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Everything you need to know about E-bikes

Getty Images

Getty Images

If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to fly on a magical broomstick, consider riding an electric bike. The experience bears similarity to riding a regular bicycle, but with the added benefit of a bionic boost.

Basically, you’ll feel like you have magical powers.

Electric biking is gaining popularity in the Twin Cities as people wean more and more off of automobiles. With an e-bike, you can ride longer distances, making commutes over 10 miles more feasible. And they’re a dream for carrying cargo—whether that be groceries, gear, or small humans.

Luke Breen, owner of Perennial Cycle in Uptown Minneapolis, says he remembers getting introduced to the technology around 15 years ago. “Back then, it didn’t make a lot of sense,” he recalls. “They were very heavy, and didn’t have a lot of range to them.”

But batteries have gotten a lot better since, and about eight years ago, Perennial started retrofitting cargo bikes and trike recumbents with bionic e-bike kits for customers. “In the case of cargo bikes, families were really trying to use the cargo bike to use their minivan less,” Breen says.

That was the allure for Patrick Stephenson of 30 Days of Biking, who picked up a Yuba Mundo cargo bike with a long rack to help out with his baby at Freewheel Bikes. “It’s amazing,” he says of his “family truckster,” perfect for Costco trips and getting up hills with the little one in tow. And Stephenson’s dad has an e-bike, too—he got one to help with his knee issues. “It makes biking a lot more accessible,” he says.

There are two different kinds of e-biking—power assist (also known as pedal assist) and throttle. Both have pedals (distinguishing them from scooters), but with a power assist, you need to pedal in order for the bike to move. In Minnesota, the speed limit for both is 20 miles per hour, and you don’t need a license or registration to operate one, as long as you’re at least 15.

According to Breen, power assist has been especially helpful for older couples who like to ride together. “Maybe one of them is not keeping up,” he says. “Adding a power assist to one of their bikes means they can ride together as a couple.”

Since 2016, Perennial has seen a spurt in e-bike sales. “But more than sales—people being aware of them and having an opinion about them,” Breen says. “I have some die-hard customers who say a motor doesn’t belong on a bicycle. I don’t think they dislike them. They personally have no use for it.”

There are some safety issues with these bikes. Because they’re going at higher speeds, and tend to be relatively silent, there’s been some evidence to suggest that e-bikers need to use extra caution. One 2014 study in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention found that e-bikes were associated with a greater risk of hospitalization than classic bikes.

Still, they make it just a little easier to ditch your car, which is generally better for your health and the health of the planet. To be on the safe side, practice caution, watch your speed, and of course—on the bike paths—don’t forget a friendly “On your left” when you’re zipping by.

Cruise around to rest of our 2018 Bike Issue: