Yes, E-Bikes Really Are Magic—Even in Heat Waves

It's a hot take and I'm not alone.

Row of three parked electric bicycles in front of concrete wall

Westend61 / Getty Images

It’s been a while since I discovered that e-bikes are magic. Yet while my updates on life with my Blix Aveny have been overwhelmingly positive, I do have to be honest: My use of this machine varies a bit depending on the season. Most recently, the searing heat of a North Carolina summer had me too often opting for the trusty old Nissan Leaf, where I thought I’d be better protected from the sun. 

But then I discovered something that, to me at least, was surprising: E-bikes are far more pleasant than a stiflingly hot car, even and especially when the sun is at its hottest. The reason is pretty simple. 

We all know that feeling of getting in a hot car, and our sweaty skin touching the scorching hot steering wheel and the sticky black seats. Sure, the air conditioning will eventually kick in and cool things down, but on the around-town journeys where an e-bike is an alternative option, you’ve usually arrived at your destination long before that optimal temperature has been reached. (This is especially true in the 2013 Leaf which has less-than-powerful heating and cooling.) 

By contrast, hopping on an e-bike means an instant breeze often keeps you feeling nice and fresh. Of course, the same would be true of a standard bike also—but the combination of physical exertion and, on the uphills at least, slower speeds, means you can’t always rely on the breeze to really cool things down. 

I raved about this discovery recently on social media, and it turns out that I was not alone: 

I also connected on this topic with Mary Pustejovsky, a product manager, mom, and e-bike advocate who used to live in Austin. She told Treehugger: “I have 3 kids and lived in Austin until 2020. There was never a day we didn't ride the e-bike. Cooling down the car (we own one) took a long time, so it didn't seem to make sense to spend 10 minutes cooling the car when I could hop on the bike and be where I needed to go in that time.”

Meanwhile, Twitter user and bike shop founder Vic Yepello shared his experiences as a 75-year-old, who recently decided to go car-free in Palm Springs, California. He said he often rides in temperatures as hot as 105 degrees. The trick, he said, is to dress accordingly, and to plan your schedule to avoid the worst heat: “I really like riding in summer especially early mornings when it's warm and the sun is barely up. Nothing feels better than being out enjoying a ride while so many stay locked up in their homes. Kind of like winter folks stay in during cold snaps. We have hot snaps but can still get out. It's all about mindset and willingness and nothing more.” 

Another often unrecognized point to add is the fact that when I ride my e-bike, I can usually park it right next to wherever it is I am headed—meaning I don’t have to trek across the hot, urban landscape to whatever parking lot I had to leave the car in. This particular benefit was also noted by Karen Hartman, a mom, and owner of Seattle-based sustainable jewelry brand Astor & Orion: “It’s always a joy to be able to roll right up to location in the city without having to look for a parking spot. Cargo bikes are the ultimate climate-friendly parenting hack. A breezy bike ride is much more enjoyable than battling to get a toddler buckled in and out of a hot car.” 

Having seen the huge, and largely positive, response to my tweets about hot weather e-biking, I suspect that in places where hot weather is common, the combination of (relatively) cool breeze, reduced physical exertion, and parking convenience may be playing a significant role in the massive uptake we are seeing in electric bike adoption. After all, who wants to show up to work sweaty? 

There’s a societal aspect to all this too because we know the deadly urban heat island effect is being driven in large part by excessive hardscaping and a lack of shade trees. If we could move more of our urban traffic onto bikes, foot traffic, or buses, we could free up land to invest in urban greenery and reduce the amount of hardscape that is baking our communities.  

Let’s also remember that summer isn’t the only time when e-bikes offer an advantage. It’s also worth noting that e-bike riding is in many ways easier than regular bike riding in winter too, when strong winds and rain can make "acoustic" or "analog" biking (sorry!) a hard slog. Here too, social media would suggest that I am not alone:  

That said, e-bikes don’t make you entirely immune from the weather. Plenty of people pointed out that, in relation to summer biking, the breeze stops when the bike does. So sitting at intersections in heavy traffic can be pretty darned miserable when the weather gets hot: 

And of course, as events in Europe and elsewhere have shown this week, people should always be careful about adventuring out in extreme heat. The good folks at Rad Bikes have offered some guidance for hot weather e-biking that includes:

  1. Always stay hydrated
  2. Use plenty of sunscreen
  3. Plan ahead, including shifting the time of your ride
  4. Keep your battery out of direct sunlight wherever possible
  5. Be sensible—including calling off a ride if it really does feel too hot

Pustejovsky concurred, suggesting that it’s good to plan ahead. Admitting that riding in Austin did sometimes feel like hairdryer weather, she told me she would plan her route to take advantage of shade, and would also organize her day to minimize discomfort: “As with any outdoor activity in the heat, I think it's important for folks to pace themselves, stay hydrated, and try to shift trips if possible. So if I needed to go shopping I would go in the morning, for example. The e-bike really helps a ton with removing the excuse that 'it is too hot.'" 

This is, of course, all well and good. Having now seen the light, I certainly do expect to be riding more for the rest of this summer. The only trouble is, when I do drive the Leaf, I’ll have even fewer excuses for my well-documented hypocrisy.