New Brunswick

Growing popularity of e-bikes could boost trails, tourism

Last year owner Adam Pitre was seeing a new type of customer arrive at Bike Works, the shop he operates in east Saint John. They wanted to talk about electric bicycles.

Proponents of Coastal Link Trail expect big interest from e-bike users

Adam Pitre of Bike Works in Saint John spent 50 per cent of his time last month fielding questions about e-bikes. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

Last year owner Adam Pitre was seeing a new type of customer arrive at Bike Works, the shop he operates in east Saint John.

They wanted to talk about electric bicycles.

E-bikes can be pedalled like a regular bike but also contain a hidden motor and an unobtrusive, rechargeable battery pack.

Pitre brought in six of the bikes for the 2018 season and sold all of them.

Growth in e-bike sales is being watched by proponents of the Coastal Link Trail in New Brunswick. The proposed 172-kilometre route would link U.S. trails with the Trans Canada Trail in Saint John. 1:01

This year he's purchased 18 e-bikes and the interest is only going up.

"About 50 per cent of our day has been, the last three weeks, questions and calls about e-bikes, lots of showing products, lots of putting bums on seats and letting them ride around the parking lot," said Pitre. "Right now it seems to be the big boom, people are trying to get their information, their i's dotted, their t's crossed prior to the season starting.

"We're still in the climb on the way to the peak with this."

E-bikes resemble regular bicycles and can be pedalled the same way. They are equipped with a largely hidden motor and unobtrusive rechargeable battery. (Giant Bicycles)

The Netherlands is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world, and last year the Dutch turned to e-bikes in a big way.

A study by the transportation industry group, RAI says cyclists there bought more than 400,000 of them, a 40 per cent increase over 2017, and fast approaching half of all new bikes sold.

That growth in e-bike sales is being watched with great interest by proponents of the Coastal Link Trail in New Brunswick.

The proposed 172-kilometre route would link the East Coast Trail that runs from Florida to Calais, Maine, with the Trans Canada Trail in Saint John.

Recreation facilitator Nick Cameron of the Fundy Regional Service Commission. The 172-kilometre Coastal Link Trail will link communities like Saint Andrews and St. George with Saint John and with the East Coast Trail through the U.S. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

About 70 per cent of the Coastal Trail would run along secondary roads and it would — at least in the early years — be largely aimed at cyclists.

The new e-bikes can be strapped to a car on a regular bike rack and recharged overnight in a motel room or campground. 

In fact owners could even leave the car behind.

"It's enabling people to go further," said Nick Cameron, recreation facilitator with the Fundy Regional Service Commission, who sits on the trail board as an advisory member.

Not just for spandex crowd

Cameron said an e-bike can allow people who are not hardened cyclists to cover 30 or 40 kilometres with pedal assistance from the motor.

"That's what we want to do here is connect all those communities like Saint Andrews and St. George, to offer that opportunity to people who aren't those spandex-wearing cyclists, that they can have that same experience of doing St. George to Saint Andrews in a single day and seeing what those communities have to offer."

Cameron will be part of a delegation speaking about the trail to Saint John city council at its April 8 meeting.

In coming months, the trail board will seek support for the proposal from municipalities in the region and host public meetings in a number of communities to raise awareness and gauge support. 

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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