e-bikes: riding far and free

E-bikes are taking off. Generically known as an electric bicycle with pedal assist,  an e-bike powers up a traditional bicycle with an electric motor and battery, providing the rider with varying levels of assistance. Hills are a breeze. Long distances are no longer an impediment. And the battery recharges simply by plugging it in.

Enthusiasts tout the superiority of e-bikes over traditional bicycles for the moderate cardio and the freedom to ride further without fatigue. Best of all, say e-bike owners, they’re a lot of fun.

For years, Debbie Reichig and her husband David Weinman, both in their 60s, have enjoyed bike riding together. Living in hilly Irvington, the pair always needed to plan their outings with an eye to more hospitable terrain. “We couldn’t just hop on the bikes and go. We’d have to load them on the car, drive to a bike path and find parking. Then we’d have to conserve our energy for the return trip,” Reichig explains.

Their e-bikes changed all that. After a test spin at Bicycle World in Mount Kisco, the couple purchased a pair of recreational “cruiser” models with five levels of power assistance. They pimped out their rides with rear-view mirrors, saddle bags, and colorful bells. “We went for name-brand quality and reliability,” Reichig says. “We didn’t want the motor breaking down or the battery catching fire,” hazards that rarely, if ever, happen when purchasing from a reputable dealer.

Sleek E-Bikes in Tarrytown stocks e-bikes for sale, service and rental. “In our first year, the average customer was about 70,” says owner Edward Busk. “That age has been declining ever since.” Many customers are avid cyclists who want the power boost to help them keep up with younger family members or friends and are comfortable paying between $1,500 and $7,500.

Busk speaks rhapsodically about the e-bike experience, calling it “a Zen-like high.” The assistive motor “silently enhances your stamina,” he says, while the comfortable upright position encourages enjoyment of the surroundings. It all adds up to a pleasurable ride and a mild workout that leaves you feeling “like you’re 20 years younger and super-fit.”

Electric bikes are divided into three classes. Both Class 1 bikes, which require pedaling to engage the motor, and Class 2, which have a throttle for boost without pedaling, max out at 20 mph. They are permitted anywhere a traditional bicycle can go. Class 3 models, which can travel at faster speeds, are more regulated. The rider increases the power boost by tapping a data screen mounted on the handlebars.

Some models sport complex data screens and USB ports for charging your phone or using various apps, like Track My Ride or your phone’s GPS. “We just clamp our phones to the handlebars,” Reichig says.

The appetite for e-bikes has led to a plethora of direct-to-consumer sellers who will happily take your online order and ship your e-bike with assembly instructions. Several of Busk’s customers have come to him after their bargain e-bikes fell apart. “Buy nice or buy it twice,” he advises.


E-Bike Purchase Considerations

Weight. Most e-bikes weigh anywhere from 40 to 80 pounds, so you if you need a bike rack, choose a model that uses hydraulics or a ramp to lift the bike on to your car. Rule of thumb: choose a bike no more than half your body weight. If you run out the charge and have to pedal home, you’ll never forget to charge it again.

Regulations. In Westchester, only Class 1 bikes (pedal-assisted, no throttle) are allowed on bike paths and roads. Riders must be at least 16 years old; helmets are recommended but not required.

Speed. By state law, Class 1 e-bikes are not allowed to exceed 20 mph, and most models cut off the motor at that speed.

Bicycle World Co-Owner Ilene Marcos cautions, “People come in asking us to assemble their e-bike that’s been delivered in pieces,” she says, although in some cases that may void the warranty. Likewise, Marcos is leery of any battery that isn’t manufactured by one of the top three: Bosch, Shimano and Hyena. Finally, if something goes wrong with your online purchase, you’ll be sent to a local shop for repair or asked to ship it back to the manufacturer.

A few direct-to-consumer companies have figured out how to reduce the risk of buying an e-bike sight unseen. The Better Business Bureau-rated company Evelo offers U.S.-based support for sizing, assembly and troubleshooting, as well as a 21-day risk-free trial period with free returns.

If you decide to buy, don’t delay. Supply chain issues and increased demand have pushed deliveries from weeks to months. Leaving a deposit will secure your dream e-bike more reliably than putting your name on a waiting list.

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