the actions of the MS take her strength. As our population here, and in the USA, gets abit – shall we say – grayer on top, I expect e-bikes to become more common and more efficient. And speaking for myself, when the time comes that I cannot push the pedals and get around on my current bikes, I’ll strap an e-motor on my single speed Surly CC and make like a kid again…

  • Grateful says:

    As in “The Field of Dreams”, build them and they will come, (to ride them).

    E-bikes are WONDERFUL. I’ve never ridden one, but I think they are a great addition to the options available to our transportation possibilities. They HAVE to be better than cars/SUV’s/etc.

    THEY DON’T USE LEAD ACID BATTERIES. They use Ni-Cad, Lithium Ion, and soon if not already, Lithium Polymer.

    So I say, build, sell & ride them NOW – and all the busybodies will just naturally jump in and start “regulating”. Regulators are just morons with nothing on their own plate, anyway – who think they have a right and a duty to get in everyone else’s business.

  • MT Cyclist says:

    In my town, the bike paths that aren’t part of a roadway all have signs that say, “No motorized vehicles.”
    Obviously they aim to prohibit motorcycles and ATVs from invading territory that’s intended for cyclists and pedestrians. I think e-bikes, though rare in my town, would be welcomed on bike paths. On the other hand, I’m not sure whether state law defines an electric-assisted bicycle as a “motor vehicle.”

  • TimBo says:

    If riding an electric bike is cheating, then using an electric washing machine is cheating, or using any other electric device is cheating for that matter. Most things we use electricity for today were once done by human power.

    I don’t have a car, so I ride to work every day. I have knee pain from an unfortunate non-biking accident in January and it flares up after riding day in day out. So in September I bought a cheap electric kit and installed it on an old mountain bike. When I first started riding it to work, I would disengage the throttle whenever I was near another cyclist so they might not see that it was electric. Even though I knew this feeling of embarrassment was silly, I felt like explaining to everyone why I was riding with electric assist. Now, I’m over the embarrassment. It doesn’t go over 15 mph on the flats and I adjust my speed to the conditions just as I do on my regular bike, in other words I use it safely around other cyclists and pedestrians.

    Having this electric assist bike has been amazing for me. On days that I am feeling a little under the weather, or my knee hurts, or I just don’t feel like pedaling 9 miles, I take the electric. Now, if I have a short errand on the weekend that I don’t feel like riding to, I take the electric instead of taking my wife’s car. In this way it has reduced my “footprint”. I track my miles and I still ride my pedal bike the majority of the time but that e-bike makes up about 40% of the trips.

    I think electric assist could accommodate many people who would otherwise take a car, and therefore get more cyclists on the roads.

  • RDW says:

    I did a short 3 day tour last month part of which covered a 32 mile trail running between my town and Lake Michigan. There was an elderly couple riding a pair of e-bikes; I encountered them on the way out and again on the way back. They were obviously having a great time and even though neither of them appeared to be in bad health I had the impression that the electric assist bikes had opened up a new world for them. Or maybe reopened a world which had been lost to them. I believe that they were technically violating the “no motorized vehicles” rule on the trail but can’t imagine that anyone would have complained, although I could imagine that becoming an issue as e-bike use increases here.

    I do think that state/local agencies will soon reach a point where they have to decide how to classify these vehicles and what rules apply to them. When you put a gas engine on a bicycle it becomes something else and (other than the environmentally friendly nature of e-bikes) I’m not sure if this is so different.

    I certainly don’t consider it cheating but for me I think it would take away some of what I enjoy about cycling. But I’m not ruling it out either. And I’m certainly not knocking it.

    BTW I don’t remember the name but one of the Photo Contest entries featured an e-trike which I’m pretty sure was home grown and which I thought looked fascinating. Dual drive on the rear wheel(s), pedal and electric. Heavy on the geek factor and that could be the selling point for me on the whole idea.

  • MikeBo says:

    I agree with TimBo.
    My main commuter is an electric assist for a good reason. I just plain love riding it. It gets me to work on time. The hills don’t kill me. I can easily take my son to his preschool (which is great in so many ways).

    I’m in good shape. I’m not physically limited. So I really don’t need “assistance”. But I will say that there is no way I could have realistically sold my car if I didn’t have the electric assist. Is it “cheating”? I’ll let other people worry about that. For me, there are few things more pleasing than riding home after work, with the moon over the horizon, and feeling that crisp air in your face. And the assist just let’s me do it more often.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    I’m all in favor of ebikes for those who want/need them. I think their relatively low maximum speeds (I suspect largely required to maintain decent battery life) will keep them “pseudo legal” on trails. Perhaps some day the trails will have to be signed “Electric motor vehicles speed limit 15 MPH” or something similar.

    I went to the Electric Bike Magazine website. Not to start “the debate” again, but I found it Interesting to note that all but two of the riders in the magazine photos were without helmets (I think most of them were in Europe). Perhaps ebikes appeal to more “normal” folks who may be less likely to don a helmet.

  • Joseph E says:

    As long as electric bikes sold in North America are limited to 20 mph max speeds, and perhaps 15 mph on cycletracks and multiple use trails, I welcome them.

    However, I’ve read that in China and some other Asian countries many “electric bicycles” are being sold with abilities more similar to a motor-scooter. These are capable of 30 or 35 mph speeds, and really should be treated the same as Vespas or other low-powered motorcycles.

    As long as there is a clear legal distinction between “electric mopeds” or “electric motor scooters” and low-max-speed e-bikes, they should be a big benefit for many people. And perhaps after the battery dies one too many times, some of those new e-bike users will just decide to hop back on a regular, all-human-power bike.

  • Larry Guevara says:

    I’m fortunate that my 18-mile round trip commute has a variety of options for a bike-friendly trip. I can ride my recumbent or upright bike, take several bus-bike options, or take my electric Lightning Phantom with an Ecospeed motor. The electric bike is the fastest option of all, which is important for me on days when there are early morning meetings or I have a late start.

    The recent CNN article “From bomb maker wannabe to e-bike revolutionary” (http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/11/12/electric.bike.hackers/index.html?hpt=Sbin) had a quote from a Colorado bike shop general manager who said “It’s lazy Americanism. It’s like we’re still trying to avoid doing some work that isn’t that hard — work that will make you feel great.” I don’t agree with that sentiment, but look at electric bikes as another energy, time, and cost saving alternative.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I think the easiest way to deal with the distinction between different types of bikes and e-bikes, is to limit speed capacity. I believe this is how it’s done in the EU.

  • Martin says:

    Like MikeBo, I’m a man in fine physical shape, and I love my 2-month old Kalkhoff e-bike harder than I ever imagined I would. I’d been commuting and getting groceries by bike in Portland for four or five years and had internalized the ‘routes of least resistance’ without really trying. Those are gone now. It’s fantastically liberating. I’m still pedaling, but it’s like I’ve got calves the size of small turkeys. Most of the time I take the lane and act like a car. We’re a two e-bike house, and they’ve chopped a whole lot more car trips out of our life. It’s a blast.

  • Efried says:

    Further functions are needed to make the bicycle a tool for elderly and disabled persons, I see a lot of chances especially with multi-track vehicles.

  • ontariobacon says:

    Riding a bicycle is not hard work. Riding up hills won’t “kill” you. You can use an appropriate gear for the hill, and if you commute the same route each day, you will increase your endurance and after a while hardly notice the hills you ride.

    You don’t need an e-bike to get groceries on your bike.

    For carrying a 200 lb. cargo…how often do people really do that? Even with a car? And are e-bikes good for that purpose? Are they better than a cargo bike? What happens if there is a malfunction with the motor or you run out of charge?

    A regular bicycle is simpler and more reliable.

    E-bikes are heavy. My basis for stating this is that I picked one up once in a bike shop. It weighed a ton. I admit this was a small sample, but it was enough for me. They would be hard to carry in and out of buildings. You might even hurt your back lugging one around.

    How easy are they to maintain? Most people can do all the maintenance they ever need on their own bicycle.

    How safe are they? How do you dispose of them?

    I am not convinced that an e-bike is necessarily faster than a regular bicycle in all cases. Some may be, some may be slower. I am certainly not the fastest cyclist around, but I have not had one moment when I wished I had an “electric assist.” And almost all the time I would not want the cumbersome battery, motor, etc. weighing down my bicycle.

    For people who are physically disabled, yes it does sound like a good option. For people with reduced fitness, a bicycle would still be a better choice, because their fitness and health will improve with a normal bicycle.

    As for the use of motorized vehicles on bike trails…what about electric motorcycles then, and electric scooters, and why not throw Segways into the mix? The only reason electric vehicles may seem acceptable on trails now is that they are rare. If they become more popular, and faster, and bigger ( picture a motorized tricycle that can travel at 30 mph ) it will cause many of the same problems we have sharing the roads with automobiles.

    The beauty of a bicycle is the simplicity, the elegance, the self-sufficiency. We already went the route of the powered bicycle, which led to the automobile. Can someone remind me what the rationale was at that time?

  • Ralph Aichinger says:

    E-bikes were quite heavily subsidized here in Austria in the last year (up to about $500 depending on municipality) and therefore I have seen a few “out in the wild” (haven’t ridden one though). A few experiences:

    Sharing bike paths with them is no problem at all, on the contrary, I am happy that these e-cyclists are not clogging paths with really slow speeds (like below 10km per hour). I would not like to share narrow paths with noisy mopeds, though. The silent motor and low weight (in case of a collision!) makes a huge difference to me. E-Bikes are pleasant to share traffic with, really.

    More cyclists are good, for “safety in numbers” reasons. What’s not to like? I am really glad that this trend pulls in new demographies.

    More transport cyclists (as opposed to sports cyclists). There have been
    models marketed towards mountain bikers here (going uphill with assist, riding downhill without), but the majority of electrically assisted bikes are for transport. I think that is good.

    I think subsidizing e-bikes heavily (like it happened here) and not other types of expensive bikes clearly intended for transport (like say cargo bikes) is somewhat unjust, and it might also be rather ineffective. Winter is starting now, and these newly recruited e-cyclists have all but disappeared. I am therefore not quite convinced that this recent trend towards electric bikes will be a long-term successs. But all in all I cannot really find a single bad aspect of these new assisted bikes, in practice, if they are used.

  • RJD says:

    Thanks for this post Alan. I’m all for electric bikes for all the reasons stated in previous comments. I’m an avid bike commuter and recreational rider. My wife, without an electric assist bike, would no longer be a part of this due to health problems. Even better, now she’s the one who tows the Burley full of beach gear to avoid the car/suv traffic on the Cape. :-)

    As electric bikes emerge I hope there will be distinctions between types. With electric assist the motor augments pedal effort. If you don’t pedal, you don’t go. There is no throttle other than to select the percentage your pedal effort added by the motor. This type should be permitted on any bike infrastructure – maybe with power/speed limitations.

    Other types of electric bikes, with throttles independent of pedaling, start to move into a grey zone that leads to electric mopeds and scooters. Some thought is needed to decide where to draw the line on this continuum. Bikes like this, when they are compatible with traditional, people powered bike use, should be allowed to use the bike infrastructure.

    Throttle controlled electric bikes that are too powerful/fast should be classified as motor vehicles and regulated as such.

  • D'Arcy says:

    Battery disposal and recycling issues do have to be ironed out but every new person to cycling “and” electric cycling means one less car. Anything that heads us in the direction of doing more with less is good.

  • taomom says:

    I have both an electric-assist bicycle and a regular bicycle. I live up a big, big hill in San Francisco. I use my electric-assist bicycle (which also has an Xtracycle attachment) for when I’m hauling things (my 13 year-old-daughter or five bags of groceries) or when I absolutely don’t want to get sweaty (going to the symphony or opera). When it’s just me I’m hauling around, I ride my regular bike, even though it often means I’m pushing it up the last quarter mile home.

    My husband also has both an electric-assist and a regular bike. He rides the regular bike for exercise and to commute to work but takes the electric when he wants to pop down to the grocery store (down the big, big hill) or not get sweaty or commute to work on rainy days.

    I got my electric-assist to perform functions that would otherwise necessitate my car. There are certainly drawbacks over a regular bike–it is expensive, so I worry about it getting stolen more; it is heavy (with the Xtracycle it’s 80 lbs) so it means I rely on the motor for any kind of acceleration and I go through brakes quickly; and in some ways, it’s too easy, so if I want exercise, I really need to take my regular bike. But it has enabled me over the last three years to cut the number of car trips I take each week in half. ( I am a forty-nine year old mother of three.)

    As to maintenance, I take it to my electric bike guy once a year for a tune up, but I take my regular bike in once a year to the bike shop for a tune up also. I have a LiFEPO4 battery that, in theory, will last me 6 – 10 years (battery technology is still evolving) but when it loses too much capacity, it can be recycled.

    There is a big difference between an electric scooter with some minimal pedals, and a bicycle with an electric assist. When I ride my bike, I pedal constantly, and I estimate I am providing 70% or so of the effort. Though being entirely under one’s own power is (I admit) a bit more rewarding, I am very glad to have my electric-assist for the purposes I put it to. And I would gladly rather share the road with electric bicycles over smelly, noisy, road-hogging cars any day.

  • Urb Anwriter says:

    Gas bag warning. I got to the bottom of this and it was way longer than I intended. It’s still way longer..

    I’ll wade in with my own opinion(s) – based in part on years actually fixing bicycles, including early players in the electric conversion market – though this is one of those subjects where cognitive dissonance rears menacingly in the background.

    A lot of my personal cycling is mood control as much as anything, and piloting an electric (or electric-assist) bicycle is just not going to fulfill that role. So I’ll stick with plain, unassisted, pedals. Thanks.

    But. I’m in good (relatively) health for my age. Yet as a age, and acquire one of the Civia Halsteds, would add-on electric assist make sense when that is my primary grocery-getter? Maybe.

    My greatest concern however is parts, service, reliability, maintainability, repairability and issues along those lines. I once heard that the difference between aircraft and automobiles was that cars were ‘repairable,’ while aircraft were ‘maintainable.’ That difference implies active engagement on the operator’s behalf – ‘maintain’ regularly (like Alan’s chains ) and things will last. But in a market that is fashion-aware will there be parts available? As two very simplistic examples suggest, the answer is either ‘no,’ or ‘can’t be done.’

    The first is something only peripherally related to electrics; replaceable derailer (Sheldon spelling) hangers. The original problem was aluminum frames being crashed, and being written off because there was no way to reliably repair the derailer hanger. So begat replaceable hangers. And now, one supplier of replacements, lists over 100 different hangers. The odds that you’ll be able to walk in to the local bike shop and get one for your new bike? And what about getting one 5 years from now?

    Will batteries (often custom packaged to fit an available space) be replaceable? Will you be able to walk in to bicycle shop and say ‘yes, I bought the XY 47 Aggressor from you three years ago and I’d like a new battery pack.’ Given the industry’s long-standing reliance on starry-eyed kids as a labour resource I wouldn’t even bet that the poor kid even knows who amongst their various suppliers ‘made’ the XY 47, let alone whether a battery is available. And batteries are only one, tiny, bit of the whole. What about the electronic controls? What about cabling, clutches (yes, Miranda, some have Torrington’s, always under-sized and prone to failure), and all the other bits?

    And, as ‘Electric Bike’ points out in the premier issue, most batteries for electric bikes are only warranted to hold circa 60% of original capacity at 2 years of age. 60%? Damn, cut your cars gas tank that much and see how reasonable it sounds. Or turn your V-10 Viper (be still my beating heart) into a V-6 if that sounds like a good deal. And that is at 2 years. So every 2 or 3 years you have to buy new, or rebuild, your battery system.

    One other problem is ‘electricity’ itself. A long, long time ago I was amazed at how few service personnel understood the basics of electricity – and how that lack affected their ability to service the vehicles in their charge. For the philosophically minded, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ of the much newer ‘Shop Craft as Soul Craft’ come to mind for their examination and explication of critical thinking in service or repair work come to mind. Or, more simply, how is someone who doesn’t understand the simple difference between +5 V, 0, and -5 V going to tackle the repairs to your electric bike?

    Damn, I’d better put a (gas bag) warning at the top of this…

  • E-Bikes: My Experiences » Sweat365 » Fitness Community | Do The Right Thing says:

    […] at Eco-Velo, Alan is making the case for E-bikes as an introduction to the accessible benefits (and joys?) of two wheels over the illusory freedom […]

  • Wayne says:

    I read somewhere that apparently here in Switzerland some 7% of all new bikes sold in the last year were e-Bikes, and that the expectation is that this proportion will only increase over the next years.

    I would say that the great majority of the e-bike riders are older. Many of them are using e-bikes for short 5km or so trips, shopping and so on. Some of them are using them for day tours, and it’s a pleasure to see older people being able to ride hilly areas that wouldn’t be able to without e-assist. There’s even a special 244km route called the Herz Route, designed specifically for e-bikes, with strategically located stations where spent batteries can be exchanged for topped-up ones.

    I don’t know what the max speed of the bikes is, but some younger riders have left me for dead going up hill – and I’m a climber!

    There have been articles that have said that the number of bicycle accidents with e-bikes have gone up. Many e-bike riders aren’t experienced riders, especially at higher speeds, so maybe aren’t aware of the dangers of such speeds. Also, drivers aren’t expecting such bikes to travelling at high speeds, and so don’t make the proper allowances. I often surprise drivers when travelling at 35kph (22mph) – which isn’t really that fast.

    I’m happy about e-bikes if they get people out of their cars, but if they start taking riders off normal bikes, then that would be a worrying trend. My other concern is that as the technology improves, there will be more assist and less effort, and so would the distinction between an electrically-assisted bicycle and an electric motorbike be?

  • Darryl says:

    I currently ride both electric and conventional bikes, and love both! I hadn’t ridden bikes much since I was a kid until a couple years ago. Back then we lived on our bikes and loved it. It was our ticket to freedom. Building my first electric reintroduced me to the pleasures of biking as an adult! Being able to ride to work and not be hot and sweaty when I got there was a deal changer for me. I loved it so much I started riding regular bikes again too. Now, I ride regular bikes more than the electric. I use the electric for grocery runs, night rides and work commuting. The electric battery pack provides some great light options for night riding.

    As others have also stated, I too don’t have a lot of interest in biking as a sport. I love them for the pleasure they provide, their beauty, and for transportation. A couple of times last year I was told that I “was cheating” by some sport bikers. I politely point out that I’m riding for pleasure and transportation and not sport nor a contest. I think eventually the attitudes will change. I’m told that when Mountain Biking first came out, they also were not welcomed by the sport bikers.

    As far as the bike path issues, there are those who love speed and this is their main reason for riding. It’s true of some e-bikers and sport riders, and I’m okay with that. However, fast riding causes problems on bike paths regardless of the propulsion method. Singling out the e-bikers as potential trouble makers is turning a blind eye to a problem that already exists. I’m okay with fast riders, and I’m glad they enjoy biking as much as me. But, bike paths/multi-use paths are probably not the right place for fast riding, regular or electric. Using fast riding as an argument to ban electrics from the path is myopic.

  • TimBo says:

    It looks like most people commenting here agree that e-bikes are a good thing for cycling, so it doesn’t seem very controversial (at least with the Ecovelo crowd).

    California classifies e-bikes as regular bicycles as long as the bike can be pedaled without the assist and as long as it doesn’t go over 20mph. So most e-bikes have governors on them to keep the speed below 20. The Currie kit I installed cost me $300 and it has a sealed lead acid battery. I wanted a cheap way in to see how I felt about it. It hasn’t shown any degradation in charge in 3 months, but when the battery gets old I will definitely recycle it, just like I recycle all batteries and electronics. I’ll probably upgrade to a non-SLA battery for the next one, depending on how long this SLA and/or motor lasts. I expect the cost for quality kits will come down due to economies of scale, so I’m excited about future options.

    When looking into purchasing the kit, I saw a lot of gas powered kits available for less $ than any electric kit. Fortunately, e-bikes seem to be much more prevalent here than the gas bikes, since the gas bikes are stinky and loud. I would support a ban on gas bikes on bike and multi-use trails due to the noise and air pollution. However, I believe the gas bikes are currentlyl classified as a bicycle in CA if they are under 50cc (or something like that).

    I do agree with Darryl that inappropriate speeds for safety with other trail users can be and are achieved by people on regular pedal bikes as well.

    My favorite way to ride by far, is by my own power on my regular bikes. The exercise I get while riding is invigorating and I get home feeling great. I’ll be pedaling as long as I can, but it is nice to have a backup e-bike sometimes.

  • Mark says:

    I’m not particularly interested in getting an e-bike, but if they allow people who would otherwise drive to ride a bike, then I’d say they’re a good idea.

  • Josh Lipton says:

    Great discussion going on here. As a lifelong “conventional” cyclist I’m another fan of welcoming e-bikes into the fold with a wide embrace.

    The silly concern that seems to linger for whether or not e-bikes are cheating got me thinking from the reverse side of the spectrum. What about the idea of sanctioned electric bicycle racing?

    For this work as form of bicycle racing, I imagine that e-bikes would be limited in weight perhaps to 50 or 60 pounds so that they wouldn’t essentially be electric motorcycles with pedals. This would both make for an exciting form of racing and would also likely help to push forward electric bike technology.

    Arguments for how bike racing impacts the development and availability of products for utility cycling go both ways. While a strong bike industry focus on sport and racing, leads to many of the essential, everyday, user-friendly bike designs being overlooked, it can also be argued that many of the advances in design and technology inspired by bicycle racing have a very positive effect especially on bicycle component design.

    It seems that electric bikes would benefit from the focus on performance that bike racing would lend to it at this relatively early stage of their use and development

  • Sam Mahony says:

    I work a minimum 14 hour day and ride a 34 mile round trip commute. 3 years ago I put together a pedal assist commuter bike that now has 9000 miles on it. What a fantastic tool!
    Sometimes I ride my regular old school bike, sometimes I ride the pedal assist. The e-bike is just another arrow in the quiver. That there could be any debate over the merits or acceptability of e-bikes is absurd. Yes, the battery will need to be recycled but that is not an issue. We use a lot of batteries at my work which we recycle and the company will recycle my bike battery when the time comes. As far as riding on the e-bike on a MUP, hey a jerk is a jerk regardless of their type of bike. My biggest gripe with the electric bike is the occasional roadie drafting a lift.

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    Speaking of electric assist, my wife asks if you can add an electric assist manufacturer section to the links page.

  • peteathome says:

    I have been a recreational and transportational cyclist all my life. I put an ebike kit ( Bionx) on my commute bike when I was having a flare-up of neurological symptoms. Now I’m in remission and I still use it.

    I do recreational rides on an unassisted bike. But most of my transportational riding is done on the assited bike. I love the fact that I can do most of my riding in the summer in my work clothes with a much reduced sweat factor. And I can do longer transportational rides at somewhat higher speeds and without getting too tired.

    Even in the peak-of-health as a youth I might not ride 20 miles each way to an appointment. Now I do. The assisted bike has almost completely displaced my use of a car. And 30 lbs. of groceries, no problem. I do our weekly grocery run on the bike instead of the car.

    All these things I could do on a regular bike or a cargo bike. But I definitely like this better even though my health is currently good. I don’t need to change clothes every time I run a longer errand, I get there somwhat faster and less tired, as I said earlier.

    But because I use the bike ALL the time, I’m getting more daily exercise than I did with an unassited bike, even when completely healthy. So I’m not going back.

    Re: earlier poster saying if ebikes why not electric motorcycles?:
    Legal ebikes in this country are limited in power and peak speed (20 mph max, except in California). Also, most of this discussion is about “assisted” bikes which work with human power, resulting in much lighter bicycles and much longer ranges than an all-electric work system would get. I normally run in a 50/50 mix for my longer commutes and grocery runs, less (down to zero) on shorter runs.

    The cheaper ebikes which use lead-acid batteries ARE heavy. But my Li-ion kit, including hub motor and battery, adds 15-16 lbs to the weight of my bike. Not exactly feather-light, but I ride it all the time with the system turned off and don’t even notice it. If I know I don’t need it, I’ll pull the battery off leaving only the hub-motor which adds only a few pounds.

    I also agree that an ebike is more complex than a regular bike. If soemthing went wrong, I probably could not service it myself on the road. But in my case, I would just ride it as a regular bike, no problem. I had that happen a couple of times when I first installed it until I realized I had a cable not coupled all the way. Since then I’ve had zero problems in my three years of ownership, but it is a very high quality, and ecpensive, kit. We don’t have a network yet of ebike servicers, so if I did have a breakdown I’d have to ship the broken component to one of the Bionx distributers and then wait many weeks for the repair. That is a problem.

  • ‘Don’t Be a Jerk’ | Commute by Bike says:

    […] if you have any thoughts for or against e-bikes, you might consider this reasoned article from EcoVelo: There are many reasons why a person might choose to ride an electric-assist bike. A […]

  • Jerome says:

    Today was my first day on my e-assist bike. I live in Calgary where winters are extremely cold and my daily commute is 45 kms. So last year I got turned off commuting in the winter because no matter what gear I had if it was colder than minus 15 celsius after 45 minutes, I would start to freeze my toes, hands and my face was definately cold. So I am trying this method of comuting for the winter and I have not made up my mind yet on wheter I willl go back and ride my regular commuter bike in the summer or the ebike. I appreciate everyone’s comments as a personal reflection on a somewhat fairly new invention. I am conscious of other users on bike paths/multiuse paths and I hope I don’t have to take public transit anymore as if I take the ebike 100%, it will pay for itself in about 18 months.

  • Mark says:

    My wife is an executive at a major health spa in the mountains. Her commute to work is 11 miles–from 7,000 to 9,000 feet. She’s a serious biker–we have a tandem and she has a high end Ti bike equipped with a Rohloff, Gates Carbon drive etc. But for work she often uses her Giant Twist Freedom ebike simply because she can ride to work without the need to take a shower.

    With the ever greater numbers of specialist type bicycles, ebikes are just one more option that not only gets more people out of their cars and riding, but expands the options for those of us who are already riding seriously.

 
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