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Ray Keener: Reporting on e-bike life

Published May 9, 2014
Even speedy types like Hugh Walton come back all smiles!

Editor's note: Ray Keener is a longtime friend of Bicycle Retailer and writes occasional columns, blogs and articles for the website and magazine. Ray's background includes stints as a bike retailer, executive director of the Bicycle Industry Organization, editor of a trade magazine, founder of Growth Cycle and now executive director of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association. Keener created the Selling Cycling staff training program from 1997-2012, used by more than 2,000 bike shops worldwide.

Larry Pizzi sent me an e-bike last Fall. Currie Tech was dispersing their 2013 demo fleet, and I told Larry at Interbike I'd try one out and get others to ride it.

So a month or so later, a 55 cm (XL) Haibike 29er front suspension mountain bike arrived. Of course my son Will had the box open and the bike in the stand before I got home.

Initial impressions: Having ridden many e-bikes myself, I wasn't exactly blown away, although the Bosch motor and controller seemed better engineered than any I had tried before.

Time machine back to 1997: John Neugent was working for Lee Iacocca's recently formed company E-Bike, and he flew me out to LA to talk about a training program to help shop people sell and service the E-Bike.

Out of the box, into the stand.

Iacocca had passed the hat around to his wealthy friends and raised a quick $20 million to get the company off the ground, build prototypes — the usual start-up game.

Talk around their office went something like this: "As soon as Lee is on the cover of Time magazine straddling an E-Bike, this is gonna totally take off!"

Neugent was tasked with "dealing with that weird bike industry," spec'ing components, making deals with factories, and getting retailers onboard.

That last item on the list still seems to be the bottleneck, almost 20 years later, although acceptance by IBDs as well as the opening of e-bike-specific stores are on the rise.

OK, back to present reality: Three things I've learned living with an e-bike, two of them surprising:

  1. People love these things, right from the start. I've had over 100 people try the Haibike, and not once has it been met with anything short of enthusiasm. No shock there, Larry told me that would happen.
  2. My son likes it! He has a constantly rotating stable of eight or nine bikes, surely doesn't NEED a motor, and we often negotiate who gets the Haibike and when.
  3. I'm riding it more than I ever thought I would.

University Bikes GM Lester Binegar and Boulder Valley School District Bicycle Coordinator Landon Hilliard give it a spin.

The four reasons I'm using the Haibike more than all my bikes save my usual townie/trailer-puller:

  1. When I'm in a hurry. Commute rides are 10-15 percent faster, thanks to jackrabbit starts (0-18 in five seconds). And the 2.125 tires give me the ability to curb-hop and alley-cat in ways I wouldn't risk on my 700x28's.
  2. On my gym workout days. When my trainer flogs me to the point of exhaustion (thanks, Betsy!), it's sometimes a struggle just to ride home. And later in the same day, I've often driven my car for errands. Now, I turn the motor setting to Turbo (as any red-blooded American male would do) and roll.
  3. When I'm a bit injured. I landed hard on my knee and hip a month ago, and it's great to still be able to get around on two wheels and keep things moving while I heal.
  4. When the wind's blowing hard and whipping around. Last week in Boulder, it was nasty, cold and gusty. It's great to go 18 mph into a 30 mph headwind!

So any downsides? Track stands are quite tricky. I haven't tried to get it up on the roof rack yet. And I still feel a bit apologetic when I pass someone on a bike without a motor. Kinda silly, I guess.

It was the same motivation that caused me to oppose e-bikes on Boulder's multi-use paths for years. You "should" provide your own power. Cars have motors, not bikes.

My opinion changed when I attended City of Boulder public meetings last winter about lifting the e-bike ban.

I heard story after story from older folks (many younger than me, ouch!) who can no longer pedal a "regular" bike for any distance or pace, who would be driving their cars except for their e-bikes.

When I got the bike, my standard response when asked if I'd buy one was, "No." Now with six months' experience under my belt, I've changed my mind.

As I type this, I'm looking at $25,000 worth of bikes hanging on my office wall, all of which I'm riding less often than the Haibike.

My answer would now be a qualified "yes." Depending on what kind of a deal I can get from Larry!

Topics associated with this article: Electric bike

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