Edmontonians charged up about electric bikes

If you’re out on your regular bike you might get a jolt when another cyclist zips past with little effort.

Edmonton Coun. Scott McKeen says electric bike has him feeling like a teenager

Have you tried an E-bike?

6 years ago
Duration 1:05
Ben Fedoruk from Revolution Cycle goes over the nuts and bolts of E-bikes, from how they work to what they cost.

If you're out on your regular bike you might get a jolt when another cyclist zips pass with little effort.

Chances are you're not in terrible shape, you've just encountered someone who has bought into the rising trend of electric bikes.

'I have 18-year-old legs'

Coun. Scott McKeen is among the converted.

"I'm now 57 years old but when I turn on that pedal assist to go up a hill, I have 18-year-old legs," he said.

McKeen said electric bikes allow you to decide how much effort you want to put into your ride.

"I tell you it is so great and you still get a workout, right. You can get as much of a workout as you want."

The little bit of extra power has enabled McKeen to explore more of Edmonton's River Valley than he would be able to on a regular bike.

"Unless you're in really good shape, you go one hill to the east or the west and then you decide 'OK, I can do one more hill.'  But then you realize you've got to do those two hills coming back, so it sort of limited my range in the river valley, which was sort of disheartening."

Coun. Scott McKeen on his e-bike at the Edmonton Pride Parade (CBC/Emily Fitzpatrick)

'It brings a bit of playfulness back into it'

McKeen said it has changed how he feels about cycling.

"It brings a bit of playfulness back into it, it takes some of the grind out of it."

Ben Fedoruk, with Revolution Cycle in Edmonton, said e-bikes are generating quite a bit of interest among Edmontonians. An entire section of the store is now dedicated to them.

"We seem to be enjoying some great success with it."

Old style meets modern technology (CBC)

Fedoruk says if you haven't encountered an e-bike rider, you soon will.

"You're out riding, you're out enjoying the Edmonton river valley, and you'll probably be shocked at how often someone buzzes along and you're like 'Wow! That guy's a quick bike rider.' And they're on an e-bike," said Fedoruk. "You can't tell, it's silent and they just look like they're having a blast and they're riding as fast as Lance Armstrong."

There are a variety of styles, ranging from cruisers that look like old V-Twin motorcycles to mountain bikes with fat tires and full suspension, capable of taking on the toughest terrain.

'I call it spin and grin'

The components and batteries that change it from a regular bike to an e-bike are just as varied and the technology is constantly evolving but the thrill remains the same.

"I call it spin and grin. Everybody starts to giggle," says Fedoruk. "I've had people [say] 'No no, I'm good, I'm not interested, I just kind of heard about them.' And you pull it off the rack and put it in their hand and you let someone try an e-bike and they come back with such a big grin."

As far as Fedoruk is concerned, the only disadvantage to an electric bike is the added weight. But you will also have to dig a little deeper into your wallet to afford one. Prices at Revolution range from about $1,500 all the way up to $15,000.

A full suspension electric mountain bike. (CBC)

'I insured it because it's a lot of money'

McKeen certainly isn't taking any chances with his baby.

"I've got two really good locks now... and I insured it because it's a lot of money."

The top speed on most bikes sold at the store is set at 32 KM/hr. But Fedoruk said there are ways to increase that.

The average distance you can travel on a fully charged battery depends on the type of battery, the weight of the rider and the terrain. Fedoruk said you can typically expect between 50 km to 100 km.

The battery charges just like a cell phone. It can be easily removed from most bikes and charged using a regular outlet. A full charge takes about two hours. Fedoruk said you can partially charge it without any negative effect on the battery.

Electric bikes are not cheap. (CBC)

E-bike laws 'a bit of a grey area'

As for laws regarding electric bikes, Fedoruk said there's not much in place.

"It's a bit of a grey area… this is new to North America and Edmonton,"  he said. "There is actual legislation saying that there is nothing that can be ridden on those [river valley trails] that is not pedal powered, end of story."

Fedoruk points out that most e-bikes provide pedal assist rather than just raw power .You can't just jump on it, crank the throttle and take off like a motorbike. It does require some human power. 

Still, Fedoruk expects the laws will change as e-bikes become more common on city streets and paths.

It shouldn't be too much of an uphill battle considering the e-bike community already has at least one ally on city council.