Interest in e-assist riding picks up speed
Rose Gardner was a few months shy of having a baby when she and her partner purchased an e-assist bike in the summer of 2018. The green form of transport opened up a whole new world of zooming around. “It was helpful in being able to continue biking through late pregnancy,” says Gardner, director of bike education at Vancouver’s HUB Cycling. “I love the ability to get up hills, such as some big ones around our home. It also allows for a more upright riding position without the loss of power normally associated with the upright position. Being upright is more comfortable and [it] easier to see around you.” Gardner is one of thousands of people who are making the switch to e-bikes from conventional bikes or even cars.
Generally speaking, e-bikes are bicycles with an electric motor and battery that help power your ride. While bylaws and regulations vary in municipalities and provinces across Canada, most define e-bikes as having a motor with 500 watts or less and a maximum speed of 32km/h.
Statistics related to e-bike use in Canada don’t exist, but all signs point to e-biking as a trend that’s only going to pick up speed. In the US, sales of e-bikes outpaced that of electric cars in 2021, while the global electric bike market, which was valued at just over US$41 billion in 2020, is anticipated to reach nearly US$70 billion by the end of 2028.
What’s fueling this surge in e-bike interest? The reasons are as diverse as the people who make the switch to assisted two-wheel transportation.
Interest in cycling as an alternative form of transportation has long been rising, and the pandemic has only fuelled that growth, with the need for distanced outdoor activities and a greater focus on improving our physical and mental health. You can still get plenty of exercise on an e-bike, as you can always pedal it like a regular bike without any electric assistance.
Whether for business or pleasure, travelling by e-bike allows people of all ages to go further faster with less effort while reducing their carbon footprint. There are zero emissions, and you don’t have to sit idling, bumper-to-bumper, in traffic jams, further reducing air and noise pollution.
There are financial benefits, too: no parking or insurance fees, gas costs, or road taxes and lower maintenance expenses than those for a car.
When Tony Valente swapped his road bike for an e-assist bike for his lengthy commute to work a few years ago, he discovered certain benefits that came with a less physically exhausting ride: he didn’t need to shower and change once he got to the office. While he no longer has that long travel time for work, he loves riding his e-bike wherever and whenever possible.
“Wherever I’m going, I can be in normal clothes,” says Valente, a risk manager for infrastructure projects who’s also a City of North Vancouver councillor. “I made a personal promise to ride my bike as much as I can. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Having ridden various types of e-bikes in the past, Valente recently invested in an e-assist cargo bike, a game-changer in his daily life. The sizable, insulated, lockable storage container means he can do things like grocery runs (even of the bulk variety) or pack all the necessities for a picnic with his wife, including blankets, rolling right onto the beach to unload. E-cargo riders can transport everything from dogs and kids to golf clubs and camping gear.
Gardner, too, rides an e-cargo bike: she and her spouse initially wanted a way to safely transport their infant in a car seat by bike. “We’ve biked around various Gulf islands, Vancouver Island, and the Sunshine Coast on several camping trips,” Gardner says.
“We’ve used our cargo bike for over 10,000 kilometres in three and a half years… Not only have we saved thousands of dollars and increased our time exercising and being outside, it’s also so much fun and a great way to help my daughter connect with her community.”
What type of motor suits you best? There are two kinds:
Consider whether you want a bike that is capped at a lower speed.
Budget is a big factor, with low-end prices in the range of $1,500 to $2,000.
E-bikes weigh more than conventional bikes; be sure to try lifting it before buying.
E-bikes are a terrific option for those who want to cycle with their friends, spouses, or families but can’t keep up or have physical limitations that require an assist. The best part? Hills are a breeze.
Several provinces are encouraging the use of e-bikes through financial incentives. In BC, for example, e-bikes are exempt from provincial sales tax. Plus, $36 million has been committed to BC’s Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants program to help municipal and Indigenous governments improve sidewalks and bike lanes.
A motion to amend Toronto’s latest bike plan recently passed to include tax incentives for both traditional and e-bikes. Offered through the Province of Nova Scotia, the Electrify program provides rebates for the purchase or lease of qualifying e-bikes. Banff has recently introduced a rebate program for e-bikes.
Given the bike boom, tax incentives or rebates for bike purchases are expected to catch on in other Canadian cities, while provinces will likely look to infrastructure changes to encourage cycling.
E-bikes might be the best new trend on the cycling scene, but the e-bike’s first patent was granted in 1895. Ogden Bolton, Jr. invented a battery-powered electric bicycle with a “6-pole brush-and-commutator direct current (DC) hub motor mounted in the rear wheel.”