Friday Group Ride # 340

Friday Group Ride # 340

I have a friend who is convinced that e-bikes will be the end of cycling as we know it. When we don’t have to pedal, we won’t, OR as e-bikes find their way into our underdeveloped infrastructure, manual bikes will be crowded out. This may be a slightly apocalyptic view of the situation.

The shop owners I speak to range from ambivalent to ardent in their support for e-bikes. I’ve had them tell me stories about families who could never ride together, but can now. I’ve had them describe the trickle and then steady stream of new customers crossing their thresholds. In my travels, I’ve noticed that shops in the West seem to have more e-bikes in stock than their cousins in the East. Is this to do with road space and infrastructure? Or is it cultural?

In my neighborhood, families with rusting bicycles hung at the backs of their garages are now reconsidering bikes as a means of commuting and running errands. Wholesale change hasn’t come. They are certainly not everywhere, but more and more of my cycling friends say they’ve been passed by out-of-shape looking people on ugly hybrids, only discovering at the last moment that the passer isn’t actually pedaling much at all.

The real heat of the e-bike debate seems to be in access to wilderness trails. For the purposes of this Group Ride, I’d rather leave that aside.

This week’s Group Ride asks, where will e-bikes go? Are they good for cycling generally? Or do they exacerbate all of the challenges we, as cyclists, are already wrestling with? Most importantly, do you want one? Or will you resist to your dying pedal stroke?

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22 comments

  1. Aar

    I like them and think they would be good for cycling if they drive more cyclist miles. Don’t want one now but will in the future.

    Just a note on e-bike technology. IMHO, e-bikes that don’t require pedaling are disdainful and should not be governed by cycling laws. They’re e-scooters or e-mopeds, not e-bikes and should be governed by those laws. E-bikes that add power to the rider’s pedaling effort, like the Specialized Turbo et al, are righteous and are the only devices that should be considered an e-bike. Your mileage on this opinion will vary.

  2. Scott D Gilbert

    I agree with Aar on this one. If you don’t have to pedal it’s not a bicycle. In my area you see a lot of beach cruisers modified with a lawnmower engine and these people clearly want a motorcycle without having to get a motorcycle license or take the required class. As for E-Bikes in general I’m not interested in ever owning one, I will however get a Vespa to run errands etc that I might otherwise use my car.

  3. Winky

    They’re another piece in the sustainable transport picture. I like them. Never ridden one, but don’t mind being passed by one and really like how they get more people on bikes. They’re becoming pretty popular around here.

  4. Lyford

    I see a great benefit as an “equalizer” to allow friends/couples of different abilities to enjoy riding together at a pace that’s fun for everyone. Trek Travel is using them this way with good results.

    If they get more people out bicycling, I don’t see a downside.

    I do think the distiction between e-bikes and scooters( you’ve got to pedal) must be kept clear.

    One of the great joys of bicycling is the feeling of being independent, of being truly self-powered. That will always draw some people to “regular” bicycles.

  5. Dan

    On my regular cycling route I usually encounter an older couple on e-bikes. They say that the e-bikes allow them to ride every day, ride together and ride farther than regular bikes would allow. I don’t think they would be riding if their only option was a regular bike. E-bikes are great if they get people riding.

  6. Les.B.

    We all know the high from pedaling one’s self to the point of total exhaustion and near-death.

    Paradoxically maybe, but it’s why e-bikes will never replace cycling by full-pedal.

    Overall they are a good thing, they are getting people out of cars. I have a concern about safety, a non-cyclist getting on one of these things and barreling 30mph along the road. It’s incumbent on the e-bike dealers to impress on their customers the serious safety concerns. With pedaling one offsets the danger with the health benefits of exercise. One doesn’t get that on an e-bike, at least not as much.

    When I’m 88 1/2 I will be glad there are e-bikes.

    1. Lyford

      “When I’m 88 1/2 I will be glad there are e-bikes.”

      Our perspectives change as our bodies do……
      A couple of years ago I would have been more of a purist, but the unexpected onset of painful osteoarthritis at a “young” age(50s) has given me a whole new outlook on assisted devices.

  7. Scott G.

    On the hilly Sunday ride, there is one person on an assisted bike, the bike lets her
    keep up with the group. She can ride 20 miles, 1200 feet of climbing, arriving at the half way point
    having used 0-10% of the battery. She uses the assist to keep up on climbs and the
    regenerative system to charge on the down hills and flats.

    note: On the assisted bikes, the assist cuts out at 20mph

  8. Mike the Bike PT

    More bikes on the road is safer, no doubt about it. Safety trumps a lot of other things for me. I will let a whole wave of out-of-shape 65 year olds pass me by if it lowers my chances of getting run over.

    This isn’t specifically e-bike related, but I think it fits. My wife comes from a small, northern Michigan farming town. Over the last 20 years quite a number of Amish have moved in. They do use the good ol’ horse and buggy but most of them ride bikes (without helmets, btw). We were there last weekend. As I was getting ready to go on a ride, I realized I had forgotten my helmet. But I wasn’t worried, because of the Amish. People up that way are used to bicyclists. You expect to see them at all times of the day. I am probably safer riding country roads up there than I am closer to home. From a distance, all blinkie lights look a like.

  9. Howard

    I am nervous about too much speed available to people with no experience, or worse respect for it. It is bad enough with regular bikes, take any urban area, esp. San Francisco as an example. I just hope the societal learning curve is not too long and deadly.

    1. Jay

      E-bikes are limited to a top speed of 25 mph or less where I live (in PA). There are probably similar regulations in other states. Here, if the top speed is greater than that they are no longer considered an e-bike. Instead they would be categorized as a moped or scooter. Different rules apply in that case.

  10. Stefanie

    I am very excited about e-bikes. My husband has multiple sclerosis and can only ride about 5-10 miles with me at a very slow pace. We are hoping once our local shop gets e-bikes (they are working on it) that he and I might be able to go on some longer rides together. It would mean a lot to both of us.

  11. AC

    Ebikes are fine for commuting or around town uses. I don’t think they have any place in the recreational side of the sport however, whether road or offroad, and frankly I would reconsider shopping at a shop carries ebikes (looking at you Specialized and your Turbo Levo mtb).

  12. Paul

    I don’t want an e-bike now, but I think there’s a place for them.

    Casual group rides, solo, public rides (like Trailnet in St Louis here, sure)

    Shop rides, mmm, maybe the lowest group

    20 mph scares me though on a multi use trail like Grant’s Trail with a lot of pedestrians. I don’t necessarily think they should be banned, (unless as a scooter), but purchasers/renters should be strongly warned about riding unsafely or like a d,b.

  13. ac

    Like all things it will depend how people use them that determines whether e-bikes are “good”, “bad”, or somewhere in between.
    How this works out will likely become apparent wherever there is congestion or “conflict”. Where there are large numbers of riders, narrow or limited infrastructure, or bike traffic “friction”; speed differential and where different streams of riders need to cross each other.
    There is potential for much good. More people using bikes more often, just as the way they run their errands, or choose to do, or access their social activities and recreation.
    There is also the potential for much bad. See the some of the stories out of places like China where e-bikes are sometimes ridden at high speed causing side-swipe, T-bone, and even head-on crashes. I suspect in a litigious society how the aftermath of any such crashes play out in the insurance and legal fields will particularly strongly influence the role e-bikes are permitted to play in our communities. I just hope the benefits of e-bikes aren’t lost in the mess.

  14. Troy Stamps

    I believe e-bikes have their place just as cycling has it’s place. Not all people will want to use an e-bike or even be able to afford one, but the trend is definitely catching on. I wouldn’t mind using an e-bike, but I receive much more fulfillment cycling with my own manual power. It’s just a feeling that’s hard to explain when it comes to getting from A to B on your own terms and power.

  15. Ken

    I love the thought of getting an e-bike for my wife due to our current inability to ride “together” when we do ride. Having electronic assist that would allow her to keep a pace closer to mine and would make the ride much more enjoyable for both of us. It would also allow her to get out more often and not feel like she is “slowing me down” (her words). However, I do have a concern that speed that the electronic assist would enable would be pushing the boundaries of her bike handling skills. I think if everything is smooth she would be fine, but may find difficulty responding to appropriately if conditions change (gravel, sudden maneuvers, etc).

  16. Jay

    My thoughts are that the appeal of e-bikes increases in a line that parallels age, at least among those who favor them. I would use one now to commute to work, but my spouse is opposed to the idea because of the route that I would have to use. Regardless, I still see it as an option.

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