Bike commuting is at an all-time high in the U.S., which is kind of a no-brainer. Pedaling to work saves money, eliminates parking hassles and reduces treadmill time at the gym. The catch: It also makes you a smelly, sweaty mess. E-bikes (electric bikes) do all the same things, but without the same physical effort—and promise to get us riding faster, longer and more often.
Think of an e-bike as a standard two-wheeler with superpowers. You pedal as normal, but when you hit a hill or start to tire, an onboard computer notices the extra torque on the pedals and signals the motor to help out. You keep pedaling, and you don’t slow down; instead, it’s suddenly no sweat (literally). It also means that maintaining a near-carlike cruising speed is within reach of even the modestly fit. Bikes top out at either 20 or 28 miles an hour in e-assist mode and have batteries that last at least 25 miles on a charge.
As transportation, e-bikes are already a huge business overseas, and over the past few years major bicycle makers have started to bank on converting Americans. “We’re out of shape. We want to be outdoors. We want to be active,” says Ed Benjamin, founder and chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association. “We’ve got transportation challenges. We’ve got economic challenges. Electric bicycles fit into all of these.” Right now, e-bikes are a small fraction of total U.S. bike sales, but some reports show their numbers almost doubling year over year.
It’s a perfect half measure for people who want a low-emission transportation alternative. As far as the feds are concerned, e-bikes are the same as people-powered ones from a consumer-product-safety perspective. And currently 22 states’ DMVs agree, so there are no insurance, licensing or registration hassles to deal with. Advocacy organization People for Bikes is working to clean up legislative confusion to ensure that if an e-bike crosses from, say, California to Arizona it doesn’t—boom!—become a motorcycle.
The good news is that both dedicated e-bike companies such as ProdecoTech and stalwarts such as Specialized and Accell Group (which owns Raleigh, Haibike, iZIP and Diamondback, among other brands) are constantly improving the technology to make it more undercover. Batteries tuck into seat posts and downtubes, and motors, hidden behind pedal cranks and wheel hubs, are nearly silent. “I haven’t ridden an electric bike that was louder than even the quietest engine-powered vehicle,” notes Court Rye, head of e-bike hub ElectricBikeReview.com.
The only hiccups are heft (the average e-bike is around 50 pounds, double the weight of a conventional pedaler) and price. Rye says you should expect to spend at least $1,500 for a decent e-ride from a reputable manufacturer. But prices are dropping, and with proper maintenance the bike will last 15 years—which, coincidentally, is the best you can expect from a car too.
SLEEK E-BIKES AT EVERY PRICE:
HAIBIKE XDURO URBAN RC
This aggressively styled city bike features integrated lights and a beefy Bosch drive system.
IZIP E3 PROTOUR
With fenders, running lights and rear cargo rack standard, this 500-watt bike handles anything an urban commute might throw at you.
Aluminum construction shaves weight off this city bike, while a hub-mounted motor and downtube battery keep things balanced.
Electronic shifting and a burly battery that yields a 110-mile range justify the steep price of this premium bike.