Electric bicycles: Greener transport for hot environmentalists

BlogHer Original Post

Many a cyclist will mock electric bikes. The point of bikes, they'll say, is human-powered transportation. What's the point of biking if you're moving via an electric assist? Why forego the natural exercise bicycling provides while sucking power from the electric grid?

PEDEGo electric bicycle

Other cyclists admit that sometimes, we need a little help.

After all, some of us live in hilly areas -- and others of us live just too far from work to self-propel ourselves the whole way. Many people may be willing to bike 2 miles to work, but not 5 or 10 -- though obviously hardcore cyclists that really do bike 10+ miles to work certainly reap the benefits of ther commitment to cycling. Plus, most of us don't have showers at work -- and can't ruin our work attire with daily buckets of sweat -- or go about our workday looking soggy from our morning commute.

If an electric bike gets even people with longish communites out of their cars and onto bikes -- thereby reducing pollution and congestion and carbon emissions -- that's a win win. As Trevor Reichman points out in Treehugger, "An electric bicycle is about 100 times more efficient than a car carrying one person." Plus, on a practical level, electric bikes are "allowed in bicycle lanes and anywhere else a regular bicycle is allowed" -- so long as they don't move faster than 20 miles per hour.

I don't actually own an electric bike, but I recently got to try out a PEDEGO electric beach cruiser (above) -- which has a comfortable, sleek bike with a powerful motor that lets you go up to 20 miles per hour -- for as far as 30 miles per charge!

The fact that the particular bike I tried was a "boy" bike (PEDEGO also has girl bikes, a.k.a. "step throughs," available) and only had hand brakes (I generally use foot brakes) and was too big for me, scared me a bit at first -- but I got over it! Since my own bike's basically a beach cruiser, I loved the comfy feel of the PEDEGO. I got on and turned the throttle on the right handlebar for the electric motor -- which propelled me around electric-style!

PEDEGo electric bicycle

I will admit though -- I was so enamored by the fun boost from the electric assist that most of the time I was on the bike, I didn't even put up a pretense of pedaling. But I'd like to think that once I got over the novelty of the electric motor, my quads would kick in more effort!

Honestly, I don't need an electric bike. I live in a very flat area of Santa Monica, and work at home. Who might need an electric bike? Trevor says he got one during an extremely hot summer, when he had to commute up a giant hill to work. "Being that I had to wear a suit and tie, my sweat almost gave me hypothermia due to the unnatural and artificial arctic conditions inside capital building which directly followed my commute. Not only were there no showers for cyclists, but there weren’t even bicycle racks!"

Trevor also points out that many people with non-electric bikes use their bikes only for recreation, not for general transport -- and I have to empathize with his frustration. I've met a serious competitive cyclist who seemed blindsided by the suggestion that he might actually ride his bike to get around town, instead of just transporting the bike in his car when he wasn't officially "training."

One thing to keep in mind with electric bikes: The battery must be handled responsibly. An Associated Press article notes that 98% of electric bikes in China use lead-acid batteries -- which unfortunately aren't always disposed of safely. Part of e-biking green, then, includes opting for greener batteries like nickel-meter-hydride and lithium-ion batteries -- PEDEGO, for example, uses lithium batteries -- and disposing of those batteries safely once they're dead.

PEDEGO Cruisers retail for $1,595 -- not cheap for a bike, but a helluva lot cheaper than a car, if the e-bike can propel you into a car-free lifestyle. Plus, you'd be riding in style. Here are what other bloggers have to say about electric bikes:

>> Chile Chews uses the electric assist -- provided by the eZee Complete Electric Motor Kit -- to work on her TITS (Time In The Saddle).

>> Renee Benson at Envy put together a roundup of customized bikes -- including a $789 Hybrid Electric Bicycle by iZip.

>> What about bicycling bloggers on the go? Yanko Design writes about a new electric bike design that includes with laptop case under the seat!

BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel rides a non-electric pink townie and blogs at greenLAgirl.com.