Hitch a Ride With an Electric Bike
By Claudia Mosby
By Claudia MosbyWhoever said exercise isn’t fun probably never rode an electric bike. Twenty-first century green machines, e-bikes (also known as pedelecs and EPAC, or electric power-assisted cycles) are poised to introduce bicycling to a whole new generation of American riders.
Photo: Erin Claassen
Equipped with a small electric motor and rechargeable batteries that assist the pedal power of the rider, these bikes and their technology were initially adopted by the Chinese government in the early 1990s and sales mushroomed within the first decade.
The demand for e-bikes has followed in Europe (with more than a million sold annually) and now this multi-billion dollar industry, with more than 11,000 suppliers worldwide, is attracting U.S. riders.
“E-bikes allow you to ride farther with ease, and have a lot more fun,” says Tracey Cooper, owner of The Bike Shop in Redding. “With our hilly Redding terrain, pedaling can be a challenge and make riding less enjoyable.”
With these bikes, cyclists can choose from three power levels: economy, normal and high. Riders maintain control over how much assistance they need and can manage the duration of their battery charge.
Cooper, who began carrying the Ride+ model by Trek Bicycles last year, sells a couple a month with a price tag hovering between $2,800 and $3,500. The higher price, she says, is easily justifiable when considering the many health benefits of cycling. “How much does someone who doesn’t exercise spend in medical bills?” she asks. Trek offers financing plans through its retailers to make quality bike purchases more achievable for a wider variety of people.
The Ride+ battery is waterproof and locks to the bike when in use, requiring a key to remove it. It charges similarly to a smart phone (charging procedure may vary by manufacturer/model), giving riders enough power to cover 40 to 60 miles per charge.
Not all electric bikes are created equal, however, and buyers need to know what class of bicycle they really want in order to avoid investing in something that will not suit them.
“Class 1 consists of ‘pedal assist’ bikes, like the Ride+ model that we carry,” says Cooper. “Class 2 consists of throttle bikes (no pedaling required), which we do not sell. Both Class 1 and 2 bikes are limited to speeds up to 20 mph and Class 3 pedal assist bikes can reach speeds up to 28 mph.”
Purpose will influence a rider’s choice of e-bike class. Will it be used for commuting, recreation or both? Will more, or less, power be required? Is the goal to use standard bike trails, without the need for licensing and registration, or to find a more powerful road-worthy alternative method of transportation? How high a priority is exercise?
“Here at The Bike Shop, we specialize in the Class 1 bikes and also offer Class 3,” says Cooper. “There are no throttles on anything we sell. Our mission is to help keep people healthy, and that will only happen with pedaling, not with turning a throttle.”
And what is Cooper’s recommendation to the do-it-yourself aficionado who wants to transform a standard bike into a powered one? In a word, “Don’t,” she says. “While a bike like the Ride+ looks very similar to a standard bike, the differences in engineering are considerable.
“These pedal assist bikes have heavier tubing and are designed for higher speeds,” adds Cooper. (The Ride+ weighs 10-15 pounds more than a standard bicycle.) “They are designed for taking off and stopping at higher speeds, something a standard bike is not designed to do.”
Whether recreationalist, commuter or multi-purpose user, the power of the pedal is now available to more people than ever.