It’s been just over a year since purchasing an electric bike. Admittedly I was unsure how I would like it and whether it was a change for the better. I am here to say it’s one of the best purchases I have made. After being in complete awe from watching the Great American Solar Eclipse in the path of totality, that same afternoon in 2017 I purchased an ebike. Not a bad way to end an amazing day!
I am sure you are asking yourself why there is a post about ebiking on a photography blog. After drafting this I realized that there is a photo element to this whole change of commuting around the city for me, more on this later. All photos in this post are from my iPhone while commuting on my ebike. I would not have stopped to take in any of these moments had I been barreling down the road in a vehicle or stuck in grid lock.
Let’s back up just a bit before I get too far. Prior to purchasing my ebike I had been thinking about upgrading my current bike for a couple years. It’s a close to 20 year old mountain bike with road tires outfitted for commuting. I did use it to commute for years yet normally didn’t ride more than a couple days a week for multiple reasons. Regardless if my new bike was going to be an ebike or not I wanted something that was going to change my routine to be my primary mode of transportation to the office in Portland, an 18 mile roundtrip ride.
I ended up getting a used yet only one year old ebike. I was planning to buy new yet this option came up where everything checked out. Boom - I knew this was it, and I exchanged my hard earned cash for a motor on wheels. It’s important to note that this bike has a max assisted speed of 20 mph. I intentionally chose a bike with the 20 mph limit to ensure it’s still legal to ride locally on bike lanes and paths.
As I had hoped this ebike completely changed my commute and became my primary mode of transportation to work. I would go weeks without filling gas in my car if I had no out of town trips happening. I looked forward to my commute, something I normally dreaded with our increased traffic congestion that is getting worse each year here in Portland, Oregon.
It didn’t take long for me to become an ebike believer. I proudly told others about my new bike with glowing excitement. Almost everyone was happy for me or even asking about it with interest of getting one. Yet there was a few exceptions, these folks made comments like “you’re cheating” or “isn’t that being lazy?” That said the one I remember most was only a few weeks into riding this bike. I was walking to the bike rack and as I was approaching the bike this lady was walking away from her bike while looking towards my bike. She turned back around to see it was mine and then stepped closer to me so she was within talking distance. “Is that shameful beast yours?” She says as if to punish me, hoping I was going to either say no or be ashamed. “Yes it’s mine, but I am not ashamed”. There was a little more back and forth yet I quickly knew there was no reason to turn this into an endless debate so I ignored her. She left and I rode home.
This encounter only a few weeks into owning my ebike, I started to wonder is there really this much pent up energy against ebikes? I made my mind up that I wasn’t going to let it bother me. Everyone else can have their opinion yet I know it’s changing me for the better. It turned out I would not get any comments like that for the next 11 months. That experience was an outlier. I should also say that it’s not a good idea for any of us to judge and assume someone is in perfect health and tip top shape just because that is what it looks like to us when we see someone on an a ebike. Most often what potential challenges exist for a rider will not be obvious for any of us with a quick outside view. Not to mention some ebikes you cannot even tell they are ebikes as they make no noise along with the battery and engine being hidden. Bottom line is we should not care what the reason is for a person riding an ebike if they are following all the same rules as other cyclists.
Now back to the photography component. When traveling by bike your options for stopping on a moment’s notice or the flexibility of where to stop is much more than being in your car stuck in traffic. We have all seen those nice moments while in the car and we end up taking photos out the driver’s window or through the windshield that really are less than mediocre quality most of the time. Not to mention these really shouldn’t even be happening as they are distraction while driving. Since this became my main mode of transportation into the city I was taking snapshot photos of scenes I would normally not see in my vehicle or would not have a convenient place to stop to take it. On the remote back roads you go from 75 mph to taking a photo in seconds, like this photo in remote Montana. Not that easy in a congested city. I also carried my photo gear a number of times on my bike for a project I hope to share in the near future.
The next few months I took random notes on why I feel riding an ebike is a good thing for me. I am guessing other ebikers would likely agree with most if not all of these. The point of this post is to elaborate on my thoughts which include many benefits ebiking provides and perspective to non-ebikers that are still leery of their existence. If you have reservations about ebikes, whether you ever want to own one or not, hopefully my experience helps to see them in a different light. A positive light.
Saves Commute Time
One of the big reasons I went with an ebike was to help save time. Like most of us my life is rather busy with main job, photography business, family and friends. I looked at it as an option to buy a little time back into my day. On a typical commute comparing my old bike to the ebike I am saving 15 to 30 minutes round trip. Not to mention that I no longer need to worry about when I leave the office and fear the view of a sea of red lines on the Google traffic app. In fact if I leave at the height of rush hour my ebike commute is similar or faster than my car. Basically I no longer need to be concerned with beating traffic coming in or when I leave. A great feeling!
Conserves Energy When Needed
I know there are cyclists that love biking more than anything. They are fine with it being the majority or their only work out. I love it too yet for me many weeks I won’t have the time and energy to do other forms of exercise if I were to bike to work every day with my non-ebike. Some weeks I would be fine and others I would be dragging. I don’t want that. This is part of the reason prior to my ebike I was only biking a couple days a week to work. I want to do other physical activities. Now I can go for a run or hit the gym in the same day without being exhausted. Maybe I have a very active weekend planned and want enough energy for it without burning out on bike commuting. These are nice options to have.
Reduces Pollution and Traffic Congestion
This should go without saying as a benefit. My car staying at home and being on a bike instead is reducing congestion on the road. The ebike is also polluting significantly less than driving my SUV to work. Yes there is the argument that the production and disposing of an ebike costs more both financially and for the environment than a non-ebike. From my understanding components of ebikes, like their large capacity batteries, are recyclable. Charging most eBike batteries comes down to pennies or a nickel to charge. I do everything I can to help extend the life of my battery which I am told I will get 4 to 5 years on. In the end I think we can all agree that the overall pollution of using an ebike as a main form of commuting is far less than driving a vehicle. That is a good thing for everyone.
Not Stuck in Traffic
I am doing my part to help reduce congestion on the roadways and I am no longer stuck in traffic which is something to celebrate itself! Most major metropolitan cities experience morning and afternoon rush hour that at best is not impacting the commuters mood yet more than likely is sending it in the wrong direction. It’s simply not the best use of our time when you think about our lives and how much time we can spend in our vehicles because of traffic congestion. I have always said I would rather spend many hours driving on the open highway for a family or photography trip than one hour stuck in bad traffic in the city. There have been plenty of experiences where I was passing bumper-to-bumper traffic on my bike. As long as I am living relatively close to where I work I want to figure out alternatives to driving all the time.
No Day is Too Hot
I am not a fan of the heat except for in three cases; I am in air conditioning, near water or up in the mountains. With that said during hot days in summer I was simply less likely to commute by bike. My threshold for hot is also lower than most since I prefer cold over hot. Now on those 90+ degree days I am still out on my bike commuting. In some cases I just might be using a little more assist to get me home. On the flip side I am not a fair weather only rider and as long as it’s not cold enough for snow or ice (already had a couple spills on ice) I have no concerns pedaling away in the dark winter rain. In Portland we certainly have our share of wet cool days from late fall to early spring. Wear the right gear with enough lights for the dark and it’s really a non-issue.
You Can Get Exercise – It’s Not Being Lazy
If you would have asked me several years ago about getting an ebike I would have said that was pretty unlikely and thought it really was for health challenged or those in their golden years. I completely disagree now. I lost weight the first couple months riding my ebike. Not that I was someone completely out of shape or not exercising, I wasn’t that person at all. Yet I still found I was getting in even better shape. I now have much more flexibility on when and where I get exercise on my bike. On one side of the spectrum I have had instances riding past others on non-bikes with my 50+ pound ebike pedal assist turned off and soaked in sweat. On the completely other side I have left work with no energy in my human tank and had the assist on high with the only goal of getting home. The reality is for most of my riding I am somewhere inside of these extremes where I find myself showing up to work or home where I could use a shower from the workout. Sure I could be “lazy” and never break a sweat on my ebike. That wasn’t the intention when I bought it. I think about it like this; I can get a similar workout at 18-20 mph on my ebike as I can at 12-14 mph on my non-ebike and I get that time back in my day. It's a win-win situation.
It’s certainly not the right choice for everyone. I still see a lot more non-ebikes than ebikes at the bike racks I park it between home and work. Although lately electric rental scooters seem to be everywhere yet that is a whole other topic. There will always be the need for non-ebikes. In fact I still have a regular bike and it’s what I use when not commuting to work. That said I believe electric bikes are here to stay and have a future as integral part of getting around for the right person in the right scenario. Which people that is and which scenarios those are will be to each of us figure out for ourselves.
Here are some other good sources on eBikes if you want to know more or looking to purchase one: