One month ago, I got my wife an e-assist bike hoping that she’d accompany me on some of my errands and rides around town. Four weeks and over 100 miles later, the bike has exceeded both our expectations and raised my awareness of the potential of e-assist bikes to further demonstrate the viability of bicycling as a transportation mode.
E-assist bikes like my wife’s Pedego City Commuter are basically standard bikes that use a small electric motor to assist the rider in pedaling the bicycle uphill, into a strong headwind, or for acceleration when needed. A small rechargeable battery mounted unobtrusively on the rear rack provides energy for the nearly silent motor. The bike can be ridden with or without power, and the City Commuter has a variety of settings that allow the rider to choose different levels of electronic assistance to the pedals depending on the rider’s ability and the terrain.
My wife’s previous bike was a fairly standard 21-speed hybrid bike that was comfortable for her on flat ground, but, because of arthritis in her hip and knee, she always had a difficult time pedaling up the steep hills near our home and, as a result, she rarely joined me on my bike rides, and when she did, she complained of soreness in her knees and hip afterwards. We were both frustrated that she was unable to share the freedom, enjoyment, and healthy lifestyle of the bicycle with me.
I started researching e-assist bikes online and in several local shops, and on a recent trip to Seal Beach, I stopped by the Pedego shop in town and test rode their City Commuter. I was impressed with the features and the fact that the Pedego has 5 different levels of pedal assist, an attractive design, and practical features such as a 7-speed rear cassette, a rear rack, front and rear lights, disc brakes, and fenders. I also like the fact that Pedego routes the bike’s electric wires through the frame and integrates the battery into the rear rack, which preserves its clean lines. You can hardly tell it’s an e-bike unless you look closely.
By allowing the rider to dial in how much pedaling effort they are willing or able to provide, an e-assist bike extends the range and practicality of cycling for a wider variety of people. People who aren’t in great shape, have arthritis, or other physical limitations that may keep them off a regular bike, those who live in hilly areas (like I do), who want to haul a loaded bike trailer, or who want to commute by bike, but don’t want to show up sweaty are just some who might benefit from an e-assist bike. They make it realistic for more people to go car-free or car-lite.
My wife and I joke about her “cheater bike” but she feels great and she’s riding way more than I ever thought she would. She loves riding it and she’s even starting to substitute some short car trips for her bike. It has really been a game-changer for her. Our next step is to get a set of panniers so she can run more errands with her bike.
Purists may grouse about the power assist, but I’m convinced that e-assist bikes are a valuable option for many people. The battery and motor add weight, but that hasn’t really been an issue since the e-assist function more than compensates. They’re also not cheap, as far as bikes go. Figure on spending something in the range of $1,600 – $2,400 for a new one, depending on the features. This may initially limit the market share for e-assist bikes. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see prices come down as they gain popularity.
E-assist bikes aren’t for everybody, but I think they are here to stay, they are loads of fun, and they have a great deal of potential to get more people out of their cars.