To E-Bike or Not to E-Bike

472623291_7bdf6aefcc.jpgAn e-bike used by a business to haul sandwiches in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo: Ben Cooper via Flickr)

You’re seeing electric-powered bicycles more and more on the streets of New York these days, so far mostly ridden by restaurant deliverymen. But are they just early adopters of what will become a more widespread trend?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Commute by Bike has a post asking just that question. Big caveat up front: It’s written by a woman who owns a shop that sells electric-assist kits for bikes in Carrboro, North Carolina.

That said, it raises some good points about how electric bikes could be a part of the future of transportation, especially for people with children and other cargo to transport, or for longer commutes. The author says she was inspired to start her business by her own experience:

You see, I had three small people under the age of five to take care of, and not only did they need to be transported, but I needed to have the energy to deal with them. After a lengthy internet search, a cargo bike was selected to transport them. But I didn’t live super close to town, and there were some big hills in the way. I didn’t think I could do it. I could barely pedal the bike up the first hill out of the driveway.This is where the electric assist kit transformed this into a realistic solution.

With my kit, I can pedal the bike even with three kids or a week’s worth of groceries, over 12 miles of hilly terrain. I can do it every day and it doesn’t take forever or leave me sweaty and exhausted. It’s become a realistic and competitive alternative to the car. And in fact, it’s become the preferred option most of the time as everyone enjoys riding the bike more than riding the car, especially Mom!

Setting up this bike actually was a life-changing experience for me, so I started a bike shop to help other people realize their own dreams of using their car less and their bikes more. Electric assist has been a big part of this.We help a lot of people like myself who want to electrify cargo bikes.

But we also help a lot of commuters with distances of over three miles to go. Some people are even riding 20 miles each way, and the electric assist just makes this commute much faster and more do- able. Instead of bike commuting one day a week, they’re doing it three or five days. We’ve also helped people with disabilities, people who are out of shape, and people who just want to have more fun riding their bikes. It’s been a pleasure watching all of these people dust off bikes and leave their cars in the garage. In my book, anything that enables people to do that is worth doing.

Probably there are purists who don’t like e-bikes precisely because they allow people "who are out of shape" to ride (heck, we all know there are folks who apparently look down on gears). That’s not my concern at all. I do, however, worry about electric assist bikes in urban settings — that they can be too fast to mix well with regular bikes in heavily trafficked bike lanes. I’ve already seen some scary situations caused by e-bikes, and I’m sure I’ll see more as they proliferate.

(On a side note, the International Cycling Union is looking into what is known as "motorized doping" in pro bike racing — the possible use of hidden batteries to increase a rider’s speed. Hat tip to @spokesnyt for that link.)

What’s your e-bike opinion? Let us know in the comments.

There’s also a semantic bike controversy is brewing on the network today: Is the term "cyclist" one that people who ride bikes should embrace, or reject as marginalizing? Is calling people who ride bikes "people who ride bikes" going to make those people more acceptable to the mainstream?

A post on Seattle’s Publicola kicked it off. Bicycling Toronto is in the anti "cyclist" camp, saying, "The last thing Toronto needs is more cyclists." But Biking in LA takes the other side, writing, "You’re a cyclist. Get over it.… No one benefits from getting caught up in a question of semantics."

Of course, this all leads us to the question: Is a person who rides an electrically assisted bike a person who rides a bike? From behind a windshield, at least, we’re betting the answer is yes.