Cyclists late for work are not necessarily breathless these days.
Whether you’re commuting to the city center, climbing hills to vineyards, or traveling for hours on long trails, there’s a help for that: battery power can help keep your bike wheels moving when your legs or lungs want to give up.
In the past few years, cyclists who have squeaky knees – or who just want to keep up with faster cyclists – find that pedaling assist provides the excitement of the wind in their hair and cheap transport. Electric bikes are gaining ground, especially among people over 50. In the case of e-bikes, battery-powered motors can help riders with little or no pedaling. Or they can choose to pedal without power.
Charles Knapp said he often exhausts himself when walking just 30 meters. At 69, she is battling prostate cancer. Almost three years ago – and 30 years after he last rode a bike – he bought an electric bike from a Pedego dealer in Oakland.
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“I love it,” she says. “I drive it almost every day, 20 miles or more. You can go anywhere. It was great fun”.
The Manchester resident enjoys riding the Mississippi Greenway to the old Chain of Rocks Bridge. “My son-in-law makes me sad,” says Knapp. “He says it’s not like riding a bicycle. I tell him, “You don’t know until you’ve tried it.” Keeping Knapp company while driving is an additional technology: a Bluetooth helmet transmits music or baseball games.
While e-bike sales have been increasing for years, the Light Electric Vehicle Association estimates that the United States imported nearly 790,000 electric two-wheelers in 2021, a huge increase from 463,000 in 2020. A proxy for the state of the US e-bike market, ”reports Bloomberg News, who also noted that e-bike sales appeared to outperform electric car sales last year.
With e-bike prices ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 5,000 and above, two-wheeled vehicles are obviously much cheaper than Tesla. And the bicycle batteries can be charged from a regular household socket.
Local bike shops are reporting an interest that appears to be in line with a national trend.
Kayce Peters, Store Manager at Big Shark Bicycle Co. on Big Bend Boulevard, she said that although summer is the busiest selling period, this year’s high gasoline prices have coincided with marked increases in business.
“Especially with e-bikes, people come to investigate them as a kind of car replacement, car reduction option,” he said.
E-bike use has been increasing steadily for some time, he said, but the pace has picked up particularly in the past few years, amid the “COVID boom” in cycling – and has recently shifted into a different gear.
“This summer is the year when e-bikes are totally popular,” he said. “Electric bikes are now as much part of our bike shop as mountain bikes. It is no longer a separate, small category ”.
On the Kickstarter Katy Trail, store manager John Matthews said the store rents and sells e-bikes and regular bikes. Last year, there were only two e-bikes available for rent in the store as that’s all you could get. It now has 15 to 20 e-bikes at its Augusta location. Often they are all reserved for the weekend for $ 38 for two hours.
Matthews said even riders as young as 20 borrow them. Sometimes there is one person in a pair who is the stronger rider, so the partner will rent an e-bike. Then the other person will want one, he said.
“It allows them to cover more terrain in less time,” said Matthews. They may want to score extra kilometers on the Katy Trail or not waste too much time racing the hills towards the vineyard.
Deanna Kakouris, the owner of the South Side Cyclery, with her husband Tim, agreed that there is growing interest among buyers who want to ride their bikes on gravel and off-road. Electric bikes are available in models suitable for hauling cargo, mountain climbing or heavy commuting.
Pedal bikes sold in stores usually go up to around 20mph, although some can reach speeds of 28mph. They do not require a license, registration, or insurance in Missouri or Illinois.
“Electric bikes are changing the rules of the game,” said Karen Karabell, an instructor at CyclingSavvy. “They can really replace road trips.” Karabell said she doubts she will ever buy another car.
However, she said, knowing about bicycle safety is essential. Recommends the American Cycling Education Association program at cyclingsavvy.org. Through a partnership with Great Rivers Greenway, subway passengers can use a gatewaybikeplan coupon code to gain free lifetime access to an educational video series called Ride Awesome.
“While Ride Awesome is for all riders, it is perhaps even more important for electric riders,” said Karabell. “Speed gets people in trouble.”
Local bike retailers also recommend that you do some research before purchasing an e-bike. Kakouris warned that cheap online-only bikes could be short-lived purchases as engines can breakdown and local repair shops may either lack parts or be willing to repair them.
She pointed out that some bikes sold with throttles or accessories online are difficult for cyclists to master. Throttles give the bike more power without pedaling. Some states do not allow all types of ebikes on all lanes or have speed limits.
Kakouris also warned that conversion kits that can be attached to a regular bicycle could be dangerous for regular bicycles with rim brakes as bicycle brakes are not designed to work with a motor vehicle. E-bike brands usually have disc brakes.
Electric bikes, which often weigh around 60 pounds, are divided into three classes, come in many models, and have motors and batteries of varying quality. Freight bikes can even have two motors, which can add to the weight of the bike. Some lithium-ion batteries can be unlocked and taken home to charge. But because lithium batteries can catch fire, Bicycling.com warns against using an aftermarket battery or at a bargain price and recommends that you unplug the battery after charging.
In addition, riders should understand to what extent the battery will help the rider. A retailer may say the battery will last, say, 50 miles on a single charge, but drivers need to understand that this number can vary depending on how much power the rider is using.
Cycling may be a skill that has never been forgotten, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be more difficult.
Bill Sauerwein says e-bikes keep “people mobile and active”.
He and his wife Carla opened a Pede store in Oakland in 2019. A shop that only sells e-bikes is located just off Grant’s Trail. “Our business grew exponentially,” he said.
It started with a bang, he said, when people wanted to get out during the pandemic. Recently, gas prices have attracted buyers, he says.
He uses his own bicycle so much that he and his wife now only have one car. Sauerwein does not advise children to ride e-bikes and said his primary demographic is customers over the age of 50. (Some manufacturers specify their ebikes are intended for use by 18 years of age and older.)
One of his clients was Henderson Smith III, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who worked at the Scott Air Force base and now lives downtown.
He rode an electric bike for the first time in Australia while working as a consultant during a pandemic. A neighbor convicted of drunk driving had an e-bike and allowed Smith to try it out. Smith, 64, is a convert after foot and knee surgery. That said, he still does cardio, but can ride for much longer.
“I used to ride a lot, but it hurt me sometimes,” he said. Now people at Trailnet events or on bike paths “gasp and I ride.”
Bryce Gray of Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.