Why some days just need an electric bike

Some may accuse me of being heavy handed in promotion of electric-assist for bikes. To me, this is not a marketing schtick. It is an education schtick. Ever since I got my first electric motor kit for my bike in ’94, I’ve shown it around, and many people – especially avid cyclists and bike shops – have been dismissive. I think this stems from an attitude that bikes are a recreational tool rather than a transportation tool. After hearing that attitude for all these years, perhaps I’ve grown a bit defensive about it over time. But, really what I want to accomplish is education – letting people know that electric bikes exist, and can help many people with the goal of biking more often (i.e. from none at all to at least once or twice a week would be a big step!).

So, to do that, I like to tell little stories about my experiences, and here is the latest. We recently became a Madsen Bicycles dealer, and got some of them in stock. One of the things that is exciting about this bike is the ability to haul up to four kids at a time, all sitting nicely seat-belted on benches in the rear bucket.
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This is a Good Thing for those of us with families that exceed the carrying capacity of the Xtracycle, Yuba Mundo, or Big Dummy (all of which carry only two kids, max).

So, I have been using the Madsen for short trips hauling kids around the local area, and it is great. But our area is hilly enough, that hauling 120 pounds of kids up the hills is a slow endeavor. The first hill starts right at my driveway, with a 50 ft climb. And there are many more hills riding around Carrboro and Chapel Hill (this is the Piedmont, after all). So we have been planning on putting an eZee electric hub kit on the bike, but presently they are out of stock at our store, so the bike is currently un-assisted.

Anyway, on the Saturday of Easter Weekend, I was taking the kids for an Easter Egg Hunt activity put on by a local organization. I really wanted to bike over there with them, rather than use the car, because it was a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree day. By the time we got the stuff together, we only had 45 minutes to get there. If I knew exactly where I was going, and if it was on the closer side of town, that would have been enough time to ride. But I didn’t know that area of town well, and I recall that part being quite hilly. Well, anyway, we loaded up into the bike and started up the first hill out our driveway, and I quickly realized that I just didn’t have the energy to haul these kids over all those hills for about 20 miles round trip, while being in a hurry to get there on time (and possibly getting lost in a hilly area of town). So we turned around, back down the hill we went, and we got in the car and drove instead.

Now, if we had already had the electric assist installed on this bike, I would not have hesitated to go by bike. The hills would have been much less of an issue, and I also would have felt less time pressure, since I would have saved 10-20 minutes of riding time.

So here is a case where if I had electric assist, I would have gotten well over an hour of moderate exercise pedaling the assisted bike to and from the activity, whereas instead I got none (and didn’t have time for another bike ride that weekend). And, I burned up well over 37 kWh (kilowatt hours) of energy by driving the car over, when the e-bike would have burnt up much less than 1 kWh.

Someone who lives in a flat place (e.g. Davis, California or much of Texas) reading this might not be able to relate. One thing I’ve noticed with my Big Dummy cargo bike is that when it is fully loaded, pedaling it on the flat lands is only a tiny bit more energy than pedaling it unloaded. But once it gets to a hill, all that extra load weight becomes very noticeable. So, anyway, if I lived in a flat place, pedaling the Madsen with the kids 10 miles each way wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But with these hills, it is a big deal – enough so that it makes me much less likely to use the bike, and instead, just take the car. I’m looking forward to having that assist on there! (Aside: These bikes are now available for rent for trying out).

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  1. Just a quick note about the Madsen, it really is a fun bike. While I was at your shop a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I looked at several of the cargo bikes, and I test rode the Madsen. I didn’t have any kids around to fully test it, but it was easy to ride and it felt fine rolling around the area near the shop. It made a bit of noise with the empty bin in the back, but I’m sure if the thing was loaded much of that would have quieted. My wife really liked the Madsen. She liked the idea of seat-belting the kids in there and having room to store some stuff for them to play with too.

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