A Case for Electric Bikes

My interest in doing so is not to expand the industry per se (although, with everyone talking about jobs, particularly “green jobs,” why not?).   My interest is definitely not to displace non-motorized bikes (may more and more people ride regular bikes, live long and prosper!).  And, I am certainly not motivated by keeping up with the Wangs or the Svensons on other continents!  My motivation for advocating the expanded use of electric bikes is simply because I think e-bikes have the potential to significantly displace miles traveled in internal combustion vehicles.  Oh, and secondarily, I’m all for the health and well-being benefits that come with more people outside and active.

I purchased my electric bike about 4 years ago when I lived in Arlington, VA.  Although I was 48 years old and still reasonably fit, I was finding myself on a bike less and less, especially for utilitarian purposes.   Not only was I slipping just a bit in my biking ability, but, when biking to a meeting or an errand, I would arrive at my destination (and/or back home) in need of a shower, rest or both!  Thus, despite my special circumstances of having a 50 yard commute to work at the time, the electric bike did cut my vehicle miles traveled.  I was much more likely to climb on my e-bike for errands, meetings and other non-exercise trips.  It got me up hills and through hot weather with a bit less effort, making it fun and easy to pedal on a regular basis.  And, as I rode the electric bike more and more, I became stronger and more fit as well (you still can and even need to pedal on an e-bike, you know!).

Here in Colorado, I find myself using my electric bicycle more than ever.  For trips around town and to nearby Lafayette, it’s a blessing.  When I am carrying a backpack or hauling a kid trailer (with kids or stuff from the store), I really appreciate the electric assist.  I do still own and use a regular bike, but for utilitarian, purposeful reduction of vehicle miles traveled, I count on the e-bike.

Before moving here, I knew from visits that Boulder County was a mecca for bicyclists.  This was one of the many reasons I was attracted to this region.  I pedal my non-electric bike around a fair amount, too, and will continue to promote the use of traditional bikes for all reasons – recreational, exercise and utilitarian.  I want my “traditional bicycle brothers and sisters” to neither sense a threat to their pastime nor to look down their noses at me on my e-bike.  Too much air up the nostrils!

Some concerns have been raised about e-bikes, but I suggest that a closer look reveals them as either much ado about nothing or matters that can be easily addressed.  Some have voiced concern about the speed of e-bikes as a potential safety issue, for instance.   This is a valid concern, but I find that when I am out on my e-bike, I find myself going about the same speed or slower than most other bikers almost all the time.  One reason for this is that, unlike many bikers out for exercise, riding at great speed is simply not my goal.  An e-bike simply makes it easier to do practical things and to remain active –at moderate speeds.  It should be noted that almost all electric bikes are regarded simply as regular bicycles under federal law, and are built for top speeds of less than 20 mph under electric power only.  Practically speaking, the top speed under most circumstances, even when pedaling with the motor engaged, is only about 25 mph.

The weight of electric bikes – usually 40-60 pounds as opposed to the usual 20-30 pounds for regular bikes – has also prompted some safety concerns.  But, since the rider always represents the greater proportion of the weight of the bike/rider unit, we surely don’t want to get into weight argument, do we?  A 170 pound rider on a 55 pound bike weighs the same as a 200 pound rider on a 25 pound bike.

Some have also expressed concern that e-bikes are environmentally harmful because they have batteries and the electricity used to charge them usually comes from coal-fired plants.  These valid concerns are rendered mostly moot due to scale.  Batteries on e-bikes weigh about 7-10 pounds, compared to the 176 pounds of battery in a 2013 Toyota Prius.  E-bikes demand very little electricity.  A recent cross-country e-bike ride by two riders consumed approximately $20 in electricity (http://planetsave.com/2012/07/10/cross-country-electric-bike-ride-completed-by-electric-bike-loving-duo/).  Other reports are emerging of similar cross country trips using even less electricity!

So – if you have not yet tried riding an electric bicycle, pay a visit to one of the three Boulder County e-bike stores.  There are two in Boulder and one in Longmont.  (I am helping Small Planet E-Vehicles, the store in Longmont, to promote e-bikes..)   Assess your life situation and see if an electric bike might be a real and useful tool for cutting the miles you travel in your car, keep you fit and healthy and/or “level the playing field” between cyclists of different abilities, enabling a variety of group rides.  If any or all of these benefits apply to you, then give serious consideration to this ingenious mode of transportation.

Sign the petition to make e-bikes legal on Boulder’s multi-use paths:  http://signon.org/sign/legalize-ebikes-on-boulder?mailing_id=12127&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=7492578

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the link to our petition. Displace as many car miles as possible with ebikes! The couple who rode across the US had trailers. Other people have crossed the US for $7 or $8 of electricity. That’s about FIFTY times cheaper than in a car, and maybe 50 times less carbon burned. We all know the bicycle is the most efficient transport, let’s take advantage of this big improvement, which levels the playing field for hills, distance and wind, age, injury and sedentariness.