You are already doing your bit for a clean energy future — you are driving an electric car or truck. However, riding a bike, even an ebike, is even cleaner. You will use much less energy. Here’s how using an ebike can make using a bike for transportation not just practical, but even pleasurable.
You have probably watched many movies, usually from times past, where the protagonist is riding a bicycle. The protagonist is zooming along the street or path on a single-speed bike with very little effort. What you never see is someone struggling very slowly up a steep hill on a bike.
What are the reasons that most people don’t use bikes for transportation.
- There are no safe roads/paths between your home and your work or between your home and stores where you want to shop.
- Difficulty climbing steep hills.
- Difficulty pedaling into a stiff wind.
- Your commute is too long and stores are too far away.
- You can’t carry all your groceries or larger purchase items on a bike.
- All or part of your commute is on rough roads or and gravel.
- You will arrive at work all sweaty.
- The summers are too hot in the Southern and Southwest US.
- The winters are too cold in the Northern US and Canada.
- It’s raining.
- It’s snowing.
- The road/path is covered with snow and ice.
- Your health and balance prevent you from biking.
- No way to secure your bike at work or at a store.
What can we do about this?
Item #1 may be a deal breaker. Many cities in the Netherlands and parts of many other European cities have been built with safe biking transportation in mind. A few US cities like St George, Utah, and parts of Portland, Oregon, have bike trails everywhere. In other US cities, you may find some recreational bike trails, but very few US cities are built with bicycle transportation in mind. 30 years ago, everyone in Hanoi, Vietnam, was riding a bike, but already in 2003 when I was there giving a lecture for NASA, everyone had switched to motorcycles and motor bikes, making biking no longer safe. In 2015–2016, my wife and I spent considerable time in Sydney, Australia, where our daughter was on assignment with her employer, Adobe Inc. There were no bike trails in the near suburbs and only one street in the entire Central Business District that had a separated bike trail. However, many of you will be able to find a safe road or path to work and stores in your community.
One thing clear from items 7–12 is that in most US climates, travel by bike won’t be optimal every day. Just because “bad” weather stops you from riding some days, don’t let it stop you on good days! Have your bike ready to go and use it on the days when bike riding can be a joy. In the southern and southwestern US, there will be many days throughout the spring, fall, and winter when biking is not only practical but pleasant. In the northern US, biking is often practical and pleasant in the summer, but not so much in inclement weather and not at all when the weather turns bitter cold in the winter.
Ebikes will solve problems 2–4 in most cases. Ebike commuting and errand running is often a pleasurable experience which is also good for your health — you will be getting some good exercise even with the electric support.
2. Climbing steep hills on a regular bike is possible only for the most athletic riders on competition type road bikes. Ebikes make all but the very steepest hills a breeze for all riders.
3. Riding a regular bike into a stiff wind is very annoying and exhausting. You will still notice a headwind on an ebike, but it will now be tolerable.
4. For errands will take you up to 5 miles from your home or commutes that are even 20 miles or longer, these are distances and tasks that are too much work for most people on a regular bike, but a breeze on an ebike.
5. For a trip to the grocery store for a forgotten item, even a gallon of milk, I slip on a backpack. (See figure at top.) If you want to routinely pick up your whole grocery list or larger items on a bike, you will need a bike designed for that. Add some saddle bags to the ebike and you’re in business.
6. On a Class 1 ebike, you can go almost 20 mph with very little effort. This means you can arrive at work for distances up to 20 miles in short order without breaking a sweat. No need to take a shower!
7. Temperatures are too hot for pleasant biking in the summer in the US South and Southwest, but there are many days in the spring, fall, and winter which are ideal for biking.
8. The coldest days in the northern US and Canada winters are just too cold for biking. However, in the spring and fall and milder winter days, bundling up in ski gear (ski parka and ski pants, ski gloves with hot packs if needed, ski goggles, and balaclava) can increase the number of practical biking days.
9. Inclement weather and roads/trails covered with snow and ice is a deal breaker for almost everyone. It’s just not pleasant or even safe to ride a bike under these conditions. However, the new fat tire bikes make it possible for the adventurous.
10. You may be too old or have compromised balance to ride a two-wheeler, but recumbent 3-wheel bikes (see pic below) can be ridden by almost anyone. Add ebike power and you have a practical means of transportation.
11. There is often no good way to secure your bike at work or at a store. Some bikes come with a “café” lock built in. A “café” lock will prevent someone from jumping on your bike and riding off. However, using a heavy chain to secure your bike to a bike rack or tree is necessary to keep your bike in place all day at work. More often than not, I take my bike with me inside the grocery store while shopping. Also, you may be able to take your bike inside at work to your office where it will be relatively safe.
For ebiking on smooth roads and trails, a beach bike type ebike is all you need, as shown in the first image below. The mid-drive 7-speed bike shown climbs like a mountain goat. It’s better on hills than even my full suspension $6,000 mountain bike. However, add rough roads, road crossings, or gravel, and an ebike will make the trip much smoother and less jarring. A fat-tire ebike with the tires set to low pressure will give a ride almost as smooth as a full suspension bike.
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