While selling my old e-bike build on Craigslist I had a very nice mother contact me looking for more information on my ebike and on ebikes as a whole. Obviously there is a lot of information, so we got to talking.
[This article was written by Chris Witham]
A little background…
I learned that she and her husband had a son later in life. That son turned out to be an avid teenage bicyclist who found my ad. He wanted my bike because it was fast, powerful, reliable, and within their budget. She wanted to know more about it, but…our conversation quickly branched out.
We spent a couple hours talking about ebikes over the course of the day. It turns out that she and her husband would like to be able to ride with their son but can’t keep up with his pace. Her husband has a bad knee and happens to work for the same company as me. Both of them thought that ebikes would allow them the opportunity to go riding with their son, exploring their surroundings, and take advantage of hundreds of miles of bike paths within their area.
By the end of our conversation they were sold on building bikes for everyone. One for mom, one for dad, and one for their son. It would be a family project, and everyone would get their hands dirty. By the end of the build they will all have exactly what they wanted: personalized ebikes built to fit each of them and their needs. Their hunt began right then and there…
So…how are ebikes good for a family? Wasn’t that the point? Well, let’s take a look…
The point is…put down the phone, turn off the TV, and go live LIFE!
We all live in an increasingly digital world. We buy everything we want on Amazon, stream every show imaginable throughout ultra-thin HDTV’s, tablets, and phones, and forfeit face-to-face time with people for Facetime and instant messages. Our social networks are spread wider than ever on the web while our worlds keep getting smaller and smaller. The sad truth is that virtual life is quickly replacing going outside and experiencing the real world. As a consequence we’re all getting fatter, more complacent, more distant from each other, and becoming really boring. WHO WANTS THAT?
An e-bike can turn that nuclear home-based world on its head. You can haul your little ones to the park or keep up with your bigger ones for miles and miles whether you’re a 250 lb dad or a 110 lb single mother of two. You can go visit your stepmother on the other side of town for her famous pork roast and work on toning up that dad bod at the same time. The possibilites are endless.
An ebike brings the big old world a little closer to you. It makes a bike ride enjoyable again for out-of-shape folks. It’s not longer a chore. It’s a chance for everyone to get together and just enjoy the ride despite their limitations.
Grandma and Grandpa
Grandpa biked 50 miles today? No way!
Karl over at Electric Bike Blog has an excellent article on how electric bikes enable older folks to do what us youngin’s can do on our own. Ebikes allow seniors to flatten out hills, get necessary exercise, and go on adventures that they may not be able to do because of a long list of physical or health conditions. They can even tear up single-track trail in the woods with the right build! Freedom on two wheels isn’t only for the young.
Think about it…imagine if grandma could do more than just watch the kids. She could tire them out with a long bike ride too! (In this scenario, grandma has a stealthy ebike, and the kids all have pedal-only bicycles). Wouldn’t that be the best? Maybe. It all depends on how much you like your kids being rambunctious and out of control. Plus I like to think it would be pretty awesome to watch anyone’s grandma or grandpa toast the lycra-clad cyclists on the bike path.
Yes, ebikes are good for your social life too! How’s that? For one, you are riding on a conversation piece. Don’t know what to say? Talk about how your ebike makes your bike ride so much easier. How now you can ride with your three kids to the park without having a heart attack or dying of heat stroke. How now you can keep up with your 75-lb golden retriever in a full sprint when you take him out to the field for a run.
You also have the advantage of meeting people with similar interests. You’ll find that the people on bicycles are often very nice and would love to go for a ride with you. They’ll probably offer to meet you for a ride across town at some little cafe that serves the best ham-and-egg breakfast in the state. They’ll even give you the heads up that the coffee is always kind of burned. I work with a 58 year old guy just like this who bikes 50-100 miles a week. Even he is considering and ebike for winter riding. True story.
Get off the couch fatty! (Sorry, that was a little impolite of me…)
I keep dancing around this topic but let’s dig right in. As a video game obsessed teenager I once managed to lose 70 lbs by bicycling daily, staving off the near onset of juvenile diabetes and bringing myself back from borderline obsesity. I didn’t have the eletrified gadgets back then but my joints hadn’t been abused by a decade of my newfound love for sports either. The same friendly coworker mentioned in the last segment lost over 100 lbs by implementing a daily regimen of bicycling and cutting out the sweets. It really works folks.
The reality is that ebikes allow you to get as much (or as little) exercise as you want. If you’re like me, you love biking but can’t ride as far or fast as you used to. That’s okay. A simple 100w-300w of pedal assist is enough to take that out of shape edge right off and keep up with a normal teenager on a pedal bike. With a big enough battery pack you can clear 50 miles or more at those power levels. Think about that. You might break a sweat. But only if you want to!
Time to be honest: You can also crank the pedal assist up to the max and “ghost pedal” while you pass angry road bikers yelling “Cheater!!” While this approach is a lot of fun, it doesn’t really net you many benefits. Flailing your legs and pretending you’re actually pedaling at 35 mph is a little silly in practice. It also takes a lot of the joy out of the ride. (Please note: this kind of behavior can be downright dangerous to pedestrians, other bikers, and is probably illegal in most places. Just don’t do it!)
Sidebar: New parents or those with little little ones
Part 4: Kids are hard work!
Many moons ago Ridekick slapped a hub motor on a Burley D’lite and they were onto something: hauling kids in a trailer is hard work! If we could make it easier for all of those out of shape parents like myself to get out there, wouldn’t we? I like to think so.
So let’s think about it: How many of us parents out there dropped $300 on a fancy kiddie-hauler to tow behind our fancy $800 bicycle that hasn’t been ridden since the young ones were born? Did we think twice about the cost of investment? No, we bought the raddest bicycle and the safest, sturdiest trailer we could afford that would also fold up into our family car or minivan. We don’t skimp when it comes to our kids. So why miss out on opportunities for family enjoyment?
I’d wager that the aforementioned fancy trailer has been gathering dust somewhere in the garage because the whole process of going out and riding as you know it sucks. You have to pack the kids and supplies into the car before you even drive out to the bike path. Then you have to unpack at the bike path. Suddenly you realize that hauling a 30-80 lb kid in a 20 lb trailer with another 20 lbs of water, snacks, and toys isn’t friggin’ easy! After a two measley miles of misery you repeat the whole frustrating process in reverse. All of a sudden riding around the local neighborhood sounds like a chore too. What’s the point if you aren’t enjoying yourselves?
All of these issues can be resolved with an e-bike. You pack the kids, pack the snacks, and pack the toys just like you always would. Then you take off on the e-bike for a nice long ride. Just skip the car altogether. Save the gas money, save the wear and tear, and save yourself all of the headache. Get that new never ridden bike out, pop a motor on it, and go for an adventure as a family!
Let’s Talk Cost Versus Value…This is the limiting factor for most of us.
Part 5: Money, money, money!
Is it more expensive to build an e-bike than to buy a regular bicycle? Yes and no. A high-quality factory pedal-bicycle without any electronic doohickeys will run you almost a thousand dollars. You still need to work up the motivation to take the bike out, brush the dust off those legs, and get riding. It could take weeks or months before you can even take full advantage of its capabilities. Let’s be honest, that doesn’t sound too fun does it?
What about factory ebikes, those exist, right? They do, though generally speaking you pay twice what the bike would cost you to build. With factory production bikes you can expect to pay up to a couple thousand dollars for reliable bike. They usually come equipped with a mild to moderate assist and a battery that’ll last you ten to twenty miles in practice. You do get a warranty (sometimes) and occasionally the bikes don’t look totally fugly. Still, not for me! I’d rather spend a day in the garage and save myself hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
So let’s imagine you want a simple cruiser bike with rim brakes to putz around your hilly neighborhood. You can snag a decent bike at WalMart, a 750w-1000w direct drive (DD) hub motor on eBay, a couple of torque arms, and a nice quality battery pack from a company like Luna. Total costs will run you $750-$1050 depending on how big a battery you want, how far you want to go, and which frame you choose. That’s about the same price as a nice factory pedal bike. Trust me, the e-bike is much more fun.
So pick a weekend and get to wrenchin’! Get the kids involved too! It really isn’t hard. All you need is zip ties, basic tools, and some patience. If you get confused, hop on the forums. Electricbike.com has some very helpful and knowledgeable folks who’d love to get you on the right path.
Let me stress the fact that the benefits of e-biking include getting as much exercise is as comfortable for you, finding a use for that bike that’s been sitting unused since 2002, and spending quality time with family members that you may not otherwise be capable of keeping up with. You also get to explore new places, re-explore old places, and make new friends. You get more sexy, more social, and more interesting all by slapping a motor on your bike. Isn’t that something to write home about?
Written Chris Witham, July 2017