Revenge of the Electric Bike
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by Jon Burras
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When I grew up I rode my bike to school. My brothers rode their bikes to school. Most of my friends and neighbors rode their bikes to school. Not only did we all ride our bikes to school but we also used them as our main means of transportation. If we needed to go to the grocery store we rode our bikes. If we wanted to visit friends we rode our bikes.
Bicycles were a mainstay when I was growing up. Young and old would traverse along roadways and bike paths on their one-speed, five-speed or ten-speed bike. We used "sweat equity" or "pedal power" to move us along. We rode through heavy winds, rain and even into the night at times.
Then about twenty years back bicycles seemed to become obsolete. Kids were now playing on their smart phones, computers, tablets or video games rather than riding outside on their bikes. More and more parents were now driving their children to school. Perhaps as cable news grew there were more alarming stories of the dangers of child predators lurking around every corner. Parents did not want to take any chances. Sending your seven year old off to school by herself on her bicycle now seemed like child abuse in this modern day society.
As kids got older and approached their teenage years more and more parents were now pressured into buying a car for their young adolescent child so that the child could drive himself to school. Bicycles fell further and further into obsolescence. Bicycle shops began to go out of business as bicycles remained in the back of a garage collecting dust and forming good old fashioned rust on the spokes.
Something remarkable began to happen a couple of years ago. All of a sudden the bicycle was making a comeback. This was not your grandmother's Schwinn we are talking about. This was the modern day "e-bike". Some entrepreneurial engineers found ways to put electric motors in the hubs of bikes and off went this current trend. Your classic ten-speed had now been replaced by a swift 48-volt pleasure cruiser. Electric bicycle stores began popping up over night as the demand surged. More and more people began to invest in this new fad as they rediscovered their freedom of riding a bicycle.
A kid with an electric bike feels like a sailor set loose navigating the vast oceans with a steady breeze to carry him along. An electric bike gives a teenager or a pre-teen the freedom to traverse for long distances and up hills that once seemed like giant obstacles under pedal power. Riding into the wind or at night is not a problem any more. This new found freedom makes riding one's bike to school not just an easy task but something of a fun joy ride.
A kid once ridiculed for being the one to have to ride his bike to school is now being admired for his new-found electric chariot. At one point it had become no longer "cool" to ride one's bike to school. Now that has changed. Eager students are happy to hop on board their zippy e-bikes with their skateboards or backpacks in tow.
School bike racks are now filling up with e-bikes as kids are now having fun riding to school. E-bike shops are popping up on every corner like fast food restaurants and coffee houses. Groups of teens can be seen vacating their bedrooms and video games to go out cruising around with their friends.
Not just teenagers have found this new trend but so has the older generation. Adults of all ages can be seen going out for a "ride" to the nearby grocery store or to have lunch at a local restaurant. Bicycle touring companies have now invested in fleets of e-bikes so that many of their eager vacationers can still travel by bike but not have to work so hard to make it happen. You can now visit a foreign land on an e-bike without having to be in shape to do so.
Whether you are young or old this trend is here to stay. Maybe this is a step to get us out of our cars and onto personal people movers. One could say that this is a way for many to get more exercise but that can be called into question. Many riders of e-bikes seem to pedal from time to time. This might be because they want us all to see them "exercising" or they might just feel guilty that they are having it so easy. Perhaps they want to convince law enforcement that they are indeed riding a bicycle on a city street and not just an unlicensed electric motor vehicle.
The interesting thing is this. Parents need not worry about their teenager getting on his e-bike and riding off into the sunset never to return. E-bikes are like boomerangs. When you throw a boomerang it almost always comes back to you. As those teenagers escape from home each day to visit their friends and go off to school they will always find their way back home each night. Where else are they going to plug in their battery for a free charge of electricity so that they can go out on their next day's adventure?