My first ride on an e-bike
I must admit that so far, I haven't been a strong proponent of electrically powered bicycles. I did see the benefits for people who, for what ever reasons were not able to ride bikes at “normal” speeds (What one considers “normal” is debatable, but I think 20 km/h, which is the speed city planners in cities like Copenhagen assume as the average speed, is a good threshold), but that was about it. Now, mind, apart from the occasional elderly riding their e-bike way outside their (or, rather, my) comfort zone, I didn't really think there was anything wrong with riding an e-bike – I just thought (and partially still think) that riding a good bicycle without additional help on an daily basis has benefits on its own and of course, e-bike tech will add additional weight and also cost to your bike that isn't strictly necessary.
That is until we loaned a pair of bikes for a day during our last vacation, on a rather windy day at the north sea coast.
The shop (Not a paid ad, we just really like their service) is famous for mostly loaning out these ridiculously looking cruiser bikes and while my s.o. got a rather normal looking dutch ride (albeit, as you might have guessed, with a beefy electric motor), I loaned one of their entry model cruisers.
And my mind was instantly blown. We spent that day driving around 45-50km in total in a little under 4 hours with some extended breaks (We are on holidays, after all). We've done similar trips before without motorization and I can tell you that those days usually leave us quite exhausted – Not so much with these magical electrically powered wonder horses. (Never mind I had just recently rolled my right ankle and so riding with electric support was the “healthier” option at that moment.
At times, driving these bikes almost felt like defying physics. Driving through open fields, with rather strong headwinds did require us to bump up the level of electric support eventually, but it almost feels surreal to push the pedals and you feel the wind, but the force required to push does not square with the wind resistance you're feeling and it all doesn't make any sense, probably especially for someone like me who rides their bike every single day under any conditions.
We probably had an average speed of around 22-23 km/h, so a bit below the max supported speed (you can ride these bikes as fast as you want, but if you're quicker than 25 km/h, you won't get any electric support at all) and most of the time I rode in “eco” mode and it still felt pretty much effortless. And it was really great to be able, for example to climb a dike, to just bump up the support from Eco to Tour to Sport to Turbo and just feel your own pedal power being multiplied by a bit of clever motor driving electronics.
So now that I have experienced that magic, how does that change my perception of e-bikes in general?
First of all, it seems clear to me now that e-bike tech is already firmly in the “good enough” stage of product development and it will hopefully get a bit cheaper over time, the batteries maybe a bit smaller and lighter (or, if you choose, a bit more far reaching), but at its current state with ranges of well beyond 100km for one charge, it should be good enough for any sort of urban and suburban commuter use. I know I am just late to the game and this state has been probably reached quite a couple of years ago, but the exploding amount of e-bikes I encounter on the streets every day seems to suggest that some sort of threshold has been passed quite recently.
What we have here is a backup system
Second, I think I have to revise my thinking around when an e-bike can be useful. While I am quite okay with riding my non electrified bike most of the times, I think we all (who cycle every day) know these days where you step on the pedals and everything feels like a slog. It might be an upcoming cold, or just unfavourable wind conditions, or your route is surprisingly hilly, but it feels like you're driving through quicksand and you're not getting anywhere while quickly getting sweaty and uncomfortable. Being able to show these kinda days the finger and just bump the support level of the electric motor would definitely enhance my life quality.
And of course, they would make trips viable where I usually would probably take public transportation or even the car, for example the 15 odd km to my mums house, where I know that I can either treat it as a workout or just take the subway and take a book with me.
And augmentation to an augmentation
As biomechanical engineers long have stated, a human on a bicycle is by far the most effective animal in terms of both speed and endurance. I think it is this initial effectiveness of the human+bike system that makes it so incredibly easy and effective to lift it to another level with relatively small motors. The regulatory maximum in Germany for e-bikes classified as bikes (and not as motorbikes) is 250 Watts, or, if you prefer units particularly stuck in the petrol past or worse, 0.33 PS. And most of the time, at least in the city, you probably only need a fraction of that.
I could now definitely see my next bicycle to be an e-bike. Not 100% sure about this yet, I already drive a relatively expensive bike and I probably have to double the price of that to get a decent e-bike and also I know how good regular commutes without any support are for my health and fitness, but if it helps me to do even more trips by bike I would usually do with other means, it may just be worth it.
In any case: What an awesome experience. If you have the chance, on a vacation or otherwise, to test out an e-bike in a relaxed, realistic setting, do yourself a favour and do it. It may blow your mind.