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To E-Bike or Not to E-Bike

6:46 AM PDT on June 7, 2010

472623291_7bdf6aefcc.jpgAn e-bike used by a business to haul sandwiches in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo: Ben Cooper via Flickr)

(I'm going to be away from the computer for the rest of the day, so enjoy this "classic" post.  It's coming to us all the way from last Thursday - DN)

You’re seeing electric-powered bicycles more and more on the streets
of New York these days, so far mostly ridden by restaurant deliverymen.
But are they just early adopters of what will become a more widespread

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Commute by Bike
has a post asking just that question. Big caveat up front: It’s written
by a woman who owns a shop that sells electric-assist kits for bikes in
Carrboro, North Carolina.

That said, it raises some good points about how electric bikes could
be a part of the future of transportation, especially for people with
children and other cargo to transport, or for longer commutes. The
author says she was inspired to start her business by her own

You see, I had three small people under the age of five to take care
of, and not only did they need to be transported, but I needed to have
the energy to deal with them. After a lengthy internet search, a cargo
bike was selected to transport them. But I didn’t live super close to
town, and there were some big hills in the way. I didn’t think I could
do it. I could barely pedal the bike up the first hill out of the
driveway.This is where the electric assist kit transformed this into a
realistic solution.

With my kit, I can pedal the bike even with three kids or a week’s
worth of groceries, over 12 miles of hilly terrain. I can do it every
day and it doesn’t take forever or leave me sweaty and exhausted. It’s
become a realistic and competitive alternative to the car. And in fact,
it’s become the preferred option most of the time as everyone enjoys
riding the bike more than riding the car, especially Mom!

Setting up this bike actually was a life-changing experience for me,
so I started a bike shop to help other people realize their own dreams
of using their car less and their bikes more. Electric assist has been
a big part of this.We help a lot of people like myself who want to
electrify cargo bikes.

But we also help a lot of commuters with distances of over three
miles to go. Some people are even riding 20 miles each way, and the
electric assist just makes this commute much faster and more do- able.
Instead of bike commuting one day a week, they’re doing it three or
five days. We’ve also helped people with disabilities, people who are
out of shape, and people who just want to have more fun riding their
bikes. It’s been a pleasure watching all of these people dust off bikes
and leave their cars in the garage. In my book, anything that enables
people to do that is worth doing.

Probably there are purists who don’t like e-bikes precisely because
they allow people "who are out of shape" to ride (heck, we all know
there are folks who apparently look down on gears). That’s
not my concern at all. I do, however, worry about electric assist bikes
in urban settings — that they can be too fast to mix well with regular
bikes in heavily trafficked bike lanes. I’ve already seen some scary
situations caused by e-bikes, and I’m sure I’ll see more as they

(On a side note, the International Cycling Union is looking into what is known as "motorized doping" in pro bike racing — the possible use of hidden batteries to increase a rider’s speed. Hat tip to @spokesnyt for that link.)

What’s your e-bike opinion? Let us know in the comments.

There’s also a semantic bike controversy is brewing on the network
today: Is the term "cyclist" one that people who ride bikes should
embrace, or reject as marginalizing? Is calling people who ride bikes
"people who ride bikes" going to make those people more acceptable to
the mainstream?

A post on Seattle’s Publicola kicked it off. Bicycling Toronto is in the anti "cyclist" camp, saying, "The last thing Toronto needs is more cyclists." But Biking in LA
takes the other side, writing, "You’re a cyclist. Get over it.… No one
benefits from getting caught up in a question of semantics."

Of course, this all leads us to the question: Is a person who rides
an electrically assisted bike a person who rides a bike? From behind a
windshield, at least, we’re betting the answer is yes.

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