What’s up with this strange hatred of electric bikes? The other day I was cycling over the Viaduct in downtown Vancouver, in the separated bike lane. It’s a nice, safe, peaceful place to bike – usually. Here’s some video of it (below). It’s bi-directional, as you can see. I was just behind a fit-looking cyclist. Coming towards us was a little electric bike – one of those ones that looks like a tiny motorcycle, but can in fact only go 32 km per hour. The cyclist in front of me reacted with fury, almost falling off his bike and almost causing me to crash – all so that he could look back and scream furiously: “This is a f—ing BIKE lane!”
This was not the first time I I have been shocked – and saddened – by the furious anger that some cyclists show towards electric bikes – although it was the most dramatic. It’s as if they think that electric bikes are even more “evil” than cars, and certainly should not be allowed on bike routes. Why did that cyclist want that woman on her tiny little electric bike to be in the car lanes, risking her life in two lanes of much faster moving, MUCH bigger traffic? Did he want her to die, so that he could keep the bike lane true to his purist conception of only strong, fit young men propelled by pure pedal power?
Surely the point of bike lanes is to protect vulnerable road users who are not protected by five tons of steel – regardless of whether their bikes weigh 20 pounds or 50 pounds, and regardless of whether they are powered purely by pedal power, or have a little bit of electric assistance?
Electric Bikes make Cycling Accessible to Everyone
Many of these angry cyclists are coming from a good place, even if they express it very unkindly – they care about the planet, and they care about the quality of bike lanes. But the anti-electric bike group miss 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 all kinds of people – not just the lean, young, able-bodied, fit minority.
Electric bikes make it possible for people with cardiac conditions, plastic knees, plastic hips and arthritis to cycle. They open up cycling to a massive range of relatively less able people, so that they can join the great community of cyclists and swell its ranks. They make it possible for middle-aged people to do their shopping with bikes instead of cars. And they make it possible for parents to transport their kids on bikes, not in minivans. Would you rather share a lane with this woman, or with a honking big minivan or SUV?
I cycle commuted for ten years, but I stopped when I had a serious injury. 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, (reviewed here) and I was off and pedaling. After just over a year of cycling with an electric bike, I was ready to go back to regular biking.
Electric Bikes Make it Possible for Many More People to be Bike Commuters
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 (except when it’s snowing), while most days they are daunted by the giant hills, and so they drive in, instead. So I do two hours of assisted cycling, while they do three 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 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 Copenhagen made it safer and easier. Now she joins me on long weekend getaways that require 130 km or more 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 ride 40 km a day (neither of us is 20 any more!)
Electric Bikes help People get Fit and get Better
Research has shown that people with electric bikes do far more trips on them than 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 helped Maggie and me to 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 working life commuting by bike 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 cycling and settled back on the couch – and died pretty soon.
But Ron did not – instead, he drew on his impressive skills as a retired engineer to build his own electric bike, hooked it up to a heart rate monitor, and now he still does bike 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.
You can read more about Ron’s remarkable journey here – Heart Attack Survivor Still Cycling!
Pedaling is Still Required on Almost all Electric Bikes
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. She uses that electric assist strictly when she absolutely HAS to – the rest of the time, she is pedaling.
And the vast majority of electric bikes cannot get up hills without a lot of pedaling.
I do sometimes see electric bike commuters zooming past me using throttle only, not even pedaling. This does not cause me to froth at the mouth in fury because they are “cheating.” Live and let live, I say. If they don’t choose to pedal, it’s their choice. I would much rather share the roads with them than with cars and trucks.
And in any case, it’s a great thing that electric bikes give you choices. I sometimes have bad knee days when I am very relieved to be able to skip pedaling for a little while – but I’m still on my bike!
Electric Bikes are Good for the Environment
I have heard people say that electric bikes are not really environmentally friendly because ultimately electric bikes draw from traditional energy sources. But it is 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 TINY amount. Is that as terrible as a gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing SUV or F150? Or even just the average car? I don’t think so!
And the science on this is crystal clear. Electric bikes are not even remotely as poisonous to the environment as gas-powered cars.
Electric Bikes make Cycling Safer for Everyone
Also, the more people ride bikes, the safer cycling becomes. This is just a statistical fact. Drivers become more aware of cyclists when there are hundreds of us on the streets, instead of two or three. Cities are forced to provide infrastructure – as is happening right now in London, for example, with the new bike superhighways. The new bike super highways being built in London did not happen by accident. They are a logical response to the fact that bikes already make up 24 per cent of all rush-hour traffic in central London. This kind of stat will not happen in most cities unless cycling is made possible for the majority of people – and electric bikes will help with this.
Bottom line: Electric bikes make cycling accessible to a wider range of people, increasing the number of cyclists on the street, ultimately making cycling safer for all – and helping more people to live in a healthy way. They are a wonderful thing – the next evolution of bikes, and an exciting new alternative to cars.
And all of this makes electric bikes something to REJOICE about, NOT something to be so spitting mad about that we will scream abuse at a young woman on a cycle path.
Deciding which electric bike is the best electric bike for YOU is difficult. I have written a book about how to choose the best electric bike for you. The book includes reviews of many of the best electric bikes on the market today. Click here to find out more about this book. Or click on the Amazon link to look inside the book and see the table of contents.
Did you like this post or find it useful? If so, please support our blog:
We would appreciate it very much if you would SHARE this post with others (using the Share buttons) or LIKE our Facebook page. Or just click on one of the Amazon links before buying from Amazon – small commissions help pay for our time! BEST OF ALL – just SUBSCRIBE to our blog! You will get a FREE DOWNLOAD of my book, How to Buy the Best Electric Bike, plus free weekly updates about our posts. Thanks in advance – reader support keeps us going and makes it all worthwhile!