It took only a few pedal strokes on my friend’s e-bike for me to understand what the excitement is all about.
For years I’d thumbed my nose at e-bikes as some sort of crutch for folks who can’t push themselves to the limit.
Turns out I’d missed the whole point: Because you’re using less energy, e-Bikes will keep you in the saddle longer and not feeling utterly spent when the ride is over.
And isn’t that what it’s all about: to spend more time doing what you love?
Marvin Heffley, who works at Wheel Sport on the South Hill, has been a mountain biker for years. But the fun was limited by how many times he could climb back up the hill.
“Mountain biking is a pretty tough sport, climbing hills over and over again,” Heffley said. “It kicks your butt.”
“Now I can do five or six times what I could do only twice,” Heffley said. “It just made mountain biking a lot more fun.” That made sense for the same reason downhill skiers buy lift tickets; you could hike up the mountain for free, but why?
It’s the same for road-biking. Now a 20-mile ride can turn into 50 with less wear and tear on muscles and joints.
Sales of bicycles and electric bikes were on the rise even before the pandemic left more people at home. In-home training apps such as Peleton rose and fell in the last two years; in fact, so did sales of standard bicycles, which actually dropped slightly in 2021.
However, e-bike sales continue to rise sharply.
According to a study published earlier this year by Precedence Research, the global e-bike market was valued at about $17.5 billion in 2021. That’s expected to rise to $41 billion by the end of the decade, as more people see them as a flexible and eco-friendly mode of transportation and a viable alternative to motorized transport.
There’s no one demographic that rides an e-bike. They appeal to young people who don’t want a car; older folks who want a little help so they can still ride a bike; commuters who don’t want to get all sweaty on the way to work.
The trends are reflected at Wheel Sport South, where last year 40% of sales comprised of e-bikes. It’s a safe bet that more of their customers are bicycling to work downtown – pedaling on their own down the hill and getting some extra help on the way back up.
As they say at national manufacturer Specialized Bicycles: “It’s you, only faster.”
Inside Wheel Sport South last Wednesday, about two dozen e-bikes were lined up, waiting or customers. Based on recent history, they won’t last long, even at the mid-range price of $3,000 to $4,000. Higher-end models cost close to $10,000.
Cheaper models go for as low as $600 to $800 at big box stores, though they aren’t recommended by most experts.
“Drop below the $1,000 price level and e-bikes start to get sketchy,” according to an article published last month by bicycling.com.
Most batteries have a range of around 40 miles and are attached to the frame of the bike. To charge it you use a key to unlock it from the frame, and then plug it into a standard wall outlet.
E-bikes come in three flavors:
Class 1 includes pedal-assist bikes, which power the electric motor as your foot applies pressure to the pedal. There’s no throttle to get the bike moving; the electric part works only when the rider is pedaling, and the e-assist cuts off at speeds above 20 mph.
Class 2 bikes also have an electric motor that works up to 20 mph, either while the rider is pedaling (through pedal assist) or with electric propulsion alone via a throttle control.
Class 3 limits an e-bike’s pedal assist to 28 mph and requires a speedometer.
Likewise, motors come in three variants. Mid-drive motors are positioned at the center of the frame, where you would normally find the bottom bracket.
Hub-driven e-bikes have motors within the front or rear hub, and there are two types of hub motors.
Direct-drive hub motors, apart from their bearings, have no moving parts: The motor simply spins around the axle, which is secured to the frame’s dropout. Geared hub motors use a series of planetary gears to lower the motor’s RPM and increase its torque output.