Pedal Power

More and more Utah riders are getting a charge from electric bikes

To some, electric bikes seem like the equivalent of taking an ATV on a hike. Turns out, that’s a pretty pedestrian argument. Manufacturers of motorized bicycles devote web pages to debunking the myths of e-bikes, including that they’re for lazy cheaters.

If sales are any indication, plenty of consumers have zipped by that critique like a commuter using pedal assist bypasses a cyclist using nothing but lung and leg power.

One recent study predict the global market for e-bikes will jump from $15.7 billion in revenue in 2016 to $24.3 billion by 2025.

In Utah, the number of e-bike shops has expanded from an initial two in 2012 to at least seven. Most, if not all, traditional bike shops carry e-bikes, including Bingham Cyclery, Contender Bicycles and Guthrie Bicycle Co. now that well-known brands like Specialized and Trek offer them.

“The Salt Lake market has lagged behind the rest of the country for a few years. 2018 is the year we are catching up,” says David Rasmussen, owner of eSpokes, which opened in South Jordan in 2012 as Utah’s first electric-bike shop. “We don’t have to sell e-bikes [anymore].”

They practically sell themselves. Sales were up 50 percent last year and he predicts the same growth rate this year.

E-bikes work in a couple of ways: There’s pedal assist, which gives extra oomph as you cycle. Or, there’s a throttle, which does all the work. Many bikes offer both. Fully charged, they have up to a 60-mile range.

Most commonly, the e-bikes go up to 20 mph, though 28 mph is also permitted with some restrictions. Utah law treats e-bikes like traditional ones, allowing them on bike paths and mountain bike trails, except in Park City, where they’re prohibited on the mountain. Children can ride them, too, though those under 8 can’t ride on public property, and kids must be supervised up to age 14. Teens must be at least 16 to ride the 28 mph ones.

Prices start at $2,000. While expensive, the bikes are cheaper than cars and don’t require a license, registration or insurance. That’s helped drive the demand internationally, along with urbanization, traffic congestion and environmental consciousness. E-bikes are cleaner than cars, getting the electrical equivalent of 1,000 miles per gallon, according to a Forbes comparison.

Hard-core cyclists likely won’t seek or want the assist, but the less athletic find them a great re-introduction to biking with the ability to go farther than they would ever attempt on a regular bike, shop owners say

“It’s making cycling more prominent for people who didn’t think they could cycle,” says Zach Selby, who recently opened the state’s newest e-bike shop, Pedego Electric Bikes, in Salt Lake City. “We’re getting 70-year-olds on this thing.”

He and co-owner Shawn Berger mention customers with knee or hip or heart problems.

“I would love to have some way to having my wife right next to me,” says Marty Curtis, a 59-year-old self-described bike enthusiast. He was browsing Pedego’s selection, thinking about buying one for his wife so she could keep up with him on his rides.

Other shoppers like the option to ride to work without breaking a sweat, and then pedaling home for a workout.

“The ability to commute here in this valley on an e-bike is fantastic,” Rasmussen says, noting that he’s sold bikes to commuters traveling around 25 miles each way, including himself. “I wear my regular clothes. I can be sweaty, but I can also not be. It’s my choice. It takes longer than a car but you can do it faster than on a train.”

Lifestyle bikes are still the most popular—the ones used to ride around the neighborhood or on bike paths. Mountain bikes are having a moment, for the cyclists who go for the thrill of pedaling down.

And Rasmussen says electric cargo bikes are seeing a big boost this year. Those are bikes with buckets in the front or back to haul kids or groceries.

Utah bicycle manufacturer Madsen Cycles, which builds and sells cargo bikes, is offering pedal-assist kits starting this summer as an upgrade to past and current customers, for $1,200 to $1,300.

“Kids grow up and get heavy, adults get older and less fit,” company president Lisa Madsen writes in an email. “The e-assist helps both.”

The extra help, insists Pedego’s Selby, makes biking fun again.

And isn’t that the point?

 

 

 

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