Opinion: My personal e-bike revolution

Me and my new electric bike. (Photo: Dagny Daniel/BikePortland)

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! 

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. 

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Fred
Fred
2 months ago

Sorry, but I laughed at your comment about huffing and puffing up the Alameda Ridge. You Eastsiders have no idea! – if you lived on the west side of the river, you’d have bought an e-bike a lot sooner.

Amit Zinman
2 months ago

Welcome to THE DARK SIDE 😉 I lately started riding a non-assisted bike again, but yesterday as I was researching routes for my upcoming ride (Saturday) I became tired going uphill while a storm was brewing all around me. I had to stop and go back home. Tomorrow I will head back out there, knowing that my e-bike can allow me to just be thinking about which routes are better, instead of having to battle the elements.
Sure, I might be a bit out of practice/shape and all that, but I do find that for work purposes, having an e-bike that supports whatever you need to do, is just the best.
I do remember that before I had an e-bike, really windy days were public transportation days for me 🙂

ED
ED
2 months ago

Biking should not be difficult. It shouldn’t be an arduous task based in a sense of moral superiority and a victim complex.

Hear hear!! I’ve been thinking recently that so long as biking is a morally superior but truthfully sometimes inconvenient and dangerous alternative to driving, we (society generally, Portland specifically) aren’t going to get anywhere. We need systems and tools that make biking easy, safe, convenient and joyful: everything from infrastructure and land use patterns that put people within close distance of daily destinations, to changing pricing for cars (generally up) and bikes and transit (generally down). Relying on individual morality to choose biking is what has us stuck at some woeful mode share percentage.

Tyler
Tyler
2 months ago

Bravo! I’m a fan of anything that makes bike transport more accessible to more people.

MelK
MelK
2 months ago

Amen to this! I’m starting to realize that freedom is not any one specific mode, but a combination of choices based on where/when/how we want to get around. When I lived close to downtown and was single I mostly walked, and occasionally biked or took the MAX/bus. Now, in Woodstock with kids, I rely much more heavily on the bike. I tried it without e-assist for a year, but huffing up the hills with an extra 70 lbs worth of kid was just too much. I still have my regular bike and use it weekly, but having a faster, easier option was an absolute game changer for keeping the kids and myself out of a car.

Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

Congrats! Glad you were able to rehome an e-bike. [An e-bike has been a car replacement for my partner too.]

But regarding Rad Power products…they have done a great job on lowering the financial bar and geographic access to modern e-bikes that existed 4 years ago…but as they say “the chickens seems to be coming home to roost” now…this news and other recent bad news…

https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2023/Rad-Power-Bikes-Recalls-RadWagon-4-Electric-Cargo-Bikes-Due-to-Fall-and-Crash-Hazards-Recall-Alert

abomb
abomb
2 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

I hope people actually read what this recall is about. It has nothing to do with the bike’s overall construction or the electric components. Its just a recall to replace the rim strip in some bikes that was misaligned.

Sequoia
Sequoia
2 months ago

“Biking should not be difficult. It shouldn’t be an arduous task based in a sense of moral superiority and a victim complex.”

Carrying a 50 lb e-bike up & down flights of stairs is difficult. I’m not interested.

I’m not interested in paying a lot of $$$ for a generally low quality bike as compared to a manual bike or bikes I can buy for the same $ that will be reliable, and affordably serviceable transport for decades.

People love to sing the praises of their e-bike before they’ve actually discovered all the shortcomings, of which there are too many to list and I don’t want to take away anyone’s fun in discovering them.

I think most of them are just are over-priced, e-bike industry marketing crap that will end up in the dump while I’m still riding my manual bikes from the 90s that I still be able to find very affordable used parts for and do my own repairs.

And if you think riding a bike up a hill means you’re going to “need an early knee replacement” YOU”RE DOING IT WRONG!

I tore ligaments in both my knees from skiing accidents. Bicycling enabled me to rehab my knees without surgery.

Smokey
Smokey
2 months ago
Reply to  Sequoia

There are those of us who couldn’t ride unless it was on an ebike. I have a bad knee. I can’t walk further than 8 blocks nor can I ride a regular bike very far before it swells up & disables me for three weeks. At my age I refuse to go under the knife for a torn ACL or any other non life-threatening surgery. My Kepler hauls my 224 lb body & 8 lb chain lock 38.5 mph top speed throttle only. I usually can go 20-25 miles on a full charge & have stretched that to 40 miles using PAS. In my small city I can go anywhere & back on a full charge. Best of all I no longer have to use public transportation except for inclimate weather. I’ve got 300 miles on my ebike now & to date haven’t found even one of your ‘shortcomings too numerous to mention’.

Charley
Charley
2 months ago

My e-bike revolution is beginning this week: I just bought a pedal assist hybrid for commuting.

All of the reasons Griggs mentions are true in my case, with the addition of time: the e-bike will save me on commuting time.

Much like Griggs, I’m coming to the e-bike after years and years of pedaling. But I just moved to Milwaukie and my commute went from 4.5 to about 8.5 miles. The miles are faster, (no stop lights or traffic on Springwater!), but it takes me around 40 minutes, and that’s just too long.

I love exercise, but not 80 minutes of riding a day just to get to work and back. Plus, when the weather is gross or cold, that amount of time feels like a real trek.

I used to think an e-bike was somehow “cheating” but I was young and fast, steeped in racing culture, and dumb.

I can understand not wanting to “exercise” on an e-bike: I don’t need the increased risk from increased speed, if the point is cardiovascular endurance. But for commuting, the e-bike seems like the best and only way to create a strong counter incentive to the car.

Emily CC
Emily CC
2 months ago
Reply to  Charley

100% this. My commute time halved once I switched to my e-bike. Which meant I could actually commute by bike again without missing out on precious time with my kid after work. And depending on the time of day my bike commute was faster than driving, which got me out there even in nasty weather.

Matt
Matt
2 months ago

The claims that not buying (buy! buy! buy! consume! consume! consume!) an ebike is an act of “martyrdom”, and that we have “no good reason”, are fallacious, hurtful, and offensive. Why are you trying to make me feel bad about my own–need I add, more environmentally responsible–choice?

Will Ferrule
Will Ferrule
2 months ago

If you take out the “moral superiority” element of it, I would lose all reason to cycle. Just kidding! Or maybe not.

JEFFREY BERNARDS
2 months ago

My first E-bike experience was in Paris, 2011. There were few bike lanes then, but I was able to keep up with traffic and not get run down. I felt a ton safer. I came back & immediatley had the E-Bike Store convert an old bike into an E-bike. I said at the time, e-bikes will replace a car way before a regular pedal bikes ever will. Sure, e-bikes are plugged in to charge, therefore use energy. But wind power is usually generated at night, when the demand for electricity is low. Your e-bike charging at night, in theory is storing wind power for use during the day, it’s really a great use of resources. This summer I converted my folding Bike Friday into an E-bike. I travelled around 8 different European countries this summer with it. I’ve toured the world twice, for a year each time. The e-bike is a game changer for bike touring. The road, the scenery, camping, the river and the beer at the end of the day are the same as a pedal bike, I’m just not pedaling as hard, but I am pedaling. I have a Surly Long Haul trucker, that I hadn’t ridden for a year since I got my e-bike. I finally rode it, to the e-bike store to get it converted to an e-bike. The E-bike is the game changer everyone says it is.

Sequoia
Sequoia
2 months ago

Also, my manual bike will never catch fire, burn down buildings and kill innocent people. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/nov/14/new-york-e-bike-batteries-fires-delivery-workers

Sequoia
Sequoia
2 months ago

Here’s some other things that I think the e-bike evangelist / enthusiast crowd hasn’t figured out yet and/or don’t talk about.

The maintenance cost of an e-bike vs a manual bike over it’s lifetime.

For an example, I can buy inexpensive used parts on my decades old bikes in many bike shops around town, CL and Ebay.

Many of the parts on e-bikes are proprietary. If they fail, you can’t fix them, there might not be a LBS that can either. The company may no longer exist or they may have discontinued the part.

This happened to acquaintance of mine, when the controller on his VanMoof bike failed. He wasn’t able to buy a replacement controller.

And to be fair, proprietary lock-in exists in the manual bike world too. I recently found out, that I cannot service my Shimano SPD pedals and it costs $40 at an LBS. However, I can find used Shimano SPD pedals at a few bike shops around town or on CL for the same price of less.

I can upgrade my decades old bikes to suit my needs. Here’s some things I’ve done. Upgrade the wheels and installed slick tires so I can go faster w. less work and climb hills easier. Installed a bikepacking fork. Installed a porteur rack w. a 60 lb capacity. Converted to a 1 x 9 drivetrain. Use clipless pedals and learn how to spin efficiently.

Although I rode road racing bikes for fitness training when I was younger, I’ve never raced bikes in any capacity.

I enjoy wrenching on my own bikes and I don’t like being beholden to even the best, nicest, coolest bike mechanic in town, who sadly closed his shop this past summer.

In fact, I was at his shop this past summer when a woman literally dragged her bike through the door and began to tell to the story of the hours long drama that unfolded when some part on her e-bike failed and she couldn’t push her bike or put on the bus and had to wait for a friend w. SUV to come pick her up.

I’ve had many parts fail on my manual bikes over the decades and was never in that situation.

You can me a buzzkill, you can call me a hater, but I’m not a sucker of the marketing hype that e-bikes are my personal savior.

“Pay me now or pay me later, but you’re going to pay.” You’re either going to pay with some more personal effort or time to get around on a manual bike or you’re going to pay more $$$ and problems with an e-bike that promises more comfort & convenience but only deliveries it for a short time.