Electric bicycles – our experiences thus far

You may ask, what do electric bicycles have to do with muscle power? We wondered the same thing. However, we found out that considerable muscle is used to operate these machines. Not only that, but because of the myriad ways these e-bikes make bicycle commuting and recreation more attractive and extend our range, we tend to use them more than we would a regular bicycle.

We have been experimenting with two e-bikes in the Carson area since May 2010, assembled from kits at less than $1,000 each. For those of you who don’t know us, we’re in our fifties, so maintaining fitness while minimizing wear on our knees is important.

These e-bikes are actually hybrids – we have the option of pedaling the bikes, pedaling and using electric assist, or using electric only. Since the rear motor and battery add about 30 pounds weight to the bikes, when we pedal only or use a combination of pedaling and electric, we are getting quite the workout. And it behooves us to pedal at least some of the time to conserve battery power.

Like equipment at a gym, we can control the amount of workout we get. It’s true that with our regular bicycles, we can slow down/speed up our pedaling or gear down or up to control how much energy we expend, but what if we’re too pooped to pump having been active in other endeavors, or we’re not feeling well? Add a strong headwind and a hill before home. Electric assist cuts right through the wind and, with our carefully configured batteries, controllers and motors, hills have proven to be a cinch. (Higher end, prefabricated e-bikes sometimes do not perform as well).

We currently do most of our errands and travel to work by bicycle. Sometimes we forget something so need to go back the same day. Or we want to ride up part of Kings or Ash Canyons, then do errands later. It’s usually not a problem for short, 4-mile round trips on our regular bikes, but anything further, we used to have to fire up the car. Our e-bikes take care of that problem – we simply charge up our batteries from the first trip in a couple of hours, if necessary, then hop back on the bike, pedal as much as we want, and cruise in between.

Here are a couple of other familiar scenarios. We’re crossing a road and a car suddenly appears much closer than anticipated. Or else the light turns green to let a single car cross but turns yellow right after. It’s simple to hit the throttle and be safely out of the way. It makes crossing a wide highway a lot easier and safer too. Occasionally we’ll be running late for an appointment and don’t want to arrive sweaty and out of breath. We use the power on the way in, and pedal our way home.

The e-bikes also have great recreation off-road capability and the power assist is especially useful for loose sand or mud and some rocky parts. We’ll be trying them out in the snow and cold this winter…

We love the efficiency of these bikes. Each charging session costs three cents to a nickel of electricity. It saves wear and tear on our pickup truck, and we avoid putting carbon into the air, since each gallon of gasoline burned places about 20 pounds of carbon into the air along with other pollutants.

We can haul a week’s worth of groceries or a 60 lb dog in our bicycle trailer, without added strain to muscles and only a little more battery power. Another advantage is that no vehicle insurance is required, since we do not exceed the legal limit of 20 mph under power.

Best of all, we now look forward to every part of our rides!

Johanna and Stan Soliday

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