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Stromer electric bicycle serves as 'chase' vehicle for all Solar Impulse takeoffs and landings.
Stromer electric bicycle serves as 'chase' vehicle for all Solar Impulse takeoffs and landings.

Here's Why I am Into E-Bikes

When U.S. Army veteran Mike Brown finally walked out of a Minnesota hospital after a five month-long battle with cancer, it took two nurses to help him. Three years later he regularly rides a bicycle 25 miles with friends again and an important key to his recovery is an electric-assist bicycle.

Mike Brown and I have something in common. We're both of the baby boom generation and we both ride electric-assist bicycles, Mike actually much further than I do. I regularly do 4-10 miles rides, mainly running errands: trips to the post office, the bank, exploring possibly routes for Quikbyke renters.

Mike, on the other hand, does it for recreation and to actively manage his health, as you'll learn when you read Mike McKinney's story about him in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Actually Brown isn't the focus of McKinney's story: it's his electric bicycle and what riding a couple of loaners taught the author about ebikes and why more people like Brown are starting to ride them. Varsity Bike in the Twin Cities loaned McKinney two different models: the Stromer eBike, pictured above, and a fat tire Felt Lebowske, pictured further below. The Stromer is made in Switzerland so it was the natural choice to serve as the 'chase vehicle' for the Swiss-built Solar Impulse, the giant solar-powered electric plane, the second version of which is currently attempting to fly around the world on sunlight alone. Departing Abu Dhabi earlier this month, the plane is about to embark on its fifth leg, flying from Mandalay to Chongqing, China. The Lebowske is purely designed to off-road riding with its fat, knobby tires and Bosch mid-motor electric drive.

Here are some of the highlights from McKinney's story, somewhat blandly titled, "Electric bikes make inroads in U.S.A."

A cancer diagnosis knocked Mike Brown off his feet three years ago and into a five-month hospital stay. At the end, the Army veteran who had kept himself fit into his 60s with regular cycling couldn’t walk 50 feet without the help of two nurses and a walker. In his broken state he dismissed the idea he would ever ride his beloved bicycle outdoors again.

Last summer, thanks to the gentle exercise he found with a customized Trek bike fitted with an electric motor and battery, he was racking up 25-mile trips with old riding friends and telling others of his motor-driven recovery.

“I never thought I would be as strong as I am again,” said Brown, of St. Paul.

In talking with the owner of Varsity Bike and Transit, McKinney discovers what American eBike sellers like Pedego and Currie have known all along, there's a huge awareness gap when it comes to electric-assist bicycles in this country. While more shops are starting to handle a few eBikes, most people simply don't know about them, much less have ever ridden one, including McKinney. When he did saddle up the Stromer, the inevitable happened:

It’s hard to know what to make of an electric bike without riding one, so with the help of a loaner bike from Varsity Bike and Transit, I set out to get the complete story. After some quick instructions (“It has four power settings; here’s how you charge the battery”) I walked out the door with a Stromer.

I set the power to low, saddled up, turned the pedals a couple of times and then felt the motor kick in. It was as if I was being coaxed forward by an invisible force.

Even knowing that it was coming, I smiled at the feel of the electric push.

While the Stromer test ride did reveal to McKinney there are limitations to what even a $3,400 eBike can do in terms of riding range - the bike went into energy conservation mode, slowing to 16 mph on his morning commute when he neglected to recharge the battery overnight - it also demonstrated one of their key advantages: sweat-free commuting.

Back on the Stromer, I wondered what it would be like to run errands. On a lunch hour, I biked 3 miles across town dressed in office clothes to buy something for my son. Even though I had pedaled at 21 mph, I walked into the store breathing easily. It was like I had gone for a walk. I zipped back to work with no more effort and gave thanks for the easy parking at both ends of the trip.

I personally experienced this just over a week ago. I had two meetings in downtown Omaha, one at 9 AM and the second at 10:30 AM. Since it's a good fifteen miles one way from my home in the suburbs and it was below freezing outside, I opted to drive the van into town, parking it under the I-480 bridge near Heartland Park of America where I can park for free for up to three hours. I pulled my Project Zeus bamboo and aluminum Greenstar bike out, locked the van, and rode the dozen or so blocks to my first meeting. Then around 10:25, I saddled up and headed south to Aroma's Coffee shop in the Old Market section of Omaha, discovering that roads you normally think are flat when you're driving a car, aren't. Thankfully, the Zehus Bike+ motor helped me negotiate the hills of downtown Omaha. Like McKinney, I arrived for my meeting breathing easily. It was like I had gone for a walk, only I could do it at four to five times the speed of walking.

Returning to Mike Brown, the cancer survivor, he tells McKinney that one of the joys of riding his eBike these days is that despite his age and past health struggles, he still can keep up with the Spandex-clad riders on Summit Avenue.

I can stay right with them if I want to. They turn around at the red light and there I am, sitting right behind them, this old guy. It’s just fun.”
From one old guy to another: it sure is.

fat-tired Felt Lebowske electric bike is designed for off-road riding.

Posted By: Bill Moore [29-Mar-2015]

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