Photo credit Richard Masoner via flickr and courtesy Creative Commons 2.0 Generic.
This post is part of series written by TreeHugger contributors about trading in your car for a bike for trips that are two miles or less in distance. The series is sponsored by the Clif 2-Mile Challenge.
Pedal assist electric bicycles, going no faster than about 15 kilometers per hour, are in my mind a savior of city women everywhere (even if they don't know it yet). In China the e-bike market is varied, rapidly expanding, and testosterone charged. Some of the bastardized pedal-free devices seen on the streets have no right to even be called "e-bikes." Here in the U.S., e-bikes haven't yet caught the attention of the bike-buying public in the same way as they have in Asia. But after six months of riding a Sanyo eneloop I think e-bikes are transportation's best kept secret.
Photo credit April Streeter via flickr courtesy Creative Commons license.
In taking the Clif 2 Mile Challenge, I must admit not every under-2-mile trip was by bike, and my record for logging miles was dismal. Yet I averaged my 17-20 miles weekly easily on my Sanyo eneloop. Here are the top three reasons I believe e-bikes are exactly the right transportation tool for cycle-interested city women.
1) E-bikes take the hills with ease. There are myriad reasons women choose not to bike, and in part they are the legitimate anxiety of distracted drivers and stressed-out traffic situations. One other top anxiety -i.e. that a city rider would not be able to conquer hills- is something the e-bike completely overcomes.
My e-bike, a first generation Sanyo eneloop, has three speeds, and in low gear, I can power up even the strongest incline easily. Because a hill or two will be part of many cyclists' daily commute, an e-bike is just the thing to take the sting out of the ride home at the end of a long day. But contrary to popular myth, a pedal-assist bike just adds a bit of help. It doesn't take away the exercise of cycling. Instead, it enables a rider to go farther without the fatigue that can be discouraging to new riders.
2) An e-bike provides a welcome edge in fast-moving traffic. I live in the inner valley of East Portland, so basically heading my bike either west or east will mean some hills. But I've found that the eneloop's best feature is not necessarily its hill-busting, but its ability to give me a small burst of acceleration after I am stopped at a light or a stop sign. The extra boost is just enough to meet stop-and-go traffic situations with a bit more ease. Simply put, the e-bike is a confidence booster, which can be important for female cyclists, who are known to be a bit less agressive in city cycling situations, sometimes to their favor, but as in the case of the higher number of female fatalities in bike versus lorry crashes in the UK, also to their disadvantage.
3) An e-bike gently expands a rider's range and strength. As we know, most trips in a city are under three miles, and yet, most are still taken in a passenger car. This is insane, and once the price of gas reaches a certain point, we become aware of the insanity of car-dependent culture. It is understandable that slightly inclement weather, stuff to haul and kids to take care of make a bicycle not the first choice for car owners.
An e-bike starts to shift that equation. In my six months of riding the eneloop I've grown accustomed to an easy 10-mile round trip, and used the bike to haul a lazy 11-year old, a trailer full of milk bottles, and a 46-pound mutt without getting tired or cranky. The eneloop may eventually not be the perfect electric city bike - at this point, knowing what I do, I would far prefer a pedal-assist Xtracycle or Yuba Mundo to meet my daily riding routines. I dream of a pedal-assist cycle truck, pained bright blue, with flowers attached to the front basket and the dog happily sniffing the air from a back trailer.
But the wonder of the e-bike is that it has gotten me to this point, to really wanting, dreaming about, a cargo-style bike with the power of pedal assist to keep me going when the cycling gets tough, the weather gets bad, and the kids get cranky.
The Sanyo eneloop is good looking, sturdy, and highly functional. The battery now gives me a good solid 15-mile range, fine for any city errands I take on. I stuff my wire basket and pannier with groceries and laundry, with no seeming drag on my energy or patience. I've learned the ABC of electric bikes (always be charging) and since my inital miscalculations have only been caught out without sufficent battery power three or four times.
To understand the understated power and ease an e-bike can bring to city transport, a test drive is required. I know I never would have purchased without having that taste of a bit of extra power plus freedom. Happy riding!
You can sign up for Clif Bar's Two Mile Challenge here.
Read more about e-bikes at TreeHugger:
Is My Electric Bike Lame?
Electric Bike Review: We Ride the Pacific Electric E-Bike Terra 7-Speed
Gruber Assist is a Stealth Electric Bike
Go Cycle: The Electric Assist Bike We Have Been Waiting For?
The $350 Electric Commuter Bike
A Resolution for 2009: Around the World in an Electric Bike
University of Washington to Create Electric Bike Share Program
Wayback Machine 1947: Electric Bike
Schwinn's New Line of Electric Bikes