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How 21st Century technology is giving bike performance a boost.
This is the most fun I've had on a bike in a really long time" is one of the most welcoming lines my wife could have said that sunny and windy day on the trails near Boulder Junction. I’m here to introduce you to, or get you more familiar with an increasingly popular style of two-wheeled fun called E-bikes, also known as pedal-assist bikes. Stats suggest around two-thirds of folks have never even heard of these things, at the same time bike shops are seeing a dramatic increase in their popularity.
For all practical purposes it’s a normal bike component-wise, but with the addition of a large capacity battery integrated with an electric motor. This battery and motor combination team up to provide the cyclist with a seamless boost. This means you pedal at a normal cadence but go faster and farther with each pedal stroke. The level of assistance can usually be controlled by the rider depending on the type of terrain they’re encountering.
Level 1 or Eco mode is used for mellow cruising while the higher power settings flatten out the hills and tame the wind. Quality bikes built by reputable brands are extremely smooth in operation, if you can ride a bike you can ride an E-bike. While these types of bikes have been around for years, their design and technology have made marked improvements in recent years. The model offerings and variations from all the major bike manufacturers have dramatically increased as well.
E-bikes vary in power and speed and many U.S. states have adopted a classification system to define these varying characteristics, with Class 1 and 3 being the most prevalent. Both styles are pedal-assist, meaning you have to pedal to engage the motor. Class 1 is mostly found in cruiser/comfort style bikes, assisting up to 20mph. Class 3 you’ll see more often in commuter and road bike models and and bumps the speed to 28mph. While the feeling of riding an Ebike is dramatic, achieving these speeds still requires a fair amount of effort. As it stands right now, the general consensus among states who've taken up addressing and classifying E-bikes are treating them the same as any other bike and thus allowed anywhere a regular bike is. This is important because it means they’re welcome on trails like The Heart of Vilas County and The Bearskin State Trail.
Popular in Europe for years, the U.S. is finally starting to see a major bump in awareness and sales of E-bikes. When compared to the first half of 2016, the first half of 2017 saw sales of Ebikes in the U.S.
nearly double and the trend continues for 2018. This accounts for almost $48 million in sales. Cities are seeing an increasing number of people using these bikes as a legitimate mode of transportation, while rural areas offer up the promise of more miles logged. Hunters have begun using E-Mountain Bikes to efficiently and discretely access remote hunting terrain. The popularity has even spawned several companies that produce hunting specific rigs.
How long does the battery last?” is a common question bike shops get. For bikes that are meant for general performance on moderate terrain, high quality models see around 80-90 miles on a single charge while mostly using the minimum assist level. Most riders find this level of assist to be plenty for flat terrain, bumping up the power level for hills or strong headwinds. In terms of time, that means at least 5 or 6 hours of actual pedaling. That’s obviously more than most would need for an average ride. At home that evening, simply plug it in like you would your cell phone. Allow several hours to recharge a completely drained battery. Prices for the most popular selling models generally fall in the $2400-3000 range for a high quality bike with a large capacity battery.
Many cycling enthusiasts may be dismissive of this new technology claiming it's for those who are unwilling to put in the work. You could include me in this camp upon my first introduction to E-bikes. What's allowed my views to evolve on the matter are the countless stories from folks for whom pedal-assist bikes are a game changer. Whether it's the lady who's heart condition only allows for moderate exercise, a friend's mom who has Type 1 diabetes, knee and hip replacement recipients or simply anyone who wants to get into better shape and would benefit from the expanded possibilities an E-bike can provide. I’ve heard the phrase “Now I can keep up with my riding partner!” more than a few times. These are all people who’d love to be cycling and would appreciate the extra help an Ebike provides. On a more personal level, my wife has arthritis and longer trips on a bike simply aren’t in the cards. Her E-bike not only allows us to get out and ride on a level playing field, but opens up new distances and terrain to explore. It's truly been a blessing for both of us.
Do yourself a huge favor and make time to stop in your local bike shop and take a test ride. Or better yet, rent one and see for yourself. The glowing reaction from first time users never gets old. The Northwoods has some of the Midwest's best bike trails and seeing more people able to enjoy those trails is something we can all appreciate. At the end of the day it's getting more folks riding bikes and enjoying nature and that's what it's all about. See you out there!