What The Tech: Electronic Bikes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As gas prices continue to go up, many people are looking for ways to save money at the pump. The best way of course is not to go to the gas pumps at all. For most people, that isn’t an option. For many though, not taking a vehicle when you can take a bike is quite possible.

Sales of electric bicycles or EBikes are up. Bike Shop owner David Hardin has dozens of electric bikes on the showroom floor and says they’re popular with people who use regular bikes all the time as well as people who haven’t ridden a bike for years.

“We’ve probably seen in our sales probably up 35% of our business go up because of EBikes.”

Hardin says while commuters are buying EBikes for work and school, experienced bicyclists are getting them for other reasons. Couples buy one so the slower person can keep up. Older riders are buying them because they can ride much farther with bikes with peddle assist. But EBikes are expensive. Some are as much as $8,000.

Bird, the company behind scooter-share rides in many cities loaned me one of its new EBikes to see what the buzz is all about. The Bird EBike is about $2,500 which is a fine price point for anyone wanting to ride to work or school or around the neighborhood. It doesn’t have a shock system so the Bird bikes are best for roads and sidewalks.

There’s a throttle on the right handlebar that drives the bike much like a ride-able scooter or Moped. If you want to do the peddling, there is a button on the left handlebar that adjusts assistance from 1-to 5. 1 is just a bit of an assist while 5 lets the motor zip you along as you move the peddles.

I asked Rocki Wunder to give the Bird bike a spin, wondering if she might use an electric bike to save money on gas. “Yeah, saving gas,” she said. “Actually for me who doesn’t want to peddle and work too hard to go to the park.”

Wunder, who says she used to ride a bike for miles every week for exercise stopped riding when she moved to an area with a lot of hills. She was a little intimidated by the idea of riding a motorized bicycle, not knowing if she could control the speed. After a few minutes though, she had the hang of it.

“I thought it’d be a little more difficult and actually it’s just like riding a bike. Except you don’t have to peddle much,” she said.

A 500-watt battery is removable if you need to charge it without taking the bike inside which is perfect for students taking it to class or workers to the office. The top speed with no peddling is about 20 miles an hour. I found it makes going up hills easy. No sweat. Literally. I wouldn’t have
to change clothes when I got to the office. Bird says it goes 50-60 miles before needing a charge and that’s letting the bike do all the work. After riding it a couple of days and a total of 20 miles, the Bird bike still had 70% of its battery left.

I asked Wunder who she thinks an EBike would be perfect for.

“People who live in the city and who don’t have far to go to work. College kids who want to park their vehicle and ride it to class.”

And those who just want some fun and exercise.

Other EBikes are now equipped with shocks and wider tires to ride off-road and on trails. Those do not have throttles but take some of the peddling from your legs. Hardin says these are great because they’re “Like riding an escalator to the top of the hill so you can zoom back down”.

The Bird EBike is available in two sizes and styles. The A-Frame is for taller riders while the V-frame is best for people under 6′ tall. Both are about $2,500 and are available at Target and Best Buy.