In the Limburg region of the Netherlands a couple of years ago, I found myself cycling behind an elderly woman on a heavy-looking touring bike, laden with shopping bags. I assumed I would catch up and pass her on the moderate slope we were climbing. I did not. If the truth be told, she gradually pulled away from me despite my increasingly desperate efforts to close the gap. When I got to the top, winded from the ego-bruising chase, Mr. Humdinger said, “You know she was on an e-bike, right?”
No, I did not know… Since then, e-bikes have been turning up in my world very regularly, and causing me much less frustration. At last winter’s Montreal and Toronto bike shows, many large manufacturers had them front and centre in their displays. Humdinger guests have brought e-bikes on tours, either because it simply makes their ride more enjoyable, or because they have physical limitations that make riding a regular bike difficult. There is a bit of a bias among some in the cycling community that using an e-bike is a form of cheating. I disagree wholeheartedly; I see e-bikes as a way to include more people in a fun, healthy, and eco-friendly activity.
E-bikes are pedaled like regular bikes, but have motors and sensors to assist the rider to go further and faster with less effort. Many different types are available, including road bikes, touring bikes, and mountain bikes. Prices in Canadian dollars vary from about $2000 to well over $5000. The motors and batteries add significantly to the cost, making it more expensive to get started with an e-bike than with a regular one. There is some technical stuff you should know about different types of e-bikes, like what type of motor and sensor they have, power, and battery capacity. I found this Youtube video from the Verge to be very informative!
My own interest in e-bikes is not so much related to the techy stuff, but rather about the possibilities they open up for getting more people out riding. E-bikes remove many of the barriers to cycling. Here are ten things an e-bike can enable you to do.
- Get fit.
There have been several studies looking at the health benefits of e-biking, the upshot of which is that e-biking can improve fitness levels. Like regular biking, riding an e-bike likely improves mood and overall well-being as well.
- Have control over exercise intensity.
With an e-bike, one can get outdoors and cycle without having to follow the stereotypical cyclist’s “suffer” mantra. By controlling the degree of pedal assist, you can work harder or take it easy, depending on how you are feeling on that day.
- Go further with less effort.
Do you want to explore a longer trail, and still arrive at your destination without feeling completely spent? With an e-bike, one moves along at a decent speed, and can travel 50-100km while barely breaking a sweat. Note that the distance an e-bike can travel on a single charge is highly variable, depending on the bike and battery, load of rider and gear, speed, terrain, temperature, and other factors.
- Be more confident.
Have you thought about getting back into cycling, but worried about your strength and endurance? Or, are you a cyclist who has turned down some rides because you are not confident in your abilities to manage the hills, speed, or distance? With an e-bike, confidence in your ability to keep up with the group and complete the ride will increase.
- Cycle with fitter friends and family members.
One of the stories I hear most frequently is that one member of a couple cannot keep up with the other on a bike, so they end up not riding together. An e-bike levels the playing field and allows people who enjoy each other’s company to ride together, even if they do not have the same level of fitness.
- Return to cycling sooner after injury or illness.
Cyclists who have had health challenges may not be able to ride their regular bikes, but an e-bike may allow them to get back in the saddle. Many e-bikes have a step-through frame, which means it is easier to get on, even with reduced leg mobility. For some, the e-bike is a temporary tool to help transition back to a regular bike, and for others it may be a permanent addition to their fleet. Either way – you are getting back out on the bike!
Cycle on more challenging terrain.
If you love cycling but detest hills, wind, or uneven terrain, you may find that an e-bike greatly expands the routes and destinations that are available to you. If Alpe d’Huez is on your bucket list, a little pedal assist might not be a bad idea!
E-bikes are greener than cars and are encouraged as a form of transportation in many cities. Riding a regular bike to work may involve sweating, which then necessitates showering and changing. E-bikes eliminate this and other barriers to cycle commuting. They can be faster and more convenient than commuting on a regular bike, and are less likely to leave you feeling tired when you get to where you are going.
- Carry stuff.
You can use an e-bike a bit like a mule – throw some panniers on and bring home your groceries, or set out on a bike-packing trip, and let the pedal assist do the work to move the extra weight. For bike-packing, don’t forget to plan where to charge the battery between rides!
- Enjoy the ride!
On an e-bike, you are more likely to enjoy the scenery. Rather than having your head down and grimacing as you struggle up a hill, you will be looking around at the flora and fauna, and sporting what is known in the trade as an e-grin.
Are e-bikes for everyone? Definitely not! Are they a super cool class of bike that makes cycling doable and enjoyable for more people? Definitely yes! At Humdinger Bicycle Tours, we are convinced of the benefits and are partnering with eBikeWerkz to have some of these beauties available for rental next summer. Maybe you will give one a try, or encourage a friend or family member to get their e-grin going 🙂