IS AN ELEC­TRIC BIKE FOR YOU?

It’s Na­tional Bike to Work Week, so we tried out the lat­est fad in cy­cling: elec­tric bikes.

Metro USA (New York) - - News - EVA KIS eva.kis@metro.us

Pedal-as­sist e-bikes are street le­gal and great for novice rid­ers.

Bik­ing in the city is, to put it mildly, daunt­ing. There’s the dis­tracted driv­ers on their phones, pedes­tri­ans who don’t re­spect bike lanes, the noise and rush of traf­fic right next to you. For the peo­ple who com­mute by bike, though, it’s all worth it.

“Bik­ing is the only way to get around this city,” says Liam, 38, who com­mutes from Crown Heights to New York Uni­ver­sity. “The MTA is a garbage fire. Peo­ple who drive who aren’t Lyft, Uber or a cab­bie are street-clog­ging so­ciopaths. Walk­ing only works for short, leisurely strolls. If you need to ac­tu­ally get some­where, you should be bik­ing.”

But what if you don’t work out reg­u­larly and rid­den a bike only spo­rad­i­cally since get­ting your train­ing wheels off ? If you’ve ever thought, “I’m not a cy­clist, but I want to be,” you’re ex­actly the de­mo­graphic who’d be best served by an elec­tric bike.

I am that bik­ing novice, and a re­cent test ride on one of these rel­a­tively new hy­brid ma­chines on the streets of Wil­liams­burg made a strong case for get­ting into the sad­dle.

“We’re pro­vid­ing al­ter­na­tive forms of trans­porta­tion for peo­ple who tra­di­tion­ally haven’t had cy­cling as an ac­ces­si­ble path for them,” says Anna Marie Wolf, co-owner of Sun & Air Bike Shop lo­cated just 50 feet from the bike en­trance to the Wil­liams­burg Bridge, one of the most heav­ily traf­ficked bridges by bik­ers in the coun­try — and it’s only go­ing to get busier.

When the L train shuts down in April 2019 for 15 months to fix dam­age caused by flood­ing dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Sandy, it’s ex­pected to send about 10,000 more daily bike com­muters into its lanes (not to men­tion adding to the mis­ery of an al­ready over­bur­dened sub­way sys­tem).

“E-bikes al­low you to pull a lot of cargo, take your kids to school, ar­rive at work in a much more pre­sentable way es­pe­cially in the sum­mer­time,” she says. “This re­ally opens up a whole new form of trans­porta­tion for a city that’s kind of maxed out in­fra­struc­ture-wise: There is no more room for cars, but there’s plenty of room for bikes.”

Wait, are e-bikes le­gal?

There are two kinds of elec­tric bike, which has cre­ated some con­fu­sion. The ones fa­vored by de­liv­ery driv­ers tend to be throt­tle-driven bikes, which work like mo­tor­cy­cles and do not re­quire any ped­al­ing. They ex­ist in a le­gal limbo be­cause New York State clas­si­fies them as mo­tor ve­hi­cles but they can’t be reg­is­tered, which has led to $500 fines and con­fis­ca­tions by the NYPD that has sparked out­rage over hurt­ing the liveli­hoods of an al­ready poor and largely mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion.

The kind I tried is a pedal-as­sist bike. They look just like a reg­u­lar bike with a bat­tery mounted on the frame. As the name im­plies, the elec­tric mo­tor gives only as much or as lit­tle power as you’re putting into the pedals. Mayor Bill de Bla­sio’s of­fice clar­i­fied its stance on e-bikes back in April, declar­ing pedal-as­sist bikes street le­gal.

What it felt like

E-bikes are al­ready hugely pop­u­lar in Europe, says Eric Bjor­ling of Wisconsin-based bike­maker Trek. “We’re see­ing a lot of peo­ple buy them as com­muter bikes or some­thing to keep up with a loved one who’s re­ally into cy­cling — this is a great equal­izer for them,” he says. “They re­ally do ad­dress all of those last bar­ri­ers that peo­ple have to rid­ing a bike: su­per ef­fi­cient, no sweat, hills be­come al­most like flats.”

Trek makes sev­eral ebikes in a range of prices start­ing at $2,299 up to $5,199, which is the Su­per Com­muter+ 8S that I tried out at Sun & Air. For that price bump, you get more speed (up to 28mph), longer bat­tery life and larger tires bet­ter suited for the rig­ors of city rid­ing.

You feel the mo­tor kick in as soon as you touch the pedals, but it’s not a jerk — more like get­ting a gen­tle push, like catch­ing a wave while surf­ing. De­pend­ing on the weight of the rider and which of the four modes you choose (from 25% up to 200% as­sis­tance), it can go be­tween 30 and 80 miles on a charge, af­ter which it turns into a reg­u­lar bike. The bat­tery can be re­moved with a key and plugged into a wall, fully charged again in three hours.

My main con­cerns were go­ing too fast and be­ing un­able to stop. But it never felt like the bike was in con­trol — if I didn’t pedal, the mo­tor wasn’t push­ing out power, and the hy­draulic brakes made stop­ping smooth and easy.

In fact, ev­ery­thing about the ex­pe­ri­ence was smooth and easy. What I wouldn’t have given for this bike while huff­ing and puff­ing through the hills of Tus­cany! While all the usual haz­ards of bik­ing

were present — pedes­tri­ans step­ping off the curb with­out look­ing, cars inch­ing into bike lanes, bumps and small pot­holes — the sta­bil­ity from the bike’s wider tires and be­ing able to ac­cel­er­ate more quickly kept me out of trouble.

Weigh­ing the risks

Bik­ing is not to­tally safe no mat­ter how close at­ten­tion you’re pay­ing. I spoke to three bike com­muters for this story, and all of them have got­ten in se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents and suf­fered in­juries: get­ting “doored,” be­ing sideswiped by a truck and hit­ting a large bump on a poorly paved street. Yet they con­tinue to get back in the sad­dle.

“Bike com­mut­ing is the best thing I ever did for my men­tal health,” says Rose, 34, who rides her bike be­tween Bush­wick and Mid­town. “For 45 min­utes each way, I am glo­ri­ously alone with my thoughts and mas­ter of my own des­tiny. I am not sub­ject to any­one else’s timetable, I am never late, and my ride leaves me feel­ing full of joy and love for the uni­verse in­stead of the ha­tred for all mankind the sub­way leaves me with.”

Bikes in gen­eral are also tempt­ing tar­gets for theft. Re­mov­ing the bat­tery doesn’t stop e-bikes from work­ing as a reg­u­lar bike, and most work­places don’t have bike stor­age — let alone bars and restau­rants if you want to hit up happy hour.

And while they’ve got­ten cheaper as more peo­ple buy them — over half of Trek’s sales in the Nether­lands are e-bikes — they’re still pricey.

Ana­log bik­ers can also be wary of e-bik­ers. “Elec­tric bikes should be il­le­gal,” says Lucy, 31, an Up­per West Sider who has a road bike but com­mutes by Citibike be­cause her of­fice doesn’t al­low bikes in­side the build­ing. “Faster speed for peo­ple who aren’t com­pe­tent with bikes is dan­ger­ous for cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans. Un­less you live in San Fran­cisco or some­where else with mega hills, it’s not nec­es­sary. It will re­sult in in­creas­ingly worse ac­ci­dents.”

A bet­ter fu­ture?

Shut­ting down the L train is ex­pected to dou­ble the num­ber of bik­ers in Man­hat­tan, which has led the MTA to pro­pose cre­at­ing the bor­ough’s first two-way pro­tected bike lane on 13th Street. But ideas for eas­ing the lives of the 400,000 peo­ple who rely on the L have been slow in com­ing and range from fan­tasy (a gon­dola like the Roo­sevelt Is­land Tram) to more real­is­tic like clos­ing 14th Street to car traf­fic, though that idea is strug­gling to gain trac­tion.

The city’s bike in­fra­struc­ture is al­ready inad­e­quate, says Wolf — while Rose com­pares some Brook­lyn streets to a “post-Soviet war zone” — but there may be some light at the end of the tun­nel.

“What I sus­pect is the cri­sis of shut­ting down the train will ne­ces­si­tate the build­ing of more per­ma­nent, bet­ter bike in­fra­struc­ture,” she says. “So what is a tem­po­rary dis­rup­tion in mass tran­sit I think over­all will be a boon for pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and peo­ple who use other forms of pub­lic tran­sit.”

Trek’s Verve+ bike

JEFF KEN­NEL

GETTY IM­AGES

Even more bike com­muters are ex­pected to take to the Wil­liams­burg Bridge once the L train shuts down.

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