News

Electric Bikes: Should You Go For It?

04/27/2021

by Nick Cheranich, Napa Sierra Club

It's been about a year and a half since I bought an electric bike (e-bike). I love the thing. I wanted to explain the benefits and drawbacks to them so that if you are on the fence about buying one, this might help you better decide.

Basically, an e-bike is the same as a regular bike, except that when you need extra power to go faster or harder, you can turn on a small electric motor run by a battery that will give you an assist in your pedaling (called “pedal assist”). The assist usually comes in four levels. I use the first level if I'm feeling a little tired or sore. I'll also use it if there's a decent uphill to tackle or a headwind in my face. I might use it when I'm stopped at an intersection and I need to get a little boost to get going from that stationary position. The other three levels come in handy if I'm going up roads with good-sized hills such as Dry Creek or Soda Canyon Roads.

The feeling of getting that pedal assist boost is like having an invisible Kate Courtney, the cross country mountain bike champion, riding with you and all of a sudden she starts pedaling with you. “Come on man, let's get going,” you can hear her whisper. Sure enough, you suddenly feel the ride getting a little bit easier and a little bit faster. It's a sensation that brings a smile to my face every time.

After riding for a certain number of miles, an indicator shows that it's time to recharge the battery. Plug it in for 4-6 hours and you’re good to go. If I use the pedal assist often, I'll get about 40-45 miles on a single charge. Since I like to exercise, I'll rarely use the assist, so I'll get maybe 150 miles without charging.

Here are some ways you can use an e-bike, along with some possible downsides:

For saving the environment: I'm putting this first. Since using my e-bike for most of my day to day travel, I keep the gas-guzzler in the garage. In fact, last year I filled the tank only four times! Almost no more carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses emitting into the atmosphere. Zero downside.

For work: Pedal assist can get you to your destination quicker, with less effort, and therefore with less sweat. I think that if I had gotten an e-bike before retirement, I would have commuted to work more often. Downside: you would be riding your bike during rush hour among drivers who are not necessarily looking for bicyclists. Therefore, plan a route to work that avoids busy thoroughfares.

For doing errands/shopping: Add panniers (saddle bags) to your e-bike and you can do your weekly shopping. In the store, I hook my panniers to the shopping cart and fill them with my groceries. Then the cashier takes them out, scans them, and packs them back up. (Of course, during Covid you'll have to do that yourself.) I can buy about 40 pounds of groceries, which is a week's shopping for me. And I don’t have to find parking at the store. Downside: limitation to the amount of stuff you can carry in one trip. You could always get a Cargo bike.

For pleasure: It's very fun and motivating to ride around on an e-bike. In fact, in the reviews and chat rooms I visited online, many people commented on how they hadn't biked for decades on a regular bike but with an e-bike they knew that if they were tired or sore, they could use the pedal assist, so they rode more often. And you don't have to be afraid about falling behind with friends who are really good riders. With an e-bike they'll be trying to keep up with you. Lastly, for people like me (over 60), it is a definite aid for those stiffening joints in the knees and hips. No downside that I can think of.

For long distance and/or hilly terrain exploring: You can go farther and faster and up into the hills without having to walk your bike. Before I got my e-bike I did a 26-mile loop in and around the Carneros on my regular bike. I was mega-pooped. I did the same ride with my e-bike, and it took half the time and I was just slightly winded. Now I can explore all of Napa County, especially up into the valley hills. Downside? You are limited to the mileage that your battery allows. Getting a second battery is a rather expensive option.

For fitness: Studies like this one have shown that riding an e-bike gives the rider an overall better physical exertion than regular bike riding. Although when riding an e-bike your heart rate is lower compared to a regular bike rider, you are more inclined to ride farther and more often. And since e-bikes are heavier than regular bikes, you still need to exert energy, especially if you don't use the pedal assist.

So do you need an e-bike? If you are currently only riding short distances on relatively flat roads, you probably would be fine with your regular bike. If you haven't ridden in a while and want to do more biking, you'll want to consider an e-bike. I highly recommend going to the local bike shops in Napa and asking for an test ride. Also, dozens of e-bike companies sell their bikes online, often much more cheaply than the brick and mortar stores.  I opted to buy a brand name from a local bike shop for the peace of mind of knowing that if something happened, they would be able to fix it. I also used this website as a source for what types of e-bikes are made, and what to look for in good quality parts.  

So hopefully I'll see you out there on your super cool new e-bike. In the next newsletter, I'll share a few of my favorite rides. Please feel free to ask any questions by emailing me at napavalleysierraclub@gmail.com. Thank you. Happy trails!