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why e-bikes are amazing

May 30, 2023 by jonbo

looking backwards at a mirrored image of me while biking was a trip

Riding an e-bike is the most delightfully ergonomic solarpunk experience I’ve had with technology so far in my life. Other examples in this category include include hammocks, trail running shoes, toilets and bidets, motorized standing desks, and Airpods. None have moved me quite like riding a high-end e-bike through nature trails on a clear spring day.

E-bikes seamlessly integrate a century’s worth of development of the humble bicycle form factor with decades’ worth of knowledge in batteries and motors. The result is a physical augmentation that makes me feel like superman, while still making me work for it.

I think the first time I properly tried an e-bike was here in Boulder, CO. BCycle worked with the city to install a dock-based bike share throughout town. At first glance they were beefy, heavy bikes so it took me a few weeks of walking by the stations to realize I wouldn’t have to haul all that weight with my legs: there were in fact a motor and a battery to help me with that. So I sat down on it and off I went. These aren’t the fanciest e-bikes in the world and soon I was pushing them to the max downhill on gravel roads, a smile wide across my face.

This soon turned into me getting an annual unlimited subscription for my girlfriend, and the two of us using the service to its limit; taking 58-minute rides (just shy of the 1-hour limit) only to re-dock them and continue on with our journey. An hour may seem like a long bike ride but when you’re on an e-bike it passes in no time.

Savannah and I love to go for long bike rides in the afternoons, our Airpods sync’d to a playlist as we’re riding around. Each time we go out, we inevitably discover new pockets of the city we haven’t seen before and ride our favorite routes again. It’s an absolute delight to be able to do this together. ❤️

An e-bike makes for a far more explorable city. Whereas a car requires parking (and therefore looking for parking, and then not wanting to lose said parking spot), an e-bike is far more mobile. The stop-start cost” to take a picture of a cool flower is surely more than if I were walking on the trail, but if I were in a car I wouldn’t even see the flower. I would’ve been too busy operating a vehicle on the four-lane road hundreds of feet away from the trail.

The extra power offered by the battery increases your range, while still making you expend your own energy to move. The bike I got is a Class 3 pedal assist bike, meaning it will wait for you to start pedaling to help you, up to 28 mph (the legal limit). After a 4-hour ride, I am properly wiped but I’ve explored so much more than I would’ve on a regular bike. It really boils down to which of the three power assist levels you select on the bike to help you move; not unlike a treadmill.

some thoughts on infrastructure & laws

More and more EV cars are popping up on the roads; and the good news that innovation on tech isn’t limited to the four-wheel vehicles. It also seems to have trickled down to the two-wheeled vehicles, too. They are similar to cars in that neither roads nor trails need to be re-built for the new vehicles. They are different in that EV cars are completing with ICE cars with nearly the same form-factor, whereas e-bikes are competing for space in a spectrum already saturated with human-powered bikes, strollers, pedestrians, wheelchairs, and off-leash dogs.

This makes for a tricky situation to regulate, and simply navigate in safely. Legally the speed limit for most of the bike-able trails around Boulder is 15mph: a comfy zippy pace but only half of what these bikes can put out. And this doesn’t include modified full-throttle e-bikes that could better be described as eco-friendly crotch rockets or truly unhinged builds. Unlike motorcycles which require a license though, a teeanger can order one of these with their parent’s credit card and be zooming on it in a week.

I think the fact Boulder chose to install e-bikes for their bike-share is a positive signal in support of e-bikes. I don’t think the laws on them are anywhere near settled, though. I’m drawn to stop a city council meeting soon to get a feel for where the conversation currently stands: what do people need and want with respect to e-bikes, biking infrastructure, and transportation regulation in general? And can I get meaningfully involved?

the tricky thing about the marketplace

Much of my time went to figuring out which bike to buy. I saturated my brain to the max watching e-bike channels at 2x speed, trying to keep track of wattage and classes and prices and range till it all started blurring together. Eventually I saw things condense into two distinct categories: premium brands with local distribution / service options, and more affordable direct-to-consumer brands.

It turns out servicing e-bikes is more complicated than servicing a regular bike. At least in so far as the places I’ve talked to around here, the policy is: if they don’t carry that brand, they don’t service it. So, in interest of not being without an e-bike as the part that broke ships from across the ocean, I decided to pay the premium and go for something I can have someone nearby look at. I decided on Specialized’s Turbo Vado 4.0.

I’m excited to finally join the EV club! I hope to have more reflections and experiences to share soon. And I can’t wait to ride these bikes.

Shoutout to Christopher Schmidt’s lovely post on e-bikes!