I’ve often felt the need of a boost as I’ve huffed and puffed up a steep hill on my bike, especially when hauling 50 pounds of gear on a self-contained tour.
“Hey, old man!” says a little voice in the head. “There’s an easier way to do this and still enjoy traveling on two wheels in the open air.”
A Harley? A Vespa? An electric bike?
An electric bike? Hmmm. Probably not.
For cyclists who ride for aerobic exercise or relish the challenge of tackling a formidable mountain pass or traveling a long distance under their own power — like a ride across the United States — a battery-powered bike may not have much appeal.
But for those who view a bicycle as simply an alternative means of transportation — for shopping, errands, short commutes — an electric bike might be ideal.
The New York Times carried a story on Monday about the growing popularity of battery-powered bikes. An esimated 120 million are already on the road in China and they’re catching on in India, Europe and the United States.
“From virtually nothing a decade ago, electric bikes have become an $11 billion global industry,” the Times reported.
“If you think you can’t commute by bike, Trek Ride+ electric assist changes the game,” says Trek’s Web site. “Suddenly pulling a trailer or carrying heavier loads becomes doable. A sweat-free commute becomes a reality. And going up hills is as fun as going down.”
An alternative to an electric bike is the “Copenhagen wheel,” developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and unveiled Dec. 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
The New York Times said in a story on the eve of the unveiling that the device is “a wheel that captures the kinetic energy released when a rider brakes and saves it for when the rider needs a boost.” And the beauty of the Copenhagen wheel is that it can be retrofitted to conventional bikes.
Check out a video on the Copenhagen wheel.
The Times quoted Christine Outram, the project’s lead researcher, as saying that the aim of the Copenhagen wheel is to eliminate the clunkiness of other electric bikes with heavy batteries and unwieldy wires by putting all the technology into the wheel.
I haven’t seen or tried a bike with a Copenhagen wheel. But I’ve test-ridden an electric bike, owned by a friend. It was indeed a cheap thrill to zip through the neighborhood without any effort on my part.
I’m not yet ready to switch, but it seems clear that electric bikes might appeal to many people of my vintage who might want the pleasure of cycling without the pain.