I just read a letter to Momentum Magazine that made me really sad. Jim Hughes is spitting mad that bike mags are featuring articles on electric bikes (e-bikes). He thinks electric bikes are not bikes at all – on the contrary, they are just as evil as cars, and they should not be allowed on bike paths. He also thinks that electric bikes don’t “have that nasty pedaling requirement” and so have no health benefits.
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Electric Bikes make Cycling Accessible to Average People
Jim is coming from a good place, even if he is not expressing it very kindly – he obviously cares about the planet. But he’s missing a lot of important points. First of all, the best thing about electric bikes is that they make cycling accessible for more people. And that’s the goal, isn’t it? Get as many people out of cars as possible, and create a world where there are so many bikes that city planners will have to design cities that meet cyclists’ needs.
Electric bikes are an incredibly exciting innovation that will ultimately broaden the community of cyclists. This is because they make cycling possible for average people – not just the lean, young, able-bodied, fit minority.
I cycle commuted for ten years, but I stopped when I hit some serious ill health (genetic, not self-induced). I missed cycling, and finally got my doctor to agree to my cycling IF I used an assist to make sure I did not over-do things. I had my trusty Devinci hybrid commuter retrofitted with a fabulous Bionx electric bike kit, and I was off and pedalling. After just over a year of cycling with an electric bike, I was ready to go back to regular biking. And my health problems were just a memory. But I still use my Copenhagen plus BionX electric bike kit to get to work, because I have a massive hill to get over. The difference between me and my co-workers who cycle to work on regular bikes: I do it EVERY day, while most days they daunted by the giant hills, and so they drive in, instead. So I do two hours of assisted cycling, while they do two hours of driving. There is no doubt who is getting the health benefit, and who is causing less pollution.
Maggie (Mrs. Average Joe Cyclist) was afraid to bike after major back surgery. I couldn’t blame her – before the surgery she could not even dress herself, and was frequently in excruciating agony, so no wonder she didn’t want to risk hurting her back again. She dared to try it only because the BionX electric bike kit on my Devinci made it safer and easier. Now she is planning to join me on a long weekend getaway that will require 130 km of cycling, loaded up with full panniers – without an assist to be seen for either of us. During the week, she cycle commutes with an electric bike, because without it, she simply couldn’t do 40 km a day (neither of us is 20 any more!)
Electric Bikes help People get Fit
Electric bikes helped both of us get back into shape, and get fit and confident enough to go back to regular bikes. We are relatively lucky – there are many people who will never be able to get back on regular bikes, because of health conditions, or old age. But isn’t it better that they ride an assisted bike, rather than not be able to cycle at all?
For example, my friend Ron Wensel in Ottawa spent his entire life cycle commuting to work, then retired, and then had four heart attacks. His doctor banned him from cycling because all of his heart attacks happened when his heart rate got over 140. Most people would have given up. Ron did not – he built his own electric bike, hooked it up to a heart rate monitor, and now still does cycle tours all over the world on his bike with his wife – completely contrary to what his doctor predicted! He uses his bike like a regular bike until his heart rate gets to the danger zone, then he switches on his assist. The Ottawa Heart Foundation has had Ron come and speak to them, because he is a model of how heart disease can be treated with sensible, controlled exercise. Ron liked his bike so much that he now manufactures and sells them with his son, under the brand name Pedal Easy.
The assist is only an assist – on electric bikes, pedaling is still required, sweat is still generated, and fitness is still built up. Anyone who has seen Maggie walk in dripping with sweat after her extremely hilly, 20-km commute from work could attest to that.
Electric Bikes are Good for the Environment
It’s true, as Jim points out, that electric bikes draw from traditional energy sources. But it’s really not fair to say that therefore electric bikes are as bad as cars. Our electric bikes use so little energy it is impossible to detect it on our electricity bills. It’s a TEENY amount. Is that as terrible as a gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing SUV? I don’t think so!
Research has shown that people with electric bikes do far more trips on them than average people with regular bikes (because it’s easier and less daunting), and as a result, usually get fitter than people who buy regular bikes. So … electric bikes are good for the environment, because people who own them actually use them – while not using their cars.
Electric Bikes ARE Bikes – Bikes for the Average Person
So electric bikes ARE bikes. True, your average Lycra-clad athlete would not be seen dead on one. But electric bikes are bikes that make it possible for people with cardiac conditions, seniors, plastic knees, plastic hips, arthritis, and other relatively less able people to join the great community of cyclists and swell its ranks. And that makes electric bikes something to rejoice about, NOT something to be spitting mad about.
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