Electric bikes are the great leveller; a lot more people will be doing this.
Patrick Goulet used to be a serious bike racer, hanging out with the likes of Louis Garneau. Now he is retired, and he and his wife want to travel through Europe by bike next year. They were inspired by Gary and Rachel Corbett, an Australian couple who set the world record e-biking 27,800 km through Europe and the UK.
But alas, his wife Claire is not a former bike racer, although she does bike everywhere in town and they do not own a car. This is where e-bikes come into play and become the great leveller. Patrick tells TreeHugger:
My wife has not the capacity to do this with a real bike but with the assistance of an electric motor it has open up the possibilities to do just that. My wife enjoys traveling with her bike (non electric) to work every day but when she faces wind and hills she gets pretty much demotivated. The electric bike has changed all that, no more issues with the wind and hills.
As a trial for the big trip, they rode 781 km (485 miles) from Montreal, Quebec, to Kingston, Ontario, then to Ottawa and back to Montreal, camping all the way.
They were riding NeoMouv e-bikes with Brose crank drives, which, according to the website, can do 100 km without difficulty. Patrick says they averaged 70 km (43 mi) per day; 87 km was their longest ride. They never ran out of battery power.
These are pedelecs, where the motor kicks in when you pedal, so Patrick says it is exercise. “You have to be fit” and you are tired at the end of the day.
In Europe, there are bike paths everywhere, but not in Ontario or Quebec; I asked if they had any trouble with drivers. Patrick said, “Ontario drivers used to be polite but it’s not like that anymore!” The stretch from Kingston to Ottawa was the worst.
There's a lot of stuff on this bike, a lot of extra weight. When I was younger I did a bike camping trip most of the way from Toronto to Vancouver, throwing stuff away every day to get lighter. The struggle against the wind on the prairies was the hardest thing I ever did; we were trapped 3 days in Saskatchewan because we just couldn't push against it. A motor would have changed that; it would have let me carry more stuff, in greater comfort. I imagine that e-bike camping is a different experience entirely.
Patrick can do a ride like this without breaking a sweat, but as he has noted, Claire is another story. The thing about electric bikes is that they change this picture, letting people do things they otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t. Provinces and states had better start installing those bike lanes and paved shoulders because there will be a lot more people doing this.
I am more convinced every day that electric bikes are going to sneak up on everyone, change our cities and change the world.