E-Bikes: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em They’re Here to Stay
The Newest Cycle Tech Levels the Playing Field for All Ages
By Karen Kefauver
I admit I was a snob when it came to electric bikes. for years, I thought people who rode e-bikes were generally lazy, out of shape and worst of all, a potential danger to those of us who knew how to ride “real” bikes. As friends started buying e-bikes and raving about what fun they were, I quietly dismissed them as lost souls, former cyclists who were abandoning fitness for trendiness. Then, suddenly last fall, my feelings shifted when I finally rode an e-bike for the first time in Big Sur.
Throughout the summer, I’d seen glorious photos of friends cycling that world-famous coastline, thrilled to have miles of stunning, car-free highway 1 to themselves after winter storms had destroyed nearly all vehicle access and the road was closed during months of repairs.
When my friend Chelsea suggested we rent e-bikes for a Big Sur day trip, I seized this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. though it hurt my ego, I agreed to rent an e-bike, rationalizing that my pal probably wasn’t in shape for the 18-mile ride.
At the rental shop, I climbed astride a RadMini e-bike, sporting 20-inch fat tires and weighing a little over 60 pounds. this wasn’t a bike, it was a beast! After a tutorial, I finally understood the difference between throttle and pedal assist. My rental bike, like many e-bikes, had both. The throttle mode is similar to how a motorcycle or scooter operates. When the throttle is engaged, the motor provides power and propels you and the bike forward. A throttle allows you to pedal or just relax and enjoy a “free” ride. With pedal assist, there is only power when you are pedaling.
As our adventure unfolded over the next few hours, I was stunned, not just by sweeping vistas of jagged cliffs plunging into the Pacific, but by how much fun I was having zipping along on the e-bike. I was pedaling steadily, even working up a sweat at times, but also savoring breaks by using the throttle to help me up hills, far more hills than I had remembered. e-bikes weren’t just for sissies after all!
By the end of the afternoon, the most humbling realization was that I was not nearly as fit as I had thought. In fact, I wouldn’t have reached our destination of the beautiful McWay waterfall had I not been on an e-bike. I returned to Santa Cruz a changed woman and eager to revisit the topic of e-bikes with friends.
When they were just becoming popular, I had snickered with my fellow mountain biker David Giannini about e-bikes.
“I thought if you can’t ride your bike, take up another sport or hobby,” recalled the 71-year-old Santa Cruz resident. “That was my position until I rode an e-bike. Then I was like, ‘Wow this is a total game changer!’”
His change of heart happened when he could no longer keep up with the high school mountain bikers he’d been coaching since 2007. During their three-hour trail rides at Wilder Ranch, he noticed the fun and purpose were fading. But the e-bike leveled the playing field. Ii could keep up with all of the kids,” he said. “It was amazing. All of the sudden, my ability to mentor young riders was restored.”
While David was chasing teens on his e-bike, my friend Crystal Obregon was hauling kids. We reminisced about how she had bundled her daughter, Carolina, and son, Sean, then about 4 and a half and 1 respectively, on an e-bike for trips to the farmer’s market, swim lessons and pre-school.
“With the e-bike, I could get some exercise and fresh air and not be stuck in the car with the kids,” said Crystal, whose husband Ivo bought the bike to keep them all pedaling together. “It’s not fun to get little kids in and out of the car. it’s easier on the bike and more exciting for them too.”
While Crystal’s days of schlepping kids are long gone, Dieter Ramaekers is gearing up for a new cyclist in the family. The Belgian native rides a pedal-assist e-bike with Esme, almost 3, strapped in front while his wife Susie rides alongside on her bike. They’re expecting a daughter this summer and their massive, 7-speed, wooden-framed “Dutch Bakery Bike” has ample space for two passengers with what looks like a massive wheel- barrow in the front. Esme can sit inside it on a bench equipped with safety straps and eventually the baby will have her car seat secured inside. for added fitness, Dieter refrains from using the motor except when climbing the steepest hills.
“We ride along West Cliff, through Natural Bridges state Park, to the farmer’s market, downtown, pick her up at school,” said Dieter. “If you’re mindful and careful of traffic and the weather is nice, it’s great. It feels safe for her seated in front of me. The air is nice here, you get some sun, Vitamin D. Life slows down. The kids love it.”
While I’m now officially an e-bike fan and especially love seeing families biking together, I still believe there are many valid concerns about the safety of e-bikes on roads and trails. As the global market for e-bikes surges towards a multi-billion dollar business, these issues will move to the forefront. Meanwhile, I don’t look forward to the day when an impatient e-biker wants to pass me while I’m huffing and puffing up a single-track trail. What’s changed my attitude towards e-bikes is how they open up a world of possibilities for biking for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t have cycled otherwise. And to those folks, I say, more power to you!
Bike Share Program Launches in Santa Cruz
The City of Santa Cruz, in partnership with Jump Bicycles, will roll out its new bike sharing program during Santa Cruz Bike Week, May 4-12, with a ribbon cutting at noon, May 22, at City Hall.
The fleet of 250 orange e-bikes will be available to the public at 27 locations citywide. The 8-speed JUMP brand bikes are electric assist, meaning they are powered only when pedaling.
City of Santa Cruz transportation Planner Amelia Conlen said that Uber’s announcement last month that it is buying Jump Bikes, (for a rumored $200 million) “does not affect the Santa Cruz program – same staff, launch timeline,” said Conlen. “They’re excited about the potential to launch in more cities with Uber’s support.”
“We see this as an opportunity to introduce people to biking who haven’t biked before,” Conlen said, noting that the bike share program is designed for short trips around town and ideal for beating rush hour traffic.
There are monthly passes and pay-as-you-go options — $2 for 30 minutes and after that, about $.07 per minute.
Riders must be 18 years old.
For details, visit
www.cityof santacruz.com/government/city- departments/public-works/traffic- engineering/bike-share.