“Wait, you want an ebike, isn’t that sort of of cheating? I mean, really, don’t you ride your bike for exercise?” exclaimed one friend when I shared my interest in electric assist bikes. Another added, “Those bikes go so fast; they scare me, and so does their price.”

So why ride an ebike? Generally, reasons fall into three categories — the desire to have fun, the desire to avoid the frustration of heavy traffic and expensive parking, and the desire to find an inviting way to exercise. Whatever their original intent, riders seem to agree that it’s great fun, it provides a truly enjoyable way to exercise, and it offers a method for getting places rapidly without using a car.

Glenna Parkinson admits she was not sure what she was getting herself into when she took an ebike out for a spin. It had been a couple of years since she had gone biking. She said, “Once we hit the Greenbelt, it was great!” Though she wasn’t thinking about exercise when she made the trial run, she’s learned that she can easily turn off the electric boost and peddle on her own whenever she chooses. Her pedal-assist electric bike requires peddling, but also offers three levels of electric assist: for use when encountering hills, for relief when the ride is long, and for speed when it’s necessary to get someplace fast.

Commuter Annie McFarland says her ebike simply makes her happy. She recalls grinning all the way to work while commuting on the bike for the first time. Hers is also a pedal assist ebike, and now hills and distance do not wear her out. She feels ”I have more energy in the evenings because the ride home allows my mind and body to de-stress. I am accomplishing a lot more while having fun doing it.“

Ebikes, like cars, are manufactured by many companies and carry brand names including Giant, Specialized, Townies, Electra, Pedigo and Felt. Larger stores like George’s, and Bob’s Bicycles carry several brands and several models including beach bikes, commuter bikes, cargo bikes and mountain bikes. Some stores specialize; for example, Cafferty’s Cyclery focuses on mountain ebikes and Pedigo offers only their own brand. Tri Town Bicycles in Boise’s Hyde Park allows customers to order from a specific online company and have the bike delivered to Tri Town for assembly.

While pedal-assisted ebikes are very popular, the buyer can also find ebikes with a throttle which basically turns the bike into a moped with no peddling necessary. Many bike stores offer ebike rentals for those wanting to try out a bike for a half or a full day.

The price tag on ebikes can cause sticker shock — at first. Generally, ebikes range in price from $1,600 to upwards of $4,000 with the battery accounting for about one-third the price of the bike. Good batteries will give years of service and provide around 1,400 miles worth of energy and up to 80 miles per charge. Roughly speaking, a charge costs about $.65.

Soren McKinnon, 19, who doesn’t currently own a car, feels money saved on car insurance and gas helps make the price of an ebike palatable. He also notes that an ebike allows him to “... be present in the moment and more connected with nature” — something he does not feel when riding enclosed in a car. And, he can get where he wants to go fast. While the speed limit on the green belt is 15 miles per hour for all bikes, the model he is considering goes faster. If he chooses, he can increase his speed when riding on local streets.

Marian Workman, a recreational rider, has enjoyed riding ebikes in Europe and regards her ebike as an investment for fun and good health. She plans to use it well into her senior years.

Dex Tobin of Idaho Mountain Touring has noticed that for many older adults, ebikes provide an invigorating spark and a return to the world of cycling. New ebike owner Kent Carnie agrees. After a 70 year hiatus from biking, he said he finds riding his bike exhilarating, something he does not feel after a daily walk.

And did I buy the ebike I was considering? You bet — and it’s opened a door to a whole new world of biking fun. I’m riding more frequently, going farther, getting places faster and thoroughly enjoying riding through Treasure Valley’s spring.

Freelance writer Ellie McKinnon is the former director of the Osher LIfelong Learning Institute at Boise State University.

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