Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Tech
After months of confinement and distancing because of COVID-19, we recently escaped to the mountains and forests near Durango, Colorado. The splendor of a mountain stream, the crisp, cool, aromatic alpine air, and the ability to be outside and away from crowds provided a wonderful retreat. During our stay, we wanted to do an activity we enjoy, bicycling, but pedaling up a hill at an elevation of 6,500 feet is a bit more taxing than in the flatlands of Kansas. So we decided to try electric bicycling, or ebiking.
I had read about ebikes as a trending mode of transportation for those living and working in urban settings, but I had not ridden one. I have never driven a motorcycle, and my experience on a Segway was more exciting than I would have chosen, so I wondered about what to expect with an ebike. A rep of the company we rented from met us beside the trail, unhitched the bikes, showed us how the controls worked, and off we went.
As a person who routinely works with technology, I enjoy the fun of opening a new box, reading the manual (yes, to me that’s enjoyable), and trying out new stuff, but it has been a long time since any technology gave me the joy I experienced on an ebike. As I started pedaling, the electric motor kicked in and made me feel like Superman, and an irrepressible smile formed on my face. My ebike had five levels of assistance, which multiplied my pedal power to varying degrees. It also had a hand throttle, so I could add a boost of speed as desired. I never felt out of control, and the extra weight of the bicycle was not noticeable. In fact, it felt magical and was as easy as, well…you know. I found it difficult to suppress a cry of “Wheeeeeee!”
Our ebike ride offered several benefits. We were able to see much more of the trail in the time we had available. This included seeing beautiful vistas along the Riverwalk trail and our first glimpse of “river surfing” at one of the rapids.
The trail is relatively level, but there are some hills. With the ebike I could turn up the pedal assistance level or twist the throttle and ascend at a rate that would make Lance Armstrong jealous. One of the reasons my wife does not enjoy biking like I do, is that we don’t usually pedal at the same rate, so it does not feel like a shared activity. But with ebikes, we were able to stay close, chat, and take shade and water breaks together. It was much more enjoyable for both of us.
After that revelatory experience, I started looking into ebikes for use at home. I found there is a rental place in Kansas City, and I would guess that many metropolitan areas have them. I also learned that safe, quality ebikes start out costing thousands of dollars. However, as popularity has grown, more affordable options are available. Today, there are several good options at around $1,000. This is not inexpensive, but perhaps, if compared to a gym membership, golf fees, or other exercise equipment, it’s not unreasonable.
One study showed the average heart rate of an ebike rider was 93% that of a person on a traditional bicycle, and an activity that is enjoyable is likely to be practiced more frequently. Some who have given up bicycling may find ebikes reduce the hill strain and offer a larger area to explore. An ebike may also be used for quick errands around town to get exercise and save gas. There are a variety of bikes available, and many offer options for carrying items or storage.
I encourage you to find a local shop and rent one for an afternoon. If you become interested in purchasing one, be sure and check state and local regulations regarding which classes are allowed on roads and/or trails in your area. If you’re like me, you may find a new appreciation for the words of the prophet: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain” (Is. 40:4 NIV).
Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are his own.