Opinion: To ebike or not ebike – that is the question

Opinion: To ebike or not ebike - that is the question

When riding up – or more precisely puffing up – a particularly steep hill on the West Saanich Road or that mini Matterhorn on the way to Island View beach, my thoughts inevitably turn to electric bikes.

I am of an age.

Electric bikes are everywhere now. Their riders are a cult, telling us they can bike forever, all but eliminating those dastardly hills as they zoom farther and faster than ever before. And, really they say, they get just as much exercise as on an ordinary bike.

Really? I’m not totally convinced.

The bike stores have all but sold out. They can’t get enough supply to meet demand.  The guy at a downtown Victoria bike store, where I bought a new helmet that cost me approximately what I paid for my (very) old and very utilitarian bike, tells me that I’m going to have to wait a long time if I want to buy one.

Good. I want one. But not quite yet. I’m not sure exactly when. For a long time, I equated electric bikes with pickleball – the racquet sport beloved by seniors whose knees are thrashed after a lifetime of tennis. Both pickleball and ebikes meant you were consigned to the shuffleboard of life, where you played games like euchre – whatever that is – and started taking afternoon tea.

But then I realized that when I rode along the Lochside Trail from the peninsula to downtown electric bikes had taken over. And not ridden just by the old or lazy, but by all manner of people, young and old.

Then I saw that pickleball has become huge among younger people in Europe, particularly Spain, where they’ve turned it into a highly physical and very fast sport.

So, no more denial is needed. Right?

And yet, when I rode from high on the peninsula to downtown Victoria the other day, I had a sense of quiet achievement once I made it into the downtown core. I didn’t exactly fist pump, but it had been very hot and I had ridden a good distance. And, yes, I felt a little holier than thou alongside the ebikers.

And here’s the thing. I’m somewhat guilty of stereotyping, but most of the “real bikers” along the Lochside Trail were older. Even older than me. We were mad dogs and boomers out in the midday sun, and we nodded to each other and smiled as we passed on the trail.

Electric bikes are now better than they’ve ever been. Most can now go 60 kilometres on a charge, but newer, more expensive models can go 100k without a problem. A younger friend in Vancouver has an electric road bike that she rides around Europe and says it’s changed her life.

She has a bike with the battery inside the frame, rather than those huge exterior batteries, which I’ll likely get because I don’t want people to know I’m on an electric bike. I can impress them with my 30 kilometre-per-hour riding ability. I’m shallow, I know. 

My wife and I have ridden real bikes all our lives. We’ve been on bike trips recently from Germany to Vienna along the Danube and also to the Scottish highlands. We’ve ridden city bikes around London, Paris and New York.  But, yes, it gets harder and slower every year. I’ve always been slow. Now I’m almost stationary.

But I’m of the use-it-or-lose-it philosophy. I figure that if I stop riding then something on my body somewhere will calcify or fossilize and before I know it everything will seize up.  I’ve ridden electric bikes a few times and my natural tendency is to let the bike do all the work. In my teenage days in ‘60s England, I rode a Vespa scooter, and the ebike isn’t far removed from that.

Nowadays the bikes are “e-assist” meaning you have to ride rather than rely on the throttle to get you around. Which is good. The bikes have been heavy, not easy to lug onto a bike rack on your car, but newer models are getting lighter.

 I’ll get there eventually. When they’re ultra-light,  go much, much farther on a charge so I can fulfil my wish to bike from Victoria to San Francisco, and when the price point drops a tad when they’re into mass production..

And when my leg muscles really start screaming.

Whatever gets you outside and doing exercise is a good thing. So count me in.

As Albert Einstein said, ‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”


Ian Haysom is consulting editor with CHEK Media Group

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