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Dispatch from the Portland Electric Bike Expo (photos and video)

Posted by on May 21st, 2016 at 11:11 am

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All the test rides and information you want, all in one place.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The electric bike revolution has landed in Portland.

All weekend long at the Electric Bike Expo the world’s top e-bike brands are offering free test rides of over 100 different models. I swung by on Friday afternoon to get a closer look.

The tents and the test track were buzzing with activity. And one thing immediately stood out: The faces of the people riding were not the same faces I see on my regular commute or at various bike events around town. And that’s one of the most exciting things about this e-bike boom: It’s getting a whole new demographic on bikes.

Just like the cargo bike revolution redefined our idea of what bikes could do, e-bikes are expanding the realm of cycling possibilities for a whole new crop of riders.

And yet there are still many haters out there who cling to the notion that e-bikes aren’t really bikes, or that the people who ride them are cheaters. Hogwash.

Chris DiStefano, former marketing guy at Chris King Precision Components and Rapha who’s now with River City Bicycles, says much of the pushback from industry-types is simply due to a lack of understanding. “The biggest misconception,” he said, after doing a few laps on the latest Stromer ST2, “Is they think it’s a throttle. The bikes don’t move unless you pedal them.”

DiStefano was at the expo with his new boss, River City owner Dave Guettler. They were pedaling lots of bikes looking to sell in their shop — a shop known for its deep roots in Portland’s road, cyclocross, and mountain bike racing scene.

For more on the state of the e-bike market in America, below is a brief chat I had with Pete Prebus, the man behind Electric Bike Report and one of the organizers of the expo:

And here are a few more scenes and faces from the event:

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Mike Minnick and his dog Bixby!
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Now that’s a headlight.
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One of my favorites.
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This Kalkhoff with 20-inch wheels is billed as a one-size-fits-all.
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The Stromer ST2s is just amazing.
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This “BigBud” model from eMotion has all-wheel-drive. You can choose front, rear, or both.
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Patrick Mok from north Portland on the Faraday. He loves how it looks and the simple operation of the motor. He commutes by bike most days, but says “Some days when I don’t feel like riding I think I’ll just jump in the car; but with this I would bike more.”
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Lois Golden lives in the southwest hills where she and her husband are trying to go grocery shopping and do other errands without a car. “These bikes give you just that little extra bit to get you home. I’ll get out on the bike more with outo of these,” she said. Her husband already has an e-bike and she tried many different models looking for something that fit just right.

The Expo runs Saturday until 7:00 pm and Sunday until 4:00. Admission is free. Full details here.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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26 Comments
  • John Liu
    John Liu May 21, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I think e-bikes are a very interesting technology. I wouldn’t mind an electric assist cargo bike myself!

    Yes, I get annoyed when hearing people brag about hitting 40 mph on their modded 1000 watt e-bike, or talk about their big workout which was riding their e-bike 15 miles on max assist until the battery ran out. But honestly that’s a very small number of people.

    At some point, I expect conflicts between e-bike riders and regular cyclists, as the number of bikes using our bike lanes increases, the e-bikes get faster or easier to modify to go faster, and more e-bikes show up. But we’re far from that now, I think.

    Riding around the city, I probably see one e-bike a week, at most. Of course, I may be overlooking many others that are being operated in a manner indistinguishable from a regular bicycle. But in those cases, who cares if they are e-bikes or not?

    I don’t, however, think e-bikes will magically make lots of people into bike commuters. Commuting by bicycle brings various challenges: rain and cold, dealing with cars, sometimes a longer commute, need for secure bike parking, and physical effort. The e-bike only addresses the last challenge, which leaves plenty of reasons for someone disinclined to bike commute to remain so.

    For example, suppose your bike commute would have you climbing NW Cornell to Forest Heights. Sure, an e-bike would make that easier. But the cars buzzing your hip at 45 mph won’t disappear.

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      wsbob May 22, 2016 at 11:58 am

      It’s a given: there are going to be hotrodders. Some of the bike’s designs, shown in this story’s pictures, look very hot. The temptation to dink around with them to let the bikes go faster, will be irresistible. Have to wait and see what happens, and how to handle the situation.

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      suicidarida May 22, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      Hi brother.
      Interesting that cars want to pass a bike no matter how fast a bike is going.
      Mine is slightly modded and I.
      As in my car do not drive at top speed.
      There will always be hot dog riders and drivers. Everywhere.
      I loved this expo.
      And now love my ebike even more.

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    drew May 21, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    It is a bit odd to watch an older lady in a skirt and high heels blow by me on the grade up thru riverview cemetery. But that’s one less car, and I am sure she is having more fun on the bike than if she was driving. I went from mixed feelings about them to being glad they are here. They will motivate more folks to ride bikes.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu May 21, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      Yeah, I don’t feel like I’m in a speed “competition” with an e-bike rider, any more than I would be with a motorcyclist or a driver.

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    Eric Leifsdad May 21, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    What’s the height and grade of their sample ramp? I don’t think you’ll really see the limitations of most setups below 10% grade and 3-4 minutes at load — about 1/4mile. Perhaps PBOT should setup some open streets events on the westside if they can get e-bike vendors to cover the traffic control expenses.

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      Jack G. May 21, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      It was a pretty small ramp. I wonder if, for future events, they could utilize a parking structure instead of just a lot. Still, you could at least get a sense of how they do when starting on a hill. The mid-drive motors were better than those mounted in the wheel hub, since they could take advantage of the gearing.

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    Al Dimond May 21, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    As e-bikes being “not really bikes” goes…

    Generally there seems to be a continuum in vehicles where virtues of capability like speed and comfortable range are traded off against virtues of efficiency like simplicity, lightness, compactness, low cost, environmental impact, and safety. In an urban world crammed with cars, bikes are often defined by their efficiency virtues. E-bikes trade off all these for the virtues of capability (at least until the battery dies), so…

    If bikes were just something we all loved we’d have a pretty weak case for public support of bike transportation. It’s typically those efficiency virtues (in an urban world crammed with cars) that make the case. I think they’re all super important (really!), and I also love riding bikes. The two things humans have over most other species are cardiovascular endurance and the ability to rationalize things. So, you know, I think all those efficiency virtues are super important. Maybe others can relate? Maybe we’ve taken these virtues to heart a lot (and we’ve taken the hills to heart a lot) and then there’s a complicated, heavy, expensive new kind of vehicle and its rider says, “It’s a bike,” and it’s a little faster, too, and we say, “Are you sure?”

    But of it’s still pretty simple, light, compact, cheap, and safe in the grand scheme of things. The bike lanes usually aren’t congested. So come on in. Just limit usage of that car headlight-style blinding death beam to roads with overhead lighting, not unlit trails with heavy bike traffic.

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    bikenpdx May 22, 2016 at 7:39 am

    I love electric assist … BUT … these will begin to blur the lines between vehicle traffic and bike traffic. (going 28mph in a bike lane or a small player in vehicle traffic) A challenge for transportation and safety planners. I think this challenge is sooner than most think.

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    Steve Scarich May 22, 2016 at 9:03 am

    I’m a little confused by the ‘if you don’t pedal them, they don’t move’ line; over here in Bend, I see several e-bikes every day, and I don’t recall ever seeing anyone pedaling one. I think they are just a replacement for gas-powered scooters, except they ride in the bike lane.

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      Jack G. May 22, 2016 at 9:24 am

      The majority of the bikes on show at this expo didn’t have a throttle or button to run the motor. They have what’s called “pedal assist” where you have to actively pedal for the electric motor to activate. That said there are a number of pre-built electric bikes that do come with some form of throttle. Many of the manufacturers at the show also sell in Europe, and the regulations regarding electric bikes are stricter than the US. (No throttle, less powerful motors).

      As for what they’re used for, that largely depends on the rider. For myself, I’m looking to get one for my commute. Not to make it faster, but just so that I can actually do it by bike, rather than by car.

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        wsbob May 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

        I think there may be many people that don’t bike, due to ‘range anxiety’, which is a problem e-bikes address very well. Lots of people know they need exercise, but don’t walk or bike to get it, out of anxiety over maybe being tired midway on their trip.

        With e-bikes, they have that battery motor power source to take up the slack. There’s considerable incentive too, to pedal, in that doing so conserves battery power and extends the distance able to be traveled between battery charging.

        I’ve test ridden just one e-bike and on e-scooter, from the ginza store here in Portland (sorry, not sure that’s quite the right name for the store.). Both were great to ride. Also recently met a middle aged woman that was using an e-bike to help build back her muscles after surgery. Her commendation of the technology was glowing; as she gradually regained strength, she dialed back the e-assist level, and was working towards being able to ride completely independent of e-assist.

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    Ozymandias May 22, 2016 at 9:19 am

    It’s already happening… Some bikers think it’s a good idea to put themselves and everyone else driving on the road in danger by riding down roads like Cornell or Pumpkin Ridge. I’ve seen so many near accidents and a few truely gnarly aftermaths, really wish those reckless bikers had to stay on designated roads.

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      I wear many hats May 22, 2016 at 10:02 am

      Where do you ride if you live on Cornell and need to go to NW? The dangerous thing on Cornell is people driving and passing inconsiderately and too fast for the road and conditions. Cornell is a rural road with people on it, so it does not permit high speeds based on our laws (Basic rule no)? We all have the right to be on the road.

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      SD May 22, 2016 at 11:34 am

      Those bikers are on designated roads.

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      Chris I May 22, 2016 at 9:13 pm

      You clearly do not understand basic traffic laws. I suggest you do some research before you spout more garbage.

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      Ron May 23, 2016 at 6:42 am

      Designated roads????

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    SD May 22, 2016 at 9:27 am

    My primary concern about ebikes is the issue of passing other bikes at speed. Of course, it is based on a few personal anecdotes and I hope I am ultimately wrong about ebikes predisposing riders to behave like cars. However, passing other cyclists at 18+ in a bike lane safely and respectfully requires skill and etiquette that is learned over years of cycling in groups; About the amount of time that it takes as a casual rider to develop the fitness to ride at 18+ comfortably without breathing heavily.
    One has to be able to assess the skill and context of the bike riders you are passing, know what is happening behind them in the auto lane, know how long it will take to pass, be comfortable taking the auto lane, be able to deal with the unexpected in a split second and do all of this in a way that does not make the person being passed feel threatened or uncomfortable. For many reasons the etiquette for cycling is more demanding than that of driving and increases as speed increases. Responsibility for a safe pass doesn’t end with ringing a bell.
    My limited experience has made me concerned that some cyclists on ebikes are not prepared to ride at 18+ around other cyclists safely or with the level of care required for everyone to enjoy the ride.
    Yes, I know that there are speedy non-motorized cyclists out there (or whatever pajorative term you prefer) who also ride selfishly and carelessly, and they also need to learn how to ride respectfully at speed.
    It would be great if ebike proponents would take the next step of offering ebike group rides focused on urban cycling etiquette.

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      soren May 22, 2016 at 9:55 am

      passing other cyclists at 18+ in a bike lane safely and respectfully requires skill and etiquette that is learned over years of cycling in groups

      grrrr.
      the last thing we need is people treating a bike lane like a paceline. unless the bike lane is 2.5+ meters wide no one should be passing people *IN* a bike lane. wait or htfu.

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        SD May 22, 2016 at 10:43 am

        The passed are IN the bike lane. The passer is outside of the bike lane, unless as you mention the lane is wide enough to pass comfortably. Relax, tiger 🙂

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          soren May 22, 2016 at 9:12 pm

          ok…relaxing. 😉

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    Steve May 22, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I use an eBike at work daily and love it. I can pedal when I feel like it and cover campus quickly if I need to. Getting one for home seems inevitable for those days that I just am not up to pedaling to work. Like today. 🙂

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    Mike Sanders May 22, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Just a thought. The more trails we have that are separated from the road, the more likely people will consider an E-bike. That’s why getting viable trails to the Westside, SW, and points south, west, north, and east created is so important. NW Cornell is a very good example. Someday I may get a cargo E-bike for groceries. Trailers with seats for the kids (or taking your mother out for a ride) could become very popular.

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      El Biciclero May 23, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      The speed concerns would be even greater on a “trail”. I have several trails in my neck of the woods and they are entirely too narrow for passing at any kind of speed (greater than 5 – 10 mph). So many trails have blind curves or sharp corners that were seemingly designed only for walking; they are not amenable to fast bike speeds.

      I would rather see “bike roads” (not “trails” or “paths”—both of those suggest walking, not riding) built for the purpose of traversing long distances on a bike or e-bike—the so-called “bike superhighways” I hear about being built in Europe. These would be a minimum 12-15 feet wide to accommodate all riding speeds in two directions, and would have separate pedestrian facilities, if any.

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    Beth H May 23, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I am waiting to see what happens when the proliferation of e-bikes makes our legislators sit up and decide it’s time to demand licensure and insurance of all bicycle riders, no matter what they ride or where.
    As someone who has no plans to get on an e-bike anytime soon, I am nervous about what this will mean for those of us content to go 10-12 mph on ordinary bicycles.
    Sorry, but I can’t call myself a fan just yet.

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      soren May 23, 2016 at 11:45 am

      my guess is that you encounter e-bikes often but don’t notice them (many look like ordinary hybrids or cargo bikes). in fact, on my commute i see people who ride ordinary bikes hauling ass — not e-bike riders.

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