From a distance, they look like your run of the mill Schwinn, chrome and lipstick red as classic as a Bazooka Joe cartoon. But lean in closer, and the gizmos glare at you. A lithium-ion battery. A geared hub motor. Regenerative braking. A throttle. Its torque is measured in Newtons.
E-bikes are the souped-up cousins of your childhood bicycle, engineered for the modern—and affluent—professional, who might not be ready for the motorcycle plunge. Sherri O’Hara explained the phenomenon in the open showroom at Small Planet E-Vehicles, Longmont’s go-to source for e-bikes.
“Some of the bikes are great for commuting, some are great for carrying cargo—in California people load their surfboards on here and it’s almost like a family SUV,” she said proudly. “The New York Times said it’s the ‘new family station wagon.’”
Whether it’s going to supplant the Escalade remains to be seen, but regardless, the variety of products is intriguing. The shop boasted touring bikes, commuting bikes, kid’s bikes, and, of course, the long sturdy ones with the surfboard grips. The benefits are as varied as the selection.
Efficiency is a good one, if you’re comparing to cars. “E-bikes get the equivalent of 1,500 to 2000 miles per gallon,” said O’Hara. “So some people ride for a full year on that.”
Beyond efficiency, they can carry more than your average bike, make you sweat less on your commute, relieve you when you’re touring, and act as a great equalizer if one half of a couple is a stronger cyclist. (It’ll save your marriage!)
We had the same questions that are probably running through your head right now: What does it feel like when you pedal?
O’Hara set us up on two bikes—mine a $4,000 touring model, I might add—and we set off across Main Street, over to Roosevelt Park, and down a long sloping hill. In short, it feels like someone else is pedaling along with you. Or, imagine you have the calves of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Going back up the hill was the real test. Usually the dread of all bikers, the sweat-inducer, the knee-acher—the hill was a breeze. My model sported a throttle. I didn’t pedal once.