Why electric bikes are here to stay

By Alexandra Ewart
Electric bikes make it easier to explore San Diego together.
Electric bikes make it easier to explore San Diego together.
Remember how that firm hand felt against your back when you were learning to ride a bike? It gave you the power you needed—until it was no longer necessary. Well, that’s how it feels to ride an electric bike. I know, because I started test riding electric bikes last week, and I’m already a believer.

Electric bikes are bicycles with integrated electric motors and batteries that can be used for propulsion. The motor is usually mounted near the crank or in one of the hubs, and the battery mounts on a rear rack, the downtube, or seat tube. Most electric bikes have a top speed of 20 miles per hour and a range of 20 to 35 miles per charge.

In 2015, California was the first state to adopt a three-class approach to standardized regulation based on the electric bike’s maximum speed, wattage, and operation. Class 1 bikes (pedal-assist only with no throttle) and Class 2 bikes (pedal-assist with a throttle) have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 3 bikes (pedal-assist) can reach a maximum speed of 28 miles per hour and require a license and registration to operate. In San Diego, Class 1 and Class 2 electric bikes are allowed where traditional bicycles are permitted, including bike lanes, roads, and several multiuse trails and bike-only paths, unless otherwise posted.

It’s such an empowering feeling the first time you head up a hill on an electric bike. My first hill was just a few blocks from the Pedego Electric Bikes La Jolla dealership. Pedaling fast in low gear, I tapped the pedal assist button at the bottom of the hill. In an instant, I felt that hand press firmly on my back. I tapped the pedal assist button once more, and I felt more push. One more tap on the button, and I was Wonder Woman—atop the hill and ready for more! There are always more hills to tackle in San Diego, as well as headwinds and races home at sunset.

The Pedego Tandem 
is currently the world’s 
only electric bicycle built for two.
The Pedego Tandem is currently the world’s only electric bicycle built for two.

As the popularity of electric bikes soars, studies are emerging to determine the fitness benefits. One Brigham Young University study concludes that electric bikes are “an excellent form of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, even for experienced mountain bikers who regularly engage in this fitness activity.” Conducted last year, the study recruited 33 subjects, mostly male between ages 18 and 65, to ride either regular mountain bikes or electric, pedal-assist mountain bikes on a rolling six-mile, single-track course through the Utah countryside. Afterward, they compared the subjects’ heart rates and found that riding an electric bike requires almost as much physical exertion as riding a traditional mountain bike.

Electric bikes allow us to go farther faster, and we can take the whole family along. Pedego, the oldest and largest electric bike manufacturer in the United States, produces electric bikes for all ages. Actor William Shatner, now nearly 90 years old, became a spokesperson for Pedego Electric Bikes after he’d been a customer for many years. To date, he has purchased 16 electric bikes for his three-generation family. “It’s great, because I can keep up with the 20-year-olds in our family,” he says. “In fact, I go a little faster!”

Electric bikes aren’t going to replace cars or traditional bicycles anytime in the near future, but they definitely are more than a passing trend. Besides the physical benefits, electric bikes offer low cost, energy efficient, emission-free transportation that is just plain fun.

Why not rent one and see what all the excitement is about? If you like, I’ll race you to the top of your first hill.