E-bikes

It feels like every post lately is a variation on me whining about the pandemic and frankly, that’s tiresome. So here’s a post I meant to write over the summer that I’m finally getting around to sharing.

We have become an e-biking family. Really, Cute W is a Massive E-Bike Enthusiast, but to varying degrees, he’s managed to convert all of us.

Our first experience with e-bikes was on a tour we took in Paris years ago. Our reaction was a bit “meh,” honestly. It was really easy to adjust to using an e-bike. For the bikes we tried, you didn’t have to do anything special: we’d just start pedaling feel a little push, almost like when you first learned to ride a bike and a grown-up held onto the seat and ran alongside pushing. However, biking around Paris is not super-serene. J and I found keeping up with the group while avoiding falling or crashing to be a little too stressful to be fun.

For many years, Cute W has biked his non-electric bike to his office in downtown Albany occasionally over the summer, and he really liked it over driving: it’s a bit of a workout and more fun than driving. However, it would take substantially longer than the car, and the most direct route wasn’t exactly the most super-safe and pleasant route. Plus, because it was a workout, he’d arrive at the office looking (possibly smelling? I don’t know; I’m not there) not-so-fresh.

Last April, he decided to get a Ride1Up e-bike, primarily for the work commute, and he loved it. He actually loved e-biking to work so much that he decided to upgrade to a better e-bike (a Gazelle Medeo–they’re not cheap!) because he knew he wanted to use it all the time. Then the question was, would he return the back-up bike or convert his family?

We all like the e-bike, although no one can top Cute W’s enthusiasm. Over the summer, Cute W e-biked to work and clocked 2,000 miles, and he kept up the commute into the fall until it got way too dark and cold. But he even biked into work once last week (yes, you’re reading that correctly, in January) when we had to get some car maintenance done and he didn’t want to leave us without warm transportation. He says the e-bike allows him to go faster, which makes the whole trip more efficient, but also allows him to pick slightly less direct routes that are more scenic and safer, and even when he’s in busy traffic, being able to move quickly with traffic feels better, too. He’s become quite the e-bike evangelist, so much so that I ordered him an e-biking t-shirt and a bumper sticker that reads, “I’d rather be riding my e-bike.” He’s constantly sharing stories like this case for giving every American a free e-bike, and if you come to our house and it’s halfway decent outside, chances are he’ll take you out for a test ride. He also started taking every possible opportunity for an e-bike trip. We’ve run out of milk? Need to return a library book? Practically before I could express the need for an errand, he’d be out the door, putting on his helmet.

I was slower to catch on to the e-bike’s charms, but I’ve become a genuine fan. On one of my first trips, I made J take a picture of me heading out.

You can see that this bike looks pretty much like a regular bike: the down tube holds the battery, which you pop out to plug in and recharge, and the controls are on the handle.

You can see that there’s a little electronic display on the left-hand side, along with a throttle, which is that stripey-looking button next to my thumb. To operate this bike, I press the little power button to the left of the display, and then I have to type in my super-secret 4-digit code to unlock the bike by +ing and -ing my way through the digits. Then I click the + button to raise the power level to any number from 1 to 9 depending on how much extra “push” I want. Since I am a weenie, I am normally at 3 or 4. With this picture, you can see I’m at 3, which is the blue number in the bottom center of the little screen. You can also see that I took that picture while I was going 12.1 mph (I know! Hazardous! It was a straight, empty street, I promise!), and over on the right, the little battery gauge shows me that I have 42% of my battery power left.

So, what’s so great about the e-bike, especially if you don’t particularly want to speed like crazy or commute daily? The two things that make me really appreciate e-bikes is that they help overcome two of my least-favorite aspects of bike riding. The first is hills. Of course biking up a hill is a grind, and if you’re just riding around for pleasure, it can even make you decide to avoid a route that’s going to be exhausting, or one where you’re half-afraid you’ll end up getting off and walking the damn thing. By contrast, with an e-bike, you can choose to do most of the work yourself and keep it at a low power or damn near sail up a hill with practically zero effort. With the plan that I’d post about this, I kept stopping to take photos of hills that I would have avoided with a regular bike because they’re just too much, but honestly, I do not have the photography skills to accurately reflect how intimidating a steep hill looks from the bottom in real life. I’d look at the photos and think, “Well, that doesn’t look nearly bad enough.” So trust me. If you’ve biked near me and you wouldn’t want to, say, bike uphill between the rose garden and the lake in Central Park or up the steep part of Story Avenue or up Balltown from the Rexford Bridge, all of those are not a problem with an e-bike. One bike trip we’d take often pre e-bike was down to the downtown Schenectady Farmers’ Market — all downhill on the way there, an uphill chore on the way back. Now it’s purely pleasant.

The second thing I really love about the e-bike is that I can start from zero and get going quickly. One of my least-favorite parts of biking is dealing with heavy traffic at an intersection or navigating safely around pedestrians. I used to hate how I’d be at a full stop with a foot on the ground, and then when I start biking again, there would be that slow chugga. . . .chugga. . . . chugga . . . as I’d get the pedals and the bike moving again. I especially hated it when there were vehicles or people approaching and I just wanted to get out of their way. When I’m at a full stop with the e-bike and I want to get going again quickly, I can press on the throttle and the bike just starts going, and I can turn my attention to being aware of my surroundings instead of just trying to go fast enough to get my balance.

That makes bike riding awesome: easier and less stressful. It’s also great because, with my unbelievably bad sense of direction, there’s always a chance I’ll get lost. With a regular bike, this could mean an accidentally long and exhausting journey. But with the e-bike, it’s all easier, and I don’t have to worry so much about knowing exactly where I am at all times.

Oh, and one more aspect of e-biking I love: panniers. The more Cute W started biking, the more accessories he acquired, but we soon learned that having panniers, those little saddle bags that hang over your rear wheel, is awesome. At first, I didn’t think I needed them because I pretty much would always, always bike with a backpack. No matter where I was going, I’d bring along my wallet, phone, and a bike lock, and of course often I wouldn’t have pockets (thank you, patriarchy!) or if I had pockets, items would fall out due to my vigorous peddling. So that’s what I was used to, and it was no big deal. Except. One day I went out with my backpack and saw that the panniers were hanging on my bike and it seemed silly to have both, so I stuffed whatever I needed into the panniers, dumped my backpack, and set off. And I hadn’t realized how delightfully light and unburdened I would feel to not wear a backpack while biking. It transported me back in time to when I was a little kid and would bike without baggage of any kind. It completely amped up the bike joy.

We highly recommend e-bikes if it’s something you’ve considered.

One Comment

  1. Shawn

    Thanks for the write-up! I love using my bike for commuting and would definitely consider an e-bike if they were a bit more affordable.

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