News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

What’s the deal with e-bikes?

Many avid cyclists who sculpted their fitness over years of hills, endurance, and pushing the pedals don’t see e-bikes as the next great innovation in cycling progress. Grouchy attitudes of “earning it” or “they don’t deserve to ride unless they can do it themselves” are short sighted at best and bigoted at worst. E-bikes are here to stay, as the European market is booming with commuters, travel companies, and brands innovating well beyond what is currently available in the USA.

There have been fundamental milestones in cycling history: the “safety bicycle” which is the shape of a bike with two equal sized wheels we know today; rubber pneumatic tires; the addition of gears. The argument should be made that this is the next big step forward. All of these innovations made cycling easier, more enjoyable, and took down barriers for many potential cyclists. E-bikes are poised to do the same.

Put aside the notion that e-bike riders are on slimmed down motorbikes. On an e-bike, the rider still pedals; with the pedaling pressure comes an electrical assist that gives mechanical advantage. They’re pedaling, using their muscles and riding — albeit a little faster for the given effort. E-bikes use batteries, and are not otherworldly powerful. No louder than normal bikes, they cannot roust or slash trails any more than a mechanical bike can with an aggressive rider. They provide a little more than what a fit cyclist can put out in terms of power.

Another key complaint around e-bikes is that they’re dangerous because of the speed they allow people to travel. That might be the case if e-bikes were being piloted by daredevil archetypes — but such folks generally are not riding e-bikes. Most e-bike riders are new to cycling; they have pre-existing physical limitations, or haven’t cut their chops on rambunctious trail riding.

It is important to think of cycling as an activity for the general public and not just the tribe of mountain bikers or skinsuit roadies.

E-bikes create opportunities, facilitating commutes, grocery runs, travel tourism, etc. Most people haven’t thought about how much easier a trip to the store for a few things would be on an e-bike. It can take cargo, doesn’t need a parking spot, and makes for a casual spin.

The other opportunity is in exercise. A person unaccustomed to cycling isn’t going very far for very long. Most people need to enjoy exercise to want to do more, and telling people to “get used to it” obviously hasn’t solved the obesity epidemic.

The opportunity to get more people involved also stands to help get more influence, power, and numbers advocating for cycling.

The potential for e-bikes to share the joys of cycling with more people is phenomenal. Perhaps someone buys an e-bike on a whim, imagining the days of yesteryear before work and obligations took them away from the freedom of childhood. This person enjoys feeling their body in motion, free to navigate around their town. They may never have felt this as an adult; now they’re going to the store, then riding local paths, soon they find others and make friends. Their fitness, happiness, and life have gotten better.

What is wrong with including these people in the cycling community?


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