e-Bike: Have You Ridden One Yet?

Dale Campbell - Co Editor

People are realizing that "Electric bikes are economic, sustainable, often quicker through traffic and enable the rider to get as much or as little exercise as they want" (http://www.thisiscroydontoday.co.uk/Cycling-Easy-holds-group-electric-bike-ride/story-17402142-detail/story.html).

In Australia, e-bikes are already mainstream for one company – the Australia Post.   Australia Post could be considered to be the poster child for electric bikes with more than 1,000 electric bikes in their fleet.  These are replacing another two wheeled vehicle that the Australian post has used for many years – the Honda CT110 motorcycle.  To make this transition to e-bikes, Australia Post worked with bicycle designers and manufacturers to improve the design of the bicycle to maximize the safety and efficiency for Posties en route.  The demands of the functionality of the bike have influenced the geometry of the bikes and their luggage capacity.

Considering functionality, the Institute of Transport Studies at Monash University is investigating what influences consumers to buy an electric bike.  The Institute is also following up to determine what the experiences have been for people using e-bikes.  The verdict is still out for consideration.   Whether e-bikes provide a stepping stone from the car to a bicycle remains to be seen.   However, the individual benefits that can be gained by reducing people’s reliance on cars and increasing their physical activity are becoming more evident.  In urban areas, the end results include reduced congestion and vehicle exhaust pollution on the roads.

With the growing interest in e-bikes, I began to wonder if anyone in the Colorado Springs area has had the opportunity to purchase or at least ride an electric bike.   Fortunately, there are at least three folks in the Club who have first-hand experience with the current (no pun intended) technology. 

Here’s an overview of some e-bike experiences from Al Brody:
“As many of you know, I escorted one of our city council members, Lisa Czelatdko and her husband Tom, up and down the Pikes Peak Highway during the Pilot Program back in September.  We began the three hour and forty minute climb at Wines of Colorado.  We took breaks for water, snacks, photos and to adjust our clothing as we ascended and the temps dropped.  This was Lisa C's longest bike ride ever.  She did no special training and had a challenging but great experience.  It was all possible only because of the electric assist 850R bicycles provided by Optibike out of Boulder, CO (http://optibike.com/) . 

Electric assist bicycles have been around for many years and always seem to fade into oblivion due to technical issues mostly involving the vehicle specific battery.  One example is Lee Iacocca's EV Global Bike which hit the market back in 1998 and had a 16 mile range.  But oh how things have changed.  Today's battery technology is surprisingly light and very powerful.  Although each of the bikes which we rode up the Pikes Peak Highway had two batteries, we all completed the 39 mile ride on just one.  

I am a former motorcycle owner who did a personal risk assessment and based on the risk to my health and safety, I now choose not to own a motorcycle.  I refer to motorcycles as Weapons of Mass Distraction.  I have a similar fear of electric assist bicycles although I am close to purchasing one.  Here's why:  I fear the ability to back off and let the electric assist do more and more of the grunt work may mean I will  likely become somewhat dependent on the assist and simply not train as hard as I do now.  On the flip side, there are times when I can commute by bike or car and I choose the car because I don't have time to complete the trip by bike or I just opt to not ride the 400 vertical feet from downtown Colorado Springs back to my home in Rockrimmon at the end of my day.  If I had an electric assist bike, I would opt to ride vs. drive almost all of the time.   E-bikes can go anywhere a bicycle goes and can maintain a speed close to 20 mph.  At that speed, getting around town in a reasonable time is easy.

My spouse, Tamara, owns a Lightning E-Bike.  It weighs only 27 lbs and has a range of about 12 miles (20 advertised).   http://www.lightningbikes.com/e-lightning/index.html   For her, it is like always having a tail wind and that motivates her to ride more often. “

John Pamperin is another experienced e-biker.  He’s captured his impressions regarding his e-bike:
“When I was 14 year old youth, I designed a platform for and installed a 3 HP Briggs and Stratton gasoline engine in the triangle of my bike, after first removing the pedals.  This served me well until I turned 16 and bought a real motorcycle.  Now, 50 years later and a retired mechanical engineer, I again have at my disposal a bike with a motor – an electric motor.

The first time a saw this BionX 350 watt battery assist rear hub motor setup was on a Saturday Fitness Ride.  John Cunningham, CSCC member and owner of Recumbent Brothers, was riding next to me at the start of the ride and was explaining the virtues of the electric assist capabilities.  My opinion of it was probably like many of yours as you read this: These cost a pretty penny, and why would I want one? After all, don’t we ride for the workout that we receive by using our legs?

I cannot answer that question for you, but here are my thoughts: After installing the BionX on my Bachetta recumbent (see photo at the beginning of the article), I am convinced that battery assist bikes are going to be prominent in the recreational and commuting cycling world in the future. (BionX alone has over 250,000 out there - http://www.bionxinternational.com/bionx-international-north-america/products/bionx-e-bike-systems/). 

Still not convinced? Think of it in these terms - would you like a BMW in your garage more than a Prius? Try one out…it will put a smile on your face!”

This article is intended to get a discussion started about electric assist bicycles.    The Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA) http://www.levassociation.com/  is oriented towards retailers but may be the best site to go to for the latest information on electric bikes.  Let the contributors of this article know if you have questions or might be interested in demoing an electric bike.  As Al has suggested, “Get charged up to pedal on assisted.”
BFC Winter 2012 - Vol 5, Issue 5, 1 December 2012

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