faster than feet, less impactful than cars, individual unlike busses
November 10, 2017 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm fascinated by electric bikes. We live right behind an e-bike shop near the top of a particularly hilly San Francisco neighborhood, and sometimes I'll just wander in on a weekday so I can take another test ride up the hill and back. I can handle being flipped off by drivers and cyclists, but I still can't handle the four digit price point for an object that, if it's anything like the last 7 bikes I've had in a decade, will inevitably be stolen. Solve that problem (some new locks are really getting there but so far everything still seems easily hackable) and I'd be sold. I would be a good boy and stop at red lights. I promise. Please Santa, please.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:16 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

Look, I promise I'm fitting the bottom bracket motor I've had for 2 weeks now into my bike tomorrow. It's going to be great. That said, [Europe's] 25km/h and 350W limit seems proportionate to me.
posted by ambrosen at 2:21 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

I... don't hate ebikes.

I want one
posted by greermahoney at 2:21 PM on November 10 [17 favorites]

I have no interest in e-bikes myself. I'm one of those freaks who rather enjoys climbing Seattle's myriad hills. Nonetheless I think they're great! The more people riding, the better.

My only wish is for governors to end power assistance over 20mph, as a means to help protect multi-use path users. Keeping a pace beyond 20mph is pretty difficult on a regular bike, and even that is too quick for a mixed use environment. In my view, if you need to regularly tool along over 20mph on a bike, you're better off investing in a scooter anyway.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:22 PM on November 10 [12 favorites]

Most problems with integrating e-bikes into regular bike infrastructure can be solved by having adequate bike infrastructure, with room for people to ride and pass safely, without everyone having to slow down because someone's got their tiny dog on an invisible extending leash across the multi-use path. Or coming into conflict because the street design sends drivers and cyclists into the same space at the same time, as in this article.

Restaurants pass all the potential costs of illegal e-bike operation, including purchase, fines, tickets, and impound fees, onto their delivery workers.

Whatever complaints people have about e-bikes and their users, that is not an acceptable way to handle them.

Just before this was posted, I read this neato story about e-bike use in ranching. (Here's a bonus one about electric assist hand cycles.) More from the same source about e-bike regulations across the US.
posted by asperity at 2:22 PM on November 10 [24 favorites]

I live a mile away from my commuter train station. Right now I drive because, while a 20 minute walk in the morning isn't awful (I do it 2x a week), doing it twice a day around an already 40 minute commute blows up what little time I have remaining. I'd love to get an e-bike to replace that stretch but the price point kills me.
posted by msbutah at 2:29 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

As someone who has from time to time been reflexively annoyed by e-bike riders (unjustifiably so, except in the cases of silent-as-death-sidewalk-riding because fuck those guys), it does occur to me that the fundamental problem is the a.) lack of proper cycling infrastructure most North American cities have and b.) lack of a coherent regulatory regime around this relatively-new-neither-motorcycle-nor-bicycle mode of transport.


According to a 2013 study, about 150 million e-bikes have been sold since 2003, most of them in China. But e-bikes have become steadily more popular over the last decade, particularly in Europe. According to Citylab, somewhere between 700,000 and 1,200,000 e-bikes were sold in 2012, twice as many as in 2009 and eight times as many as in 2006 (the story is similar every year since). Much of those sales are coming from the Netherlands and Germany. In the Netherlands, some 17 percent of all new bikes sold are e-bikes.

This made me think "WWTND (What Would the Netherlands Do"?

Some brief searching turned up this, from the Library of Congress Global Legal Monitor:

The current rules further provide that e-bike riders must:

- be at least 16 years of age;
- have a moped license;
- have liability insurance for high speed e-bike;
- ride on the mandatory cycling path; and
- have a moped license plate (blue plate).

The maximum vehicle speed determines what kind of vehicle is a high speed e-bike; hence, if an e-bike can attain speeds of up to 45 kilometers per hour, it is a moped and must conform to rules for mopeds. Mopeds may not go faster than 30 kph on bicycle /moped paths in urban areas, faster than 40 kph on rural roads, or over 45 kph on roadway. Other moped rules are that the rider conform to the first three conditions listed above but also drive on a bicycle/moped path drive or on the road; have a moped license plate (yellow plate); and wear an approved motorcycle helmet.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:29 PM on November 10 [10 favorites]

I have friends with a couple of Faraday bikes and they're evidently awesome to ride. Except when the computer that figures out how much energy to give the motor goes out or the batteries die. Then they're very, very heavy bikes and not so awesome to ride.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:33 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

THIS is what folks will really hate.
posted by sammyo at 2:42 PM on November 10 [6 favorites]

Everyone hates e-bikes

But everyone loves Bike-Es !
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:44 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

I'm a regular NYC bike commuter and I have a ton of empathy for all cyclists, powered or not, and in particular food delivery cyclists, who are (as far as I can tell) the predominant users of ebikes in the city. It is a shitty job done by people on the margins of society and they need a break.

That said, ebike delivery riders can be a real hazard for pedestrians and other cyclists. Many of them take the usual devil-may-care 'tude of the regular bike guys, and amp it up to 30 mph the wrong way with lights off at night. On the sidewalk.

I do NOT agree with our mayor, who tends to be on the ignorant side about all things bicycle-y, who recently painted ebikes as public enemy number one of safe streets. Sorry Bill, they aren't in the top 10 (hint: all the top 10 have internal combustion engines, and many of them are blue-and-white). Aiming enforcement at ebikes (which are, it seems, illegal in NYC) while ignoring drivers who literally kill cyclists and pedestrians really feels like punching down to me.
posted by bgribble at 2:49 PM on November 10 [23 favorites]

Huh. They’re everywhere here in Japan, but then bicycles are also considered a mainstream way to get from point A to point B, instead of an affectation or a hobby. They’re great for hilly areas, especially.

That reminds me, I should look into what the prices are like on them nowadays.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:53 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

I'd love to get an e-bike to replace that stretch but the price point kills me.

FWIW, an e-bike isn't likely to save you much time over using a regular bike when the distance is just a mile. It's when the distances are longer that they're more helpful.

[Source: I end up taking the same train as the e-bike rider who passes me on the mile and a half ride to the train station.]
posted by asperity at 2:54 PM on November 10 [5 favorites]

As well as those weird unicycle things, I regularly see what I'm pretty sure are powered skateboards. Is that a thing? No segways though (remember segway?)
posted by quaking fajita at 2:56 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

Here's what I can't figure out

Cars: 3,500 lbs, going 40+ mph, copious blind spots, airbags everywhere, multiple touch-screen displays within operator's reach
Bicycles: 200 lbs total weight, going 15+ mph, 180 degree field of view, if the operator messes up they can easily be killed
E-Bikes: 215 lbs total weight, going 19+ mph, 180 degree field of view, if the operator messes up they can easily be killed

There's something dangerous here and it's not the extra 15 lbs and 4 mph on the e-bike.
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:56 PM on November 10 [35 favorites]

I'd love to get an e-bike to replace that stretch but the price point kills me.
FWIW, an e-bike isn't likely to save you much time over using a regular bike when the distance is just a mile. It's when the distances are longer that they're more helpful.

Yeah, I was definitely curious what eliminated a non-e bike from your consideration here. I ride quite a bit so I understand my perception is skewed, but 1 mile barely registers. Even if it's hot out!
posted by flaterik at 3:02 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't like them. I forgive delivery people for using them. But for most everyone else, especially on recreational paths, they seem like a loophole to sneak in motorized transport in areas designed for human-powered transport.
posted by Borborygmus at 3:09 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

... I saw a clear path, bumped my pedal assistance up to “Turbo,” and went for it....
...but e-bikes make these speeds possible for the average rider — and enable some Jason Bourne-esque maneuvers.
Well, it's easy to blame your shitty traffic ettiquette on the e-bike, isn't it? How about anticipating, signalling and generally obeying the rules?
lack of a coherent regulatory regime around this relatively-new-neither-motorcycle-nor-bicycle mode of transport
The problem with regulatory regimes is that they're pointless without enforcement. In BC, last I checked, anything over 400W has to be licensed and equipped as a motor vehicle. The limit on the local trail is 200W, but there are lots of e-bikes that way exceed that (shit, I exceed it under my own power.) Between e-bikes and unlegulated, blinding, high-output LED headlights, I'm strongly considering moving off the trail and back to the road permanently.

At one point I decided to draft off a guy on an e-bike to see how fast he was going (the global limit is 40km/h). We were cruising along at over 50km/h (which must mean he's over 400W) when he nearly ran into a bollard. Which raised another point to me: a lot of cyclists are needlessly aggressive, but aggressive people on e-bikes are more dangerous than those on regular bikes because they go so much faster, and they tend to be far less skilled than cyclists who can go that fast under their own power.

But again, even a little bit of enforcement would go a long way against assholes on e-bikes and regular bikes.
posted by klanawa at 3:12 PM on November 10 [7 favorites]

I saw a bunch of e-bikes in Berlin. Watching them made almost want to start cycling again. (I quit when I moved to SF because of hills and death. Death is still a problem.) The Berliners I saw on them were mostly just using them as a gentle assist, I didn't see any reckless riding. Berlin has excellent bike infrastructure though.
posted by Nelson at 3:12 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

I don't like e-bikes.

I love bicycles. I love my cargo bike. I love motorcycles. I would do questionably ethical things to get a legitimate, awesome electric motorcycle. But that electrical-powered-machine needs to be at least on the frame of something that can handle it. Once you reach certain speeds, the structural frame of a bicycle with similarly sized bicycle wheels and tires is actually kind of sketchy unless you're keeping your bike meticulously maintained (which most people do not).

The biggest problem with e-bikes is that it's really easy to overpower them to danger levels for the infrastructure they operate in. E-bikes on bike lanes or on biking trails are TERRIFYING for riders (at least this one) and for fellow commuters. It doesn't help that e-bikes allow riders to make more questionable decisions within that infrastructure.

If this pushes development into some better electric motorcycles, I'm game. That's cool.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:18 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

I don't hate e-bikes, but I also don't get the appeal.

Want to bike? Get a bike.

Want to ride? Get a scooter.

Want to ride without gas? Get an electric scooter.

Want to ride faster? Get a motorcycle (and gear!)

Want to ride faster without gas? Hahaha fuck you peasant, you can't afford it. Signed, Zero Motorcycles

So yeah, I don't want cheap e-bikes. I want cheap e-motorcycles!
posted by -1 at 3:18 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

Those zero bikes are around $10000. How much more is that than an ICE bike? (I have no idea, but it doesn’t seem eye wateringly expensive given the low low cost of charging it compared to buying gasoline)
posted by chavenet at 3:31 PM on November 10

I don't hate e-bikes, but I also don't get the appeal.

My commute to work is either a 1.5-hour train-and-bus ride or a 1.5-hour bike ride. That's not a typo: even without an e-bike, biking to work is just as fast as taking transit, because the transit connections to where I'm going suck ass. I would love to bike to work every day — both because my heinous commute doesn't leave enough time for me to get exercise otherwise and because riding regularly is great for my mental health.

The problem is endurance. I can ride 10 miles a day every day with no problem. I can ride 30 or 40 miles in a day if I get a chance to take it easy for a few days afterwards. I can't do 30 miles a day 5 days a week, and given my age, my health, and the amount of time I have available for training, I don't think getting there while transit commuting most days is a realistic goal.

So, a pedal-assist e-bike would be awesome as shit for me, because it would let me switch over to bike commuting full-time, and then either gradually ramp up to doing it unassisted or say "fuck it" and leave the assist on and still get a shit ton more exercise and fresh air than I'd get otherwise.

(This is not an invitation to "solve" my problem for me or tell me I'm wrong about any of the details of my own life. I'm just, you know, sharing a data point about what the appeal is for one specific buyer who's looking pretty seriously at getting one.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:43 PM on November 10 [39 favorites]

I think it's silly to dismiss e-bikes as only allowing a little extra speed -- for one, both stopping distance and force from impacts increases with the square of speed, so the increase in either of those between (say) 15 and 19 mph is over 60%.

The bigger problem is that people casually say bikes allow whatever speed -- yeah, they do, but only for people who are in sufficient shape to do so, which is mostly people who cycle longer distances regularly and who have been cycling for a while. And some of those people are the insane salmoning courier types, but most serious cyclists are capable of handling themselves safely and generally behaving in a reasonably predictable fashion. My worry with e-bikes is that it allows a jackass who's never ridden before to put themselves and everybody in a hell of a lot more danger than if they had just taken up regular cycling.

With a speed cap (I'd pick 20 km/h for assistance), e-bikes are bikes that allow travel at a reasonable speed over substantial distances independently of the terrain and ability of the user; above that, they start becoming unlicensed stunt motorcycles that are encouraged to travel in with pedestrians.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:49 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]

Those zero bikes are around $10000. How much more is that than an ICE bike? (I have no idea, but it doesn’t seem eye wateringly expensive given the low low cost of charging it compared to buying gasoline)

Honda Grom has a MSRP around 3500 bucks (that's their smallest in the line). Yamaha has a starter bike around the $6k mark. $10k gets you close to the Ducati scrambler.

Fuel cost is largely not a consideration in motorcycles. My shitbox 1968 Honda CL160 that has like, zero considerations for high performance and fuel efficiency usually runs at like 35-45 mpg. The Grom is rated at 125mpg. New Ducati scrambler is rated at 43mpg. The military uses as Hayes Diversified Technologies M1030M1 that is a diesel, and gets something insane like 95mpg (oh how I wish they had a civilian model!).

Even with my desire for an E-motorcycle, you put $10k in my lap, and i'm getting a Ducati, not a Zero. It's not as much that the Zero bikes are bad, their build quality seems fine, their range is just awful though. The highway range is like 45 miles. If I was commuting on one, I'd have to charge it every other night or so. This is fine for city driving, but for any sort of distance riding, you're going to be SOL.

Most electric motorcycles haven't gotten away from the formula of "Gas tank above 'engine' trailed by rear wheel.' With hub-mounted motors, you can get really creative in the form factor, and that hasn't been explored by engineers yet. There are some garage customs coming close, but nothing on the production level.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:55 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]

I don't hate e-bikes, but I also don't get the appeal.
If you have a big hill (or hills), an e-bike allows you to ride to work without sweating too much. That could be appealing for people who don't have shower facilities at work or who weren't in great shape. And they're better than a scooter because you can stick them on a bike rack, whereas you need to park a scooter in a parking space.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:04 PM on November 10 [8 favorites]

Tokyo is just full of e-bikes--mostly ridden on the sidewalks. They can be a nuisance at times, but it is pretty much the cheap and practical way for parents to take kids to daycare etc. and do the shopping. Package delivery people use them, but they are pulling a trailer full of boxes so they need them and are very courteous riders. The Dominos Pizza guys? Not so much, but there aren't that many of them.

I tried one for the first time as a rental from a hotel on Hachijō-jima. The assist certainly made a 50km day possible along rugged coastlines like this. Seems they have a governor limiting them to 30kph/19mph which makes them pretty reasonable so I don't hate on them. Told my dad about it. He's been an avid cyclist for decades, but he's thinking of getting one. Pushing 80 years old and some of his favorite routes are just too hilly these days. If it keeps him out and about I'm all for it.
posted by Gotanda at 4:24 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

I have a pedal-assist bike. I bought it because I wanted to navigate Seattle's hills with my kid. I'm not up to doing it with a regular bike. I can't get a scooter or motorcycle because of the kid. I seem to average about 12-13 mph around my neighborhood. It's a good fit for me.
posted by another zebra at 4:25 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

The most vocal anti-e-bike activists tend to argue two things at once: e-bikes are uniquely dangerous and the people who ride them are doing so recklessly

Wow, just wait till they hear about cars!
posted by Panjandrum at 4:31 PM on November 10 [22 favorites]

I'm an older guy with a bad hip. I've put over 4000 miles on my ebike over the past 4 years and love it a whole bunch. It is the go-to vehicle for me in town now and has replaced I'd say 60% of my car trips from in the past.

But I do kind of like though how regulations can't keep up with technology at the moment. We can't even get our bike path/car interactions worked out and now here is this new mode that is just flipping the table over. It's kind of chaotic in an exciting way. That said I'm all for power/speed limits on the trails.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 4:44 PM on November 10 [6 favorites]

I had no idea people hated e-bikes, but the article seems to really point more to the shitty behavior of the riders than what i perceived as inherent problems with e-bikes. I've had my share of run ins with asshole cyclists that don't need an e-bike to be an asshole.

My current forms of transportation are gas motorcycle and car. I don't currently own a bike but I've wanted one for quick jaunts to the store and to get exercise without having the whole rigamarole of putting on safety gear for the motorcycle. I've always liked the idea of a bicycle commute but there are some killer hills that my out of shape body will quickly be discouraged by and also don't like the idea of showing up to work all sweaty.

So, enter the e-bike idea - the few i've been on have been a pleasure to ride. I use hand signals, I don't feel a need to bomb through stoplights or rush - it seemed just like a nice, pleasant ride, where I can adjust the amount of pedal assist I want, from nothing to full assist, which I saw as a way to ease me into biking as a commute and building up strength.

I've been lusting after a Yuba Spicy Curry cargo wagon e-bike since i've had a kid. I know I can attach a kid seat to any old bike but it feels like this thing was designed with that in mind with the low wagon and runnerboards. Too bad it's FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS THOUGH.
posted by Karaage at 4:44 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

the fundamental problem is the a.) lack of proper cycling infrastructure most North American cities have

To take a probably contrarian view, I think it may be possible that lack of special cycling infrastructure in a lot of US municipalities (because bikes shouldn't just be for the urbanites!) could help the adoption of e-bikes. The author of the article was only riding around NYC, whose cycling usage, infrastructure, and even basic terrain is several copenhagen units ahead of what the rest of the country experiences, even in other major cities.

He notes, e-bikes are " too fast for bike lanes, too slow for roads, and highly inappropriate for sidewalks." In most places though, there are no bike lanes and you are lucky if you get a sidewalk, so if you're biking, you're going to be in the road. So the notion of being "too slow" for the road strikes me as someone who may have become accustomed to there actually being a bike lane to use. An e-bike may be overpowered for a bike lane, but that's a moot point if there aren't any and we are all just sharing the road. And fuck sidewalks: they're slower, clustered with crap, more dangerous (since cars aren't necessarily looking on the sidewalk, also clustered with view obscuring crap), and (in my home of Atlanta) prone to suddenly ending without warning. Also, sometimes they have someone walking on them.

Speaking of Atlanta, it has hills, which I've found to be a barrier to getting other people starting on cycling with me (on top of the lack of infrastructure, aggressive drivers, and incoherent road layout). An e-bike sounds like a fine solution for a lot of novice riders to stop dreading hills and feel less like a target in traffic, since, again, we're all "sharing" the road down here.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:50 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]

E-bikes are what is going to force the development of proper bike infrastructure in the United States. But yes, the price has to come down. I really want a Copenhagen Wheel, but it has to drop to $300-$500 for me.
posted by LarryC at 5:10 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

IIRC most states already regulate mopeds. Why are these not considered mopeds? They're literally the same except for the electric motors.
posted by ardgedee at 5:16 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

I was a full time bicycle commuter in my 20s. I was a long distance motorcyclist in my 30s and 40s. Now I am in my 50s and have a medical problem that is making those activities mostly impossible. In the last three years I have owned two electric bicycles. Both have throttles, not pedal assist. My body won't cooperate; I can't pick up my left foot properly, so the throttle provides forward momentum while I make repeated attempts to get my foot onto the pedal/deck. They are lighter than motorcycles, so I can hold them up with just my right foot, when stopped.

The first electric bicycle was a conventional one. It is OK but the pedals became SO awkward for me, that I swapped it for a Razor Ecosmart Metro. This is an adult sized machine that looks like a kid's push scooter with a bicycle seat. It was about $400, less than 1/4 the price of the conventional electric bicycle. It has a big low skateboard deck that is easier to lift my stupid foot onto. Its top speed is only about 10mph but that's OK, I wouldn't want to go any faster on these tiny wheels. Range is claimed to be 10 miles but I never go more than a mile from home. I ride it almost exclusively on the sidewalks, places I would walk to if my foot didn't drag so. I use it like some people would use a mobility scooter, but I like it because it's better for social interactions; my head is at normal adult height, and I feel less self conscious. I use it way more than I use my car.

I sold my electric bike with pedals to my neighbor. He has some disabilities of his own, and he has no drivers license and no car. This bike is fabulous for him, it has allowed him to get a part time job and to visit his family. He is riding it a lot farther/faster than I ever did, and it's getting dark early these days. I hope he stays safe. He put good lights on it at least.

Anyways, when I am on the sidewalks and trails I am very conscious of being faster than I should be, and I slow WAY down as needed. So does my neighbor. These machines make a huge difference in our lives, as people with disabilities. So far, electric bikes are novelties here. I hope that as they get more common, people don't act like jerks and ruin it for all.

The electric bicycle is speed governed to 20mph. This is USA federal law. I am sure some people defeat that, though.


A couple weeks ago I got to see the machines being made by Mahindra GenZe. They are making electric scooters and selling a ton of them for food delivery in cities. They are clearly motor scooters, not bicycles. USA federal limits gas scooters to 49cc, but for electric scooters like this, that limit has been translated to to 30mph. They have the batteries in a thing like a briefcase, which pops in under the seat, behind the rider's ankles. You can get spares and swap them. Apparently the pizza places have a charging rack with rows of these. And if you live in a city apartment you can park the scooter outside and carry the briefcase in to charge it.

And with similar tech they are making bicycles. The bicycle batteries are also modular and swappable, but more like rectangular water bottles than briefcases. They have a big contract for this Christmas, selling through Costco. So that might be a good deal to look for this year. Both scooters and bicycles look very high quality; I was impressed. And the prices have come way down. If my feet were more cooperative I would want one of each, but as I am I think the Razor is better for me.

Anyways you can put me down as a fan of e-bikes. I think they fill an under-served niche and will become more popular because they are just so very practical.
posted by elizilla at 5:17 PM on November 10 [14 favorites]

I don’t like e-bikes, but I despise Trikkes.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 5:18 PM on November 10

I want an e-trike, but the laws in Victoria are stupid (low power limit, must only be assistive), presumably to protect the income from rego on motorbikes.
posted by pompomtom at 5:26 PM on November 10

The author makes a big deal about going 15-20mph without breaking a sweat. Has anyone in the thread used these bikes? Can you break a sweat on them? Like, can the bike add 200W to whatever a human can output?
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 5:37 PM on November 10

Retail e-bikes have a governor on them that turns off the power assist at some speed (or equivalent human wattage). For some bikes this governor is easily defeated by modification.

I'm reminded of when I went scooter shopping with a friend. The local law said that you didn't need a motorcycle license below 50cc, but half the scooter dealers we went to were real keen to point out the exact piece of plastic you should snap off to turn the thing into a 70mph crotch rocket. Not great.
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:42 PM on November 10

I just got an e-bike from Budnitz. You wouldn't know it looking at it, all the workings are embedded in the rear hub. It is a magical thing. I don't get why people have hangups about "letting" them share their precious (cis white male natch) bike snobbery, but they need to get the fuck out of the way. These are one of the best technologies that stands a chance of giving people that aren't Bike People car alternatives. They're extremely easy to use, don't cause any additional accidents, and are a joy to use.
posted by odinsdream at 5:42 PM on November 10 [10 favorites]

I run numerous tiers of rides for the local bicycle club. I've ridden with people on road race bikes, endurance bikes, classic bikes, hybrids, city bikes, mountain bikes, e-bikes, ellipti-go running-style bikes, you name it. We've logged many thousands of miles just this year alone. Two observations:
1. People who have come to our rides with e-bikes put in the work and have just as much fun as everyone else
2. It ain't the type of bike that makes the ride.
posted by introp at 5:46 PM on November 10 [6 favorites]

Huh. They’re everywhere here in Japan, but then bicycles are also considered a mainstream way to get from point A to point B, instead of an affectation or a hobby. They’re great for hilly areas, especially.

Yep, e-bikes are totally ubiquitous in Japan, especially Tokyo. Tokyo is fairly flat but has its share of hills, and having that extra power is really really handy, especially when you're weighted down with groceries and bags and kids and whatnot. Many (most?) people don't own a car, so having an e-bike is how most people get from place to place. Especially parents transporting kids to and fro, with bikes like this.
posted by zardoz at 5:48 PM on November 10

Want to ride? Get a scooter.

I don't want to further damage what's left of my hearing.

Want to ride without gas? Get an electric scooter.

Too expensive.

Speaking of cost, how long before a decent/reliable e-bike can be purchased for something in the 600-800 range?
posted by Beholder at 5:55 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

I am buying an e-bike as a reward for myself when/if I get tenure (well, the Australian equivalent, which is tenure-esque).

My e-bike use case:
- Three days a week I have a 10km commute that takes me 30 minutes one way, and 45 minutes to 1 hour the other way, because going home is all uphill. Worst case scenario, an e-bike is going to mean it's 30 minutes in each direction, which will save me 15-30 minutes a day. And I suspect it will actually save more than that, because I don't think I am maxing out my possible speed currently on the way in, either. (And by comparison, public transport takes 50 minutes each way because the bus connections are dumb, so currently on days when I don't cycle because it's too hot, or I'm not feeling well, or whatever, my commute really sucks. An e-bike will mean fewer public transport days).
- One of those hills is steep enough that 9 times out of 10 I walk it. An e-bike is going to let me ride right up, no matter how tired and hot I am.
- Our climate hits 40+ C (104F) many days in summer, and I like to ride in work clothes, and don't have access to a shower at work anymore since my office got moved to a different building.
- 1-2 days a week, I have a different commute to a campus that is either 1 hour 45 by public transport, or 1 hour 30 by bike, but I don't have the stamina or time to ride for three hours in a single day most days (especially when 1.5 of them are after a long day of work). Since most of that commute is on off-road cycle paths that don't intersect roads, I think I could probably maintain a pretty steady 25kph on them on an e-bike (the legal limit for pedal-assists here), which would cut the 1.5 hours down to about 1 hour and makes it much more manageable.

The only thing I can't decide is whether to risk getting one of these, which I can't test ride, but get great reviews, are very (suspiciously) cheap for an e-bike, and would mean I could fold it up and do a combined cycle-train route on my long commute day, which would get the whole thing down to about 45 minutes each way, or go all out and get what I've had my eye on for years.
posted by lollusc at 6:19 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

> Speaking of cost, how long before a decent/reliable e-bike can be purchased for something in the 600-800 range?

If you're handy, and already have a bicycle, there are conversion kits in the sub $1000 range, though the kits at $900 have more battery (amp-hours) than the $500 kits.
posted by fragmede at 6:26 PM on November 10

A lot of the cheapest kits just involve replacing the front wheel (and possibly a Dremel cut or two). But I wouldn't trust the components to last very long, with a cost of sub $250 and a lead-acid battery.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:35 PM on November 10

I'm all for people having ebikes, and CA regs seem pretty smart to me on this, e-bikes governed at 20mph lets you use off-street bikeways/facilities/multi-modal trails (subject to local authority override), pedal assist governed at 28mph lets you use bike lanes on the roadway, and anything over 28mph gets treated as a moped.

That said, most of the beefier motors scare me. I almost pop wheelies coming off a dead stop on a regular bike any power assist is a lot of acceleration. I think I might like something with really light assist like the Faraday when I get a little older, or if I'm hauling more than 250lbs in a trailer or tackling hills regularly. But that's me, and whatever risks the occasional yahoo speed demon create on the trails I think is more than offset by having more cyclists out there which makes drivers more likely to be looking for cyclists. Also, the terrible, terrible on road infrastructure locally requires about a half-mile to a full mile of sprinting on streets with 35-45 mph traffic or going way out of your way. A 28mph governed e-bike would make those sections way less stressful.

Ideally there'll eventually be some kind of smart governor on e-bikes that is 1) set by the roadway/trail you are taking and 2) broadcasts the speed of the vehicle to assist with enforcement.

I am one of those middle aged white dudes, and in another life I'm sure I'd be wearing lycra and riding in peletons, but I do volunteer work in bike advocacy, and I know a ton of people who ride bikes because they don't have a car, and others for health. Most of my friends can't keep up with traffic locally, and I want them to be safe. So I don't judge, and it seems like most of the people in bike advocacy even if they don't want e-bikes right now for themselves are pretty happy to see other people on them because it's almost always better than a car.

Davejay, the other big reason people run red lights is when they don't detect bikes to trip the signal. I've been trapped in the left turn lane of some very fast moving streets because the light won't change. It's a pain, and the easy out is to maintain your momentum to run the red in a gap. I don't do it, but I don't judge people for doing what it takes to live through that kind of crappy infrastructure. Red light compliance tends to improve ~30% when the right infrastructure for cycling is in place (according to a Portland or Seattle study I think. Don't have the citation handy right now.)
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:04 PM on November 10 [2 favorites]

individual unlike busses

Not necessarily. I parked 1000+ bikes per week this summer and last, and many of the people who dropped off e-bikes were hauling children.
posted by aniola at 9:13 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

I am amazed to learn there is some kind of controversy around ebikes. In Seattle, there is a big culture around bicycle commuting. We have lots of bike lanes and even bike specific traffic lights, despite the rain and the hills. You see lots of ebikes here. My entire world (work, shopping, kids school, etc) exists within a 5 mile radius of my home. I bike when I can but if I have to go cross town in the winter at 7 am, you bet I’m driving my 20 mpg SUV and the primary reason is that I don’t feel like performing a cardiac stress test every day. But an ebike is high on my list of “wants” whenever I have an extra $1500 in my pocket. If there are places that are actively discouraging such an obvious solution to rush hour traffic, then that’s pretty messed up.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:24 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

Slarty, our local multi-modal trail managed by sf bay area's east bay park district just started allowing e-bikes last August. The trail supervisor said his issue with them was more related to how unexpectedly fast they accelerate in an environment shared by pedestrians, dogs, etc... and less related to top speed. We have a bunch of MAMILs flying down from the bridges in mini-peletons at 40+ MPH on regular bikes so e-bikes aren't really any worse in that sense. I think as people grow more familiar with e-bikes it's going to sort itself out. We seem to have a much smaller proportion of e-bikes than I see when I go to hillier richer cities. I'm sure that's part of it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:46 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]

I almost sold my beloved bakfiets when we moved to Seattle because 100lb bike + Seattle's topogrphy = are you kidding me. Then Electric Lady opened up, and I have added a battery and motor. Guess what? I ride my bike more, because those extra watts are the difference between getting winded at the top of a hill and having a heart attack.

This city still needs a city-wide version of the Burke-Gilman. I want a Burke-Gilman connecting Downtown to Seward Park, and one from Rainier Beach to Northgate, and an actual fix to the Missing Link in Ballard would be great, too. Oh, and a way to get to Georgetown without getting mooshed by trucks, please. Thanks.
posted by RakDaddy at 10:44 PM on November 10 [3 favorites]

Have all y'all who are talking about driving automobiles because e-bikes are too expensive considered selling your cars so you can buy an e-bike? Because that's an option.
posted by asperity at 11:54 PM on November 10 [5 favorites]

It’s funny, I was reading this article and thinking “Huh, these sound really controversial and hoony. I wonder what differentiates them from the electric bikes that everyone considers totally normal and unobjectionable in Japan.” But to judge from the comments here, the answer seems to be nothing but public perception.
posted by No-sword at 2:44 AM on November 11 [8 favorites]

Hah! I had to look up MAMIL - DC is full of these.

My wife is a bike commuter and she's been eyeballing a new ride. I've thought about encouraging her to get an ebike but she likes to ride for the exercise.

I work from home but I know I would ride more for errands and local meeting if I could do it in business casual without getting sweaty. Right now I have a cross bike kitted up for city commuting and I run SPDs so shoes are an issue too
posted by Thistledown at 4:09 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

They make all kinds of biz casual spd shoes, I've.even seen vegan hemp, I think from dzr.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:16 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

I don't see people talking about cargo bikes and hauling capacity here, but that's what makes me want an e-bike sometimes. I ride with my two kids on a Yuba Mundo longtail -- it's just a standard, older model with no e-assist. We did a bike camping trip with our local Kidical Mass over the summer, and the parents with ebikes seriously had it MADE. The last five miles were all slowly uphill, and I made it, but they just flew along, kids and camping gear and all. The one who rocked my world was the 38-weeks-pregnant mom pedaling a bakfiets with her 2yo napping in the box...gliding right up a gravel hill.

We have a car, and we use it a lot, but riding my bike is so much less stressful for me and the kids. Even though, on the bike, they're squished together, they fight way less than they do in the car. We sing more. We all love that they can get off and run for a block or two if they're feeling squirrelly. We have a Bluetooth speaker so we've got tunes. But it gets heavy with a 4 and 6yo on the back and groceries in the saddlebags. A little electric motor is sounding awfully appealing...
posted by linettasky at 5:22 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]

My husband and I used ebikes to get in shape. They were a good way to get out on the bike trails and see what we'd been missing before we could actually do so under our own steam. I also used to use mine to commute to work before we moved. I found it quite funny when the lycra brigade didn't realise my bike was electric and would do anything to try to keep up with the short, out of shape middle-aged woman who had just somehow passed them. I took pity on one once and told him mine was an ebike- he response "oh thank god!"

Now though I have two ebikes I no longer need - if anyone in NW England is looking for second hand ones please feel free to me-mail me.
posted by hazyjane at 6:17 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]

I'd like something very small and unobtrusive like what's used to cheat in bike races, just for an occasional boost where if I did it myself the sweat would explode and I wouldn't use the bike for that trip. But a small boost in some situations would be really handy.
posted by sammyo at 7:08 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

I mind ebikes a lot less than gas motor assists, because if I am biking behind an ebike I don’t start coughing from exhaust.
It seems to me like infrastructure is the need though— if bike lanes in the US were wide enough for passing, separated from pedestrians, and had traffic signals of their own... biking still wouldn’t be as easy in Phoenix as it was in Copenhagen, because the city is SO spread out here.
But bike lanes with passing space would go a long way towards the acceptance of ebikes.
posted by nat at 7:54 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

tl;dr summary: Hills, long commutes, assist-only capped at 20MPH/32KPH, don't be a 20-something ableist prick.
posted by Philofacts at 7:55 AM on November 11 [7 favorites]

Illinois' bike laws cap no-license-required motorized bikes at 20 MPH max speed, which would seem to line up with motor-assist e-bikes. (Although I've wondered if a cop would give out a ticket if an e-cyclist went above 20 MPH on a downhill, even though the bike wasn't using its motor.) Most of the motorized bikes that I see around town are of the gas-motor variety, and I wonder if some of them aren't people who got their license taken away by a DUI and don't know about the no-license speed limit. At least they stay off the rail-trail path, although I do see some of them riding against traffic, which is illegal and wrong.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:14 AM on November 11

tl;dr summary: Hills, long commutes, assist-only capped at 20MPH/32KPH, don't be a 20-something ableist prick.

THIS. I can't believe there's controversy here, but I should have known. The majority of people who bike are not professionals, and many more of us want to bike but find it very physically challenging. I'm not going to apologise for being "out of shape" and that's the primary reason I got an electric assist bike. I already had a nice Novara touring bike, but I can't make it up the hills around my home and when I try I feel like I'm literally dying. It's not enjoyable. But, I loved biking otherwise, so I invested in a machine that solves this problem for my situation and now I'm actually out there biking and getting exercise more.

It's not remotely a motorcycle. You have to pedal to make it go. And it's not going to create any problems except for the fanatics who feel it's a threat to their masculinity to be passed. Those riders are the threatening ones, when they feel entitled to space on the trail to the exclusion of others.
posted by odinsdream at 9:50 AM on November 11 [5 favorites]

Another question on e-bikes for those who have rode one, just how quiet are they? If you were wearing a helmet, could you hear them at all?
posted by Beholder at 9:55 AM on November 11

I have a visceral dislike of e-bikes, almost entirely due to one particular douchebag who regularly tears down the Burke at 20mph during my morning commute.

But most of the e-bikes that I've noticed are actually longtail cargo bikes carrying kids and cargo up and down the hills of North Seattle.

Moreover, the phrase "that I've noticed" in the preceding paragraph strikes me as really crucial, because absent some other unusual feature I'm not sure I actually notice whether a bike has battery assist or not.

So I'm inclined to think that a lot of this is about perception, and the solution might in fact come from broader adoption of e-bikes, such that their image is less defined by a few highly visible outliers.

That said, e-bikes will keep a place on my shit list until they address the issue of that asshole who nearly runs me down on a regular basis.
posted by bjrubble at 9:56 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

Bike helmets don't cover your ears.

When biking, I get passed by people on ebikes (and everyone else, too) and I don't hear anything unusual; I have to see the motor to know it's an ebike.
posted by aniola at 10:04 AM on November 11

bjrubble, is there a kind of transportation that doesn't happen with?

My rule of thumb is that whatever mode of transportation you're using, if you pass, do it at as close as possible to a speed the mode of the person you're passing could use.

So, for example, when I bike past a pedestrian, I slow to pedestrian speeds to pass. I give people in cars a mental thumbs up when they slow to biking speeds to pass me.
posted by aniola at 10:07 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]

Mine has a zeheus hub and makes basically no sound at all. When you're regenerating on a downhill you can hear a tiny whine but it's... Just.. not noticeable especially for other riders.
posted by odinsdream at 10:08 AM on November 11 [2 favorites]

(just in case you're curious, this is my bike. Literally that one in the pictures.)
posted by odinsdream at 10:10 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]

just in case you're curious, this is my bike. Literally that one in the pictures.

All you need is a quaint English village, and a dead scoundrel, and you could go on an adventure with that bike.

: )
posted by Beholder at 11:26 AM on November 11

Sold my car, bought an ebike, now I bike everywhere. I’ve got my fun road bike for recreation and touring, and an ebike for commuting and hauling.

For anyone who hasn’t tried a pedal assist ebike, it’s nothing like a scooter. You literally cannot go anywhere unless you pedal.

Pedal assist just adds electrical power to your human leg power (much like how bicycles themselves add mechanical power to your human leg power), so you can: a) work less hard; b) go much further with same effort; or c) go faster.

These are the kinds of things people on regular bikes aim for too (get a lighter bike, use clipless pedals, thinner tires, take an aerodynamic stance, etc etc etc). There is no “standard” amount of effort or speed when it comes to biking.
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 11:33 AM on November 11 [7 favorites]

Another question on e-bikes for those who have rode one, just how quiet are they? If you were wearing a helmet, could you hear them at all?

I hear some e-bikes and others are totally ninja, but even with the loudest e-bikes the motor noise when discernible is quieter than the other noises the bike is making like the freewheel-click/tire-hum/spoke-swish.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:40 PM on November 11 [1 favorite]

I have a visceral dislike of e-bikes, almost entirely due to one particular douchebag who regularly tears down the Burke at 20mph during my morning commute.

Moreover, the phrase "that I've noticed" in the preceding paragraph strikes me as really crucial, because absent some other unusual feature I'm not sure I actually notice whether a bike has battery assist or not.

Yeah, I think this is definitely a thing. The only time I notice that a moving bike is an e-bike is when it's going so shockingly fast that pure pedal power isn't a viable explanation. (They're easier to spot when they're parked, though — but then, too, you can't look at them and say "this bike's rider chooses reasonable speeds," because they're parked.)

But so yeah, people who ride them at reasonable speeds are bound to be more or less invisible unless you're in the minority of intense bike hardware nerds who're constantly scoping out other riders' wheels.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:45 PM on November 11

I have a visceral dislike of e-bikes, almost entirely due to one particular douchebag who regularly tears down the Burke at 20mph during my morning commute.

In fairness, this sounds more like etiquette issues than a problem with a e-bike per se (though I suppose you could argue that it enables more of this behavior.) I'm an average/mediocre cyclist, but average speeds of over 25 kmh on my 20 year old road racing frame for over 30 km—and frequently hit peak speeds in excess of 45kmh—and this is on flat streets with some mild inclines. If I were an ass and chose to do this on heavily commuted paths—I suspect your perception of me would be the same—regardless of the bike having electric assist or not.
posted by mountainherder at 5:48 PM on November 11

*waves to the rest of the Burke-Gilman commuters in this thread*

Most of the ebikes I notice here are long-line bikes with one (or two!) kids in the back. And most of them pass me (I am not fast).
posted by quaking fajita at 6:16 PM on November 11

I bike commute daily and have done so for 10+ years, plus work in the bike industry. My bike-friendly town has multi-use paths and marked bike lanes all over so it's pretty easy to stay out of heavy traffic most of the time. There's an established ecology of traffic on multi-use paths that bikers and walkers seem to negotiate pretty well. The only time that changes for me is when I see some heavy steel bike whip past me with a rider who cannot push that bike that fast, so electric motor in the drive train somewhere.
I get annoyed at this not only because I'm pushing it with legs while that person is just coasting and possibly menacing people with their excessive speed but also because the multi-use path now seems more like a bike freeway for them. Thankfully it doesn't happen all that often.
I doubt they have the skills to be going that fast as even experienced riders can get surprised at lower speeds from seemingly trivial situations that pop up.
I've owned electric bikes in the past and discarded them due to the complexity, weight and extra hassle factor of running one. Still, I fantasize about my recumbent electric cargo bike which does not as yet exist and am busy plotting how I could make one.
posted by diode at 6:18 PM on November 11

I'm considering an e-assist in the new year, as an addition to my 50lb-ish recumbent light-cargo trike. (diode - we should talk about recumbent cargo bikes)

It's been on my mind for a while because it would be handy for pulling the big trailer (300lb capacity), but now I'm looking at substitute teaching, which would be on the far side of town because of certification requirements. A 15+ mile commute at 6am sounds a lot more feasible if I can easily maintain 20mph.

I used to feel a little ambivalent about e-bikes. I'm still not too friendly with the folks who are circumventing the governors, putting pedals on just for show, and effectively turning them into tiny motorcycles. Really, though, I'm going to leave off complaining about e-bikes until the cars are (mostly) gone.
posted by sibilatorix at 7:43 PM on November 11 [3 favorites]

I moved from a flat city to a hilly city and getting an ebike conversion is what's allowed me to keep using my big heavy Swedish city bike. It means I can wear normal office clothes and not get supersweaty. I find it magical, frankly. The way my one works, the power assist only kicks in when you pedal, and it has sensors to cut out when you brake or change gear or stop pedalling. It feels like riding with your own private tail wind.

I still have a lighter, ordinary bike, and I ride it some days for added exercise when I know getting real sweating on the hill climb home won't matter.

I think ebikes are going to be a real game-changer for bike adoption in a lot of places and people who don't want or need them should still be happy that they will increase demand for bike infrastructure.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:56 AM on November 12 [4 favorites]

What group has an interest in playing up conflict and creating cultural resistance to a new mode of transportation that is low impact and really helpful, especially in hot weather?

What regulatory and infrastructural changes could make e-biking fit better, in a city?
posted by Baeria at 9:11 AM on November 12 [2 favorites]

All you need is a quaint English village, and a dead scoundrel, and you could go on an adventure with that bike.

Amongst the first journeys I'll be making on my new e-bike will be one towards the town 10km to the south of me: Midsomer Norton. But I'll be stopping at a quaint English village before I get there, because Norton's actually not especially quaint.
posted by ambrosen at 9:20 AM on November 12 [1 favorite]

IMBA just announced a new e-bike policy. An important bit from the longer piece:
IMBA is supportive of Class 1 e-MTB access to non-motorized trails when the responsible land management agency, in consultation with local mountain bikers, deem such eMTB access is appropriate and will not cause any loss of access to non-motorized bikes.
They see the writing on the wall, too, so they're going with "allow, with careful design and regulation."
posted by introp at 10:47 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]

« Older “On Nov. 9, 1997, the professional wrestling...   |   DC's pustule finally bursts Newer »

You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.