Charging Into The World Of Electric Bikes

Life is full of challenges. Some, like aging, are inevitable while some are of our own making.

Sometimes you need to challenge yourself in order to forestall the inevitable. So, in these strange times and because it’s summer, I’ve challenged myself to do more biking as a form of exercise that might slow the aging process.

Now this didn’t come easily. I already had a decent bike to get me around. But at my age, the hills in Red Wing were more of a challenge than I wanted. And I didn’t want to limit my riding to the mostly level bike trails. Then I learned about electric bikes.

Although I knew about them, I hadn’t given them much thought. My impression of an electric bike was one with an add-on motor that made it hard to balance. I remember as a kid seeing ads in comic books for add-on gas engines that had a drop-down roller that rode on top of the front tire.

Well, times have changed. Through the miracle of Facebook advertising that knows everything you want, I was introduced to modern electric bikes. Suddenly, it started to make sense. I’m retired, I need exercise, and biking is a way to return to my youth. And an electric bike should allow me to ride anywhere in town, hills and all. But I had to sell this idea to Catherine, so I suggested we each get one.

I did some research which included first learning that they are referred to as e-bikes and they are available in basically every bike category. They have become popular because of technology improvements such as lighter, longer range batteries and because there is a market for them – lots of retiring Baby Boomers that enjoy biking but don’t feel like risking a heart attack pedaling up hills. We don’t want to walk them up hills either.

There are two main types of electric bikes: pedal assist and throttle operated. Pedal assist e-bikes, by far the most common type, assist only when you are pedaling. Throttle operated e-bikes have a thumb-control that is pushed for more power and you don’t need to be pedaling to use it.

Pedal assist e-bikes in the U.S. add power up to 20 miles per hour, which is the speed limit of many trails. Throttle operated e-bikes provide power up to 28 miles per hour. They are more like a moped than a bicycle. Rules differ by country and, in the U.S., by state. Throttle operated e-bikes are not allowed on some trails. Pedal assist e-bikes are generally allowed anywhere a non-powered e-bike is permitted.

Battery placement is critical to any of these e-bikes. Mine is frame mounted near the center of the e-bike for better weight distribution and is removable and can be locked. You want it near the center and as low as possible. Some e-bikes have the battery inside the frame.

We bought our Trek e-bikes at Red Wing Bicycle Co. to help the local economy. E-bikes can be heavy so require a heavy-duty hitch-mount carrier. But the larger tire size on the e-bikes makes for a smooth ride. The power assist more than makes up for the added weight.

Pedal assist e-bikes have different assist modes. Ours are Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo. As you can guess, the names indicate the level of assist and power consumption. I made it to Welch and back on one charge on the Cannon Valley Trail. I haven’t tried it yet, but I should be able to ride that trail from Red Wing to Cannon Falls and back on one charge, provided I’m conservative on my power use. The motor itself is silent and you can change power modes any time by pressing a button.

I should mention that most new bikes have large disc brakes, not those caliper brakes with the little rubber pads. If I get a flat tire, I’ll be walking the bike home because I’m not changing tubes on the road. But it’ll be easier since this e-bike has a Walk mode that powers it slightly while walking.

The real test for me was to ride my e-bike up some steep streets while seated. I am proud to announce that I first conquered both Hennings Avenue and Skyline Drive (in Memorial Park). On another day, as a challenge to myself, I rode up Walter Avenue, Seymour and Grace streets, then College Avenue, Jackson Street, West End Avenue (Malt House Hill), West Avenue, and Glenwood Street. Yes, of course I mostly used Turbo mode. That’s what I bought if for.

On that same ride, as I headed home via Highway 58 to Pioneer Road, I was thankful for the boost the motor provided against the wind. I rode down Pioneer Road to Hennings Avenue for the final successful climb. Soon I’ll be riding up Central Avenue, and Boxrud, Sanford and Sturtevant streets. I’ll try Oakwood Cemetery Road and Neal Street, too, as well as others I missed. There are many.

Maybe there should be an award or patch for making them all, even on an e-bike. Now that would be a challenge worth bragging about.

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