Karel’s Korner: 8/1/15

True, the world of e-bikes is young, but what it lacks in age, it certainly does not lack in either a sense of vigor or enthusiasm. That’s where we come in. Electric Bike Action magazine is Hi-Torque Publication’s latest title, and as a company famed for recognizing emerging two-wheeled trends and providing enthusiast magazines for them (Dirt Bike, Motocross Action, BMX Plus!), who better to provide a magazine dedicated to the burgeoning e-bike market?

On one hand, the e-bike market has reached a point where there are established brands for electric pedal-assist bicycles and on- and off-road e-motorcycles. However, unlike many other recreational sports where models with nothing new but stickers are the norm, none of the major e-names we’ve seen are playing it safe. They are pushing technology forward using whatever resources they have at hand. At the same time, new brands are springing up all the time, and it’s equally interesting that small boutique shops offer truly custom installations and are multiplying rather than simply being satisfied with selling existing products.

At the wild and woolly periphery of the sport, wannabe and actual mad scientists are anxiously engaged in creating personal dream machines. In another era, they would have been called “hot rodders.” Not many are out in the shop trying to perfect the 20-mph pedelec bicycle. Rather, they are relying on the stealthy, near silence of electric power to let them go unnoticed as outlaws.

We admit that we love the innovation and find it gratifying that the country still produces enthusiasts who are gifted with their hands and flexible in their thinking. Certainly we share the fascination with electric motivation too. From the outside, people still see electric vehicles as slow and pedestrian but cheap and clean. The electric vehicles people see most often are golf carts and mobility chairs. The truth is, finding high-performance electric drive is relatively easy. E-bikes—whether they be motorcycles or assisted bicycles—offer performance ranging from impressive to dazzling. Those of you new to e-bikes from the internal combustion side of things might wonder if the lack of sound will siphon away excitement. In our experience, the opposite is true. Silent or near-silent performance is much more exciting than the same motivation accompanied by exhaust noise. The silence makes the acceleration surreal and adds an element of wonder. We know that it is all science, but it seems like magic, and the assisted bicycles in particular are like suddenly gaining modest superpowers.

Karel Kramer, Zapata Espinoza, Preston Petty
Karel (left) and Zap (right) make an EBA sandwich out of Preston Petty (center).

No doubt the majority of e-bikes will be basic models sold to commuters. But, just as every motorcycle owner is not a motorcyclist, and having an old Schwinn Le Tour doesn’t make you a dyed-in-the-wool roadie, not every e-bike owner has to be passionate about them. While we hope that those commuters, broke college students and others who see e-bikes as the lowest form of motorized transportation will pick up this magazine regularly and perhaps see themselves as part of a growing fraternity, we realize that it is the fellow enthusiasts who will make this magazine a success.

If you have already discovered the unique e-bike experience, there is one way you can do your part to share your enthusiasm—let a friend try your bike. More than anything else as we are learning about e-bikes, we are convinced that they must first be experienced if they are to be appreciated. Bicyclists and motorcyclists, those who should be our greatest allies, may be the toughest sell. But so far, we have seen many a single ride on an e-bike change long-held and solidified opinions. Getting more riders on e-bikes will justify current (and help create more) bike lanes, traffic and pollution will reduce, and, perhaps best of all, more people will rely on their pedal-assisted bikes to get to more places. Selling more e-bikes will only encourage further development, and that is a bright future.

As amazing as the future looks at the moment, there are still hurdles to clear. It is a given that electric drive is the future, but how we carry electricity with us is the big question. Battery technology remains the most exciting and elusive trait still to conquer. Perhaps the knottiest issue for the future of e-bikes is untangling the legal aspects of where they can be used. Electric motorcycles have a pretty universal and understood place everywhere they go, but assisted bicycles are different in definition throughout Europe and the U.S. Bottom line? There is virtually no agreement from state to state in the U.S. Fortunately, most states seem friendly to assisted bicycles, but a basic agreement with Johnny Law across the country would definitely make it much easier to build, sell and ride e-bikes. Hopefully that transition can be made with a freeing of regulation rather than the inverse. For the present, though, we remain positive and look forward to being part of the growth of e-biking.

Have any comments or questions?

Let me know: karel@electricbikeaction.com