03 Oct Shattering 2019’s 10 biggest e-bike myths
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E-bikes open up a new travel experience for baby boomers and seniors
E-bikes sadly get their fare of criticism. We hear that they are cheater bikes, tear up public places or endanger others. We believe much of the e-bike hate talk comes from lack of information and understanding. For us, e-bikes are a way to stay fit and enjoy travel on two wheels despite health and age-related challenges. E-bikes empower baby boomers and seniors to enjoy the outdoors and experience travel in a much more personal and memorable way than car travel.
Wandering Rose Travels is sharing why we love e-bikes in the hopes of busting some myths for our fellow baby boomers and senior. Heck, any age can benefit from e-bikes. E-bike benefits can literally be life-changing for a number of reasons which we explore here.
Common in Europe and Asia, e-bikes are finally catching on the last couple years in the U.S. As active baby boomers with health issues, we’ve been promoting e-bikes for several years. We joke that someone should pay us a commission on all the e-bikes likely purchased after we share our story and allow folks to demo ride B’s e-bike. People for Bikes and Rails to Trails Conservancy have featured B’s struggle with asthma and the benefits of e-bikes for those with health or age limitations.
Myth #1. E-bikes are electric scooters.
The biggest misconception we hear is people not understanding how an e-bike works. Even many savvy cyclists believe that ebikes replace the need to pedal. Not so. E-bikes provide assistance to the rider, who must be constantly pedal for the motor to engage. Sensors detect cadence and load on the pedals, and add motor assistance when the load is greatest, such as climbing a steep hill or riding into a strong headwind.
Pedal assist level is determined by the rider, typically providing a 10-40 percent boost to the effort the biker puts in. Put another way, in its lowest assist mode, an e-bike motor contributes 10 percent power and the rider provides 90 percent. At its highest setting, the e-bike motor provides 40 percent of the power while the e-biker provides 60 percent.
Myth #2. E-bikes take away the exercise and health benefits that traditional bikes provide.
The truth is you get all the workout that you are willing and able to do on an e-bike. Multiple studies have shown physical, cardiovascular and mental health benefits for those who ride e-bikes. Want more of a workout? Simply lower the level of assist, or turn the motor off completely. E-bikes have gotten many baby boomers and seniors back on a bike when they thought their biking days were over. Injury, illness or simply our aging bodies make a traditional bicycle difficult or impossible for many. E-bikes make exercise so much fun that studies show e-bikers ride more often than their traditional bike counterparts.
B is a fitness nut, but exercise-induced asthma makes climbing steep hills impossible and dangerous. She makes a game of seeing how much she can exceed the stated manufacturer battery mileage by using no assistance on flats and minimal assistance on hills. Sometimes she doubles the manufacturer’s stated mileage. In doing so, she gets an amazing workout. We’re both in our 60s and love to combine bikes with travel. Some travel destinations challenge our biking ability because of distance or elevation, but e-bikes are the great equalizer so we can keep up with those younger and more fit.
Thorny would challenge those who shout “cheater” to B as she cycles to hear her story of asthma and the times that asthma attacks left her stranded on the road before she purchased an e-bike.
Myth #3. E-bikes are noisy. I won’t fit in with my group of traditional bike riders.
Russell Grange, trip leader with active travel company, Backroads, hears this objection often. “People unfamiliar with e-bikes sometimes assume they will be noisy or won’t blend in well with traditional bikes,” Grange said. “As a trip leader, it’s fun at the start of a trip to “introduce” guests to their e-bikes and put their concerns to rest. To the untrained eye, our e-bikes look nearly identical to our traditional bikes, and with the motors being silent one can bike with ease and never worry about standing out from the crowd.”
Myth #4. Learning to safely operate an e-bike is intimidating.
Many people haven’t ridden a bicycle since childhood, but an e-bike can actually make starting to cycle again less intimidating. Even if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, it’s a skill that is easily picked up again. How many times have you said or heard, “it’s just like riding a bike.” Riding an e-bike takes away the worry of lacking the stamina to finish your ride. The electric motor is there for you on challenging hills or if you have run out of steam and need some help getting back to the ride start. The security of having an electric motor will allow you to take longer rides than you might be comfortable with on a traditional bicycle. Our advice: get out there and do it! If your significant other loves to cycle, but you find it hard to keep up, an electric bike helps you spend more quality time together. This opens up opportunities to bike with your kids and grandkids next time you travel as an extended family.
Myth #5: E-bikes make it dangerous for other trail users.
This is the battle cry of those who oppose e-bikes on trails in our national parks. E-bikes pose no more danger to trail bikers, hikers and horse riders than traditional bikes. Jerks who are rude on e-bikes cause danger. As do jerks who are aggressive and rude on traditional bikes. We’ve been spooked and put in dangerous situations on the trail by traditional bikers who fly up behind us unannounced or who pass in dangerous places, but the e-bikers we’ve encountered seem to take extra precautions and practice good trail etiquette. We’re not saying there are not rude e-bikers who pose danger to others on the trail. We are simply saying it is the rude bike rider (or hiker or horseman) that is the problem. Most of us riding e-bikes on the trail are doing it because age, injury or medical condition makes riding a traditional bike impossible. We’re just thrilled to be out there and sharing the trail with other outdoors lovers.
Myth #6: E-bikes don’t go very far.
Au contraire. B’s first e-bike had a stated range of 30 miles, though she could push it to 50 miles with frugal use of the motor. Her new bike has a stated range of 70 miles. B is hoping to push that to 100. We have not gone that far in a single ride yet, but we have gone 50 miles in a single ride and the bike computer stated the battery had 50 more miles of capacity. Backroads is one of the first U.S. tour companies to include e-bikes on their trips. One of early e-bike travel experiences was with Backroads on a trip to Hawaii. It opened our eyes. We purchased an e-bike upon returning home.
Wandering Rose asked Backroads’ Bob Greeneisen for his perspective. “Battery life is the biggest concern if doing a self-guided trip,” Greeneisen told Wandering Rose Travels. “The increased weight of e-bikes makes them heavy and more challenging to pedal without any assist. You can carry a spare battery but that adds additional weight. At Backroads, we carry spare batteries in our support vans and often install a fresh battery at the midpoint of the ride, just for safe measure.”
Myth #7. If my e-bike breaks down on the road or trail, I am screwed.
Okay, you are sort of screwed, but newer electric motors and controls are weather sealed and durable with few reported failures. Any bicycle could develop a mechanical problem during your ride. The disadvantage e-bike riders face is pushing a 50-ish pound bicycle should mechanical failure make it impossible to ride the bike. We have not experienced this, but have planned for it. Should an e-bike breakdown occur, we plan to alternate who pushes the heavy e-bike and who pushes the lighter traditional bike. We can also leave the e-bike and rider by the roadside while the other person bikes back to get the car. We’ve done this leave-and-retrieve method with traditional bikes when breakdowns occur. You don’t need to fear it. But you do need to plan for it.
Myth #8. E-bikes are difficult to maintain.
An E-bike is simply an ordinary bike with an added battery, motor and controller. It requires the same chain and gear clean/lube maintenance that any bicycle does. E-bike batteries are happiest when not too hot or cold, so we keep ours in a climate-controlled environment (semi-heated garage or in the house) in extreme temperatures. The bike electrical components require no additional maintenance. We did once slash a motor cable while changing a flat tire and the repair bill made us woozy. But that was our fault for not knowing the proper tire changing technique and is easily avoided if you’ll ask the dealer how to change your bike tire. B’s new bicycle is mid-drive (versus rear wheel drive) so flat changes on the new bike are identical to a traditional bicycle.
Myth #9: My spouse suggests renting an e-bike on an upcoming trip. But our group is experienced riders and I fear not being able to keep up.
Russell Grange has a great answer to this concern: “One of the best e-bike benefits is that it allows couples, friends and traveling companions of mixed abilities to ride comfortably together, Grange says. “By having e-bikes, the more casual riders can keep up with the faster-paced riders, which means no one feels rushed or delayed, and everyone goes at a pace that feels comfortable. So not only are e-bikes good for your health, they’re good for your relationships!
“They are also a huge win for people who have chosen a bike tour, not because of a long history of biking or a passion for the sport, but because they recognize that bicycles are a direct connection to the countryside and the more authentic, less-traveled corners of the regions we travel. In today’s busy world it can be challenging to prioritize getting in shape for a bike tour. An e-bike allows such a traveler to still enjoy their trip and ride all the miles without feeling overly fatigued or drained at the end of the day.”
Myth #10. E-bikes are designed for commuting and touring around town. I want to do mountain trails and longer road bike rides.
Many e-bikes are certainly used for commuting and errands around town, especially in Europe and Asia. Riders arrive at work less sweaty and ruffled than if they had pedaled a traditional bicycle. E-bike capability choices were limited a few years ago, but no longer. Today there is an e-bike for every riding style… touring, commuting, road biking, mountain biking and gravel biking. B has an old style town cruiser purchased three years ago, which she has taken many, many places it was not designed to go. With improvements in motors, battery life and a greater variety of frame styles, B recently purchased a new gravel bike. Now she sails along gravel roads and rail trails with ease.