When Tony Valente invited me over for a tour of recent cycling developments in the City of North Vancouver, he offered an irresistible inducement: an e-bike experience.

As someone who has never quite seen the need for one (or felt that it was a kind of cheating), I nonetheless anticipated that e-bikes were the wave of the future.  In fact, I was surprised they hadn’t washed ashore sooner in a tsunami from some massive factory in Taiwan.

Well, the future is showing up – that wave is coming in on the North Shore.  In particular, at Tony Sun’s Reckless outlet in The Shipyards.

Perhaps it’s is a confluence of factors: small powerful batteries, an aging demographic, falling prices, the need for pandemic-safe recreation, the cool factor.

Or even hormones.  Once Tony took a few minutes to explain the basic mechanics, I was pressing the button to kick in the e-assist.  It was like a hit of adrenaline, the bike felt almost alive, and out of my mouth came an unforced reaction.

Whee!

And what better place to take a test run than the North Shore.  They have hills over there.  Long ones, like East Keith Road:

The kind of nasty hill that, when it seems like you’re reaching the summit, you haven’t.  There’s another peak beyond the crest, and maybe another.  North Van has a few of those nasties, like Lonsdale, which discourage people from thinking a bike could be a practical way to get around.  Even the young and the fit avoid these challenges on their commutes.

Not anymore:

Yours for a thousand – except for this:

It’s like the vaccine; most people want them now, no excuses. And when I started to look around, I realized how many e-bikes were already on the road, notably in the hands of an older demographic, like me, not just the kids who ride hell-bent down the mountain-bike trails of the North Shore.

Which also means that cities need to be literally paving the way.   Fortunately, the City of North Vancouver has been developing bike infrastructure, and more is planned, as we’ll see shortly.  But the e-bike revolution presents a new set of challenges, two in particular: sheer volume and differential speeds.

At the moment, it can take up to a year to get some kinds of bikes.  But when even in The Netherlands, two-thirds of bike sales are electric-assist, you know those factories in Taiwan will be working overtime. In the coming post-pandemic year, that tsunami of e-bikes may well wash over us.

When you can already pick up an e-bike at the foot of an escalator in London Drugs, it may not be all that long before electric-assist will be built right in to the standard bicycle, and you’ll have to pay extra to get one without that’s targeted to athletes.

As more people take to e-cycling, while they may not get as much intense exercise as they would with a conventional bike, they do cycle more and go longer distances.  They tackle Keith Road.  They appear increasingly in places where cycling numbers were small or non-existence.  They crowd the popular routes, like the Spirit Trail.

And they move at speeds more typical of small motorized vehicles – 15 kmh and more.  That means on some routes there will be a need for a passing lane.  Think Beach Avenue (right).

And of course, e-scooters – for which the City of North Van will be one of six municipalities authorized by the Province to test them out on roads.  They’ll be accompanied by what will likely be a host of e-assisted commercial vehicles – cargo bikes especially. Already home food deliveries are primarily on e-bikes, and are morphing into designs that don’t quite fit into any one category.

Expect there will be more calls for licensing, speed limits, enforcement and just generally more complaints.  Except one:

‘Why spend any money on bikeways?  No one will use them in our hilly city.’

 

Comments

  1. All good! Particularly for places like North Van City and parts of Burnaby (hello, Simon Fraser University, thoughtfully situated atop a mountain.) But a caution. As with most human activities, greed and speed are attractants, and need to be regulated.

    With E-bikes, the speed is not 15kph, but 30 and 40– even 50kph. That’s because the electronic speed governors on many E-bikes are easily defeated, effectively turning them into electric motorcycles. That speed disparity WILL create safety problems when ungoverned E-bikes share road space with real bikes. If you want evidence, look at the increasing carnage in New York City, where delivery services are almost entirely by E-bikes with defeated governors.

    The greed comes from the E-bike dealers, who understandably want to maximize sales. There are two types of E-bikes: those that must be actively pedalled for the battery to assist, and those that will run without being pedalled. Many E-bike models have pedals solely to meet the provincial requirement to be classified as bicycles. As with motorcycles, the pedals are really footrests and not part of locomotion. The industry lobbied for this classification, and now complains that the province shouldn’t change its regulations in the face of speed problems.

    The province should require that, to be a bicycle, it must be pedalled for the battery to assist. You’ll get the electric benefit, and stay healthier.

    1. “The province should require that, to be a bicycle, it must be pedalled for the battery to assist.”

      Arguably this would illegalize electric scooters. I personally wouldn’t have a problem with that, but it does set up a double standard in some ways.

      1. The province has always required that to be considered a bicycle, it can only have electric assist. The problem is that unscrupulous dealers have imported and sold non compliant electric bikes. There wasn’t much enforcement while various court appeals were exhausted. That is now over with after the recent rulings.

        Electric kick scooters have always been illegal except on private property. The planned pilot program in select municipalities won’t require that they be only assist, they can be powered.

  2. E-bike definitions and regulations have to be built into all the other changes required in the Motor Vehicle Act to bring it “up to speed”(!)- especially 1.5m passing distance between cars and (e-)bikes.

    B.C. Cycling Coalition is raising money for this campaign now in partnership with GoByBike BC and other cycling advocates, with a donor offering to double donations over $100 until April 6.

  3. I love ebikes and have two converted bikes at our house that were getting plenty of mileage on Port Moody to Burnaby commutes (40 kreturn) before moving out of town. I don’t love the mid-drive that has become so popular because it relegates the machine to be only an ebike forever. The beauty of a hub drive, front or rear, is that you can revert back to strictly pedal power with little effort.

    I doubt my concerns will stop the trend, but it is a shame to see something as versatile and repairable as a pedal bike become part of the proprietary, take it back to the dealer trend that is the norm now.

    (If you don’t spend at least $3k on a new ebike it will not last long under regular use IMO) The regular parts and frame have to be low quality to meet that price point with a motor, battery, controller, etc included.

    1. Hi Chris,
      I bought a Motorino CTb in 2018 after knee replacement #2 – cost these days $1950. Done just under 7000km on it and so far only repair has been a replaced chain.

      BTW it’s a 350W pedal assist (when I actually switch the assist on) because I wanted to get exercise while out for groceries etc. The assist is really helpful when I have two panniers full of groceries and a pack of beer strapped on the rack. The throttle is essential when doing a fully loaded standing start on a hill. Stats from the Netherlands show that senios my age predominantly have ‘single vehicle accidents’, i.e. we can’t accelerate quickly enough from a start to achieve balance and thus fall off, so Dutch seniors on ebikes are actually safer than on a traditional bike.

      I rarely get above 18kph and many riders pass way too close for safety. This is more likely to be a guy on a traditional bike treating an ebike rider as a challenge than it is another ebiker.

      1. It is great to hear that people are having positive experiences. I would not rate that amount of usage as ‘regular’ riding compared to that of a daily commuter, but your mileage may vary as the car ads say :-). 7000 km a year would equal 40 trips per month of 15 km — a fairly common commute. Thank you for remark regarding standing starts. I agree that a throttle is a useful tool for e-bikers.

        My point around price is raised because e-bikes are by and large expensive compared to regular bikes and I don’t want people buying a cheaper bike and feeling ripped off if it breaks down or wears out faster than expected… and then tarring all e-bikes with the same brush.

      2. It is possible to have an assist only e bike, with no throttle, that has a start off mode to get going (more assist) and a parking assist mode (eg 3 km/hr). A throttle that functions at normal travelling speed isn’t required.

  4. “The province should require that, to be a bicycle, it must be pedalled for the battery to assist”

    A manual throttle is invaluable when walking a loaded ebike up an incline in my experience and I’m a fairly burly fellow.

      1. There are places where you need to take your bike where cycling is not allowed. Throttle also very helpful when getting underway with a big load, esp for cargo bikes.

  5. I don’t really have a problem with assisted eBikes per-se. But these Motorinos or the ultra heavy ones, like the one pictured above worry me.

    For two reasons.

    1. Motorinos etc. are primarily designed to be driven by the motor, not the rider, the Province really needs to close that loophole.
    2. These ultra heavy bikes that at times seem to weight more than the person riding it is, especially as a pedestrian, not making me very happy. I already observe that people are really good at going fast but bike handling / control? Not so much.

    No, I am not calling for license and registration for #2, but rather I’d like to see a weight limit imposed above which the bike is no longer a bike.

    1. Much like auto makers, ebike mfrs are making machines to meet consumer demand.

      Much like auto makers, ebike mfrs aren’t showing much regard for potential victims of a careless, or reckless user of their products.

      The only sensible solution will be to expect ebikes over a certain wattage in power to be mopeds and have the same rules apply.

      Then there is the issue of using them on bikeways and greenways etc. A responsible user — no problem. Meatheads and morons — not so much.

      1. It’s not even Meatheads and Morons per-se. I was on beach the other day happily crusing along at 25k on my old-skool pedal bike and had a bunch of women on rental eBikes blow past by me. None of them were pedalling so clearly, they just hit the button. I really do not trust that they have the necessary skills.

        And then there are electric MTBs. I am already annoyed when I have to dodge ATVs and offroad motorcycles but at least I can hear them coming. I won’t have that with powered MTBs and considering the general mental makeup (thrill seeking) of MTBers you can bet many of those bikes will have all restrictions removed by the owner.

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