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E-bikes giving past cyclists a chance to start pedaling again

By Kristen Oelschlagel



BELLEVILLE (08/14/12) Sam Berndt of Trenton heads out for a ride on his e-bike down the waterfront trail in Trenton. Photo by Kristen Oelschlagel.

Sam Berndt had to quit using his bicycle after getting arthritis, but thanks to his new e-bike he is back out on the roads.

“With an e-bike, even an old guy like me can ride one of those. There are great advantages over an ordinary bicycle,” Berndt said.

An e-bike can be used as a regular six-speed bicycle or as a power-assisted bicycle. There is also a throttle so the bike can run solely on electric power. Users must be at least 16 years old and wear a helmet when riding.

It took several years for e-bikes to come to Canada since the first one was built in 1996 in Taiwan. E-bikes weren’t introduced in Canada until 2009, but since then they have been growing in popularity.

Berndt, 76, uses his e-bike three to four times a week to get around his hometown of Trenton. Even though he thought it was time for him to quit driving, he said the e-bike still allows him to go almost anywhere in town.

“I thought it would be handy to get around town, and it’s 10 times as easy to pedal (compared to a regular bike),” said Berndt.

Berndt also makes the trip to Belleville on his e-bike along Highway 2 but said there isn’t enough space on the edge of the road to ride safely when it’s busy.

“If I go to Belleville on Saturday or Sunday morning it’s (Highway 2) safe enough, but during the week there’s too much traffic. If I go during the week I go by Hamilton Rd. but it’s five km longer,” he said.

Kim Sanders, co-owner of local e-bike retailer PlugnPlayLand, said the bikes can go approximately 32 km/h and travel 60 to 65 km on a single charge. She said e-bikes usually cost over $1000 but the bikes at her store are only around $700 because they get them directly from the importer.

Sanders said in the two years they’ve been in business, they’ve sold around 200 e-bikes to customers ranging from 16 to 98 years old.

“The younger generation is buying them because of the price of gas and the cost to have a vehicle. We sell a lot of e-bikes to the aging population who maybe are not able to ride a normal bike anymore because of heart conditions or aching bones and that kind of thing,” Sanders said.

Both her and her husband are also e-bike users. She said as soon as you try an e-bike you’re sold on it.

“Anyone that tries these bikes has to have one, as soon as we tried it we were sold on it. It makes the ride more enjoyable,” she said.

Al McCaughen of Belleville imports the e-bikes PlugnPlayLand sells from manufacturers in Asia. He said the bikes are becoming more popular, but aren’t as popular as he originally thought they would be.

“This is our third year and each year we’ve more than doubled.  But, they’re not reaching expectation the original studies had shown,” said McCaughen.

He said they studies showed that in 2013 an estimated 50,000 units would be sold in Canada, but the sale of e-bikes haven’t reached near those numbers. He still has hope that the popularity of e-bikes will continue to grow.

“I think they should become more popular. They’re environmentally friendly, they’re healthy, we tried to design them for people 50 years and older so they will get back into biking and use the trails that are offered, every kilometre travelled on an electric bike saves the emissions from a motor car,” McCaughen said.

Sanders said there are some changes occurring in regards to the way we travel, and the big issue is how to share the road. There have been complaints about people riding too fast, but Sanders said you can go just as fast on a regular bicycle.

Berndt said just like a regular bicycle, a person needs to keep their wits about them when riding an e-bike, but they are a great means of transportation.