Elizabeth Harden, who coaches people on spending money wisely, knew she didn’t want to take on another car payment.
She and her husband gave their last child of the family’s two cars as a college graduation gift. That mean they were going to have to share their car. But then she thought of a third option: A bike.
“I grew up in a time when every kid got around on a bike,” she said, noting that in her Lakewood location, most of the trails are uphill. “I knew I couldn’t bike over those hills. And I had no illusions of getting back in that shape.”
And that’s when Harden did what more and more people are doing these days. She looked at electric bikes, or ebikes, as the cool kids call them.
Harden’s husband had gotten an ebike from Small Planet Ebikes in Longmont more than a decade before. The early models wouldn’t get more than 25 miles on a charge. “I didn’t think it could really be a car replacement,” she said. But then she test rode a modern ebike. “It was love at first ride,” she said.
The love only grew. She could still pedal it, but when she faced a tough hill, the bike gave her a boost. “I manufactured reasons to ride it,” she said, after finding other riders. She started to tell people how she was using her bike for most of her trips. She called herself a “utility cyclist. And that pressured me to use it for everything. And I loved it.”
She now loads up the bike at the store, including Costco, where she buys megapacks of paper towels that she straps to the bike in interesting ways.
“My biggest load is my yard waste I take to my compost buddy,” she said.
And the charge lasts, well, longer than her now. She took one for a ride of 55 miles. “When I got back there was still power in the bike’s batteries, but my batteries were dead. My legs were exhausted,” she said.
Just a little boost
Ebikes, after all, do not have to be easy-peezy, something a lot of traditional cyclists mock. Kenny Fischer of FattE Bikes in Denver said the best part of ebikes is that the rider is in control of how much or how little they want to work by adjusting the amount of assistance they get from the battery.
“Think of it like at the airport when you see stairs and the escalator. You can choose which one you want. And on the escalator you can walk if you only want a little assist,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with a little assist.”
The joy of riding a bike, without the pressure of pedaling the whole way, especially up big hills, is why Fisher started FattE bikes in 2017.
And getting people such as Harden out of their cars and using ebikes as an environmentally friendly way to commute, make short trips around town and enjoy the outdoors is also what drove Tom Wilson to open Small Planet Ebikes in 2009.
“We were the first in this part of the world,” he said of Longmont.
Since that time, ebikes have evolved. Today’s ebikes have batteries that can take you from 40 to 100 miles on a single charge, according to Wilson, depending on how much pedal assist you want and how much you are hauling (yes, that’s the nice way of saying how much you weigh).
The pandemic seems to have inspired more to learn about ebikes, as the outdoors were a safe place to socially distance. “It’s growing a lot,” Wilson said. “People couldn’t go to the gym, and they might not have even felt safe going for a walk. So they want an ebike and now they figured out they can use it for their commute.”
Fischer said ebikes were kinder to those who wanted to experience a COVID-inspired rediscovery of the outdoors but hadn’t explored for years.
“They realized how nice it was to be in the sunshine again,” he said, “and then they went to their garage and uncovered their dusty old bike and wanted something new.”
But when that something new is something you plug in rather than completely power yourself, is it really being “environmentally friendly?” Fisher said the comparison shouldn’t be between a traditional bike and an ebike: It should be between an ebike and a gas-guzzling car.
Fischer said that most riders are like Harden, who rides more now to replace short runs around town in her vehicle. “You may not see benefits from a single ride,” he said. “But you are going to want to ride your bike 10 times more.”
Eliminating those short car trips, something that makes ebikes desirable for many, could have an impact on the environment. The US Department of Energy reported that in 2017, 75 percent of household trips were less than 10 miles from the home. Those trips account for the biggest contribution to vehicle emissions from vehicles.
That is one reason the Gov. Jared Polis Administration and the Colorado Energy Office launched the Can Do Colorado Ebike Pilot Campaign in 2020, which got ebikes to essential workers during the pandemic.
Patrick Bailey got his ebike two years ago. He had moved to Colorado from Atlanta after a car crash left him paralyzed from the legs down in 2013. Surgery and two years of rehab got him walking again, but he decided to give up the car and moved to the Cherry Creek area so he could walk where he wanted to go.
“When I moved here, I figured I would just Uber when I needed to go somewhere,” he said. “But I have taken Uber less than half a dozen times, and that’s usually to the airport.”
And that’s because he discovered the “miles and miles” of bike trails in Colorado. He had first purchased an electric scooter to get groceries, but it didn’t have the range he wanted to explore the trails. With the ebike he bought from Fischer two years ago, he has now clocked more than 3,000 miles.
“To think I went from being paralyzed in 2013 to riding 3,000 miles now is just amazing to think about,” he said. “And I don’t have a car payment, insurance and I don’t have to pay for parking. I’m sold.”
Where can you ride an ebike?
In Colorado, ebikes are classified as Class I (goes up to 20 mph with the motor and pedaling), Class II (goes to 20 mph and doesn’t need to pedal) and Class III (goes up to 28 mph).
Class I and II ebikes can be ridden just about anywhere regular bikes can go, although some communities may have local ordinances for trails, so it is always good to check with your city or county. Class III ebikes can be ridden only on the street, and riders must be over 16 years old.
Essentially the same rules apply for most state parks and Colorado Public Wildlife land (https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/E-Bike-Rules.aspx).