Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

For Jeff Bernards, e-assist saved cycling

Posted by on May 3rd, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Jeff Bernards new e-bike-7

Thanks to battery power, Jeff Bernards is cycling again.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Chronic foot pain threatened to make cycling unbearable for 56-year old southeast Portland resident Jeff Bernards. Now, after installing an electric-assist kit on his bike, he’s riding again. And loving it.

Bernards is a veteran of local bike events. Years ago he started the “Get Lit” program to give out free bike lights to those in need (the program has since been taken over by the Community Cycling Center). He also loves leading bike tours. He’s taken a group of Portlanders on a three week bike tour in Death Valley, California and he’s led numerous overnight bike trips to Oxbow Park. More recently, Bernards has worked tirelessly to get a ban on studded tires on the Oregon ballot.

This man never quits, and his feet have paid the price.

Jeff Bernards new e-bike-3

Then about six years ago, while leading a bike tour around Mt. Hood, Bernards suffered an overuse injury on his foot due to some awkward pedaling on a long climb. He was later diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. The pain subsided for years, he says, but when his studded tire ban effort ratcheted up, he found himself walking all over town gathering petition signatures.

Jeff Bernards new e-bike-6

“When we got the Studded Tire Initiative signature sheets I hit the streets hard, too hard,” Bernards shared.

All that walking re-ignited his plantar fasciitis. Walking has been painful for him since December and since then he’s been driving almost everywhere. “I basically haven’t bike for four months.”

Bernards had never ridden an e-bike until a recent trip to Paris, where he rented one on a whim from a bike shop to visit the sites. He loved being able to keep up with auto traffic. In what he calls “the most dangerous city” he’s ever biked in, the power of the e-bike made him feel, “a little less vulnerable.”

When he returned to Portland, Bernards did some research on e-assist kits and ended up at The eBike Store in north Portland. With the help of e-bike expert and owner of The eBike Store, Wake Gregg, Bernards ended up purchasing a 350 watt, geared front-hub motor kit from a company called eBikeKit.

Bernards decided to upgrade to a 48 volt, 20 amp hour battery to go with the motor and he had a custom battery case made. The battery was about $700; but it’s good for 3,000 charges and Gregg says it will get about 30 miles each charge. Bernards figures he spent about $1,200 total on the system.

Jeff Bernards new e-bike-2

Jeff Bernards new e-bike-1

He picked up the bike last week and, judging from his smile and his first impressions, it was worth every penny.

“I went to the hardware store last night and filled my panniers with stuff,” Bernards told me via email yesterday, “Then I hauled it home, without the car, which I would have taken before I had the new e-bike.”

With its powerful battery, the bike really has some pick up (I gave it a whirl myself through the streets of Old Town last week and it was quite a thrill). Bernards sees it as “an affordable electric car,” especially when he attaches his trailer for extra cargo capacity.

And for those purists who still look down on electric-assisted bikes; Bernards says, “Hey, we’re all getting older. Last year at this time, I just finished riding 700 miles from Death Valley to San Diego. Less than a year later, I could hardly walk.”

— Is that thing legal? I thought you might ask. Read our post from August 2010, E-bikes, the law and you for more on the legality of e-bikes.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • oskarbaanks May 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I have known Jeff through the years here in Portland. He is a genuine and true soul. He stopped me long ago one night to give me a free winky-blinky! He gave it to me even though I told him I had light’s. He truly wanted my friends and I to be safe. I was struck by the passion in his voice that night, and whenever I happen to run into him, it never seemed to wane. I hope that he is able to get relief from the pain he is suffering!

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  • Esther May 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you Jonathan!! I have heard many temporarily-able bodied people make fun of e-bikes. Having had a chance to test ride a kahlkoff, I immediately saw their potential for anyone with physical limitations that impaired the possibility of their biking for daily activities. I hope they continue to become more inexpensive and widely available.

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    • Scott May 4, 2012 at 9:21 am

      Esther, I totally hear what you are saying. Completely. Hoewever, in the scope of American cycling, commuters are the new kids on the block. I was a little ostracized when I was young for having heroes like Davis Phinney, Bernauld Hinault, Eddy Merckx, and Felice Gimondi. I wanted a ten speed Schwinn Paramount with the Nervex lugs. I made my mom take me to the Team 7-11 training camp. I made her take me to the french bakery in Denver that had a tv set up so I could watch Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault duke it out on the climbs. I remember Tom Simpson died because of amphetamines (“Put Me Back On My Bike” is a great book even if the quote is fake!), I remember Tyler Hamilton getting busted, Floyd Landis, Alberto Contador, Jan Ullrich and even the domestiques that got popped. I remember when Fabian Cancellara was accused of having a motor in his seatpost. I’m pretty sure Lance did dope.

      My point is this. I know it is a knee jerk reaction to get a bit pissed when I am hammering up a hill and someone blazes past me looking pleased as punch with themselves for have a electric motor while I sweat it out like a peasant. It’s a knee jerk reaction, totally, but it still seems like cheating in the heat of the moment. So for people like me there is no way to fix this. I never would get on anyones case for being differently abled, or old. I also know old people that crush it with no motor though. So unless you propose that people label themselves with signs that say “old and can no longer pedal like I use to” or “differently abled”, I will continue to have a private moment being satisfied that I need no motor.

      It’s man and machine, not man machine and motor. The whole world of sports tortures us for dopers while “mainstream” sports heroes openly admit to performance enhancing and their records still stand.

      Yes, I know I wrote man and machine and not person and machine.

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  • Portland's One-Stop Electric Bike Shop

    If you haven’t made the time to sign Jeff’s Petition for Studded Tires, Please do so!

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  • Tori May 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Congrats to Jeff for a re-infused ride and to Wake for making it possible. If you’re someone who thinks E-bikes are “cheating”, I challenge you to take one for a test ride. I’ve not yet seen one rider (even the most avid, hard-core, cyclist) not smiling within seconds of their first ride. These bikes create access for many people who would otherwise be unwilling or unable to ride. Also, check out Tony Pereira’s award winning electric assist bike for some inspiration! http://oregonmanifest.com/2011/09/26/the-constructors-design-challenge-winners/

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    • Jake May 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm
    • Scott May 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      The fact that they are fun doesn’t mean they aren’t “cheating”. I have had a blast on all types of electrically powered vehicles. More power to any type of transportation, but there is no need to start a new row by challenging personal opinions.

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  • matthew vilhauer May 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    jonathan-it was actually three weeks from death valley to san diego (+ 1 vancouver hay-seed).

    jeff is tireless in his enthusiasm & drive for cycling and making the roads we ride on safe and financially sustainable for all users. please check out the preserving oregon’s roads website & sign the petition if you haven’t already.

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  • Andrew K May 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you very much for this story.

    Two years ago my wife had a major back injury. She was stuck in bed for two months and was only able to walk again after surgery. I cannot tell you how much I missed my daily bike partner during that time. Needless to say both her back and her legs were not up to the task of daily biking afterward.

    We bought an e-bike when she was getting some strength back and it was one of the best purchases we have ever made. Through the e-bike she was able to move and gain muscle back in her legs while at the same time get a rush of fresh air and interact with other people. I give that bike a lot of credit in helping her to get moving again, both in term of physical excercise and mental confidence.

    Now days you’d never know there was ever an issue save for the large (and rather beautiful) surgical scar on her back. She still uses the e-bike sometimes, though often uses the regular bike too. Even though she doesn’t necessarily need the e-bike anymore it is still really fun to ride!!

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  • Chris I May 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    E-bike or non E-bike, at least he isn’t in a car. We should welcome E-bikes with open arms. They will help make our city a better place.

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  • CaptainKarma May 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    E-bikes are inevitable. However when the govt starts taxing per mile E-vehicles, since they don’t pay gas tax, some knuckledraggers will want to include E-bikes. After all, they are motor vehicles. hen comes registration, insurance, regulation, like mo-peds. Are they not mo-peds?

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    • Andrew K May 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      no they are not mo-peds. Not even close.

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      • John May 3, 2012 at 5:32 pm

        actually very close,

        If he goes over the 750 watt limit, it would not be a “legal” ebike.
        The article says he is running a 48v 20ah battery, if his controller allows 20amp max, that would be 960 watt max.

        There are already many guys running high power kits, that allow them to go upwards of 25-40 mph, which would give moped like performance and technically not legal.

        Electric mopeds/scooters and high power ebikes will be a big key for alternatives to cars for short distance commuting. Regulations need to be changed to encourage their usage.

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    • Chris I May 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      I’ve decided the best answer to “You don’t pay the gas tax!” is: “I don’t use any gas.”

      The follow-on usually relates to road funding, at which point you can inform them about the various road funding mechanisms that we use.

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      • BURR May 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm

        The electricity for charging e-bike batteries doesn’t come from nowhere.

        Depending on where you live, you are either charging your e-bike (or e-car) with electricity generated from oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, solar or wind power, or some combination thereof.

        In Portland, you are mostly charge your e-bike with salmon-killing hydropower.

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        • Doug Smart May 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm

          That’s the same electricity we use for the lights that allow us to tinker with our bikes on winter evenings. Or to run our rain gear in the dryer after a wet ride. We don’t all have a wind generator in the back yard with turbine blades covered in solar panels.
          E-bikes aren’t perfect. They’re a big improvement over the inefficiency of dragging along anywhere from a hundred to a thousand or two kilos of extra mass through a trip’s worth of accelerations and decelerations.
          Take note of Esther’s mention of the “temporarily-able bodied”. The whole point of this article is that debilitating biological breakdowns needn’t keep everybody from participating in many of the benefits of cycling.

          And for what it’s worth, the first e-bike I test rode had regenerative braking and a setting for a generator mode where the rider could put a bit back into the battery during easy sections of a ride. The salesman talked of taking forty mile trips over hills and making a game of arriving home at the same charge level he had on departure.

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        • JRB May 4, 2012 at 11:20 am

          Nothing comes from nowhere. As Barry Commoner said in his rules of ecology, there is no free lunch. An e-bike, while not environmentally neutral (what is), is much better than a car or other fossil-fueled mode.

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        • matt picio May 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm

          Depends on where you live in Portland. If you are a PGE customer, your electricity is at least 65% hydropower. If you are a Pacificorp customer, it’s 80% coal, mostly from the Jim Bridger coal plant in southern Wyoming.

          “Salmon-killing” hydropower is a fair criticism. Dams are responsible for 70-90% of the salmon deaths in the Columbia Basin, according to the Pacific States Marine Fishery Commission.

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    • Chris May 4, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      If you’re a PGE customer, you already pay a 2% tax for electricity consumed. So I would argue that if I put $1 of electricity into my e-bike, I’ve already paid $0.02 road tax.

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      • Eric Leifsdad July 25, 2015 at 1:05 pm

        This very large battery (about 2x typical e-bike capacity) holds just under 1kWh, so costs $0.12 or less to fully charge for a 30 mile trip. A small solar panel could charge most e-bikes on most days.

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  • Joseph E May 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    In the Netherlands, the availability of e-bikes has led to big increases in the number of senior citizens riding bikes, over the age of 65. A large percentage of sales are to seniors, and have helped continue to grow bike use, despite an aging population.


    I’m all for them, as long as their top speed is limited to 18 mph / 30 kph. If they are able to go 25 or 30 mph, they should be regulated like Vespas or other small motorcycles.

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  • Spiffy May 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    following the “E-bikes, the law and you” link and reading the pocketbikeguide.pdf I didn’t realize before that helmets are required on an ebike… even though in the next paragraph it says “Washington law further requires wearing a helmet” it’s also required in Oregon…

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  • Mike Quigley May 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    My Kalkhoff has enabled me to continue my (almost) daily 24-mile commute, half of which is usually against headwinds. I’m 73!

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    • Jake May 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm


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  • Ray Ogilvie May 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I want to power my e-bike with Salmon -killing Sealion oil.

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  • BillCampbell May 3, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    I had to stop biking about 5 years ago because of knee problems. Thanks to a knee replacement and a BionX kit on my recumbent I am back to commuting “most days”. I have logged over 1400 miles since the beginning of November and I hoping to pick up the pace as the weather gets better. For me the best part of the pedal-assist is that it levels my ride, taking pressure off my joints on the hills. My weight-loss has nearly equaled the extra weight of the motor and battery. And my hypertension is trending down–I may be able to get off medication by the time summer rolls around. Color me happier, healthier and an e-bike convert/evangelist.

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  • Max Rockbin May 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Custom orthotics completely cured the pain of my chronic plantar fasciitis. Not cheap but I’m on my 4th set. They work! It takes the stress off your toe joints by giving you a gait with less roll. Some stretches help too. Get a good physical therapist and a referral to a good orthotics guy.
    I don’t use them for biking (clip in pedals work better for that – for me anyway). Bet try the orthotics! (non-custom store purchased footbeds aren’t as good for several reasons).

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  • Matthew May 4, 2012 at 8:17 am

    He could first try something like Superfeet before going the custom route. Flexibility especially in the calf is extremely important too. He might also want to use something for myofascial release like a trigger point kit. Plus checking out a running store and getting his gait checked could help when he’s just walking around. He probably could benefit from a stability running shoe.

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  • Paul Steckler May 6, 2012 at 8:09 am

    I got plantar fasciitis around last July. I tried physical therapy, stretching, lots of NSAIDs, to little effect. About a month ago, I got some off-the-shelf arch support orthotic inserts, PowerStep Pinnacles. After a week or so, the pain lessened. Now, it’s almost gone. I’ve gone running 4 times in the last two weeks.

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  • MindfulCyclist May 6, 2012 at 10:47 am

    To add the the last few posts on what helps with plantar facciitis, I spent about $25 on a thing that looks like the top of a boot. I strapped it around the top of my foot and shin and night and it kept my foot at a 90 degree angle all night. So, it was lightly stretching it all night. It did not cure it immediately, but I had struggled with it for about 9 months and within a couple of weeks, I felt much better. I did not get out of bed like I had before and really struggled to walk to the bathroom.

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  • jim May 7, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    There are a couple of people in the neighborhood riding mopeds. They allways seem to have a blast on them. Not much difference between them and an ebike other than they go faster and maybe farther and maybe more fun.

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