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Infographic expands on local e-bike research, but the biggest puzzle remains

Posted by on July 17th, 2014 at 10:27 am


(Infographic by Portland State Transportation Research and Education Center)

A new poster summarizing research from a Portland State University scholar has some interesting factoids about electric bike users, but it doesn’t answer what’s becoming one of the biggest mysteries in American biking: why haven’t e-bikes taken off yet in the United States?

“If we can sell a lot of e-bikes in Germany, than we’ll sell a lot of e-bikes in the U.S. too over time. Yes, we love our cars, but Germans love their cars too.”
— Rob Kaplan, Currie Tech

In China, according to one estimate, 200 million people own e-bikes — that’d be 15 percent of the country’s population.

More recently, e-bikes have been rocketing across Europe. Rob Kaplan, VP of sales and marketing at Currie Technologies, a large developer and distributor of e-bikes under the iZip, eFlow, and Haibike brand names, said during an event in Portland last April that about 80,000 e-bikes are sold in the U.S. market per year. Compare that to Germany where 400,000 units are sold annually. In the pancake-flat Netherlands, e-bikes now represent 19 percent of new bike sales by quantity, even though they cost four times as much as a non-electric model; that’s how much Dutch people have come to love e-bikes.


Moms are one segment of the market that have been quick
to realize the potential of e-bikes.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Here in the United States, e-bike sales continue to grow rapidly, in part due to reasons illustrated in the graphic above. Kaplan of Currie Tech says their dealer sales are up 46% overall and up 286% year-to-date.

Locally, there are signs of growth too. If you’re heading north on Grand Avenue this month, you can admire a big billboard for Cynergy E-Bikes on Southeast Powell; in North Portland, the eBike Store recently moved to a larger location with expanded hours.

Rob Kaplan in Portland back in April.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

But even here, electric bikes are far from mainstream.

Currie points to several factors that might be keeping a cap on U.S. sales growth: acceptance, education, and infrastructure. Bike shop employees aren’t familiar with e-bikes and many of them aren’t exactly huge fans of the technology, says Currie, and that lack of enthusiasm spills over into their sales pitches. The market itself is also relatively uneducated about the latest in e-bike technology (“most people still confuse them with scooters,” he said). And then there’s the lack of bike-friendly infrastructure in the U.S., which is a problem for cycling growth in general.

But Currie is very optimistic about future growth. “If we can sell a lot of e-bikes in Germany,” he told a crowd of e-bike industry leaders at a talk hosted by Drive Oregon, “than we’ll sell a lot of e-bikes in the U.S. too over time. Yes, we love our cars, but Germans love their cars too.”

His other reasons for optimism include: aging demographics, re-urbanization, concerns about the environment, and improvements battery technology.

As companies keep working to crack the American e-bike code, the sort of market research being done by John MacArthur through OTREC at Portland State University will come in handy. For more on his research, read our story from last fall: The appeal of e-bikes: 5 facts from a new study.

Editor/Publisher Jonathan Maus contributed to this post.

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. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • spare_wheel July 17, 2014 at 10:43 am

    imo, one of the best things about cycling is the ability to combine a good work out utilitarian transport. e-bikes detract from this experience.

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    • Justin July 17, 2014 at 11:05 am

      That’s certainly true for a lot of people. But there are people who have disabilities, long commutes, hilly rides, are carrying heavy children or cargo, people who are elderly etc. who would not otherwise bike. It doesn’t detract from the experience for them; it lets them share in the experience.

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      • davemess July 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm

        I don’t think he was negating any of those circumstances, just give a reason of why ebikes haven’t taken off in the US (which the article asks for).

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      • spencer July 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm

        If I had to live FAR away from where I worked, I’d buy an e bike. My 7 mile bike commute is the only exercise I get most days, and it keeps me sane. An e bike would negate these benefits and only give me a propelled ride, and not the aerobic benefits.

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      • El Biciclero July 17, 2014 at 12:49 pm

        I’m experimenting to see whether using my regular bike keeps me from becoming “elderly”. If it doesn’t work, I’ll probably look into an e-bike at some point in the future…

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      • spare_wheel July 17, 2014 at 1:21 pm

        yes, of course but i don’t think it is this demographic is driving sales in germany and holland.

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    • wsbob July 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

      Along with Justin, for some, probably many people, I think ebikes can open a lot of opportunities, including possibly to additional exercise that they aren’t presently getting. Unless a particular ebike chosen, never requires any pedaling at all from the rider, the opportunity for exercise on an ebike is there.

      This type exercise may be far more appealing for some people than sitting on a spin bike in a gym. And for people that don’t yet have the conditioning for it, it doesn’t have to involve grinding up a steep hill on just muscle power alone.

      Typically excessive distance for many people, from home to work in the U.S., for which their are plenty of examples in the metro area, may be a reason people haven’t yet widely taken to the use of ebikes for commuting. Ebike technology, design and marketing is getting better though. Once people here catch on to the potential for ebikes, watch out. We may wind up having far more of those to deal with on roads, streets, bike lanes, than anyone ever thought would happen in the wild, wild west.

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    • q`Tzal July 17, 2014 at 11:51 am

      If your daily commute is long enough and hilly enough you can still get a good workout and use the battery power to save knee cartilage on the hills.

      Batteries are much cheaper to replace than a bum knee.

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      • spencer July 17, 2014 at 12:50 pm

        riding bikes does NOT degrade cartilage any more than walking. Inappropriate tissue/force loading in walking/ running/ squatting/ riding does impact tissue integrity however. keep the RPM’s high (> 80) and your knees will be fine (not impacted by cycling).

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        • q`Tzal July 17, 2014 at 1:21 pm

          Unless of course you already have a knee injury that is only exacerbated by intense exertion.
          85-90 rpm helps (heard about this from IHPVA Trikes forum years ago) but doesn’t completely prevent damage from occurring.

          I have had my prior statement and observations confirmed by a VA doctor & personal doctors. I’ve also been assured that I will need knee surgery at som nebulous point in the future but doctors seem to treat it as if it is no more an inconvenience than having a cavity drilled on a molar.

          If I can stave off that risk, cost and inconvenience with an ebike it’s worth the money.

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          • Andrea@pedalPT July 18, 2014 at 1:28 pm

            I definitely agree with what you’ll are saying. We had Rich over at Cynergy Bikes stop by and give us a quick demo of the e-bikes they sell. I don’t own one, and this was my first experience with one. And it’s pretty amazing and fun to ride! What’s great is that you don’t always have to use the assist, which means you can still get a workout if you want it. I believe with some e-eikes you can even control/choose how much assist you want.

            On the idea of injury prevention and cycling, it is possible to have an ongoing injury or pain that is directly related to your fit. Here at Pedal PT we believe that riding a bike should always be pain free! We like to focus on cycling education, like you guys mentioned high cadence, low gear! But in the end, if an injury is preventing you from riding, and E-Bike can be a wonderful solution for so many people.

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        • Pete July 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm

          I’d agree with that! I switched to cycling decades ago because of a knee injury while hiking Yosemite. I had to give up running and volleyball, and to this day can’t run more than a mile or so (have worked with sports physicians, MRIs, coaches, and re-test it on the treadmill every year or so). At the time I was running ~5 miles daily, training and competing in volleyball, and riding my high-school steel Fuji to work once or twice a week (but experience hip pains due to my fit/technique ignorance). After the knee injury (to this day they say it’s tendinitis) I was still able to play racquetball twice weekly with no pain at all, and the few knee pains I’ve had cycling (daily now) were caused by cleat/pedal maladjustment.

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    • GlowBoy July 17, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      An e-bike might detract from the workout+transportation factor of bicycling for those with short commutes, or those who already bike everywhere. But for me, it would greatly expand the usefulness and range of my bike, reduce my dependence on (increasingly unreliable) TriMet as well as the automobile, and allow me to bike in greater safety … while still getting that workout.

      I currently ride downtown and hop the MAX to Beaverton in the morning (about 50 minutes total), then bike back home (60-80 minutes depending on route). That’s 15-20 miles per day, including a 500-800′ climb (again, depending on route) over the West Hills. By my figuring, an e-bike would allow me to do the trip in something like 40-50 minutes each direction and eliminate TriMet from the equation. The safety factor comes from the fact that the safer routes over the West Hills tend to involve a lot more climbing, which frankly I don’t feel like doing every day. Especially on sunny summer days when speed is more fun and the busy roads aren’t as dangerous as in winter.

      It might also prod me to do more and longer errands by bike. Including some where I would hook up the trailer and pull my kid(s) instead of just hopping in the car. For this latter reason I might also be interested in electrifying our Madsen, as many others have done with their cargo bikes.

      All in all, really tempting. For the record, for both safety and conflict reasons I’m not interested in using the motor to propel me along at 20mph on flat ground. I’d be fine if the motor cut out above 15mph. Heck, even at 12mph. It’s the ability to go 12-15mph UP a hill, instead of 5-10mph, that would be a massive game-changer, shaving a couple hours a week off my commute.

      The only thing stopping me (besides money) is that I already have personal bikes (a commuter/road bike, a mountain bike, and a folding bike) and I’m really not interested in having four. Especially with a garage additionally crowded with a big cargo bike, my wife’s bikes, and multiple trailers and kids’ bikes.

      Most people get dedicated e-bikes, but it would take substantial effort and expense to get a second commuter bike set up like my non-electric commuter already is (drop bars, fit, trailer connections, lights, etc) – AND the least-used bike (probably the folder) would have to go in order to make room. Another approach would be to convert my existing commuter (I’m impressed by the Clean Republic kits), allowing it to be de-electrified for weekend recreational rides by swapping a wheel and removing the battery pack, but this has obvious disadvantages, too. Bottom line is my hesitance hasn’t been so much the expense but that I haven’t figured out the best to cramming yet another Category Of Bike into my existing stable.

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    • gumby July 17, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      I actually get more of a work out because I ride a lot more – 5000 miles last year. It reduces my commute time so that it is actually practical for me to ride it instead of drive it.

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    • Chris Anderson July 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Most people aren’t looking for exercise with their commute. And for fit people, an ebike can open up new options for what you can do with a bike. In my case, I get a lot more workout on my 80 pound cargo bike than I do with my lightweight roadbike, and part of that may be because I go faster on the cargo bike.

      The main differences for me are that stop signs don’t bother me, and if I don’t want to break a sweat I don’t have to.

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      • spare_wheel July 18, 2014 at 7:19 am

        “Most people aren’t looking for exercise with their commute.”

        IMO, the health benefits of cycling and walking for transportation are one of their primary draws. Moreover, I believe that the exercise aspect replacing gas powered device of cycling are especially attractive to people in the USA, UK, and Canada.

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        • spare_wheel July 18, 2014 at 2:53 pm

          Should be the “exercise aspect is especially attracted in the usa…”.

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    • Mossby Pomegranate July 19, 2014 at 5:34 pm

      My neighbor has bad knees and loves his e-bike…guy in his 70’s. Who cares if they’re on a e-bike as long as they are on two wheels and not polluting? You and others around here display a lot of ageism.

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  • VTRC July 17, 2014 at 11:02 am

    I suspect that a lot of the people who could really use an e-bike(Older people, injured, people with big commutes, or commute with big loads) aren’t conditioned to think about them as an option at all. Or rather, they’re conditioned to immediately think of cars or vans.

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  • Mark P. July 17, 2014 at 11:20 am

    E-bikes haven’t taken off in the US because bikes haven’t taken off in the US for the most part. If you look at where e-bikes sales are skyrocketing, they are places where bicycling rates are already high and the infrastructure is there. Secondly, e-bikes haven’t taken off because driving and parking is still under priced here in the US as well.

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    • spare_wheel July 18, 2014 at 7:20 am

      Actually bikes outsell cars most years in the USA. The penetration of bikes is very high but they are largely used for leisure/sport rather than transportation.

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  • Kevin July 17, 2014 at 11:38 am

    The reason I bought my yuba el-mundo bionx was because I needed a commute bike (and it needed to serve no recreational purpose at all, I have recreation bikes), I test rode one and it put a giant smile on my face, and I could afford it. I loved the breadbasket, finally a bike that can I can use to pick up take-out!

    What I never expected was how much more I would ride. “Oh, I’ll stop by the store that’s a mile away on my way to the restaurant that’s 2 blocks from home”

    Once we bought a bionx’d out boda boda for my wife, we didn’t touch our car for two weeks.

    Relative to not commuting on a bike, or commuting occasionally on a bike, I think an ebike is likely to improve most people’s fitness. I barely got on my road bike for a few months, but found that I was setting new personal records simply because I was riding a bike 10+ miles a day now..and maybe the bionx is doing half the work*… but that’s still 5 miles a day more than I rode before.

    (* it likely is doing more than half the work, but “the work” is pushing around an 80lb bike with huge tires, relative to an unloaded road bike I’m doing less work, but it’s probably more like 20% less work)

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  • Emily G July 17, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I think the cost is a barrier, as well. A new entry level e-bike starts around $1,300, so if you’re not sure how much you’ll use it, it’s hard to justify. I just bought a used one on craigslist for $600, and at that price it was a lot easier to fit into my budget.

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    • paikiala July 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

      I’m curious if e-bikes qualify for the IRS deduction, and if not, why not?

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  • Patrick Barber July 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Bicycling is perceived as a subculture. In order to ride a bike, one must become “a biker.” This is perceived as true (to people who don’t ride bikes) whether the bicycle is human powered or electric powered (or assisted). So the barrier to entry to bicycling remains, despite all the apparent advantages of e-bikes.

    Yet many people who are already riding bikes view e-bikes as a kind of impure compromise. Myself included—if i want to use a heavy machine to move things around using external power, I will use our minivan!

    When bicycling becomes a mainstream form of transportation, e-bikes will become popular as an easy, cheap alternative to driving. RIght now it’s the (sub)culture and its barrier to entry that prevents e-bikes from appealing to mainstream commuters.

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    • El Biciclero July 17, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      e-bikes = the new recumbent trike?

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  • Matti July 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    The speed differential between e-bikes and non-assisted bikes can be significant. Narrow bike facilities don’t really account for speed variations between users. We may need to develop fast and slow lanes to keep things moving smoothly and safely if e-bike numbers grow significantly.

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    • El Biciclero July 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      “…fast and slow lanes…”

      We need these already, e-bikes or no.

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      • wsbob July 17, 2014 at 10:38 pm

        “…We may need to develop fast and slow lanes to keep things moving smoothly and safely if e-bike numbers grow significantly. …” Matti

        If you’re thinking a fast lane for Ebikes because you believe they may generally tend to be faster than the average speed of bikes being pedaled on some bike lanes, I’d say no. People that want to pass traffic slower than themselves on the bike lane can learn and use the procedure and do so either within the bike lane or by signaling and transitioning to the main lane and back to pass slower traffic.

        If at some point, the number of bikes both pedaled and Ebike together, on a given route were to achieve a natural critical mass, they likely would be legally justified in utilizing the main lane of the road for as long as necessary for the bike lane to clear sufficiently to allow for safe travel at the faster speed.

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    • Robert Hurst July 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Why not keep users of electrified bikes from using bike lanes and paths? Is it that much different than other motorized vehicles?

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      • Chris I July 17, 2014 at 2:59 pm

        Yes. Yes it is.

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        • Robert Hurst July 17, 2014 at 3:05 pm

          My personal opinion is that all motorized vehicles should be banned from bike lanes and paths.

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      • wsbob July 17, 2014 at 5:50 pm

        From a community transportation system perspective, a good question to ask may be ‘Do we wish to encourage people to use a bike rather than drive a car for travel?’. No doubt, most bikeportland readers would answer ‘Yes’ to the question. A good percentage of people outside of bikeportland’s readership, may feel similarly.

        I think there’s good reason to believe that many potential and present riders of Ebikes do not want to have to primarily ride the main lanes of the road with motor vehicle traffic. If it were made illegal to ride Ebikes in bike lanes and on MUP’s, that may have these people decide to pass on the deal, and continue to drive instead.

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      • dr2chase July 17, 2014 at 8:26 pm

        It depends. If you limit e-assist to cut out at 20mph, then there’s no difference between an e-bike and me on the MUP on my return commute (about a 1% descent on the MUP) — I’m a big guy, it’s a heavy cargo bike, and if I’m feeling good I roll along at 20+. Or if you compare an e-bike to a tandem, there’s not that much difference in power, and two fat adults on a tandem make a formidable mass (that can still roll along at quite a speed).

        This will nonetheless make things slightly less safe, since not that many people go 20, and 20 is more dangerous than 15.

        Where we run into problems is with ungoverned e-bikes that help people go 25 or even 30mph. Yes, some of us can reach those speeds, but not many of us, generally not for long, generally not often. When I was a kid I could maintain 20mph for miles. Now I can manage that (on a bike of unusual size) with a little wind or slope assist. But I’ve never been able to maintain 30mph for even one flat mile (at least, never when anyone had a stopwatch out to enforce honesty).

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        • Janet Lafleur July 18, 2014 at 10:05 am

          I have concerns about e-bikes that aren’t limited by speed too. I don’t want to go from 1% of riders passing me at 25mph to 15%. Some laws try to regulate by the amount of assist (250watts) but that might not be enough for a cargo bike, and might be too much for a cargo-less lightweight bike with a strong rider.

          But fundamentally, well-designed, well-regulated e-bikes could be the game changer that gets non-cyclists out on bikes, and gets cyclists out of their cars on a wider variety of trips.

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          • Chris Anderson July 18, 2014 at 12:06 pm

            My BionX limits at 20 mph, and as other commenters have noted, I spend a lot more time going 20 mph than I would if it was all up to me. Conflicts with other riders are rare, because I’m happy to take the lane uphill on Williams etc where I need to, and thankfully Going is wide enough that I can blast down the middle without close passes. Even when I’m riding at a moderate pace (12-15mph) I can use the throttle to accelerate to cruising speed, which means less time in the intersection, and shorter trip times due to less time spent at slow speeds.

            E-assist also makes me more courteous than I might otherwise be, because stopping or slowing isn’t a big deal. I’m the guy who stops for the pedestrians all the cars were pretending not to see. It’s illegal to pass a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk and I think this includes bikes in bike lanes. At least that’s how drivers have reacted in the past.

            But the big thing is that having an e-assist cargo bike is so much better than dealing with a car, for my lifestyle. I’m lucky to work from home most days, so my big trips are errands and school pick-up drop-off. But when I do need to get across town for a meeting I never break a sweat or worry about parking.

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    • Allan Harmsworth July 24, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      In order to qualify as an ebike under USA Federal legislation, it cannot go more that 20 mph by electric motor. Any fit cyclist can maintain 20 mph on level ground. Your statement is not based on any study I know about, can you reference the ones you base your statements on, or are
      you just pulling assumptions out of thin air?

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      • Janet Lafleur July 25, 2014 at 11:22 am

        “Any fit cyclist can maintain 20 mph on level ground” Seriously? That’s like saying “any successful employed person makes over $120,000 a year.”

        Your definition of a fit cyclist sounds like a man on a road bike riding at a workout pace. Sounds like average Joes on old mountain bikes, moms with baby seats, kids riding to school, and seniors out for a spin don’t count as cyclists. Or a woman like me who can easily maintain 15-17 mph on my road bike (not 20mph), but chooses to ride 10-12mph on an upright bike to avoid having to shower on arrival.

        We may not fit your definition of a cyclist but we are out there riding more and more, and e-bikes will certainly bolster our numbers.

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  • A. J. Zelada
    A. J. Zelada July 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    One only has to go to NYC and see all the pizza, chinese, indian food delivery bikes all have batteries and are “e-bikes” but are modified bikes rather than original retail ebikes. This happened about 3 years ago. I was going to NYC almost every other month and all of a sudden in late 2011/early 2012, all the delivery guys in the village were batterized! Of course the average age of these bikers is probably 45 (?) and the average age of their bikes may be similar (just kidding). z

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  • Dave July 17, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Let ISIS snag the Saudi oil fields–e bikes will be huge after that!

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  • Nick July 17, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    E-bikes lack major personal advantages over cars except cost. No weather protection, limited cargo capacity, limited ability to do trips with others who do not bike. I see the only benefit they provide as easing the pedaling work of a regular bicycle and most of us could stand to do more exercise, not less. Hard to see this as replacing the car or being attractive to those who already full embrace the old-fashioned bicycle.

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    • El Biciclero July 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Right. I think the appeal is to the “interested but concerned” where the “concern” is too much effort/discomfort/sweating. Also the cargo application to those who embrace old fashioned bikes, but not for hauling 200 lbs. of kids + stuff up hills.

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    • Chris I July 17, 2014 at 1:26 pm

      You’ve never ridden an e-assist cargo bike, have you?

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  • Moleskin July 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    We have two kids (2 and 5 years old) and my wife enjoys leisurely cycling but rapidly likes it less once it starts going uphill. The upshot was she never cycled anywhere. She recently got an electric cargo bike (Edgerunner) and it has completely transformed things – she’s keen and able to go on family rides at the weekends (she carries our daughter, I take our son when he’s tired of riding his own bike) and when it’s just her and our daughter getting around during the week, she goes on the bike rather than taking the car as before, including loading up with fairly significant quantities of groceries. Going from never really cycling anywhere to this in a very short time is a pretty huge change. She loves it, and I love the effect it’s had on the family car use and activity levels. I’m very positive about ebikes, though I’m not kidding myself that it will pay itself back in terms of saving gas any time soon. She leaves me for dead up the hills now when we’re carrying a child a piece.

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    • was carless July 17, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      Yeah, I test rode some e-bikes at that new store on 39th and Powell. And, while I don’t think I will get one for many, many years (if ever), I can definitely see how they can be a game-changer for many people. They are fun, fast, and you can zip right up steep hills with no problem! Not even break a sweat. But the sweetest thing about them is that you can set the ‘boost’ level from zero to a significant level. Some of the models only kick in with an assist the more strenuous you pedal – so only up hills or if you are really pushing it.

      They aren’t mopeds.

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  • Peter W July 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    In the inner part of Portland where most of the riding is happening and where the infrastructure is great, electrification makes the most sense on bikes designed for hauling loads or kids. But cargo bikes, even without electrification, are more expensive than standard bikes.

    In the inner part of town, the other potential set of users would be people new to biking or older people who might worry about struggling up hills. This video from a European e-bike maker does a good job showing the appeal to these people (although the video quality could be much better):

    But Portland isn’t that hilly. (Maybe these e-bikes would do better in SF, or SW Porltand?)

    The best use case is for a commuter who lives at the edge of the distance we consider “bikeable”. But the further from the center you get, the worse the bike infrastructure is, and the lower the motivation becomes — parking is more and more plentiful as you get further out, and traffic delays aren’t bad (recall the post earlier showing how in most of the city, cars are the fastest way to get around still).

    So the cost:benefit ratio isn’t ideal even for the best use case.

    It’d be interested to see what people could come up with to lower the cost (easier to do perhaps than change the politics enough to up the benefits).

    One idea would be a system that allows any existing bike to become an e-bike, so that the cost could be split between a household. My friend Ben built a homemade system like the thing shown in the video below, and it let him bike the 50 miles from Portland to Salem in just over an hour:

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  • Steve Scarich July 17, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I am agnostic about e-bikes in general, but have seen several things that make me nervous: a guy rode a new fancy e-bike in a big Gran Fondo last weekend, sitting in the middle of the pack with all the guys pedaling on their own, I have been buzzed by e-bikes going 30 mph on flat terrain in a bike lane and I have seen people using them like motorcycles, riding across a city park lawn at 25 mph.

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  • Jon July 17, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    I pedal my bicycle for fun and commuting. Like it or not bicycling in traffic is more dangerous than driving a car. When I have to go somewhere too far for pedaling my bicycle I drive a car. Why bother using what is essentially a under-powered motorcycle in traffic when I can get to my destination faster and safer in an automobile. For short trips pedaling a bicycle is just as quick as driving or is a good workout. Why not just get a real motorcycle if you don’t want to pedal?

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    • spare_wheel July 17, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      Like it or not bicycling in traffic is more dangerous than driving a car.


      Risk assessment used by insurance companies finds that cycling is quite safe:

      Living (all causes of death) : 1.53
      Swimming: 1.07
      Passenger cars: 0.47
      Bicycling: 0.26

      Activity: Fatalities per million hrs participation

      Note: These statistics exaggerate the risks of transportation cycling because they include sport and recreational cycling.

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      • Jon July 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm

        Fatal accidents are not the only way to assess risk. No bike rider has ever come out ahead in an accident with a car and the only time a bicycle/car collision is reported is when someone shows up at the emergency room or is killed. Many bicycle injury accident victims don’t end up in an emergency room.
        I still ride well over 500 hours per year but riding is traffic is not fun.

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        • spare_wheel July 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm

          From your link:

          I rarely meet a person who had to stop cycling because of injuries. People fall off their bike, but for the most part injuries are niggling things like skin abrasions.

          I have broken bones while cycling many times (mostly ribs but also a couple scaphoid and a tibia). Nevertheless, I have never sustained a serious injury during any of my almost 30 years of transportation cycling. IMO, the inclusion of sport and recreational cycling in these statistics hugely exaggerates the already low risk associated with utilitarian-only cycling.

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        • Robert Hurst July 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm

          It doesn’t take a super-genius to figure out that bicyclists have a whole ‘nother set of ways to get injured that car inhabitants don’t have to think about.

          You are more likely to get hurt while riding your bike. But wait! You are more likely to have your soul crushed so hard that it becomes a black hole while driving a car.

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        • was carless July 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm

          Interesting. I have biked in Oregon ever since I was 5 years old. I have been involved in 2 accidents: once I hit wet pavement and slid on my thigh (road rash), and once I ran into a BMW (it was stopped). No broken anything, nothing worse than a bit of an abrasion. No head injuries.

          Driving, by comparison, I have been involved in 3 or 4 accidents as a passenger. I believe that driving is far more dangerous than cycling!

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          • GlowBoy July 18, 2014 at 9:22 am

            Similar experience here. I got serious about bike commuting 14 years ago, during which time more than half my commute trips have been by bike. During that time I have been involved (but uninjured) in one collision with a fellow cyclist while riding, and I have been injured twice in collisions while driving.

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      • Robert Hurst July 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm

        The source for that is a sidebar graphic attached to an article about car fires in Design News magazine, early 1990s.

        It was sourced to Failure Analysis Associates, according to said graphic. No other information, no methodology, nothing whatsoever has ever been produced to explain how those numbers were (cough) calculated. (I’m thinking that a dartboard, a blindfold and some mojitos may have been involved.)

        But some bike dude somehow found that article and that graphic, liked how the numbers meshed with some terrible argument he was making on a usenet group, and just ran with it. Science Shmience! Over 20 years later, we’re still running with it. That graphic is a true zombie.

        Was the entire thing made up at 3AM by some overworked sub-editor desperate for a little graphic oomph for an extremely boring article? Maybe!! But he did well to add the decimal points. Very official looking.

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        • dr2chase July 17, 2014 at 8:41 pm

          There have been other attempts at comparing risk, and measured “per-trip”, bicycling has about twice the fatal crash risk as driving a car ( ).

          However, crash risk is far from the largest cause of fatalities, and overall bicycle commuters have been measured (statistically, corrected for other risk factors and demographics) to have a lower mortality rate than people who are not bicycle commuters. Table 1.2, from OECD, “Cycling, Health and Safety”:

          Location Rel. mort. risk (cycling/non) Conf int Study
          Copenhagen, DK 0.72 0.57-0.91 Anderson et al, 2000
          China 0.79 0.61-1.01 Matthews et al, 2007
          China (high activity) 0.66 0.40-1.07 Matthews et al, 2007
          Finland 0.78 0.65-0.92 Hu et al, 2004
          Finland (high activity) 0.69 0.57-0.84 Hu et al, 2004

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        • spare_wheel July 18, 2014 at 7:39 am

          Exponent (Failure Analysis Associates) is one of the largest risk assessment firms. Moreover, the inclusion of cycling in a list that includes other sport activities clearly indicates that there was no segregation of the tiny fraction of cycling that is focused on transport as opposed to sport.

          In general, both walking and cycling are safer than driving when adjusted for time and less safe when adjusted for miles travelled (duh). I find it very annoying that people who cite cycling as a dangerous activity never mention that it’s typically found to be safer than walking.

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          • spare_wheel July 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm

            Sorry for the triple post. They never went through on my end.

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        • spare_wheel July 18, 2014 at 7:42 am

          Exponent (Failure Analysis Associates) is one of the largest risk assessment firms. Moreover, the inclusion of cycling in a list that includes other sport activities clearly indicates that there was no segregation of the tiny fraction of cycling that is focused on transport as opposed to sport. I don’t understand why you are being obstinate about this point.

          In general, both walking and cycling are safer than driving when adjusted for time and less safe when adjusted for miles travelled (duh). And having read your book I know you are aware of some of the studies I’m referring to.

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        • spare_wheel July 18, 2014 at 7:43 am

          Exponent (Failure Analysis Associates) is one of the largest risk assessment firms. Moreover, the inclusion of cycling in a list that includes other sport activities clearly indicates that there was no segregation of the tiny fraction of cycling that is focused on transport.

          In general, both walking and cycling are safer than driving when adjusted for time and less safe when adjusted for miles travelled (duh). And having read your book I know you are aware of some of the studies I’m referring to.

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      • Robert Hurst July 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm

        How do you know what they include and don’t include?

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        • spare_wheel July 17, 2014 at 6:16 pm

          Because these statistics can be segregated by age they are not separating out utilitarian cycling from “fun” cycling.

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      • El Biciclero July 18, 2014 at 9:52 am

        “These statistics exaggerate the risks of transportation cycling because they include sport and recreational cycling.”

        Wait—there’s a difference?

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    • Chris I July 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      1. E-bikes are cheaper
      2. You still get exercise
      3. No point emissions

      If you are concerned about cycling being more dangerous than driving, you probably shouldn’t own any bikes.

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      • Jon July 17, 2014 at 2:26 pm

        I try to balance the risk versus the exercise benefit. Life is risk. I don’t do downhill bicycle races because the risk for me personally is too high. There are plenty of busy roads with no shoulder that I would never ride. For me personally an eBike does not provide enough benefit for the risk. 95% of my co-workers think that I am crazy when I ride my bike to work but the route I take is well within my risk limits. I don’t see an ebike in my future but I’m sure they will work for others.

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      • GlowBoy July 17, 2014 at 11:25 pm

        I’ll add one more staggering downside of cars, versus e-bikes and regular bikes: getting stuck in traffic!

        Every morning the biggest reason I don’t just say ‘ah, screw it’ and plop my lazy ass in the car is this: knowing that on my afternoon trip back home I may spend a lot of time stuck at lights in central Beaverton, and again at Raleigh Hills, followed by a completely unpredictable Ross Island Bridge backup that can range from <5 minutes to 30 minutes or more, with no predictability whatsoever.

        When I bike home, I still spend 3-5 minutes stopped at red lights, but I'm largely immune to the time- (and fuel-, and soul-) sucking backups that I have to deal with when I'm behind the wheel.

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    • GlowBoy July 17, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      “Why not get a real motorcycle?”

      Because motorcycling is several times more dangerous, statistically, than driving a car. Bicycling is at least as safe as driving, possibly more so.

      Most people think cycling is dangerous, because you don’t have the protection of the steel cage. But they don’t take into account that danger goes up radically with increased speed, probably at least proportionate to the cube of speed, and most of the time cars go a whole lot faster than bicycles.

      The problem with the motorcycle is you combine the speed of automobiles with the lack of protection offered by a steel cage. Not a good combo. Proper e-bikes, on the other hand, still operate more or less in the realm of normal bicycle speeds, with the motor generally not providing assist much above 15mph. The time savings of riding an e-bike isn’t in getting your flat-ground speed from 15mph to 25mph (which would be illegal) but in getting your climbing speed up to the speed you might cover on flat ground. Which is still pretty safe.

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  • Pete July 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I think you’ll find people still divided into those that will ride (any) bike and those who don’t. Here in silicon valley there are TONS of bicyclists, but the few “e-bikes” I’ve seen are three different elderly Asian gentlemen buzzing along on old mountain bikes (not together) with add-on electric motors (and I’ve seen these same guys a bunch). I don’t actually recall seeing anyone riding one of the newer fancy e-bikes, even though there’s a shop less than a mile down my road (and people tend to throw money at toys here, but they’d rather drive a Tesla Model S with a vanity plate like “ZERO” or “EV” than pay all that money for an expensive e-bike).

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  • Glenn July 17, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Looking for an electric conversion for my wife’s mountain bike. She’s got bum knees, and this would get her on the road again. I’ve seen snarky comments about people buzzing along at 30 mph with no pedaling, sounding very much like offended Puritans every time E-bikes are discussed on this forum. What part of “Electric _assist_” do you people fail to understand? We live in a rural area, the nearest “convenience” store is 2 miles away, the nearest supermarket 4. Our hills are not tall, but very steep, 7% – 10% grades are common. An E-bike will reduce our car dependency, and perhaps, help my wife get into good enough shape not to need the assist any more. Our biggest barrier now, is simply cost, as we’re rather impoverished monetarily.

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  • Paul July 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    In NL & German cities most trips by bike I would say are because it’s the most convenient way to get around, and typically much faster than any other mode, which cannot be said of many areas in the typical American city. If an e-bike makes their trip faster and/or easier than a standard bike they’re going to opt for one in some cases. Here it seems convenience is much lower on the list of reasons why they take a trip by bike. Just my 2 cents from having lived in 3 European cities, including A’dam.

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  • Paul Turner July 17, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    My theory is the price of gasoline is what discourages the use of public transportation, bikes and e-bikes for commuting. It is still cheap to drive.


    price of gas per gallon in USD
    Belgium 8.29
    France 7.95
    Germany 8.28
    Italy 9.08
    Netherlands 9.10
    UK 8.50
    US 4.02

    When gas goes to $9.10/gallon like in the Netherlands, you’ll start to see a large uptick in the number of bikes and e-bikes used for commuting and other purposes.


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  • rhetorical July 17, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Why do some cyclists dismiss e-bikes as a form of exercising while commuting? If you’re so superior, why not run to work for your commute and leave the bike entirely behind. Sissy 🙂

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    • Chris I July 18, 2014 at 7:57 am

      Exactly. Bikes are cheating. Who needs a fancy mechanical device to get themselves around the city?

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  • Joe Adamski July 17, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    people will do what works best for their needs. Trying to place your values on another, despite the fact they choose to ride an e-bike, is futile. I believe they will create more demand for safe infrastructure. for both conventional and assisted bikes. that is a good thing.

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  • gutterbunnybikes July 17, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Really is the gap that hard to grasp? Those cities/countries where they are more popular, are also a big pain to drive a car in. Some places even design their roads to make driving a pain in the butt.

    E-bikes in those regions let the people drive their bikes on the bike routes giving them the benefits of a motorized transportation option on the routes made for bicycles.

    E-bikes won’t “take off” until the city/country is as easy or easier riding a bike than it is a car. It’s really that simple especially considering the fact you can buy a decently running used car for not much more than an e-bike.

    Personally I don’t need or want one, though I’m glad their around in case I might need on in the future.

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  • Vance Longwell July 18, 2014 at 9:18 am

    spencer- I’m actually offended by how wrong you are! Eeesh. ANY repetitive motion will ‘degrade’ tissue in joints. It’s called physics, yo. Moreover, with 35 years of vehicular cycling experience, 10+ years racing CAT1-2, I’ve met literally THOUSANDS of men, women, and children with mild to critically severe long-term knee injuries DIRECTLY related to cycling.

    I don’t mean to even imply that bicycle riding equals injured knee. The reality is though, that if you push big gears long enough, you WILL pay for it in painful knee conditions as you age.

    Not a reason, in my opinion, to own an electric-motor powered pedalbike, but certainly enough to be concerned about it. and to do everything in one’s power to mitigate the effects of this eventuality.

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    • DNP July 18, 2014 at 11:21 am

      It appears you agree with everything he said, but are stating it in a different way.

      Spencer said “riding bikes does NOT degrade cartilage any more than walking.” You reply with “any repetitive motion will degrade tissue joints. Okay, that’s fine and in no way a contradictory point. Spencer’s scope was cycling relative to walking and you’ve changed the scope to include living on planet earth.

      Spencer then said “Inappropriate tissue/force loading in walking/ running/ squatting/ riding does impact tissue integrity however. keep the RPM’s high (> 80) and your knees will be fine (not impacted by cycling).” You reply with telling him that pushing big gears will result in knee injury. That is acknowledged by his reference to RPMs and inappropriate tissue/force loading.

      I fail to see the disagreement. Is it his emphasis that offends you?

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  • Matthias July 18, 2014 at 9:36 am

    One reason is that e-bikes are illegal in many places. Cities don’t know whether to treat them as bicycles or scooters, so they just prohibit them outright. That’s certainly the case in NYC, where e-bikes are popular among delivery people and could be a great transportation option for many others too. Unfortunately, riders risk having them confiscated.

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  • Matthew Rogers July 18, 2014 at 11:40 am

    We were looking at cargo bike options for non-automotive child transportation and were preparing to buy an electric assist longtail a few months from now when a Yuba el Boda Boda came up on Craigslist last month.

    I’ve been riding it about 90% of days since then and put on probably 500 miles around town.

    Here are my observations on the electric assist portion:
    -It’s great for cruising along at 15-16mph. Assist starts at 2mph and cuts out at 20mph. The gearing is such that my legs can’t pedal much faster than 21-22mph.
    -I’m no faster than my standard commuter bike–the weight, higher aero drag and rolling resistance and limited top speed mostly cancel out the faster hill climbs.
    -That said, it’s a more relaxed ride, with less effort, and greater visibility and far less stress, and I can *choose* when to exercise, rather than huff and puff up a hill.
    -I’ll put it into regen mode on hill descents and maintain 22-24 mph downhill onto Swan Island. I can do 30-35mph on my standard bike down the same hill
    -Conversely, the ascent of Going St. off Swan Island is now done at 14mph, rather than 7-8mph.
    -Going between buildings at work is less of a hassle, especially if I have to bring along my monster laptop or truck parts.
    -Even in this warm weather, I find that I’m sweating about as much as I would in a car without A/C. Definitely far less than a standard bike.
    -I usually keep it on level 1-2 (out of 4) assist normally, unless I’m heading home with excess state-of-charge and I can use full assist for the last two miles or so.
    -I use the full assist button when going up hills and for getting across intersections from a stop.
    -It’s heavy: 80lbs ready to ride with front basket, pannier, lock, etc. It’s certainly heavier than my standard bike at ~35lbs. (with me, tare weight goes from 250 to 295, so a 20% increase in weight, overall). Still far lighter than a car.
    -The cargo carrying capacity is magical: between the front basket and pannier, I’m able to stop by the grocery store and not feel limited by space. The front basket fits 24 bottles/cans easily, or two flat boxes of donuts.
    -I can (and choose to) bike the Halsey St. bridge over I-205 and load up on stuff at WinCo rather than take a car.
    -Every day I bike to work (electric or not), I save $3 in gasoline.
    -I’m certainly consuming less calories per trip on the electric bike, but eh, whatever, I’m biking more trips, so it somehow evens out.

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    • Janet Lafleur July 18, 2014 at 11:46 am

      Thank you for chiming in with all the detail. It’s easy for people who don’t ride they to make all kinds of conjectures (positive or negative). We need to listen to the people who actually ride them about when, why and how they work.

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    • Kevin July 18, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Well said!

      The electric assist gives you more options, it doesn’t force anything on you.

      I think the el Boda Boda is really a sweet spot, it’s attractive, practical and fast. The breadbasket is amazing.

      After I had an el Mundo for 6 months we bought the el Boda Boda for my wife, and as a bike-inclined person married to a previously non-bike-inclined person it completely changed my life. She’s a daily commuter now, we use the bikes for groceries, we use the bikes to go out at night.

      It’s nice that we buy gas less than once month now, but whatever, the real pay off for me is that I’m getting to re-live the car free lifestyle of my early 20’s.

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  • El Biciclero July 18, 2014 at 11:49 am

    “People that want to pass traffic slower than themselves on the bike lane can learn and use the procedure and do so either within the bike lane or by signaling and transitioning to the main lane and back to pass slower traffic.”

    Overtaking within a bike lane is almost always unsafe, or at least unnerving to the person being passed, as clearance cannot be more than about a foot if both riders are in the bike lane. However, moving into the non-bike lane to pass is perceived as near-suicidal (or illegal) to enough people that they will squeeze by in the bike lane anyway, creating an unsafe—or at least tense—moment when the slower, perhaps less-experienced rider feels crowded and/or surprised. Compare that to many multi-lane arterials where speeding drivers have plenty of room to navigate around law-abiding drivers and get their rush on to the next stop light.

    “If…the number of bikes both pedaled and Ebike together, on a given route were to achieve a natural critical mass, they likely would be legally justified in utilizing the main lane of the road for as long as necessary…”

    Whereas if this happened with car traffic, the road would be widened and lanes added to accommodate the extra cars, else drivers would be inclined to find alternate routes, since all routes are equally safe and accommodating for drivers. Why would such a critical mass not justify the widening of a bike lane (perhaps by –gasp!– removing parking) to include two lanes of bike traffic, giving cyclists, both e- and traditional, plenty of room to maneuver around each other?

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    • El Biciclero July 18, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Rats. This was meant as a reply to this comment.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 21, 2014 at 1:58 pm

        Sorry about that, El Biciclero. These missed-replies seem to be happening more often since we did a software upgrade about a month ago. I think it may be happening when the “reply to this comment” script hasn’t loaded before someone hits “reply.” We’ll try to improve this, but for the moment the workaround is to ensure, when you’re replying, that there’s a little blockquote at the top of the comment box from the comment you’re replying to.

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        • Alan 1.0 July 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm

          Ehrm… This reply used the Reply button and it didn’t have any blockquote.

          If I’d hit the Quote button, then it would have had a blockquote. But then it would have started a new sub-thread, filing my message at the bottom of the list instead of indented under Michael’s message.

          I can hit Reply and then Quote (and I think it works in either order but I’m not positive about that) and it will give me both the blockquoting and the threaded reply (my reply indented under your message).

          I suspect you’re right about the script not fully loading. There are a whole lot of scripts that run on this page and some are rather slow, sometimes.

          Anyway, for my $.02 it works fine most of the time and I can usually figure out who’s replying to what even when it doesn’t. Since I haven’t said it recently, thanks BikePortland for all you do.

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          • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
            Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 21, 2014 at 4:52 pm

            In my browsers, at least, our “reply” button creates a temporary, display-only blockquote (I can’t edit it) above my text while I’m typing in the text box. This is just sort of an ambient reminder to myself of whom I’m replying to; once I actually post my comment, the blockquote isn’t displayed.

            But when I click “reply” before all the scripts have fully loaded (I agree that this takes a while, and occasionally doesn’t happen at all), the blockquote doesn’t appear during my commenting process. When this happens, I usually take it as a sign that I should try clicking “reply” again, or reload the page.

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            • Alan 1.0 July 21, 2014 at 6:20 pm

              Michael Andersen (News Editor)
              In my browsers, at least, our “reply” button creates a temporary, display-only blockquote (I can’t edit it) above my text while I’m typing in the text box. This is just sort of an ambient reminder to myself of whom I’m replying to; once I actually post my comment, the blockquote isn’t displayed.
              But when I click “reply” before all the scripts have fully loaded (I agree that this takes a while, and occasionally doesn’t happen at all), the blockquote doesn’t appear during my commenting process. When this happens, I usually take it as a sign that I should try clicking “reply” again, or reload the page.

              Yes, that’s my experience, too, with several browsers on several platforms. Good explanation. 🙂

              We had a quick thread in the Forums the other day about the scripts.

              BTW, for this post I clicked “Quote” first, then “Reply.” We’ll see what happens.

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  • Kevin July 18, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    It’s really just a matter of exposure – like a smart phone, you don’t know how much you ‘need’ it until you’re exposed to one.

    I simply do more on an electric assist cargo bike than I ever did with either a cross-check or a car. My dog goes places in the breadbasket, I can take my regular laptop bag and not fuss with terrible panniers (I even own Ortlieb’s absurdly expensive laptop pannier, it sucks).

    If I’m tired, I can still go fast, if I have energy to burn, I can turn down the assist.. (once, I was cold on a slight downhill in the evening, so I put it into generate mode to warm myself up. )

    Yet, I don’t have the down sides of a car, I avoid traffic and parking is easier. If I want to have a second beer, I’m not going to put anyone’s life in danger.

    …like early smart phones though, these early e-bike setups are really not that great. There’s no “iPhone” yet, with the kind of features and marketing and usability that makes them an object of lust.

    The Copenhagen Wheel is a little glimpse of the kind of marketing and design that will probably start to really make progress towards electric assist just being a normal everyday option.

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  • Tim July 18, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    12,400 miles on my ebike in 4 years, 530 charges and it is still the original battery. It shaves 5-10 minutes off my 12.5 mile commute in each direction and most of the year I don’t really need a shower at work, despite a 300 foot elevation gain just prior to the office.

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  • Dan Kaufman July 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    “And then there’s the lack of bike-friendly infrastructure in the U.S., which is a problem for cycling growth in general.” – I think that hits the nail on the head.

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  • JohnnyK January 6, 2015 at 11:12 am

    Why not just get a motor-scooter (they cost about the same or less than a E-bike) and leave the bicycle lane to human powered vehicles only. I find e-bikes to be a waste of resources and very annoying. It’s bad enough with a human powered vehicle riding the wrong way in the bike lane now we will have a motor vehicle riding the wrong way buzzing real cyclist. Just another niche way for bicycle shops and manufactures to try to sell to a trend instead of selling practical modes of transportation. Most shops today want to sell the high end/high dollar bikes that are by far the worse thing for getting from A to B anyway. Now we have yet another motorized contraption on the road to contend with.

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  • Matt January 7, 2015 at 7:44 am

    A motor-scooter MAY need a license (not sure on the city’s policy). I have a Surly road bike and I am thinking about retro fitting the front with an ebike device. My commute to work is 30 miles round trip, granted, I don’t ride too much but I may if I was assisted. I’d only like a device that provides assistance while pedaling, not throttle like where you can rest.

    Ebikes are just another component to a city winging themselves off of automobiles. A moto-scooter (unless electric itself) will require fuel. I do like the idea of a moto-scooter and the high MPG they get. I just like the idea of still exercising and not having to put gas in my car. Sure electricity has to be produced some how, but when I plug it in at work, I don’t have to pay for it 🙂 <— yes I know, may be part of the problem as far as being responsible for carbon emissions and all, blah, blah blah….

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  • Andy K September 1, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    I passed a person riding an e-bike going up Terwilliger last night, and it totally made my day!

    3/4 of bike commuters are men, but I’ve noticed that about 3/4 of e-bike commuters are women. Anyone else see that trend?

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    • Eric Leifsdad September 2, 2015 at 8:48 am

      Seems more like 1/2 from what I’ve seen on Terwilliger. The e-bike is such a nice way to forget about the terrain and just get from A to B that it’s easier to choose the lower-stress hilly route, even when you have to take the lane in dicey situations. The “real cyclists” will have to get used to regular people riding instead of driving. Perhaps they wouldn’t feel so “buzzed” if they used a mirror, but I always pass in the other half of the travel lane.

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