Debate Time.

In one of my earlier lives, I acted as a volunteer judge for high school debates.

Not only were these verbal tangles fun to watch and listen to, but I got to see firsthand how amazingly bright many teenagers were in their ability to see an argument – any argument – from both sides.

In our polarized and polarizing world, wouldn’t we all benefit from this bold and openminded concept?

In 2016 I conducted my own little internal debate here on this blog site comparing E-readers to traditional books. I think I came to a stalemate in the end.

Today, once again, I’ll take on another “E” and debate myself on an issue that cycles around and rides across my face just about every day.

E-Bikes (Electric bikes). Yea or Nay?

E-bikes are becoming ubiquitous in my area. No matter where I am or where I’m going while riding my own regular bike, I see another “bike” fly past me at an impressive speed.

On the flat, downhill, uphill… ZOOM! ZOOM!… it doesn’t seem to matter.

The age or gender of the rider… doesn’t matter.

Rider size… small or large, again… doesn’t matter.

Honestly, I’m a traditional ten-speeder… a recumbent reactionary … a cycling snob… and so I’ll admit to some animosity while being passed by some smiling, non-sweaty, elderly rider.

I smile back pleasantly, all the while hissing 4-letter epithets under my breath.

WTH!? I’m gasping for air and you’re lazily dragging back on a cigarette?

I know I need to re-assess and adjust my thinking, so I’m going to make an attempt at fairness and look at this new technology with impartial eyes. Let’s go:

Are E-Bikes Good, Bad, or Just Ugly?

THE GOOD:

  • 1. Cycling is a more active form of transportation compared to walking, transit, or driving. E-bikes are like owning a hybrid car, sometimes gas (human) motor, sometimes electric motor.
  • 2. Enables you to reduce the number of auto trips. The earth has one less shot of global-warming-gas spewed. Our world thanks you.
  • 3. An E-bike takes you door to door.  You don’t have to walk from the nearest transit stop or parking garage. Just find a rack in front and lock your bike. 
  • 4. It’s still a workout. Maybe not at the same intensity as a regular bike, but if you’re not a regular cyclist, this is far better than no exercise.
  • 5. Enjoy riding equity when you ride with a faster friend. Everyone gets the speed they need and the workout they want.
  • 6. Conquer hills. This is a big plus for E-bikers, but also the one that drives me most crazy as a traditional cyclist who sweats and pants up the inclines.
  • 7. Haul a heavy load. You can carry a couch or refrigerator, ok, a loaded backpack, and not be exhausted by the extra weight.
  • 8. Arrive less sweaty and exhausted. If you commute to work, no need to spend your day in sweaty, stinky clothes like I used to. Your co-workers will love your E-bike for their own unscented benefit.
  • 9. Got a gimpy knee or nasty hip joint? An E-bike allows you to exercise despite physical limitations. This may be what it takes for us to attain our own Centenarian Olympics! 
  • 10. Save money. Depending on your appetite, the price of food fuel and bodily maintenance is hopefully lower than the price of fossil fuel and auto repairs. 
  • 11. A 2018 North American survey of 1,796 Electric Bicycle E-bike owners showed that their use leads to more cycling, which leads to better health. About 55% of the surveyed bike owners rode daily or weekly before owning e-bikes. After they switched to E-bikes, an impressive 91% of the surveyed bike owners cycled daily or weekly. 

THE BAD

  • 1. Can’t ride them everywhere. Many jurisdictions don’t allow E-bikes on mountain bike or hiking trails.
  • 2. Servicing E-bike specific components requires advanced skills. You’re on a more complicated piece of equipment that takes a higher level of knowledge and repair skills.
  • 3. More difficult to change a flat. A relatively simple procedure on a traditional bike takes on a new dimension with the hardware of the E-bike.
  • 4. Need a safe place to store and charge. If you don’t have a power source where you store your bike, you need to get a bike with an easily removable battery. With higher purchase costs, an e-bike is especially attractive to thieves. 
  • 5. Batteries need to be managed and monitored. The extra weight of an E-bike can become an issue if you’re 15 km. from home and your battery dies. Maybe one day we’ll have an Automobile (er, E-Bike) Association we can call for tire changes and towing.
  • 6. For younger kids and fitter adults, E-bikes remove some of the physical effort and exercise effect. I lean in to laziness. I know with myself that I’ll rely on a motor if it’s handy. This is similar to why I love automatic savings plans for retirement. I want to make it as easy as I can to save money… and also force myself to sweat!

THE UGLY

  • 1. Cost. Typically, because of the extra electrical components, an E-bike will be more expensive than a similar standard bike.
  • 2. Weight – those same electrical components, primarily a battery, will add about 40-50% weight to an E-bike versus a traditional bike.
  • 3. Safety on the road. The additional weight (and speed) of an E-bike might make maneuverability a bit more difficult and therefore slightly less safe.
  • 4. People might hate you because of the extra speed you can carry and sustain. Yup, this is me being pissed when passed with ease on an uphill stretch!

OK… the debate is up.

What do you think?

Despite my reservations, I get the appeal.

Reluctantly, I say … GOOD.

Baby boomers (and many others) like myself are flocking to the joys of bicycling with just a little added boost.

Ultimately, any physical activity is far better than NO activity. Our hearts and lungs and longevity (mental health too) will all be positively impacted by this new craze.

For today, I’m not ready to go and buy myself an E-bike yet, but I can see the day coming… the day when my joints or lungs say enough and…

… unlike the Hula Hoop, Bobby Socks, and Pet Rocks, I hope the E-bike will be out there as a permanent addition to our tool-chest of useful devices.

Ride, ride ride, let it ride…