Over the past few years, I’ve paid almost no attention to electric bikes, despite seeing a countless stream in the bike lanes outside my New York City apartment—then dodging them when crossing the street.
With gas prices soaring and our environment in peril, is now the time to seriously consider one? Until recently, I had relegated eBikes to the realm of older adults and delivery workers, but earlier this year at the CES technology conference in Las Vegas I tried a few out for myself, and chatted with Claudia Wasko, General Manager of Bosch eBike Systems in the United States.
While Bosch doesn’t make bikes themselves, they provide the mobility technology systems (think motors, batteries, and displays) for, “City Bikes,” “Mountain Bikes,” “Hybrid Bikes,” and “Cargo Bikes.”
The bikes I rode in Sin City would be most accurately described as power-assisted bicycles, which give riders the option of riding with or without the engagement of a lightweight electric motor. I asked Claudia why would someone like me, who hasn’t ridden a bicycle in 30 years, be interested in buying one?
Well, first of all, there’s the health element. “Everyone can ride an eBike,” says Claudia, who also believes they are a great solution for people who may have lost some of their fitness over the last few years.
In terms of exercise, eBikes are useful for those who’ve become tired of riding against the wind, or dealing with steep hills solely under their own power. “Electric Bikes flatten those hills,” Claudia explains. “so people can ride on terrain that might have been too challenging on a manual bike. The steepest hills literally turn into gentle rollers. And as the motor provides support, that conserved energy can be used for much longer rides.”
Claudia also believes that eBikes are a fitness solution for people who have health limitations. They solve the problem by allowing riders to do as much or as little as they want, while still being able to explore a city, feel wind and sunlight on their skin whilst getting exercise.
“For pedal assist eBikes,” Claudia tells me, “new studies are showing that they often meet or exceed what riders need to build a foundation for good health—both physical and mental. In a recent Brigham Young University study, the average heart rate during eBiking was 94% of the average heart rate during conventional bike use—achieving nearly identical results on cardiovascular health.”
Another advantage of using an eBike for fitness is how a vast number of fitness apps are currently available, or in development. In 2021, Bosch launched their ‘Smart System’ consisting of eBike Flow app, control unit, display, battery and drive unit. The Flow app connects to popular apps, like Apple Health which allows riders to synchronize their activity data. External devices, such as a heart rate monitor also connect to the display through Bluetooth.
For the ultra fit, eMTBs have already become an integral part of various world-level races such as the eMTB World Championship, eBike World Tour Race & National Championships.
“In the US, Bosch eBike Systems hosted the first ever eMTB uphill challenge at Bicycle Press Camp in Deer Valley, Utah in 2015,” says Claudia. “The Haibike eMTB Race empowered by Bosch [also] drew the interest and excitement of cyclists near and far to test themselves for 60 minutes on a challenging 1.5 mile race course packed with steep hills and challenging descents.”
While I will most likely never use an eBike to get around New York City, I might use one on vacation. The expansion of electric bikes into the travel space is interesting. Trek Travel is a company that provides cycling vacations of a lifetime in the world’s most beautiful destinations. From luxury experiences to easygoing self-guided adventures. Another tour company is Pedelec Adventures, which organizes an epic traverse of the western United States with a 5,000-km, 10-week Sand to Snow tour, a tour of Mongolia, and a Sahara desert tour.
Over the past few years, eBikes have really been embraced by people in Europe, not only for fitness and leisure, but also for commuting and deliveries. In the United States the tech exists, but will cycling culture ever catch on the way it’s integral to life in places like Germany and the Netherlands?
“I believe we will see a huge shift toward cycling becoming an important mode of active transportation and integral part of the transport ecosystem,” says Claudia, “…though I don’t believe the US will achieve the level of cycling culture in Netherlands or Denmark anytime soon.”
That said, as we enter the heart of summer in New York, I see scores of tourists and locals on Citi Bikes, which are now ‘pedal-assisted.’ The Citi Bike transportation project, which has more than 25,000 bikes across 1600 stations, may prove to be a boon for the eBike industry as it introduces riders to the fun and practical benefits of riding an eBike. However, most of the people I see using eBikes (including Citi Bikes) at least in New York City eschew helmets and flaunt traffic laws. And so while eBikes in general are certainly a brilliant solution to the poor-health epidemic and environmental crisis in the United States, minor and fatal accidents may slow the integration of eBikes into urban American life, if they gain a reputation for danger and chaos.