Getting a boost
by Dane Eifling Special to NWA Democrat-Gazette
Electric assist bicycles are everywhere.
Chances are you’ve seen one of these “e-bikes,” but you may not have known what it was. It looks like a bicycle. It sounds like a bicycle. It moves like a bicycle.
Then you might notice a sizable battery mounted to the frame — or not notice a battery sleekly integrated into the bike.
The easiest way to spot an e-bike is to look at the rider. A person riding an e-bike will usually appear relaxed as he glides effortlessly up hills. The e-bike rider may also be joyfully pulling a trailer loaded with groceries or giggling children. E-bike riders breeze along city streets going 20 mph without so much as a bead of sweat running from under their bike helmets.
The first time I rode an e-bike I just started laughing. I felt like I was cheating — somehow — but I liked it. For somebody like me, who has to pedal up and down some of the steepest hills in Fayetteville, my first ride was like a lightbulb turning on for the first time.
I’ve since bought an e-bike. It will never quite replace the satisfaction and simple joy of riding my traditional bike. But, yikes, yes, I absolutely love all that power.
An e-bike’s power capability can range greatly. I won’t attempt to go into the full array of classifications and wattage levels, but I will try to give a little perspective.
The smallest motors on the market put out 250 watts, an output equivalent to a cyclist going 20 mph on flat ground. So, you basically have another strong rider’s energy pushing you along. The legal limit for e-bikes in the U.S. is 750 watts. Anything above that and you’ve got yourself a motorcycle.
Lots of people are having their first ear-to-ear smile e-bike experience using the VeoRide bike share system in Fayetteville, which has over 100 e-bikes in its fleet.
For University of Arkansas students who want to get to class on the campus nicknamed “The Hill,” the extra juice really helps. VeoRide’s customers, both at the university and the general public, have flocked to the e-bikes. They now account for the majority of the rides on the system.
Will e-bikes do to bikes what e-mail did to mail? Not any time soon. But local bike shops and other retailers are gearing up. Trek, a leading American e-bike manufacturer, is selling more than $20 million worth of e-bikes annually. And, in a few European countries, e-bikes are already outselling their nonelectric counterparts.
The Ozarks are steep and Northwest Arkansans has more than 200 miles of paved and natural biking trails. If you’re going to see it all from two wheels, you may need a little boost along the way. Whether you’re wanting to climb mountains, go further on your rides, or just get around town, an e-bike is a great way to do it.
Rarely has the future looked so old-fashioned.