“Velocipede”, “hobby-horse”, “draisine”, “boneshaker”, “penny farthing” and “running machine” – believe it or not, these were some of the nicknames given to many of the original bicycle designs. With designs dating back as far as 1817, the bicycle has come a long way with all kinds of fascinating iterations. As we enter a technology-saturated age, new designs continue to emerge with sophisticated upgrades.
Among the latest: the electric bicycle, or “e-bike” – yet another nickname given for the electricity that this design leverages for power and speed.
For those who are unfamiliar with e-bikes, just imagine a regular bike, supplemented with a battery, motor, and control system. Rather than fully replacing the need for human power, the electric components of the e-bike serve to boost and/or extend the rider’s abilities for power and endurance. In other words, if the distance and terrain were some of your main reasons for not biking to work or school, e-bikes may be a game-changer for you.
What we like about e-bikes
1) They’re sustainable.
E-bikes are both energy-efficient and emission-free. Not surprisingly, their efficiency rivals that of the electric car. During our ThinkEnergy podcast discussing e-bikes, award-winning tech journalist and blogger, Seth Weintraub, shared that "20 people could ride e-bikes for one person riding an electric car in terms of energy usage." Powering these e-bikes are rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are known to be both long-lasting and recyclable.
From a financial sustainability point of view, e-bikes can be a significant initial investment; however, over time and continued use, they become a very inexpensive way to travel with no costs associated with a license, insurance or parking, and a much cheaper means of fueling up (recharging).
2) They fulfill the need for speed.
Depending on the desired pace, e-bikes also enable riders to reach their destination much faster than with a regular bicycle. But, just how fast are we talking? Seth Weintraub shared that there are four classes of e-bikes that originate in the U.S.: “a class one is a pedal assist up to 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour), class two is a pedal assist up to 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) with a throttle, and class three is a pedal assist up to 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour). And then there's kind of an unofficial category for which is the throttle for 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour).”
Regulations on maximum speeds vary across North America. In Ontario, regulations state that e-bike designs cannot exceed 500 watts or 32 kilometers per hour.
3) They make commuting manageable.
As much as a sustainable and healthy form of transportation sounds appealing, not many people are keen about arriving at their destination covered in sweat after a long bike ride – particularly during a pandemic when access to shower facilities may be limited. E-bikes are a game-changer in this scenario. Since e-bikes share the exertion load with riders, they make long distances and complex terrain (i.e. up-hill climbs) during the warmer months much more feasible and sweat-free. Likewise, for those looking to break in to this healthy habit, e-bikes help make up the difference for where a rider’s stamina may be lacking.
Fad or future?
As concerns continue to rise over the environmental damage being caused by mainstream, oil-fuelled transportation methods, the demand to adopt alternative modes like the electric bicycle is increasing. Already, e-bikes are surging in popularity across the globe. Deloitte recently predicted that 130 million e-bikes will be sold globally between 2020 and 2023. Time will tell if Ottawa residents follow this trend.
Thinking about hopping on the e-bike bandwagon? Be sure to check out our ThinkEnergy podcast where Seth Weintraub tackles some of the myths surrounding e-bikes.