Why electric bicycles are 10 times as fun and a lot less scary than you might think.  

By Kaitlyn Pirie
Photo courtesy of Electra

When I first heard the term “e-bike” a few years ago, visions of old-school mopeds flooded my mind. Then I realized e-bikes are often the vehicles delivery people zoom around cities on. And that scared me—they seem to go so fast when you’re just strolling on the sidewalk!

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It turns out electric bicycles are essentially regular bicycles with a small electric motor to help propel you along. They’re hugely popular in Asia, but the U.S. market is growing. In 2016, 152,000 of them were sold in the U.S., more than double the 70,000 sold just four years earlier.

So when Electra recently offered to take a few Family Circle staffers on a spin to test out their new lineup, I (and two adventure-ready coworkers) agreed to go along for the ride. And it was way more fun and way less scary than I expected.

We strapped on our helmets, listened to quick overview of how the bikes work and away we went. Perched on a mineral blue Townie Commute Go! 8i, I felt like a little kid learning to ride a bike for the first time with your parent standing behind you giving you a push—a parent who doesn’t let go. With the motor turned on, pedaling was nearly effortless. On my bike and the Townie Go! 8is that my colleagues tried (in rose gold and white), a button on the left handlebar adjusts the power of the motor while a button on the right changes the gear (and you don’t even have to be moving to switch gears).

Photo courtesy of Electra

My biggest fear was that the bike would shoot forward unexpectedly with me hanging on for dear life. However, these electric bicycles are “pedal assist” so they won’t move unless you’re pedaling and have the motor turned on. On top of that, mechanisms sense the effort you put into the pedals and accelerate accordingly—so you won’t be forced to go super fast unless you want to. And when I say “super fast,” I mean the models we tried max out at 20 mph.

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On an e-bike, cycling suddenly felt smooth and felt luxurious. I could have pedaled around for hours without breaking a sweat. On the other hand, if I wanted a workout, I could keep the motor turned off and rely fully on my own strength to move forward. It made me realize how great it would be to have one for my daily commute. The motor could get you up hills no problem, but then you could coast along the flats on your own. It’s a financial commitment, though, as most electric bicycles cost several thousand dollars. However, if you don’t own a car or would cut back on public transportation expenses it might be worth it.

Right now cities across the country (like Los Angeles, Milwaukeee and New York) are trying to figure out the best way to regulate e-bikes and debating if regulation is even necessary. They go faster than typical bikes but often don’t need to be registered—and they’ve drawn some criticism from die-hard cyclists. But they’re much better for the environment than cars and seem like a natural next step for bicycles. Whether you’re looking for a fun weekend activity or you’re in the market for new wheels, look for e-bike rentals nearby and take one for a spin. I promise you won’t regret it.