I didn’t need or want an e-bike, but now I’m glad I’ve got one!

Kent building a customers E-Bike Tandem

While e-bikes have been a growing part of the bicycle business for several years, I’d always figured I didn’t need one and frankly, I didn’t want one. For decades I’ve managed to get around just fine on a bike where I’m the only motor and I didn’t see any reason to complicate matters. It was somewhat ironic then when Bike Friday started doing more and more e-bikes for our customers that I became “the e-bike guy.” While Alan Scholz, our company’s founder, did the bulk of the preliminary research and development for Bike Friday’s new line of e-bikes, my job in the service department involves adding electric motors to customer’s existing bikes and troubleshooting bikes with problems. As I’ve been known to grumble now and then “adding a bunch of electronics and a motor to a bike doubles the universe of potential problems.” I also may have said the e-bikes are “bikes for lazy folks.” Statements like this are why Bike Friday doesn’t have me working in the sales department.

As I got to work with more e-bike customers, I saw that I was very wrong about the “lazy folks” comment. In many, many cases a person gets an e-bike so that they can keep riding. One 80-year-old customer wanted to keep riding with his slightly younger, faster pals. Another wanted to bike to work instead of drive and the motor took care of the one big hill in her way. A mom uses the extra oomph of an e-bike to help her carry her two kids to school on the back of her Haul-a-Day. These are not lazy people.
Still, I have a flat commute to work. I’m no longer young, but I’m reasonably fit. I sure didn’t (and don’t) need an e-bike. But Alan, who is a bright guy, kept bugging me. “You won’t really get it until you have one. Test riding customer bikes aren’t the same.” And Alan kept giving me stuff. “This motor was one I was checking out for research, but it’s a bit heavier than what we’d want for a customer’s bike. You should put it on your bike.” The next week we had a warranty issue with a battery because of a cracked mounting bracket. “We can’t sell it to a customer, but I bet you could make it work on your bike.” Eventually, the pile of parts was either going to bury my workbench or get put on a bike. I installed all the various bits on my Pocket Companion.

My first commute was a couple of miles per hour faster, but it wasn’t life-changing. Riding an e-bike is like riding a tandem with a strong partner. With the pedal assist system we use on the Bike Fridays, the motor only kicks in when you are pedaling. You select how much (or how little) of a boost you want. With e-assist I’m quickly getting across an intersection when the light turns green. My top speed isn’t changed. E-bikes by law have a regulator that stops the motor from applying power at a certain speed. You can pedal faster than that speed, but it is you doing the work, not the motor. But my average speed went up because where E-bikes shine is helping you at times when conditions would slow you down. On my flat commute, in addition to the intersections, I noticed the boost most on days when I was riding into a headwind.

But it was on my days off that I really began to bond with my e-bike. I’ve always been a strong climber, but with the e-bike, I really don’t even have to think about hills. Yes, I gear down and pedal, but Sparky (as I’ve renamed my bike!) is like a little pal saying “let me help you with that.” Hauling a couple of big boxes of books to the thrift store with the bike trailer? No problem, Sparky is there to help.

They did a study in Norway, they found that in general, e-bike riders get about 80% of the workout they would riding a non-electric bike over any given distance. But they also found that e-bike riders tend to ride about 20% farther on average and their average speed is about 20% faster. My own experience echoes this. I’m having fun, riding more, and riding farther.
I’ve told my friends that I’ve gone from being an e-bike skeptic to being an e-bike enthusiast, and I’m dangerously close to becoming an e-bike evangelist. Alan was right, I had to own an e-bike to really get it. I still don’t really need an e-bike, but I’m damn glad I’ve got one!

5 Responses

  1. I’m another long time cyclist who thought he’d only want an e-bike in his dotage. My commute to work is 35 miles and 2000 feet each way. I would bike that a few times per year, but mostly rode the bike for exercise after driving the commute. Last year it finally clicked, I put an electric kit on an old bike and it turns out I can commute on the e-bike a couple days per week and leave the car at home. Mornings are cool enough I can get to work without breaking a sweat, which sounds minor but is a big issue since we do not have showers. The e-bike looks like it will actually pay for itself soon, my direct gas and toll cost of about $14-16 per day is replaced by 1.2 kW-h of re-charge, or about $0.25.

    1. Good story and great perspective Rick. Thanks for sharing. We are going to get a bunch more company here as people discover this. In the series coming up we will get that cost to ride down to near zero!

  2. I am another one who for now says not for me! However I have been diagnosed with ALS, but Great news is that there is true hope! I am in a phase one drug study that is aimed at curing my genetic form of ALS! Remember the ice bucket challenge, that helped find these drugs! For now I will continue to say no. Partly because my NWT has crossed the U.S. from Florence to Bar Harbor Maine and the Pacific Coast from Bellingham to San Diego both sides self supported me. I have real hope that another is possible!

    1. Hello John. Sounds like you have a story to share about what you are going through and how you are fighting the good fit, using two wheels to help fight that good fight. Are you willing to share your story and maybe some pictures to help inspire others to fight their own fight and stay healthy both physically and mentally as well? Thank you for sharing and we look forward to supporting you in any way we can in your journey!

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