Canning is making a documentary about cargo bikes titled Motherload,
which she plans to release in 2017. Not all e-bikes are cargo bikes, and
not all cargo bikes have electric assist, but the two bike innovations go
so well together that enthusiasts are seen as an overlapping group rather
than t wo separate subcultures. “E-assist has certainly popularized cargo
bikes by making them more accessible and more useful,” Canning says.
Other e-bikers are commuters who want to arrive at work without
sweat stains. The New Wheel co-owner Brett Thurber looked fresh as
a daisy in his denim apron on a recent warm Saturday, despite having
pedaled his Stromer ST2 S e-bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to the
Larkspur store. Thurber also didn’t break a sweat while closing a deal
with locals Eric and Tina, who were buying a pair of Gazelle Arroyo
e-bikes after a few test drives. Neither had ever experienced assisted
pedaling before, and both were glowing with delight.
Another demographic: longtime mountain or road bikers who don’t
want aging or injuries to end their riding days. “I go on recreational rides
with people on road bikes, and I carry their lunches and luggage,” says
Michael Bock, a longtime e-bike enthusiast who, at 65, sometimes finds
himself on long rides with much younger cyclists.
Where will you see them A longtime hub of e-bike culture, San
Anselmo’s The Bicycle Works co-op, just closed, but Thurber hopes The
New Wheel can grow into a cultural center in its own right. He plans to
host a bash with brand demos, food and music at least once a year and to
publish a magazine full of ideas for e-bike adventures. “It’s like the early
days of cars — you’d get your Michelin guide and drive around the French
countryside to restaurants,” he says.
When do they meet up? Unlike members of cycling clubs who ride
together on weekends and pose for group photos in matching Lycra shirts,
e-bike riders tend to operate alone or in pairs — getting the commute or
errands done. That said, cyclists on e-bikes are increasingly spotted at
mainstream bike events, from Fairfax’s annual Biketoberfest and Streets
for People festivals to Kidical Mass, a family-friendly version of Critical
Mass, where families with kids join up for safe group rides. The New
Wheel plans to offer guided bike rides starting in early 2017 and will have
a few e-bikes to lend out.
Why do they do it? For starters, riders feel that they are helping to save the
earth. Today’s e-bike motors use a tiny amount of electricity — a 150-mile
ride consumes less energy than a five-minute hot shower, according to
The New Wheel. Although it may seem counterintuitive, people also ride
e-bikes to get more exercise. A recent study showed that commuters who
tried electric-assist bikes became measurably fitter after just a few weeks.
This image: An e-mountain bike can
handle all the punishment of a regular
mountain bike. Opposite from left:
New Wheel co-owner Brett Thurber
commuting to work; another example
of a low battery profile.