FEATURE: FREEDOM RE-CHARGED
How e-bikes changed a life for good By Sam Bernard
Riding a bicycle for the first time is a monumental event in any youngster’s life. I believe that is a universal truth that spreads across almost every culture that many people experience in early childhood years. They may not realize the significance of the moment at the time, but think about it—cycling presents the ability to vastly expand a kid’s world. It gives them the first taste of independence—freedom to travel, beholding new wonders, gaining fresh perspectives beyond the boundaries of their early bubble. It introduces a newly discovered thrill, a certain kind of power, allowing one to break the restraints of natural-born limits by using an instrument of extension. Riding a bike is indeed a big deal.
Raised as I was in the urban heart of Manhattan, I was a latecomer to cycling. It wasn’t until my family moved to Southern California when I was 10 years old that I first experienced the magic of bicycles. I will never forget that instant when my dad finally, apprehensively let go of the frame of my basic two-wheeler (something like a beach cruiser), and I was pedaling down the block on my own! At that time, it was truly the most exhilarating moment of my young life, and from then on I was hooked on bikes.
I immediately took a paper-route job and began saving for an upgrade—and what an upgrade it was! After throwing thousands of newspapers, I eventually piggy-banked enough to buy the bike of my dreams—a five-speed Schwinn Stingray complete with high handlebars, bucket saddle and studded wheels. It remained my prized possession for years, and I must have clocked thousands of miles on it, riding for both transportation and exploring far-reaching new territories.
“When out for exercise, I ride like I would a regular bike—without the power. But, just knowing it’s there and ready to assist provides a level of confidence that allows me to push my limits.”
Naturally, as I came of driving age, cycling became less essential. I didn’t ride as much, but my love of bikes was instilled in my bones. In my early 20s I began a career as a screenwriter. A mentor told me to write about what you know and/or love. After penning a couple of high school movies, draining that reserve of knowledge, I wasn’t sure of what to do next. It was the mid-’80s and I started noticing exciting goings-on in vacant lots. It was these “crazy” kids creating extreme, seemingly dangerous stunt-like moves on bikes that looked kind of like my beloved purple Stingray. The dawn of BMX was upon us.
I was so intrigued that I sought out to learn about this new craze of a sport called “bicycle motocross.” Armed with this new knowledge and recalling the words of my mentor, I sat down with my writing partner and hammered out the script of what would become the movie Rad. At the core of the lead character, Cru, was the embodiment of my adolescent biking passion. He represents the independence and power that I had attained in those early years. Since then, the film has become something of a cult classic and an anthem to BMX and bike riding itself. With all modesty, I believe the sustaining interest in the movie is due in part to the universal association with the seminal childhood moment of riding a bike.
BACK ON THE PEDAL
It also rekindled my desire to ride. The following years I rode a lot, mostly for fun and exercise. As I got older and busier, other interests took priority. My cycling waned to the point where my bicycle sat unused, gathering dust, and eventually I donated it to a more charitable cause.
Until recently, I hadn’t been on a bicycle in a decade and a half. To be completely honest, the thought of riding caused me anxiety. I was well into middle age, had put on more pounds than I care to admit and was plagued with a medical condition that causes extreme fatigue. I had ceased doing most things fitness-related. My body and mind resisted and, quite frankly, I had fallen into a sedentary rut. A simple activity like taking a bike ride just felt daunting. It appeared that all the spark that once lit me up had faded away.
AND THEN IT HAPPENED
Recently, a friend mentioned that he had an electric bicycle. “Electric bike?!” I asked. I was only vaguely aware of such a thing. Having never seen one, I wrongly assumed they were like mopeds. I accepted my buddy’s offer to let me take his e-bike for a ride. It was a life-changing moment. Amazingly, not 10 seconds into my maiden e-bike ride, I detected a flicker of a joyously familiar but long-buried excitement. As I felt the power assist kick in, so did my brain. Instantly, it resolved the stress and doubt of whether I could handle the physical (and mental) pressure, which I put upon myself. It all evaporated with a flick of my thumb.
The whisper of resistance from the mucked part of my mind—“It’s too hard, I’ll get too tired, I’ll do it tomorrow”—lost its influence, crushed into silence by the awesome power of a simple, 36-volt battery integrated on what appears to be an otherwise normal bicycle. That initial e-bike ride shot a jolt of exhilaration into me like when I was 10 years old pedaling that two-wheeler for the first time. This wasn’t something I was seeking. What a gift this incredible piece of technology has given me!
It became my mission to acquire one and managed to get my hands on a cool little folding e-bike. With e-bikes in mind, I’m excited and motivated every day to ride. I literally just can’t wait to hop on and go. As mentioned earlier, it had been a while since I regularly engaged in physical fitness activities. When I was younger, I did quite a bit—circuit weight training and cardio at the gym, tennis, and racquetball. Walking was the last to go since developing chronic foot tendonitis, but cycling is a no-impact exercise. When out for exercise, I ride like I would a regular bike—without the power. But, just knowing it’s there and ready to assist provides a level of confidence that allows me to push my limits.
THE NEW ME
It’s been just a brief time, and I am already feeling better and have even lost a few pounds. Some cycling purists might say that an e-bike is cheating. Just jump on a bike and start pedaling. Sure, it sounds easy, but for me it took more than desire and willpower to break the malaise I was in.
When you consider all the numerous types of physical activity there are, I cannot think of any that offers practical uses aside from exercise other than cycling. Bicycles have long been a standard commuting vehicle. An e-bike with an average range of 80 miles per charge gives massive extension to the transportation uses. This includes the ecological and economic benefits that can be realized from using electric bicycles.
“Amazingly, not 10 seconds into my maiden e-bike ride, I detected a flicker of a joyously familiar but long-buried excitement. As I felt the power assist kick in, so did my brain.”
Personally, living in Los Angeles, I’ve come to despise driving in the terrible traffic that gridlocks the roads everyday. Now, I use the e-bike for much of my commuting, even for appointments where I would not use a regular bike because I would arrive sweaty and not fresh. Problem solved with the e-bike.
I also should mention that riding an e-bike is time-saving, handy and just plain fun!