6 Things I've Learned From Riding an E-Bike

It's not unusual to find my bike surrounded by curious onlookers.

winter e-bike ride
View from a chilly bike ride along Ontario's Lake Huron coast.

K Martinko

For the past five months I've been riding a bright orange electric cargo bike around town. It came from Rad Power Bikes and, although it arrived during what most people consider to be the off-season for cycling, I've put it to good use. Riding an e-bike has been an interesting adventure thus far and I've learned a few lessons I'd like to share with readers. 

1. People Have Lots of Questions

I get stopped everywhere I go by curious passersby who want to know what my bike is, where I got it, how I like it, and what it can do. Perhaps this has something to do with living in a small town where people tend to be chatty, but I think it's also because e-bike technology is fairly new and not yet widespread, so there's novelty in encountering someone with an e-bike. People want to see something in person that they've only heard about online.

I'm always happy to chat – indeed, the more I can spread the e-bike love, the better! – but it's reached the point where I have to allocate extra time for errands in anticipation of people wanting to talk. My e-bike chats must be working, though, because I know one person who has bought the exact same e-bike after trying mine; she's now looking at getting a second one for her partner to ride. 

2. The Miles Really Add Up

I never realized how many kilometers I racked up just running errands around my (very) small town. I was under the impression that I don't go anywhere, since I work from home, live downtown, and my kids' school is a block away. But the odometer proves me wrong. It just surpassed 125 miles (200 kilometers), which is decent for an assortment of super-short rides around town throughout a snowy winter (yes, you can ride an e-bike in the snow) that are probably never longer than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) at a given time. While I may have walked or biked some of those in the past, many would have required use of the car to carry groceries or children – both factors that the e-cargo bike resolves. 

3. Nothing Beats It for Running Errands

The e-bike is fabulously convenient for running multi-stop errands. About once a week, I take it to the post office, the library, the bank, and wherever else I need to go, and it's faster than the car because parking is a non-issue. I pull up right in front of whatever building I'm entering and lock it to a bike rack or pole. I zip past traffic, often traveling faster than the cars around me and pulling to the front of lineups at stoplights. When I have a child with me, it's faster to have them hop on and off the back seat than buckle them into a booster seat – and they love it.

4. My Kids Are Learning More About Traffic

riding cargo bike
Delivering Christmas cookies and soup to neighbors on the RadWagon e-bike.

K Martinko

Riding with children on the back of an adult's bike, whether in the form of a passenger-carrying cargo bike or a tagalong, teaches kids to navigate traffic and roads in a way that riding solo does not. Kids get used to adult speed, to the proximity of cars, to waiting at lights and turning and signaling, in a real, physical way. 

This is common practice in the Netherlands, where cycling is the most popular form of transportation, and a bike built to carry someone else is known as a backie. To quote Michele Hutchison, co-author of "The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids by Doing Less," "Backies allow children to build that crucial traffic awareness from an early age. By the time they get their own bikes, children are accustomed to the sensations of balance, speed and traffic around them. As with all things in a Dutch childhood, gradual, regulated exposure seems to be the key to progress."

There's a time and place for teaching a kid to ride in a park or somewhere else that's safe and calm, but eventually, they need to get out where the action is, and being attached to a parent's bike is a great way to do that.

5. There's No Perfect Place to Ride

I've realized with some disappointment that there's no great place to ride where I live. The highways where I live are jam-packed with oversized trucks and SUVs that are not used to having bikes around. The traffic lights don't recognize a waiting bicycle, which means I have to haul the bike up the curb to hit the pedestrian crossing button or hope a car shows up. The sidewalks are narrow and bumpy, and I'm not supposed to ride on them anyway. There are few designated bike trails, and the ones that do exist are meant for scenic touring, not for getting from point A to point B efficiently. 

I have the same issues when I ride my regular bike, but now that I ride more frequently, the lack of infrastructure is more noticeable. Admittedly, I feel safer on the e-bike because it's bigger, heavier, and brightly colored, but it's still frustrating that choosing a healthier and more eco-friendly mode of transportation means having to deal with sub-par urban planning. 

riding e-bike to 80s night
In costume: The e-bike got me to and from an '80s-themed gathering several weeks ago.

K Martinko

6. It's Not Cheating

A friend complained that e-bikes will kill the mountain bike industry, that I'm contributing to its downfall by riding, but I disagree. They're totally different experiences. I prefer to think of the e-bike as a car replacement, not a bicycle upgrade. I do still take my regular bike out for pleasure rides on occasion and when I'm accompanying my kids (who obviously cannot keep up to the e-bike). 

And I can attest to getting a workout. I ride the e-bike at a similar intensity level to my regular bike; the only difference is that I'm going faster and farther. To criticize anything that's getting people outdoors, moving around, and out of their cars is baffling to me. This is such a game-changer, such a simple yet effective way to improve both health and transportation congestion at the same time that I don't know why anyone would oppose it.

Until you try it, you can't possibly understand how fun an e-bike is to ride. It feels like magic, hopping on that seat, giving the throttle a little juice to get moving from a full stop, and then pedaling as if you have jet packs under your feet. It's unlike anything you've ever experienced before, and I highly urge you to give it a try if you can.