The Inexorable Rise of Electric Bikes - LetterPile - Writing and Literature
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The Inexorable Rise of Electric Bikes

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I'm an avid cyclist who has ridden 29,000+ miles over the past seven years. I enjoy sharing the little I know with interested others.

I wrote the first version of this article when the weather was much chillier, when I was still working at a job outside my home, not long after my birthday. Though I no longer commute to a workplace, I do still use my e-bike routinely. In fact, back before COVID came along--and put a temporary end to all local recycling--I was doing our part to help the environment by bike. Sometimes my haul to the local cardboard and glass drop-off bins looked like this:

Loaded up with glass and cardboard, headed to the recycling center

Loaded up with glass and cardboard, headed to the recycling center

My wife and I share the e-bike, so the most recent riding adventure we enjoyed was a family ride under social distancing conditions. My wife rode the e-bike, my son and I rode our analog bikes. It was a great afternoon of family time, one that would not have been possible just a year ago. This story is not so much about how my thinking about e-bikes was changed; instead it's really about how the overall game was changed...and very much for the better.

A family ride where all are on an even par, thanks to adding an e-bike to the mix

A family ride where all are on an even par, thanks to adding an e-bike to the mix

My E-Bike Commute - Fall-Winter 2019/2020

It is brisk outside today. By the time I get to work, my Garmin will cool from room temperature to somewhere south of 27 degrees. I don’t know that yet, but I know about the brisk part because I’m checking the weather app on my phone and going through the internal mini-battle that often happens on days like this: should I ride or should I just drive?

My wife is still in bed asleep now and I’m making the morning coffee and emptying the dishwasher. While doing so, I’m also conjuring Alan Alda’s notion of growing your empathy, and I happen to remember we recently sold my wife’s vehicle. We are down to just my truck now, and that makes today’s decision super easy: I’ll ride to work again so she can have a vehicle…just in case.

My commuter bike is an e-bike, and once my panniers are packed and hung from the rear fender rack, I’m riding away to the office. It’s then that it hits me: I wonder why I still have that debate with myself nearly every morning. Two things come to mind (again): 1) I’ve never regretted riding to work, not even once, and 2) the ride is enjoyable, and I’ll probably just take the long way again today so I can spend more time on the bike reveling in this clear, cool Moscow morning. And so it goes at the beginning of nearly every workday these days.

For slippery and dark winter commutes, I purchased for our e-bike a set of studded tires with reflective white walls

For slippery and dark winter commutes, I purchased for our e-bike a set of studded tires with reflective white walls

The Game Has Changed

Less than two months ago, I had never seriously considered buying an e-bike for myself; that was always just something I might do when I got too old to ride a regular bike. It is true, though, that I had mentioned to my wife on several occasions in the past that I would like to buy her an e-bike, because she has great disdain for the rolling hills so common in Moscow and across the Palouse. I thought that if she had an e-bike she’d be more likely to ride with me at home and while we are out on our camping trips. That’s about as far into e-bike consideration as I’d ever gotten, though, to be quite honest. I’m no purist, mind you, but until very recently I would have told anyone who asked that an e-bike was somewhere only in my very distant, very aged future.

When, on the morning of my birthday, my wife unexpectedly stopped our truck in front of a bike shop, I was pleasantly surprised. When she told me we were getting an e-bike for me, though, I wondered if I’d somehow aged a millennia in the past few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I immediately recognized the opportunity, but also realized it needed to be turned around just a bit. I suggested to her that we instead buy an e-bike we could share, and she readily agreed. That grand compromise turned out to be one of the best bicycle purchasing decisions I’ve ever made (we've ever made!). In very simple terms, the e-bike is a game changer.

I ride our e-bike to work on most weekdays. It’s a fantastic commuter that can haul in both cycling senses of the word. When my wife and I go to Vandals football games, she rides our e-bike and I ride one of my other trusty steeds. We neither pay nor struggle to park; there is always a bike rack open somewhere on campus. The best part about all of it is not the free and freely available parking, though; it’s actually the quality time my wife and I spend together that we didn’t spend together before. I don’t think you can put a price tag on that, and we can’t wait for next year’s camping season to begin so we can get out on our bikes even more.

Our brand new Class 1 e-bike parked in the garage on the day we brought it home

Our brand new Class 1 e-bike parked in the garage on the day we brought it home

Three Classes of E-bikes

Class 1 = pedal assist e-bike, no throttle, maximum assisted speed of 20 mph

Class 2 = throttle assist e-bike, maximum assisted speed of 20 mph

Class 3 = pedal assist e-bike, no throttle, maximum assisted speed of 28 mph

The Inexorable Rise of E-Bikes

When I read the word ‘inexorable’ in print for the first time back in my mid-30s, I can remember thinking I wanted to use it in a sentence someday. Today’s that day. The popularity and prevalence of e-bikes is rising exponentially. The fact is that there is more good than bad to be found in that inexorable rise. Fundamentally, more people on bikes is not a bad thing! And in any case, they are selling so quickly, people are jumping aboard the e-bike bandwagon so quickly, and in such great numbers...there are few options but to accept that and learn how to adapt. Indeed, the National Park Service acknowledged as much last summer and published official guidance to that end. Their Policy Memorandum 19-01 details the commonly accepted definitions of e-bike categories and explicitly allows them to be used just like a regular bicycle. I, too, believe the best possible course of action is to embrace the presence of e-bikes and not try in vain to fight it. As fate would have it, I guess, my own unexpected and quite pleasant experience with these marvelous machines is but one supporting anecdote among many, many more that are surely to come.

Policy Memorandum 19-01 provides for e-bike use and regulation on the same basis as bicycles without power assist capabilities

Policy Memorandum 19-01 provides for e-bike use and regulation on the same basis as bicycles without power assist capabilities

© 2020 greg cain

Comments

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on May 01, 2020:

Hi Peggy - thanks for reading about them! Or at least reading about my experience with e-bikes so far, anyway. I think, based on your comments, I may work up a more introductory piece on electric bikes, or perhaps change up the article a bit so it is more informative up front on that point. Be well, be safe, and thanks for stopping by.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 30, 2020:

I had no idea what an e-bike was until reading the national park policy of allowing electric bikes. They sound like it would make it much easier to tackle hills, etc. or go for longer rides with that electric boost to the pedaling. Thanks for writing about them.