E-bikes Hit the Roads

by Max Bramel

I love riding a bike for recreation, transportation, and exercise. But when it comes to an uphill stretch of the road, my joy takes a nosedive. Did I say I like exercise? Yes, but only to a point. When my cardiovascular system goes into overdrive working my way up a long ascent, existential questions of “Remind me again why am I doing this?” loom large.

For me and many others, e-bikes have provided a satisfying solution to the problems of uphill inclines and headwinds. An e-bike, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a bicycle with an electric motor to help propel the bike. The bike handles like a regular bike, but the motor boosts the power the rider provides with pedaling. Many e-bikes require rider pedaling for motor assist, but some e-bikes include throttle controls that do not require pedaling.

Most motors are mounted either on the hubs of the front or (more often) rear wheels. Other designs incorporate the motor inside the bottom bracket of the frame. These mid-drive motors offer better balance and efficiency than hub motors but tend to cost more. Larger batteries tend to cost more than those with less capacity but allow for greater ranges on a charge.

One might question whether e-bikes allow for adequate exercise. To be sure, there aren’t many rider-supplied calories burned when employing a throttle control. Additionally, covering a given route on a regular bike will certainly provide more exercise than having some of the power supplied by a motor. But some surprising findings came from a study published in the Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives journal. The researchers determined the average energy used in a variety of transportation modes, and then surveyed over 10,000 adults to learn how much time they spent each week on those activities and the distances they covered. Electric bike riders reported engaging in slightly more total exercise each week than regular bike cyclists. The researchers credited the increased amount of time and longer distances that e-bike riders reported over their non-motorized cycling peers. This makes sense to me; since getting my e-bike I now go on longer, more frequent rides because I’m having more fun.

Good e-bikes can be purchased for under $2000; bikes with better components will cost more. Some good online resources I have found to aid in shopping are electricbikereview.com  and electricbikereport.com. The latter web site has a link for a good “Get Started Guide” prominently featured on their home page; www.rei.com/learn/series/electric-bike-basics has some great articles with photos explaining the “classes” of e-bikes, the pros and cons, and maintenance information. There are also many good videos on YOUTUBE.COM about e-bikes. You can see some in person at Gettysburg Bicycle.

Rather than purchase an e-bike, you can add electric power to an existing bike if the frame and tires are sturdy, like a mountain bike, to handle the extra weight of a motor and battery. There are a couple of conversion kits you can purchase that include a wheel with motor, a controller to send signals from the battery to the motor, and a display that allows you to change the level of assist and monitors your speed and distance. Prices vary with the size of motor and battery.  One board member was very happy with products he purchased from “ebikeling.com.” This is not a project for a novice, but if you are good with tools and instructions, it can be a rewarding experience with fun results. There are many videos online showing how to add electric to an existing bicycle. You can email questions about e-bikes to habpi2012@gmail.com.

HABPI’s 7th Annual Ride for Trails will take place on Saturday, October 1, 2022 at the Gettysburg Rec Park. See our website at https://habpi.com/events/ for details and how to register. Donate to our trail development work by going to https://habpi.com/ and selecting “Connect.”

Max Bramel sits on the board of HABPI and claims he feeds half of the bird population of Adams County. He retired as an instructor at Penn State Mont Alto.