I didn’t need or want an e-bike, but now I’m glad I’ve got one!
While e-bikes have been a growing part of the bicycle business for several years, I’d always figured I didn’t need one and frankly, I didn’t want one. For decades I’ve managed to get around just fine on a bike where I’m the only motor and I didn’t see any reason to complicate matters. It was somewhat ironic then when Bike Friday started doing more and more e-bikes for our customers that I became “the e-bike guy.” While Alan Scholz, our company’s founder, did the bulk of the preliminary research and development for Bike Friday’s new line of e-bikes, my job in the service department involves adding electric motors to customer’s existing bikes and troubleshooting bikes with problems. As I’ve been known to grumble now and then “adding a bunch of electronics and a motor to a bike doubles the universe of potential problems.” I also may have said the e-bikes are “bikes for lazy folks.” Statements like this are why Bike Friday doesn’t have me working in the sales department.
As I got to work with more e-bike customers, I saw that I was very wrong about the “lazy folks” comment. In many, many cases a person gets an e-bike so that they can keep riding. One 80-year-old customer wanted to keep riding with his slightly younger, faster pals. Another wanted to bike to work instead of drive and the motor took care of the one big hill in her way. A mom uses the extra oomph of an e-bike to help her carry her two kids to school on the back of her Haul-a-Day. These are not lazy people.
Still, I have a flat commute to work. I’m no longer young, but I’m reasonably fit. I sure didn’t (and don’t) need an e-bike. But Alan, who is a bright guy, kept bugging me. “You won’t really get it until you have one. Test riding customer bikes aren’t the same.” And Alan kept giving me stuff. “This motor was one I was checking out for research, but it’s a bit heavier than what we’d want for a customer’s bike. You should put it on your bike.” The next week we had a warranty issue with a battery because of a cracked mounting bracket. “We can’t sell it to a customer, but I bet you could make it work on your bike.” Eventually, the pile of parts was either going to bury my workbench or get put on a bike. I installed all the various bits on my Pocket Companion.
My first commute was a couple of miles per hour faster, but it wasn’t life-changing. Riding an e-bike is like riding a tandem with a strong partner. With the pedal assist system we use on the Bike Fridays, the motor only kicks in when you are pedaling. You select how much (or how little) of a boost you want. With e-assist I’m quickly getting across an intersection when the light turns green. My top speed isn’t changed. E-bikes by law have a regulator that stops the motor from applying power at a certain speed. You can pedal faster than that speed, but it is you doing the work, not the motor. But my average speed went up because where E-bikes shine is helping you at times when conditions would slow you down. On my flat commute, in addition to the intersections, I noticed the boost most on days when I was riding into a headwind.
But it was on my days off that I really began to bond with my e-bike. I’ve always been a strong climber, but with the e-bike, I really don’t even have to think about hills. Yes, I gear down and pedal, but Sparky (as I’ve renamed my bike!) is like a little pal saying “let me help you with that.” Hauling a couple of big boxes of books to the thrift store with the bike trailer? No problem, Sparky is there to help.
They did a study in Norway, they found that in general, e-bike riders get about 80% of the workout they would riding a non-electric bike over any given distance. But they also found that e-bike riders tend to ride about 20% farther on average and their average speed is about 20% faster. My own experience echoes this. I’m having fun, riding more, and riding farther.
I’ve told my friends that I’ve gone from being an e-bike skeptic to being an e-bike enthusiast, and I’m dangerously close to becoming an e-bike evangelist. Alan was right, I had to own an e-bike to really get it. I still don’t really need an e-bike, but I’m damn glad I’ve got one!