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  • Writer's pictureHoosier Doc

But I Can't Do That (On an E-Bike)

My e-bike on campus on a rainy day.

Misconceptions about e-bikes abound. I have heard a lot of them over the years and perhaps fell for some of them before I bought my Como Turbo last year. Let's have some real talk about these common e-bike myths.

It is a moped.

This is so ridiculous false. While there are bikes out there like the Rad Runner which are more moped than bike, most e-bikes are not, in fact, moped-like at all. That is not to say that the Rad Runner and its ilk do not have a place. I think they are great urban-transport bikes and would be ideal for delivery services. I do not think they are the typical bike a cyclist will reach for. Most bikes are ped-elecs that have pedal assist. Pedal assist boosts your power but feels like, well, riding a bike. Throttles are available on some bikes and these will feel less like bikes but if it is a bike you fancy, most e-bikes fit the bill. A throttle just allows you to go without pedaling - more like a moped but nowhere near as fast!

I can't ride on trails.

This is area-dependent but mostly false. If you're concerned about e-bikes being labeled a "motor vehicle", there is good news for you! Most places do not consider them motor vehicles. One main exception might be e-bikes with a throttle. Class 1 and Class 3 e-bikes are pedal assist (Class 1's like mine only go 20 mph with assist, Class 3's go faster). They do not have throttles. Certain localities may prohibit Class 2's on trails since they have a throttle or may require users to forgo use of a throttle. I not only ride on trails a lot, I have full support of local and state authorities to do so. Some places are prohibiting e-bikes on MTB trails but this seems more like a niche issue. I think policies will change over time as e-bikes become more popular. This is why I encourage trail users to purchase a Class 1 or Class 3 bike. These are most likely to be "okay" in the future. Also, if you're an avid cyclist, you probably won't like having a throttle.

It's not really exercise.

Ugh. I loathe this one. I usually hear it from roadie men who seem to get off on being against adaptive cycling, people that are slower them just existing, and general weight weenies who would never dare commute by bike. It totally is exercise. My bike is heavy. It is usually weighted down with a lot more stuff than I would bring on my road bike. It's also a completely different bike and meant for a different type of ride. However, I can assure you, because I ride faster and longer, I burn a similar amount of calories and have a similar HR read over the course of a ride (per my apple watch). This is supported in studies, too. However, my recovery is better, my knees are less-taxed, and I am not daunted by hills that may scare me on a road bike. I feel limitless now and ride more - not less. In fact, that is the main finding with e-bikes - people ride more and, thus, become more physically fit. Assuming that every cyclist wants to be fast or can ride a traditional bike is ableist. Anyone who has ridden a recumbent bike has probably heard the same. It's not cool, folks!

I can't ride in the rain.

False. I ride year-round in all sorts of weather. I live in the Midwest where it snows. E-bikes are popular in rainy places from the Pacific Northwest to the Netherlands. In fact, my first run-in with one was actually in Manchester, UK where it rained daily the entire 2.5 weeks I was there. E-bikes will run in the rain if you care for them. The key is you may have to prepare more. I have access to bike parking in a bike garage at work which is a luxury but you might be able to bring one into you office on your daily commute, too. You don't want to leave your bike in the rain unless you use a rain cover but if you have to leave a bike outside, they exist. However, my bike is rated for rain. Most are. And most people ride fearlessly in rain or snow on them. I know I do! You will have to care for them after getting into the house or wherever you park but you should do that with any bike. For me, this means I wipe my bike down, remove the computer to let it hang to dry, and leave it. It takes about 3-4 minutes extra.

I can't haul one on my car.

You can - with precautions. This, for me, has been the most annoying issue. I have a step-through and the most annoying part was finding out how to haul it. I've now bought a much better hitch rack. You will not be able to haul one easily on a small car without a hitch rack or on a cartop rack simply because of weight. But hitch rack carriers do exist to haul these bikes. Ours cost about $300 - not much more than another comparable rack not weighted for my e-bike. I could have continued to use our previous rack with a crossbar adapter indefinitely but it was a huge pain and I got to hating it. Find a rack that is weighted for the weight of your bike - choose carefully - and you will be fine.

I can't pull kids or cargo.

These bikes are built to haul things. Really. If you are using a bike that has a motor, you should be using it to haul things to stop driving your car. I literally cannot imagine going back to hauling things on my Surly even though I did it for years. The e-bike is simply so much better adapted for this. I've have helped people find axles to pull trailers with their e-bikes. Many people are under the misconception that they cannot pull a bike trailer with an e-bike because the axles most bikes use are not quick releases like most other bikes. Not true! My shop bought me one from the Robert Axle Project. It was rather pricey but took minutes to install and has been invaluable for the ability to haul kids and cargo. And if you are planning on hauling kids and cargo and have a big budget, just buy a dedicated cargo e-bike. I want one so badly and they are worth it if finances allow!

They are fussy and require a lot of maintenance.

E-bikes aren't fussy. I have gone more than 1000 miles on my bike without issues. I want to get it in for a tune-up since this is a regular interval for me but I already did that with my road bike. I now have disk brakes and want to get those adjusted (something I don't want to do myself). Once you find a competent shop, this becomes simple. For me, the most painful part will be dropping the bike at the shop for a day and being without it. Yes, you will need more service but that is because your mileage will increase dramatically if you like your bike. E-bikes aren't fussy they are just car replacements and car replacements will require more frequent maintenance if you ride more. I do recommend that when you buy a bike, though, you think about the quality of components and the ability for your shop to service them before you go out and buy one - especially from an internet source.

They are expensive.

This is true and false and getting more and more irrelevant over time. Does an e-bike cost more than a comparable analog version? Undoubtedly. But what are you getting out of it? If you are buying an e-bike to ride more, haul kids, haul cargo, and replace a car - even for part of the time - you are buying a car-replacement. A car replacement that still costs the fraction of a reliable used car with much lower replacement and fuel costs. My e-bike has saved us on insurance, gas, and maintenance. My husband and I are able to work different schedules because my e-bike gives us this flexibility. This is what allows us to remain a one-car family. So, if you are able to get buy with an analog model, do it! But if you are looking to replace a car and would ride more with a e-bike, sell your freaking car! The e-bike will not disappoint! As with anything, I do feel you get what you pay for. Quality bikes exist at many price-points but talk to your shop about what they can and can't service. The last thing you want is a bike that you can't fix if you need to or one that is going to break down. This is not a special concern for e-bikes, though. It applies to all bikes.

Like I said, almost all of the issues people assume they will have with an e-bike can be overcome by simple fixes and adaptations. A good bike shop who doesn't shy from e-bikes is an invaluable resource. If you're in the Bloomington area, I highly recommend Revolution Bike and Bean. They are keen to sell even more e-bikes and to help increase adaptive cycling in the area. Not all shops are created equal. Strangely enough, one shop in town is actually vehemently opposed to e-bikes and refuses to order them. I think this close-minded feeling about e-bikes is not only ableist it's also a poor business decision. Shops stand to have higher margins on these premium products and my shop says they sell fast. Clearly, in Europe, e-bikes are the fastest growing segment of the market. America needs to take a hint! They are bikes - only better! For more information about local laws and all things e-bike, I highly recommend this guide from the League of American Bicyclists. It dives in even deeper to all of the issues I highlighted above.

I hope to get back to pulling a kid soon but, for now, I will have to settle for what I have post-op. I will be back to it soon enough!

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