Much ink has been spilled on way that e-bikes are surging into the mobility mainstream, and there’s a good reason for that. Once you wrap your legs around one of these machines, it’s hard to let go. However, mere physical pleasure is not the only thing at work. They also set your brain to humming, too.
E-Bikes For Everyone
We’re going to have plenty of time to think about e-bikes because the company Rad Power Bikes has lent us one of their super-sporty Rad Mini Step-Thru folding pedal assist e-bikes to test under various conditions, and the first big test was the Hill of Doom.
Before we get to the Hill of Doom, shoutout to the folks at Bicycle Tech of Lincoln Park, New Jersey. They had the Mini all put together, tuned up, charged up, and ready to go when I picked it up, and they supervised a quick test drive in a nearby parking lot.
As a recent newcomer to e-bikes, this was my first time using a throttle, and it sure is fun. Happy to say I did not have an accident with the throttle, because I was being cautious. So if you’ve heard anything about e-bikes and accidents with the throttle, a bit of caution will go a long way. Spending just half a minute to get the feel of the throttle in low power will set you up for a safe and pleasant ride in any power mode.
Another thing that’s fun about e-bikes is toggling between the gearshift and the various power modes to get just the right amount of boost for your ride — or no boost at all, if you just want to pedal around. The Rad Mini is extra fun because it has this cool push-button for upshifting, and a lever you can flick with your thumb for downshifting.
If you are not a fan of shifting gears, then the Rad Mini also is the e-bike for you, but more on that in a second.
All in all, this is a great bike for experienced and new e-bikers. It has a sporty yet comfortable and sturdy feel to it, like you could do your whole day on it and still have plenty of energy left over to go out at night. The electronic display gives you all the information you need about speed, mileage, and battery status without bogging down in details, and the hand-stitched handlebar grips make you feel, well, special.
The folding feature is icing on the cake, as it gives you more options for storage and transportation.
E-Bikes, The Hill Of Doom, & The One-Mile Trip
For those of you new to e-bikes, the big question is why. That’s where the Hill of Doom comes in.
If you live in a town with hills, you know the Hill of Doom. That’s the hill you use as an excuse to take the car instead of biking around to run your errands, because one way or another you’re going to have to pedal up it, and it’s just not worth the effort.
The Hill of Doom is one reason why many people in suburban towns and smaller cities will hop in the car to drive just one mile, or even half a mile or a half of a half a mile to pick up a carton or milk or whatever.
The US Environmental Protection Agency actually looked at the subject of the one-mile trip back in 2015. Based on a survey showing that drivers in the US eat up about 10 billion miles every year on trips of one mile or less, EPA estimated that walking instead of driving for 5 billion of those miles would save about 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or the equivalent of 400,000 cars, to say nothing of saving all that gas money.
“The next time you open your car door to drive down the block, think about getting a little fresh air instead,” EPA advised. “Lace up your shoes or hop on a bike to help lower emissions, improve your health, and put more money in your pocket.”
Easy for them to say — they never met the Hill of Doom!
What About That Hill Of Doom Test?
That finally brings us around to my personal Hill of Doom. In my town, the Hill of Doom is what separates me from the supermarket (one mile down a steep hill) and the post office (one mile up an even steeper hill).
Then there’s the Hill of Doomlet, which is the extra-steep hill right before my house, which is always an uphill climb even when you’re coming down from the post office.
All of this means it never occurred to me that I could hop around on a bike to do errands, until I picked up my Rad Mini loaner from Bicycle Tech.
The ride down to the supermarket was a snap since it was all downhill, and not having to hunt around in my car for a parking spot was a huge plus, as was not getting stuck behind somebody else in their car who was hunting for a parking spot, or pulling out of a parking spot, or waiting for someone else to pull out of a parking spot.
I found an out-of-the-way spot right by the door, locked up, and then I realized I forgot my wallet. So, back on the bike to chug all the way back up hill — except it wasn’t a chug at all, it was just as fun and easy as going downhill.
If you haven’t tried e-bikes before, that’s one of the big takeaways. You don’t have to configure your physical input around hills. They don’t punish you, push you, or even nudge you. They don’t make you get off your bike and walk it the rest of the way up. They don’t own you any more. You own them.
The Hill of Doom and the Hill of Doomlet both melted away, I got my wallet, went back to the store, and cruised back uphill without breaking a sweat.
E-Bikes & Workouts
The big myth about pedal-assist e-bikes is they don’t make you work. Actually they can. It just depends on how much you want to work. I just wanted to go to the supermarket without putting in a lot of work, and that’s what I did. If you have to get through your day without breaking a sweat, you can do that, or you can sweat off some calories if that’s what you would rather do.
That’s where the next test came in. It started with a short trip down the Hill of Doomlet to do some holiday shopping at the local plastic-free store, followed by a long trip up the Hill of Doom to the post office. The idea was to do a couple of different errands and get back home without having to take a shower (spoiler alert: no shower needed).
By the way, if you don’t have a plastic-free zero waste store in your town, get one. They are fabulous. The one near me is called Sustainable Haus (owner Janette Spiezio graciously posed on the Mini for the photo in this article) and they make their own reusable napkins and other things from vintage and upcycled thrift shoppe fabric.
That was not the end of the test. A couple of hours later I took the Mini on a road that goes out of town, up the Hill of Ultra-Doom (much steeper and longer than the Hill of Doom), and winds around through a nature preserve with various other hills going up and down.
The point of this test was going to be getting a quick workout of five miles or so, but I made it up the Hill of Ultra-Doom with the Mini in its highest gear so I decided to see if I could make it around a 13-mile loop without downshifting. That would be a good thing to know for bike riders who don’t like to shift gears, for whatever reason.
It was easy as pie. I just adjusted the power mode as needed for the uphills and pedaled on my own for the downhills, so I still got a good workout. More to the point, I got back home without feeling like I exhausted all my energy, which is a good thing because the next test will be a 16-mile round trip commute along a major four-lane artery, so stay tuned for more on that.
What E-Bikes Make You Think About
As much as we love the latest electric vehicle, e-bikes can take sustainability to the next level. So, one thing to think about is whether or not you have the opportunity to take advantage of e-bikes and other micromobility options. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.
If you do, that shines a whole new light on that thing about the one-mile trip. The problem with the suburbs is that everything is so spread out. You can’t hop down the block for your carton of milk. It’s a 20-minute round trip walk to the nearest deli if you’re lucky, and that’s if you’re lucky. E-bikes can bridge that gap unless it’s pouring rain or blizzarding out or something.
E-bikes also make you think about where your electricity is coming from. After all, if you’re running errands on your e-bike to cut down on emissions, you don’t want to recharge the battery with electricity that comes from the local coal power plant.
Think of e-bikes as a gateway drug for adopting more sustainable habits. They can make you want to stop by the local farmer’s market more often. Before I got the Rad Mini loaner I thought about Sustainable Haus as a nice place to load up on gifts for my sustainability friends, but now I’m thinking I can just ride down there any weekend with some empty bottles to fill up on some of those nice bulk dish soaps and things they have, and then cruise back home up the Hill of Doomlet like it was nothing.
E-bikes also make you think more about bike lanes, but I’ll save that for the 16-mile commute, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Photo by Tina Casey.