E-Bike Q&A: You have Questions, We have Answers!

E-Bikes are growing in popularity, yet many people still are hesitant to purchase one. In this Q&A, current and former OEC staff answer questions about their recent E-Bike purchases. OEC Summer Intern Juliáe Riva sat down with former OEC staff member Jonathan Lin and OEC’s Rural Partnerships and Water Policy Director Karen Lewotsky to learn more about their personal experiences with recently owning e-bikes.

JR: What e-bike do you own?

  • JL: Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 EQ. Specialized uses a smaller motor [than most other brands] that they developed to fit into various styles [of bikes]. Mine is a commuter/hybrid bike. It has a pretty weak motor but is also pretty lightweight, and it still has 80 mile range on a charge.
  • KL: Gazelle. It’s Dutch-made and extremely high quality.

JR: Why did you choose the one you did? What factors did you consider when choosing? 

  • JL: I wanted a bike that didn’t weigh a ton and didn’t have a throttle. I wanted pedal-assist so that I can still do the work. [Editor’s note, E-bikes are categorized into three classes. Class 1 – pedal assist, in which a motor kicks in when the rider pedals, and assists to speeds up to 20 miles per hour. Class 2 – Like class 1, but also has a throttle and can be powered without pedaling up to 20 mph. Class 3 – like class 1, but the motor will assist pedaling power up to 28 mph].
  • KL: I did a lot of research on e-bikes, like which are the best propelling systems, and decided that Bosch is the best. I was looking specifically for a city bike, not for a road or mountain bike. I was really realistic instead of buying a bike for someone I want to be. I have arthritis in my hands and wrists, and leaning forward is uncomfortable, so I wanted a bike that I could sit upright on but could still maneuver well. There are lots of good bike shops here, but where I bought my bike, Clever Cycles, has a very clear niche in selling commuting bikes in the city. 

JR: How long have you owned it?

  • JL: 2 months
  • KL: I bought it in May 2020.

JR: How were you introduced to e-bikes, and what made you decide to purchase one?

  • JL: I had known about them for a while but was really inspired by Karen Lewotsky. I was trying to reduce my reliance on fossil fuels, but I also need to be able to travel with my 5-year-old daughter without being too heavy. 
  • KL: Around 2007 I moved to my current house and my job was only 5 miles away, so I bought a bicycle. Then, I had another knee replacement which made biking hard because I live up a steep hill.  I am very interested in machinery and vehicles, so I had read about e-bikes for a while. I bought an e-bike to compensate for injury and aging and to increase the distance I can ride. The e-bike allowed me to get back the life I had before. 

JR: What do you use your e-bike for?

  • JL: Trips with my daughter, solo trips due to being a one-car household. Shorter trips and smaller loads.
  • KL: I go to the grocery store, meet friends for drinks, and I can do some trails like Banks to Vernonia, but not off-roading.

JR: What are your favorite e-bike rides and destinations? What’s your favorite story about your e-bike so far? 

  • JL: Salt and straw with my daughter.
  • KL: I am looking forward to doing Rails-to-Trails, but I haven’t done it yet. I have mainly just done small commuter trips. When I first got my e-bike, I was practicing riding around my neighborhood, and everyone kept looking at my bike so I thought they were thinking that it looked really pretty. When I looked down, I saw that I was going 20 mph, so it is key to be aware of your speed in relation to pedestrians, cars, other bicycles, etc. I learned that you have to train yourself to watch the speed for safety reasons.

JR: What are the benefits of having an e-bike? 

  • JL: Greater range, greater speed, not having to dread hills, and not showing up sweaty. Mine has built-in lights so I don’t have to worry about theft of my lights. It can replace shorter car trips. 
  • KL: I used to only be able to bike around 12 miles, but now I can do 40 miles with the e-bike. Benefits include extended range and being able to go up hills. I am also using my car less now, especially with shorter trips. I couldn’t ride a bike before due to physical limitations, so a big benefit is being able to ride one at all. 

JR: Are there any cons?

  • JL: It is expensive. Also, having an identifiably expensive bike creates more safety concerns around theft. E-bikes are hard to insure. 
  • KL: Very heavy and bike security. 

JR: Can you maintain your e-bike at home, or do you always have to bring it into a shop?

  • JL: I don’t really trust my skills enough to do it by myself, so I would bring it into a shop. To be fair though, I would not maintain conventional bikes myself either. 
  • KL: I haven’t had to really do maintenance yet, but I do have a complimentary check-up coming up. I don’t feel as competent to do the more complex maintenance, so I would rather take it in, though I think that some people could definitely do it themselves. 

JR: What tips would you give to people choosing an e-bike?

  • JL: My search was pretty specific because I already knew what I was looking for and ruled out much of the market. People should have a good idea of what they’re going to use an e-bike for. Think of how much cargo/weight you want it to hold. Do you want to exercise or just want a moped with pedals [Class 2]? If you can afford it at all, think of it as an expense the same as a vehicle. 
  • KL: Be realistic about whether or not you’re actually going to use it. You have to be sure that the bike physically fits you. Many things are very different about riding an e-bike than riding a regular bike. Most have electric pedal assist. They can sense how hard you are putting pressure on the pedal. There are different modes, and each one uses proportionally more electricity so the higher the mode, the less distance you can go using that mode. Being aware of all those modes is helpful, and keeping track of how much electricity you have left is important to know. If you choose to go very fast, then act like a car. Gears are different because you can forget to downshift. If you are at a stop and in a high gear, you can’t get going because the electricity doesn’t kick in until you’re moving. Good to practice so you know how to operate it well. Also good to be aware of where the battery is located because of how it affects your center of gravity. Pretty much all bike stores let you test ride e-bikes. You can rent e-bikes to try it and find out if it really does work for what you want out of it. 

JR: What is your vision of the future for e-bikes?

  • JL: Cost is currently the biggest barrier, but besides that there’s really no downsides. It’s pretty inevitable that they will get cheaper over time, and the range will probably continue to go up as time goes on. Hope to see more rebates and incentives. Hopefully it becomes more attainable for more people.
  • KL: More cargo for delivery, bicycle-friendly transportation routes, and used in many different ways – not just for recreation or errands. 

 

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