My E-Bike Game Changer

I’ve already posted about my dedication to active transportation, and in fact got a bunch of coverage during Bay State Bike Week because I bike 18 miles round trip from Holyoke to Springfield on most workdays. It’s to save money, and my health, and the environment that I am so dedicated to bicycle transportation. I must admit, though, it’s gotten a bit grating.

There have been so many days during this hot summer where I have been on my feet all day at work, I hop on my bike with the sun beating down on me, and a strong wind out of the north blows against me as I chug my way home. Add to that the hills of Chicopee and long climb from the river, and it makes for a tough 9-mile bike commute indeed.

But above all it’s the cars. I’m just tired of drivers passing me too close, squeezing between me and oncoming traffic because they can’t be bothered to wait an extra 10 seconds to pass me safely. While I have generous shoulders for 90% of my commute, that 10% is genuinely exhausting.

It was in the context of this burgeoning bicycle burnout that I had a chance encounter with a leisure rider on the Manhan Rail Trail by Abandoned Building Brewery. He was on an electric bike, and suggested that I take it out for a test spin.

Game. Changer.

In addition to the pedal assist, which in itself let me fly like the wind, there is a throttle for when I’m feeling especially lazy, or low energy, or have a sports injury, or whatever. I realized as I was zipping around the Abandoned Building Brewery parking lot that this little electric motor was going to transform my commute. As the owner of the e-bike told me, the electric motor, “evens out the hills.” Exactly what I was looking for.

The EBO Phantom

Due to money constraints, I decided to go with an e-bike kit rather than purchasing a whole new bicycle. I got the EBO Phantom Bike Kit, which runs at around $1,000 – definitely expensive, but less than the $3,000 – $4,000 that you pay for a whole new e-bike. After a lot of false starts and some compatibility issues I eventually worked around, I finally got the bike up and running.

I’m going to reiterate: Game. Changer.

20160728_125529
Here is my lovely e-bike; the battery is hanging in a string bag because I don’t have water bottle cage mounts on this frame, one of many compatibility issues I had to work around. 

The kit shaved 15 minutes off of my commute time (previously 45 – 50 minutes one way), and made climbing those hills – especially in the afternoon, against the wind, through the heat – a joy. I can better keep up with traffic, especially through those shoulderless choke points. Even better, I can still get my exercise if I turn off the electric assist (and, in fact, since the kit added 25 pounds to my bike, it’s even better exercise).

I’m also working on getting an old Lemond Tourmalet frame retrofitted with some frame mounts, head tube supports, and new beefed up fork – I’m going to transfer the kit over to the Lemond once it’s done. (For anyone interested in getting some custom bike work done, Pioneer Valley Frameworks is amazing and Niall has been great to work with. They’re located in the Eastworks building in Easthampton, a great makerspace and worthy of a blog post all its own.)

lemond3
A frame similar to the one I’m going to convert into an e-bike with the help of PV Frameworks. Courtesy of  bikeforums.net

 

A Gateway Bike

Some people might call me a wimp, or a sellout, or whatever. Sure, I’m not 100% human powered when I bike to work these days, but the e-bike has opened my eyes to its use as a bridge technology. Commute distance and time are definitely barriers to a lot of people interested in utilitarian biking. E-bikes offer an alternative to cars that are:

  1. Way more affordable;
  2. Better for the environment (both local air quality and global climate change);
  3. More accessible to those who have physical limitations;
  4. Still encouraging of physical activity.

In short, I’m totally sold on e-bikes now, and highly recommend them for folks interested in doing more bike commuting but worried about the distance, or time, or sweat. Most people are willing to ride their bikes 2 – 5 miles; an e-bike could double that range, rapidly expanding the number of people going by bike.  I don’t know why they haven’t caught on in the US, but I’m totally converted.

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