“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
~ John F. Kennedy
Hold on to your helmets! Even the savvy JFK would be astonished by the revolution happening on our roads, trails and in our mountains. Electric bicycles (aka: electric-assist or e-bikes) are the new frontier in cycling.
As an avid cyclist and triathlete, I was skeptical about having my wheels electrified. Where was the no-pain, no-gain? Deep in my self-righteous heart, I felt an e-bike was cheating. Fine for some, but not for me.
THEN I RODE ONE...
Days before flying to New Zealand for a nine-day cycling adventure, I sprained my ankle. Cancelling meant non-refundable dollars lost and worse yet, suffering my husband’s acute disappointment. Acquiescing, I called the rental company and exchanged my road bike for an electric bike.
Even with a nasty sprain, I managed the distances and hills of the West Coast of South Island on an e-bike. After joyfully riding more than 900 km, I was a convert!
What many of us believe about electric bikes is misguided. To set us straight, I sat down with Karen Bates and her husband, Jim, co-founders of two local bike stores, Fresh Air Experience and Fresh Air Concept.
ELECTRIC BIKES TAKE CHARGE!
Recently, the worldwide market for e-bikes has been gaining as much momentum as a Tour de France cyclist racing to a stage finish. The trend started in Europe and has now exploded into North America.
According to the Bates, the increase in popularity of electric bikes is nothing short of “mind-blowing.” Their sales have increased over 100% each year for the past three.
“Improvements in engineering have driven popularity,” Jim says. “The batteries are now located on the down tube and the motor is in the drive train rather than the back hub. Plus, new electric bikes are much lighter than they used to be. That means, the latest generation rides like a normal bike. Only easier!”
“Here in the Okanagan,” Karen adds. “We’re seeing customers we’ve never seen before, because it’s so enabling. People who haven’t biked in ages – or at all - can get out there and experience the joy of cycling.”
Bike manufacturers like Trek and Specialized are now in the e-bike game. “From cruisers and hybrids great for commuting,” Jim says, “to hard-tail and full suspension mountain and road bikes…you can now buy any style of bicycle with electric assist.”
Prices vary. The Bates say you should expect to pay $2,800 at an entry level and more for a higher quality, “carbon-everything” bike. Considerably less and more eco-friendly than buying, insuring and operating the cheapest of cars.
CYCLIST'S LITTLE HELPER
At the end of a 135-km cycling day in New Zealand, I concluded the “e” in e-bike should stand for exercise because, trust me, I still had to pedal.
Even though I could zip up soul-destroying hills and cruise over rough terrain without huffing, puffing and suffering - albeit with a little help from my trusty electric steed - I still had to push those pedals for the full 135 kilometers. As with any bicycle, if I stopped, it did too.
When I needed extra oomph, I adjusted the power mode from Econ (low) to my personal favorite, Turbo (high). Turbo boost felt like a delicious tail wind; one I could summon at will. But beware, I learned from personal experience, the more you use Turbo, the shorter your battery life. Grinding up a hill the old fashioned way – with no e-assist - can be a grueling sweat-fest.
Jim explains the mechanics: “E-bikes have gears just like any traditional bike, but the motor supplements the momentum generated by the cyclist’s legs with a boost of power. The cyclist controls the amount of help by choosing the level of assistance.”
Yes, it’s another device to deal with, but once fully charged, how far will a battery take you?
“If it’s hilly, expect a range of a hundred kilometers,” Karen says, “but on the flats, you can ride about 170 kilometers. Ultimately, battery life depends on how often and how much you use the motor. Nowadays though, battery chargers are small and can be used in any 220-outlet. Just think, you can plug-in while you’re enjoying a break for lunch and a lovely glass of wine.”
Bottom line, whether you’re a jock, a sofa sloth or somewhere in between, you can get exercise, and all its health benefits by e-biking.
WHY JOIN THE E-SCENE?
Cycling is a wonderful social activity, but only if you can keep up. E-bikes level the playing field for people getting into (or back to) fitness and those who are rehabilitating from an injury or struggle with speed and hills.
Case in point, an 82-year-old customer was outfitted by the Bates! An amazing athlete, he’d been riding for years with much younger friends. Last year, he’d made the hard decision to find a slower group, then he bought an e-bike. Now, he’s back in the pack with his buddies.
Karen recalls another customer; a competitive cyclist whose wife rode only for recreation. She couldn’t keep up, but with her new e-bike, they were finally able to ride together. Laughing, Jim says, “Not only is the e-bike the great equalizer, it’s a great marriage-saver.”
Steep means nothing to an e-bike. Tap into Turbo and it devours mountains. One couple in their seventies who love to bike, could no longer cycle up to their hilltop home. Every ride, they were loading their bikes into a vehicle and hauling them to the flats. Karen says, “Buying e-bikes was a game changer for them.”
Whether you’re on the road or the trails, e-bikes take you farther and faster, with energy left to savour the scenery. Jim says, “We’ve sold e-bikes to high-level mountain bikers, who rave about riding to places and over terrain inaccessible to them before.”
Commuting is a great way to include more exercise in your day and be kind to Mother Nature. Forget the change of clothes! If you don’t hit it too hard, you can arrive at work, fresh, alert, with nary a drop of sweat on your brow.
Add a couple of paniers and your e-bike becomes a work horse. Imagine scooting to the farmers’ market, then effortlessly returning home, paniers overflowing with Okanagan produce.
HUGE FUN TO RIDE!
The main reason e-bikes have become so popular is simple. They’re fun!
It’s impossible to ride one without smiling. On an e-bike, you’re suddenly a playful kid again, experiencing the joy of the wind on your face and the freedom and exhilaration of having nothing between you and the open road. It’s something that never wears off.
English writer, H.G. Wells says, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
He’s right, anything that gets people (including yours truly) into the saddle is a great thing. W