There's an old adage that goes something like: "It's like riding a bike," meaning, once you learn, you never forget.
But maybe it's been years since you've used your pedal power, and you're a little hesitant to climb back in the saddle.
Park those doubts right now, and jump on board with the biggest trend in cycling these days – E-bikes.
Among the 45-plus crowd, especially, these high-tech whips are surging in popularity.
Indeed, E-bikes are becoming so popular that The Toronto International Bicycle Show, a biannual consumer exhibition running for 34 years, this year rebranded to become The Toronto Bicycle Show and E-Bike Expo. E-bike exhibitors have multiplied every year – from five in 2016 to 24 in 2019.
"Things are growing very quickly, with double digit growth year-over-year for the past several seasons," says Pete Lilly, owner of Sweet Pete's Bicycle Shop, a Toronto retailer with three locations. "At Sweet Pete's in downtown Toronto, we've seen our year-over-year E-bike sales double the past four years."
Major manufacturer Trek Bicycle says E-bikes are the company's fastest growing category in terms of sales and product development.
"We are seeing consistent growth both in volume and in ways an E-bike can change someone's life," Taylor Cook, Canadian marketing manager for Trek, told Active Life Magazine.
The 45-plus age group is dominating E-bike growth at Sweet Pete's. "It's a good way to get back into cycling if someone has parked their bike for a few years," says Lilly.
"They're the great equalizer," adds Cook. "If your partner is an avid cyclist and you aren't, E-bikes allow you to ride together."
By now, you may be wondering exactly what an E-bike is. Basically, they fall into three classifications:
- Class 1, pedal assist, with a top assisted speed of 32 km/h
- Class 2, pedal assist with a throttle, also running up to 32km/h
- Class 3, pedal assist, with a top assisted speed of 45 km/h. These are currently not allowed in Canada.
Trek, for example, makes only Class 1 E-bikes.
"Our approach is that it is, first and foremost, a bicycle, amplified with electronics," says Cook. "This means that as soon as you stop pedalling, the motor stops assisting. Thirty-two km/h is the maximum amount the motor will assist you to. However, you can ride faster than that under your own power. It also means it is a normal riding experience for people who are new to E-bikes, and you can ride the bike with the motor completely off – which is great if you run out of battery."
The anatomy of an E-bike involves three major components
- Motor, usually located in the crank area near the pedals
- Display or controller, usually up on the handlebars, showing your E-bike's settings, battery power, speed and distance
- Battery, usually integrated into the downtube (the angled part of the frame connecting the handlebars and front forks to the pedal area); the more watt hour (Wh) in the battery, the more power at your disposal
E-bikes initially made their way into the market sort of as a fringe category, often with large, clunky models that were more of a novelty. Now, you can find E-bikes in virtually every category – mountain, hybrid, road and even cargo bikes – and most large manufacturers are along for the ride.
No matter what your interest may be – from just wanting to get back into cycling, to tackling some rough terrain, running errands without the car or getting out for long journeys – E-bikes can help make it all happen.
"From a commuting standpoint, E-bikes are great tools to get to work consistently, without dripping in sweat, and are way more fun than sitting in traffic," says Cook. "We just launched the Domane LT+, which is our first E-road bike in Canada, and our e-MTB category continues to evolve and see consistent growth."
Expect the E-bike market to continue to grow.
"The technology changes fast, so there is a constant flow of new products, and product lines are getting more robust," says Cook. "We doubled our E-bike business in each of the last two years, and expect to again in 2020. In three years, the technology is only going to get smaller, more integrated, more connected and offer more possibilities for people everywhere. It's extremely exciting."
With an E-bike, no ride is too long, no load too heavy and no place your legs can't carry you.
As the saying goes, "It's just like riding a bike."
And it really is. Only easier.
E-bike shopping essentials
Like anything – a car, for example – you can spend as much as you want on an E-bike. You can find some around the $1,000 mark, but an inexpensive motor in a low-quality bike can mean ongoing service needs and limited options.
The lowest price E-bike Sweet Pete's offers is about $2,000, but most of the bikes in the category in the store are in the $3,000 to $5,000 range.
"The value of E-bikes depends on perspective," says Lilly. "Looking at it as a bicycle, it seems expensive. Looking at it as an alternative to a car, the price seems extremely low."
Laws in Canada say the motors must stop providing assistance when the bike reaches 32 km/hr (you can easily go a lot faster than that, downhill on a regular bike). This restriction keeps the overall speed of E-bikes at a manageable level that most riders will find safe.
"The better-quality E-bikes are designed with more safety features to prevent the bikes from feeling 'jerky' when power is applied to the pedals," Lilly says. "Torque sensors allow the bikes to get up to speed in a predictable way so the bike doesn't pull away from the rider."
Concerns over safety are lessened when dealing with a more mature customer, he adds. "A rider who respects the fact that an E-bike has the potential for more power and speed than a traditional bike is ahead of the game, and will be safe aboard an E-bike."
What do you want to do with an E-bike? There are models designed for efficient commuting, some for carrying kids or cargo, and some for just simple comfort and fun.
Different brands will use different motors and batteries, which determine performance. "What, in the end, will be the most telling is a test ride," Lilly says. "Giant and Trek bikes ride differently, and a test ride will speak to a rider about which one is the 'right' one."
Photos: Trek Canada