Changing gears: St. Louis cyclists join the trend toward electric bikes | lifestyles
Cyclists aren’t necessarily late for work these days.
Whether you’re commuting downtown, climbing hills to wineries, or commuting for hours on long trails, there’s a helping hand for that: Battery power can help keep bike wheels spinning when legs or lungs want to give up.
Over the past few years, cyclists who suffer from creaking knees — or who just want to keep up with faster riders — have found that powered pedal use provides thrills on the wind and cheap transportation. Electric bikes are growing in popularity, especially among people over 50 years old. With an e-bike, battery-powered motors can give cyclists little or a lot of assistance while pedaling. Or they can choose to pedal without power.
Charles Knapp said he often tires out when walking 30 yards. At 69, he suffered from prostate cancer. Nearly three years ago — and 30 years after his last cycle — he bought an electric bike from a Pedego dealer in Oakland.
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He says, “I love him.” “I ride it almost every day, 20 miles or more. You can go anywhere. It was a lot of fun.”
The Manchester resident loves to ride the Mississippi Greenway to the old rock bridge chain. “My son-in-law makes me sad,” Knapp says. It’s not like riding a bike, he says. I tell him, ‘You don’t know what you haven’t tried.’ Keeping the Knapp company while he’s riding is an extra tech: a Bluetooth helmet that streams music or baseball games.
Although sales of e-bikes have grown over the years, the Light Electric Vehicle Association estimates that the United States imported nearly 790,000 two-wheelers in 2021, a whopping 463,000 in 2020. Although there is no sales figure, the The number is a “helpful proxy for the state of the e-bike market in the US,” reported Bloomberg News, which also noted that sales of e-bikes appeared to outperform electric vehicles last year.
Since e-bikes range in price from $1,000 to $5,000 and up, two-wheeled vehicles are much cheaper than a Tesla, of course. Bicycle batteries can be charged through a regular household outlet.
Local bike stores report interest that seems to match the national trend.
Kayce Peters, store manager at Big Shark Bicycle Co., said: On Big Bend Boulevard, although summer is the busiest time for sales, this year’s high gas prices have coincided with a clear uptick in business.
“Especially with e-bikes, people come to explore it as a kind of car alternative, a car reducer option,” he said.
He said the use of e-bikes has been growing steadily for a while, but that momentum has particularly accelerated over the past two years, amid the “COVID boom” in cycling — and has recently started on another path.
“This summer is the kind of year where e-bikes are totally mainstream,” he said. “E-bikes are now as part of our bike shop as mountain bikes. They are no longer a separate, small category.”
On a Kickstarter Katy Trail, store manager John Matthews said the store rents and sells e-bikes and regular bikes. Last year the store only had two e-bikes for rent because that’s all they could get. Now she has 15 to 20 e-bikes at her Augusta location. They are often all booked for the weekend at $38 for two hours.
Matthews said even riders in their twenties rent it out. Sometimes a couple includes one person who is a stronger rider, so the partner will rent an e-bike. Then he said the other person wanted one.
“It allows them to cover more area in less time,” Matthews said. They may want to score extra miles on the Katy Trail or not waste a lot of time blowing the hills at the winery.
Diana Kakoris, who owns Southside Cycle with her husband Tim, agreed that interest is growing among buyers who want to ride both cobbled and off-road bikes. E-bikes are available in models destined for cargo transportation, mountain climbing or carrying heavy commuting.
Pedal bikes for sale through stores usually travel at speeds of around 20 mph, although some reach 28 mph. They do not need a license, registration, or insurance in Missouri or Illinois.
Education is important
“E-bikes are a game changer,” said Karen Karabell, a trainer with CyclingSavvy. “They can really replace car trips.” Karabel said she doubted she would buy another car.
But, she said, knowing bike safety is essential. She recommends the American Bicycling Education Association at cyclingsavvy.org. Through a partnership with Great Rivers Greenway, metro riders can use the bikeplan coupon code portal for free, lifetime access to a series of educational videos called Ride Awesome.
“While the Ride Awesome is suitable for all cyclists, it is probably most relevant for e-cyclists,” said Karabell. “Speed puts people in trouble.”
Local bike dealers also recommend doing research before purchasing an e-bike. Kakoris cautioned that cheap, online-only bikes may be short-term purchases because the engines may break and local repair shops may not have parts for them or are willing to service.
She noted that some bikes sold with throttles or add-ons online are difficult for riders to handle. The throttle gives the bike more power without pedaling. Some states do not allow all types of e-bikes on all trails or have speed limits.
Kakoris also cautioned that conversion kits, which can be attached to a regular bike, may be unsafe for regular bikes with rim brakes because the bike’s brakes are not designed to handle a motorized vehicle. Brand-name e-bikes usually have disc brakes.
E-bikes, which often weigh around 60 pounds, are grouped into three categories, come in multiple models and have different quality motors and batteries. Cargo bikes can have two motors, which increases the weight of the bike. Some lithium-ion batteries can be opened and taken indoors to charge. But because lithium batteries can catch fire, Bicycling.com warns against using aftermarket or bargain batteries and advises disconnecting the batteries after charging.
Additionally, riders must understand how much the battery will help the rider. The seller might say that the battery will last, say, 50 miles on a charge, but riders need to understand that this number can vary depending on how much power the rider is using.
Riding a bike may be an unforgettable skill, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get harder.
Bill Swerwin says e-bikes keep people “moving and active”.
He and his wife, Carla, opened a Pedego store in Auckland in 2019. The store, which only sells e-bikes, is located directly on Grant’s Trail. “Our business has grown exponentially,” he said.
He said it started with a bang when people wanted to go outside during the pandemic. Recently, gas prices have brought in buyers, he says.
He uses his own bike a lot, and he and his wife now only share one car. Sauerwein does not advise children to ride e-bikes and said his primary demographic is customers over the age of 50. (Some manufacturers specify that their e-bikes are for ages 18 and up.)
One of his clients was Henderson Smith III, a retired Air Force officer who worked at Scott Air Force Base and now lives downtown.
He first rode an e-bike in Australia while working as a consultant during the pandemic. A neighbor with a DUI convict had an e-bike and let Smith try it out. After foot and knee surgery, Smith, 64, turned. He said he’s still getting his cardio but can cycle longer.
“I used to ride a little bit but sometimes I find it painful,” he said. Now, people at Trailnet events or on bike lanes are “going around and I’ve come to surf.”
Bryce Gray of Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.