This blog is adapted from one I wrote several years ago. Things haven’t changed much since then. There have been heated discussions on social media about e-bikes, with recreational trail users of regular bikes having nothing good to say about e-bikes, while most e-bike users use them the same as regular bikes. There seems to be a difference of thought about what trails are for. I mainly commute on the trails in the city. Others use them strictly for recreation. We share them with dog-walkers and runners, and no one should be riding faster than 20 mph. You can find a highway shoulder for that. Slower traffic should keep to the right. Passers should announce themselves. If there is a problem with trail users not knowing proper trail etiquette, it needs to be taught, but where? At the point-of-sale? On signs? What would work best? Both regular and e-bike users are guilty of poor trail etiquette. This is an issue more cities than just Lincoln. If you have an idea how we could improve education and compliance among trail users, let us know.
I’ll say upfront I’ve not ridden an e-bike, but I’m seeing more of them around all the time. I’ve been struggling a little with my view towards electric bicycles, but as I read more studies, and talk to friends who ride e-bikes, I’m more at peace with them. I’m not talking about those bicycles retro-fitted with a gas lawn mower motor that spew fumes and noise and are not permitted on trails, no matter what their operators seem to think.
One version of the gas-powered bike, found on Craigslist. These are not legal on trails.
Bicycling Magazine has an article from Sept. 2, 2019, about “How do fitness levels of e-bikers compare to those who ride regular?” It begins with the following finding: Recent research published in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives found that those who ride e-bikes get more exercise minutes per week than those who ride normal bikes. E-bikers also reported significantly longer trip distances, whether riding an e-bike or conventional bike. Among the 10,000 riders researchers from the University of Zurich followed for a year, the e-riders had a slightly higher activity rate.
Another researcher found that people would make trips with an e-bike that they wouldn’t with a conventional bike because they viewed the trip as too long, too hilly, or took too much time. E-bikers do also ride conventional bikes. My friends who ride e-bikes are also conventional bike riders and ride their e-bikes for the above reasons.
All this makes me re-think any pre-conceived notions I may have had about e-riders. If an e-bike takes a person out of a car and puts them on a bike they still have to pedal, what could be wrong with that? (Some don’t pedal though. I don’t know why this bothers me. It may be because it’s a pedal assist bicycle, not a scooter.) I have met e-riders who use them in order to not arrive at work sweaty, which is a deal-breaker for some. Also, an e-bike allows people to ride together when fitness levels are too different for it to happen otherwise, and to tour when it wouldn’t be feasible for them on conventional bikes. It can make cycling an option for some disabled riders.
Today I waited at an intersection near campus with another regular cyclist and an e-cyclist who opted to walk across the intersection when the light turned green, even though cyclists no longer have to do that. Soon though, he passed us and sped ahead. This made me think of another article I’d seen on Bicycling.com:
How to Ride an E-Bike Safely: 6 TIPS FOR MANAGING THESE FASTER, HEAVIER BIKES. I’m not saying he was doing anything dangerous, but he was going considerably faster uphill than we conventional cyclists were. Motorists perceive cyclists are going to travel a certain speed and if faster (this happened to me often in China) will overestimate the time they have to proceed before you get there. Everyone has less reaction time with increased speed, so it’s even more important for the e-cyclist to pay attention to traffic. 50-200 more watts of power means not only motorists, but other cyclists and trail users won’t hear you coming up even faster than usual, so it’s even more important to announce your presence. Faster speeds and a heavier bike mean it’s necessary to start braking sooner at crossings, and to slow down more for corners. New riders should start out more slowly until they’re used to the difference. I have my suspicions e-mountain bikes might not be so welcomed on the single track. Am I wrong? I am aware it is controversial. A mountain biker in Seattle I talked to a while back said he thought he would be against them, but after trying one for downhilling, he changed his opinion. He found the energy he saved riding to the top made it possible for him to bike longer and further.
Riders with mobility issues should understand that the bike weighs an extra 20 lbs. and mounting and dismounting can cause a tip-over and an injury. A step-through bike, or one with a more angled top tube may be better suited for these riders. In China older men didn’t have a problem with riding step-through bikes. If your hip socket says throwing a leg over is not a good idea, a step-through will keep you on a bike.