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PSU research will focus on potential, perception of e-bikes

Posted by on October 8th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

The Ohm electric-assist bicycle-6.jpg

E-bikes could change Portland. But how?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Whether you like them or not, electric bikes are a growing part of the U.S. market. Far from just a trend or a novelty, e-bikes are here to stay. But even with major bike companies (and their marketing power) behind them, improved technology, and lower prices, they are — unlike in some parts of Europe and China — still far from mainstream here.

Now e-bikes have earned another mark of respect: academic research. Portland State University has embarked on a study that will take a closer look at how people use electric bikes. According to the study outline, researchers have two primary objectives, “Understand people’s perceptions and attitudes of e-bikes; and evaluate the use of e-bikes by potential users to determine if these bikes could encourage new bike users.”

There will be at least 100 participants in the study and they were recruited from all over the Portland area. They will use a special batch of made-in-Portland e-bikes from Conscious Commuter for a one month period. The bikes — which are being gifted to PSU by Conscious Commuter — will be equipped with a GPS unit to collect usage data and each study participant will complete surveys before, during, and after their time on the bikes.

“This e-bike evaluation study can provide valuable insight into the potential market, user characteristics and barriers to adoption,” reads the project description.

Understanding the market potential is of particular interest here in Portland because we are very well-positioned to become a manufacturer of e-bikes and related technology. In addition to Conscious Commuter establishing an office in Portland and having their bikes made here, Portland is full of e-bike entrepreneurs and established companies.

Also of note is that $48,000 of the research project’s $216,000 price tag is being paid for through a grant from Drive Oregon, a state-funded non-profit that promotes EVs and electric transportation (the rest is being paid for by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, OTREC). This grant from Drive Oregon is significant because the organization focuses primarily on electric cars and trucks. Back in June, I took issue with how state and federal programs were missing the boat when it came to treating e-bikes with the same respect and funding opportunities as cars and trucks. (And from the name to the content on their website, it’s clear that Drive Oregon could do a better job of promoting human-assisted EVs.)

This research project has already and will wrap up sometime next year. Stay tuned for the results.

— For more on e-bikes, check out our past coverage.

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  • Justin October 8, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    More information on the research project is at .

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  • John Mulvey October 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    When I get too old for a lot of serious uphill peddling but I still want to live car free, I’ll look into an ebike.

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  • Chris I October 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    I’m hoping to get an e-assist Surly Big Dummy as my next bike. When the price comes down on the quality e-assist kits, I think we will see an explosion in e-bike popularity.

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    • dr2chase October 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm

      There’s a new one from Xtracycle, available RealSoonNow, the EdgeRunner. Intended to be sold with electric assist, it looks very nice. And (up to) a 910 watt assist, through a 20-inch wheel — that’s a wee bit of torque.

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  • Andrew K October 8, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I am trhilled to see this as I am a huge advocate for e-bikes. My wife rides an e-bike quite often as she carries a big load for work (think big heavy textbooks…lots of them) and the e-bike lets her get to work, dressed nice, and without being a total exhausted mess.

    I have also done some work around Electric Vehicles in my day job and I’m constantly telling people that an e-bike is by far the cheapest, and most fun, EV you can buy.

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  • dwainedibbly October 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great idea for a study. I wish I had gotten a chance to sign up.

    Back in 2006 (or was it ’07?) I built an ebike using a Wilderness Energy kit (and a Nashbar frame with a mix of components) so that I could commute in the Florida summertime heat & humidty. I used it for several summers, reverting to a “regular” bike in the cooler months. It worked really well for that purpose. I was using cheap but heavy sealed lead-acid batteries, so the thing was a tank. It would go 20mph on level ground without pedaling. It really was a lot of fun and at the time it was very unique, even in Gainesville. I think there is still a photo up at if anyone is interested.

    Anyone contemplating something like this should be sure to use a steel fork and as rugged a headset as possible. I never had any problems, but I could certainly see that as a potential weak-link area. I used V-brakes, but discs would be a wise upgrade. The MonkeyRocket 2000 used to go through brake pads regularly.

    I sold it when we moved to Portland a little over 2 years ago, figuring that the weather here would be cooler and certainly less humid, so my justification was gone. Frankly I wasn’t confident that it would handle damp weather very well, either.

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  • q`Tzal October 8, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Haters gonna hate.

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  • Jim Lee October 8, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Can someone explain why it is necessary to have a wide-range derailleur to couple human legs to that big electric motor on the rear wheel?

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    • eli bishop October 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm

      it keeps you from having to rely on the motor as much.

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  • Jake October 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    E-bike yes! Those lawn mower engine bikes at 6 in the morning, definitely a no.

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    • Andrew K October 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      This is why e-bikes have so much difficulty gaining traction here in the United States (that and the cost I imagine). An e-bike is virtually silent and still requires you to pedal like a regular bike. It also cuts after a certain speed.

      What you are talking about is more of a moped.

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  • Jeff Bernards October 9, 2012 at 9:21 am

    I posted earlier about my E-bike, for those who didn’t see it, here: I had a medical condition that forced me to consider an E-bike. I was driving my car everywhere. My E-bike cut my car use by 80%, I’m considering selling my car. Everyone gets excited about the electric Leaf or Prius, but really your hauling around an extra 3000 lbs. to ride inside. My bike weighs maybe 50 lbs, the energy savings is off the charts, it’s basically hauling me around without the whole car. I pedal 99% of the time too. I suspect my electric bike has a smaller carbon footprint than riding the bus or Max. When downtown I park for free and can park in front of the business I’m visiting. I’ve done 35 miles of errands in one afternoon, I couldn’t do that on a pedal bike I don’t have the time. My E-bike hauls my trailer and panniers full from the farmers market where usually I would have driven. The range I’m willing to ride has doubled maybe tripled.
    It’s not if you will get an E-bike, it’s when. You won’t be 20 years old forever.
    Prius $22,000
    E-Bike conversion kit $1200

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  • Skid October 9, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I can see electric assist for cargo bikes and less able-bodied people, but I really think the beauty of a bicycle is that it is human-powered. A lot of people who will buy them will because they are too lazy to pedal. I see old age cited as a reason too. The median age at Cycle Oregon was 55. I saw tons of riders well over 65 doing an average of 80 miles a day for a week. I hope I can ride that much and that far when I reach that age.

    E-bikes have to get their electricity somewhere. Connecting to the grid can mean using coal or nuclear energy to power the bike. What would be awesome is solar powered charging stations for E-bikes.

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    • John Mulvey October 9, 2012 at 11:07 am

      It’s not about the rider’s age, per se. It’s about differing levels of physical ability. Sometimes that’s because of age, sometimes not.

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      • Skid October 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm

        You mean like “less able-bodied people”? I understand how that can create a need for electric assist.

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    • Mark P. October 9, 2012 at 11:21 am

      Skid, the University of Tennessee has an electric bike share system that is partially solar powered:

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    • was carless October 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      It depends also on how much stuff you need to carry, and if you go up a lot of hills. For instance, if you live up Barbur, you may not want to pedal up that huge mountain every day. An e-bike would assist you, but you would still have to pedal.

      Moped are already legal, and burn gas, I don’t see whats so controversial about this. I think its great. I would get one if I had a heavy cargo bike.

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  • Art Fuldodger October 9, 2012 at 10:23 am

    E-bikes, which for many people can help overcome the distance/terrain barriers to a potential cycling trip, are another great piece in the tool kit along with transit, carsharing, and “20 minute” neighborhoods in decoupling people from the need to have a personal automobile. Jeff B. (above) has a great testimonial to this –

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  • Bill Stites October 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Based on the broad primary objectives quoted above, it might be more useful to include a variety of brands/types to be able to draw broader conclusions. This appears to be a study of one model – and a new, unproven one at that. The Conscious Commuter is an awesome concept, but it’s very different than the average e-bike. It has been designed and promoted as a folder to date, but it did look like the first build were solid frames. Very reasonable to take development a step at a time, as the leap to a folding frame that is rigid and has good handling characteristics is a big one when there’s no top tube. Any new design typically takes a few generations to work out the bugs.
    It would simply be wrong for the study to reach negative conclusions about e-bikes in general, if there are problems with these bikes in specific.

    The concept of electric assist on cargo bikes and trikes is a no-brainer. Indeed, I’m “all in” on the concept.

    As a charter member of Drive Oregon, I did object to the name change including “Drive” as it clearly denotes driving cars. However, I would say that the organization does a good job of supporting a broad scope of EV’s from e-bikes to electric trucks to trains. The present study is evidence of that – thanks Drive Oregon!

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    • Jeff October 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      Thanks for the vote of support, Bill! As you know I’m a cyclist first myself. Look forward to more projects in this space.

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    • was carless October 11, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      This primarily sounds like it is a subsidy to help Conscious Commuter build its business, not to seriously study e-bikes.

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  • CaptainKarma October 9, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    How are these exempt from licensing? I’m sure *that* O’Live debate will happen. But really, they ARE mo-peds, which require license & insurance.

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    • Chris I October 9, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      If they are limited to 20mph max speed, as many are, then I don’t think they should be treated as mopeds. I can go faster than 20mph on my road bike without a motor…

      There are many “e-scooters” or “e-mopeds” out there that are being marketed as e-bikes. This is definitely a loophole that needs to be closed. If you don’t have to pedal to exceed 20mph, you are on a moped.

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  • spare_wheel October 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    disabling the 20 mph limit is a trivial modification on many e-mopeds/bikes. on bionx e-mopeds its simply a “menu setting”.

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  • tn October 9, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    imho, electric bikes aren’t just for “medical conditions” & cargo bikes. I sold my car a year and half ago, have been commuting by e-bike (+ max) from SE to Hillsboro ever since. I take the Amsterdam approach, I wear street clothes & bike relatively slow; the electric part is because Portland has hills that Amsterdam doesn’t have, and I don’t want to arrive sweaty. I get car fever every now and then, but overall I really enjoy my commute, even in the rain. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most all of the big european biking cities are flat.

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    • spare_wheel October 10, 2012 at 10:41 am

      many car-free cyclists in the usa use bikes as a PRIMARY mode. in europe cycling is largely a local convenience mode rather than a longer distance mode.

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  • tn October 10, 2012 at 2:41 pm


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  • jim October 13, 2012 at 12:14 am

    All you need is a little trailer with an $80 generator from harbor freight and you can go a long ways.

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  • maxadders October 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

    “I don’t want to get sweaty” is just about the worst excuse yet.

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