Why You Need an E-Bike

With new technology, low-interest loans and a new $200 rebate announced in May, is it time you considered getting an e-bike?

Head here for new e-bikes that will make even a hardcore cyclist happy, plus, how you can convert an existing rig into an e-bike.

Linus Owens is a fit 49-year-old who owns five bikes and rides “as much as 200 to 400 miles a week,” he estimates. One of the reasons? He hasn’t owned a car in more than 12 years.

Owens, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College, lives in Burlington. “I used to ride my bike maybe once a week to Middlebury and take the bus the other times,” he says. But recently, he bought a new bike at Earl’s Cyclery, a Trek CrossRip+—a drop-handlebar electric assist bike capable of hitting 28 mph.

“Now, I ride to Middlebury maybe two or three times a week and I’m not nearly as wiped out when I get there, plus I can carry my books and a change of clothes,” says Owens. The 34-mile trip down Route 7 takes him about 1 hour 40 minutes, and he usually averages 21 mph. “That’s only a little bit longer than taking public transportation—which door to door is about an hour and a half,” he says.  Since Owens pedals for much of the way, he usually uses no more than 60 percent of the bike’s battery. “Sometimes I’ll ride back to Burlington or other times, put my bike on the bus.”

Owens admits that his girlfriend owns a car so he’s not entirely reliant on the bike but says the choice not to own one himself is “for both philosophical and financial reasons—I save a lot of money.”

The New E-Bikes

Owens is one of the many new e-bike buyers that bike manufacturers, bike advocacy groups and shops around the state are now catering to. “We generally see people who want to use their bikes to commute, want to keep up with a spouse who might ride a little faster, or who need a little more power to get up the hills,” says Kirsten Jeppesen of the West Hill Shop in Putney. “There’s a lot of up and down around here,” adds David Townsend, the shop’s mechanic. “And we’re even getting more people interested in electric assist mountain bikes and bikes you can use for distance touring or bikepacking.”

Elecric-assist, or e-bikes, now come in nearly as many varieties as there are traditional two-wheelers. For one that will last, expect to pay between $1,500 $6,000. In that range you can get anything from the folding Evo Atwater (great if you plan to travel by car, plane or train and need a ride at the other end) which has a 50-mile range, to cargo bikes such as the Yuba Boda Boda, which can be outfitted with two kids seats.

The biggest sub-categories are hybrids, step-through town bikes like the upright Breezer and cruisers like the Townie GO! with its balloon tires. Just a step up from that are commuters and bikepacking rigs. 

And increasingly, manufacturers are converting some of their more popular touring performance bikes into e-bikes, such as the drop-bar Cannondale Synapse NEO or the Trek touring Domane.  

Mountain bikes are even getting a little electric assist, what Townsend calls “a little boost to get maybe an aging athlete up the hills.” The West Hill shop carries the all-terrain Giant Explore E-plus for rougher roads or smoother trails. Skirack in Burlington carries the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp Carbon 6Fattie/29, a dual suspension carbon frame with an option for 29-inch wheels, a battery that’s integrated into the down tube and a power meter that shows just how much power you are putting out versus the motor.

The one thing to be mindful of, says Skirack’s Jake Hollenbach, is that “right now in Vermont the jury is still out on whether or not e-bikes should be allowed on trails.”

While resorts such as Sugarbush and Killington have added e-bikes to their rental fleets and see them as good ways to introduce people to some of their trails, Kingdom Trails does not allow e-bikes. “The concern is as much about traffic flow as anything,” says Chris Hibshmam, owner of Village Cycles in Lyndonville. “You don’t want someone blowing by you at 20 mph going uphill.”

Loaners, Loans & Incentives

Still, there are a lot of people and organizations that want you on an e-bike and Vermont residents can borrow e-bikes for free, get low-interest loans, and even $200 rebates for buying a bike that you plan to use for everyday transportation.

In Burlington, if you make a reservation and show a Vermont ID, you can take out any one of Local Motion’s five models of e-bikes from a Thursday to a Tuesday at no charge. The lending bikes range from “Marigold” a yellow, 70-pound Xtracycle cargo bike that can carry an adult and two children (under 45 lbs each) in child seats on the back, to a RadPower RadMini Folding Fatbike that can fit in the back of a car, to the lighter Trek Verve, which has a 70-mile range.

Skirack has a similar, free multi-day lending program and lends out two new (2018) Specialized Turbo VADO 3.0s, step-through town bikes  with integrated lights and other e-bikes you can demo.

In Brattleboro, the non-profit VBikes has been a leader in trying to make bikes a more popular and more feasible form of transportation for Vermonters.  Its “Take it Home” program provides free cargo bikes from a fleet that includes Yuba, Bike Friday and a number of other manufacturers. It even offers cargo trikes and adaptive bikes.

Through a partnership with VTrans Vbikes launched the nation’s first free bike consultations to help consumers to choose an e-bike, understand the technology or find ways to reduce their reliance on cars. It will also help access the VGreen low-interest loans for bikes that VSECU offers Vermont residents who plan to buy a bike (any bike, electric assist or not) to use as transportation.

VBikes was instrumental helping Local Motion to set up its Burlington rental fleet and in getting Burlington Electric to offer instant, point-of-sale $200 rebates to its 20,000 customers who bought an e-bike at any of five local shops. In May, 2019, Green Mountain Power followed suit, with a $200 rebate for its 265,000 customers, good for new e-bikes or retrofits at shops around the state.

“We’re looking at a multitude of other possibilities like subsidies and other incentives to lower the cost of an e-bike purchase,” Vbikes founder David Cohen says. “The dream is to have a special low-income family subsidy that would make this so affordable that barely anyone would refuse. We think that the e-bike and e-cargo bike are the real future for a community as healthy and ecologically viable as Vermont.”

While Skirack’s Jake Hollenbach has yet to buy an e-bike himself, he admits he’s been eyeing some of the Specialized off-road bikes. “I live in Richmond at the top of a steep hill and I drive to the grocery store which is 1.5 miles away. If I had an e-bike, I could see myself riding there.”

Recently GoBankingrates.com estimated that the average cost of owning a car (gas, maintenance, insurance, registration) in Vermont added up to $3,411 a year. If that’s the case, Linus Owens’s e-bike purchase is looking like a smart buy.

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