Why Ride an eBike

Ebikes are bicycles with an electric motor that are either controlled by a throttle (US systems) or pedal movement (European systems). They are not scooters or mopeds whose motors are designed to run constantly.

Mention ebikes and watch as the masses part: For many, ebikes are little better than cars, not “real” bikes, something highly suspicious. For others, there they are a heaven-sent, the answer to physical difficulties, a chance to return to the saddle. After many years using and selling ebikes, I’ve heard just about everything there is so stay on the issue.

Ultimately an e-assist can be the answer to people staying more active, and over time they often find they rely on their motors less as they build up strength.

E-assist for Kid Cargo

I first encountered an electric assist (e-assist) motor when my former husband set up a longtail bike – a bike with an extended wheel base so our kids could ride on a platform over the rear wheel. We assumed that the additional weight from the kids meant some electric assist would be necessary.

I wasn’t a very strong cyclist in those early years and our e-assist longtail allowed me to bike my son to and from pre-school, a total of eight miles every day in addition to shopping and supply runs. Later we got a bakfiets, and yes, I was one of few lucky ones in the US with an electric assist bakfiets. This extra power for regular trips with cargo and kids makes a cycling lifestyle much more feasible, especially for non-athletes. At one point you might find that you build up so much stamina that you don’t need your motor anymore, but if the physical endurance is holding you back from a bike-focused transportation lifestyle, e-assist may be the answer.

E-assist for that last hill, the long commute, to maintain an average speed

You might be surprised how many e-cyclist are prolific riders who are out on their road bikes on the weekends. For their daily commute though, there is the one hill, the last five miles of their 20 mile one-way commute or that one stretch of highway where they prefer a little more power.

I’ve met people commuting from Vancouver to downtown Portland, north Portland to Beaverton, Milwaukie to Swan Island. For them, the ebike makes their bike commute much more realistic.

The European ebike industry accommodates these riders nicely through lighter bikes with smaller batteries and bikes that are fun to ride, even if the rider doesn’t use the motor.

E-assist to make biking possible

For many couples, rides can be stressful when one rider is stronger and constantly takes the lead. Ebikes cna level this playing field. For mature riders it means that they can either keep up with a riding group or have a reliable way to get home after riding without assist as long as possible.

For other people an ebike is the gateway to biking. If health restrictions keep you away from riding, an ebike can ease you into regular riding either by keeping the physical exhaustions at a constant controllable level or as psychological crutch once your limitations set in. For people who are severely overweight, have lost limbs or have artificial joints an ebike may just be the answer to a comfortable, feasible ride.

Tips to keep in mind

  1. It can take some time to get used to your ebike. On top of participating in traffic, regular shifting and braking, you will have the e-assist to deal with. It can be confusing and even a little scary at the beginning.
  2. Don’t overwrite the speed limit of 20 miles per hours permitted by Oregon law. Around that speed you will be find your motor either slowly phasing out or stopping – something you also have to get used to. Resist the urge to go much faster than that by tampering with the controller settings. While the motor might have the capacity to go faster, your brakes might not be able to accommodate the high speed.
  3. Ebikes are not allowed on sidewalks and some multi-use or forestry paths. Unfortunately ebikes get often lumped in with all-terrain and other off-road vehicles that produce noise and pollution. While there seems to be a lack (and some confusion) about enforcement of this ban, it’s worth checking before you set out on an adventure and be sure to be mindful of the other users around you.
  4. Be careful when transporting an ebike: wires and connectors are more susceptible to getting disconnected when you disassemble your ebike or transport it in the back of your car. They also tend to be heavier than regular bikes. Check your bike rack weight limit and/or transport the battery separately to distribute the weight better.

Martina Schrenke Fahrner has worked in the bike industry for many years with a focus on accessible bikes and family riding. She is a former bike shop owner and an enthusiastic cyclist living in Portland.

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