It’s been about a year since I first wrote about my goal to buy an electric bike. At the time, I was a complete newbie to the scene, but since then I’ve learned so much about the world of Portland biking and transportation and have become a staunch advocate for electric bikes. I’ve seen how they change people’s lives and firmly believe they are going to be a big part of the cure for our societal car dependency. I evangelized about the e-bike to anyone who would listen, and some people actually did!
But all along, I’ve held a secret close to my chest. After seeking the advice of BikePortland commenters and people from all corners of the internet about which bike to buy, I was overcome with decision paralysis. I expected to make the jump after I sold my car, but even after the car was long gone, I still couldn’t make up my mind. Filled with anxiety about all the different considerations I needed to make before buying my new bike, I concluded that my non-electric bike was serving me fine and exhaled as I closed out all the tabs of e-bike research I’d amassed on my computer.
Over the next few months, I put thousands of miles on my non-electric bike, and typically didn’t feel constrained by a lack of electricity on my commute. On days I really didn’t feel up to an intensive ride I could rent a Biketown bike (this ended up costing me quite a pretty penny) or just stay close to home. Sure, there were times when I was huffing and puffing up the Alameda ridge or climbing up the west side of the Broadway Bridge when I wanted nothing more for a small boost, whether from a well-timed gust of wind or an electric battery. But once I reached my location and my heart rate slowed down, I usually forgot about those woes.
A couple weeks ago, however, I got an offer I couldn’t really refuse (try as I might). BikePortland co-owner Mike Perham took advantage of the big Rad Power sale in October and had a Rad Mission bike he wanted to donate. He asked if I was in the market for one, and though I was grateful for the consideration, I acted coy. Me? I felt unworthy. I’d been surviving perfectly fine with my regular bike! Sure, I was late to everything and felt like I was going to need an early knee replacement, but that’s the way I liked it!
Ultimately, I couldn’t deny it anymore: I wanted an e-bike. So, after a year of back and forth, I am now the proud owner of a Radmission bike that was very generously gifted to me. It really helped that I didn’t have to decide which bike to get, removing the whole agonizing decision-making process that caused me so much stress at the beginning of this process.
I’ve only had the bike for a week, but I already have some thoughts to share. These thoughts are particularly aimed at those of us who already ride bikes for transportation and wouldn’t be buying an e-bike as a car replacement, which is a demographic I think gets overlooked much of the time in these conversations.
Here are my takeaways so far.
(Oh, and quick note: the astute reader will recall that I very recently wrote about my roommate Dagny’s struggles with her Rad Power bike, which may have come across as an indictment of the bikes themselves. However, Dagny was able to fix her bike just by reconnecting a few of the cables and hasn’t had any problems since. I believe there still might be a reason someone might want to invest in a bike they can easily get serviced at a local shop, but we are both back in the pro-Rad Power camp, especially considering the accessible price point.)
1. Electric bikes can be game changers even for people who’ve already ditched their cars
A lot of e-bike advocacy (rightfully) focuses on how battery-boosted bikes can be total game changers for bike-hesitant people and shift the mode share away from cars and toward a decarbonized transportation system. I think people should certainly continue sharing this message far and wide. But what if your life is already oriented around riding a bike for transportation?
Personally, with or without e-bikes, I have no plans to ever own a car again. But now that I have this new bike, I’ve realized the benefits I was missing out on by insisting I didn’t need an electric option. Which leads me to my next point…
2. True freedom of mobility includes comfort
Sure, I might have been able to go pretty much wherever I needed to go without much constraint using my old bike. But sometimes the trip to my destination was a little less mundane than I would’ve liked. I don’t find it comfortable or relaxing to drive a car for a lot of reasons – traffic is a nightmare, and I don’t like the responsibility of operating extremely heavy and dangerous machinery – but a quick drive doesn’t tend to wear people out physically. If you’re in a car, you don’t have to mentally and physically prepare yourself to drive up that hill that’s on your way home or worry about your ice cream melting on the journey to your freezer.
I think everyone should be able to get where they need to go without needing a car and without feeling exhausted upon arrival. E-bikes are the solution to that problem.
3. The joy of riding a bike is translatable
Despite my best efforts to filter out snobbery and pretension, I have to admit I’ve internalized a bit of bike puritanism. It comes from a good place: as much as I am passionate about biking on a policy level to curb carbon emissions and make our cities more liveable, I genuinely love bicycling as an activity more than almost anything this world has to offer. I was a bit worried about tainting the experience by adding a battery.
But it turns out that being out in the fresh air, flying down hills, forming camaraderie with people biking by and even getting those thrilling endorphin rushes – that’s all possible on an e-bike, too.
4. Martyrdom isn’t a virtue
There are a lot of things that people who rely on biking to get around can rightfully gripe about. Near-misses with distracted car drivers, crumbling or nonexistent bike infrastructure – and how about the generally inaccessible price of most electric bikes, which aren’t given the respect they deserve as sustainable transportation alternatives compared to electric cars? A self-imposed abstinence from e-bikes for no good reason, however, isn’t really a valid complaint.
Biking should not be difficult. It shouldn’t be an arduous task based in a sense of moral superiority and a victim complex. So, this is all to say: if you want an e-bike and can afford one, get one, and let yourself enjoy the extra boost. You don’t have anything to prove.