COLUMBIA — Southwest Columbia residents watching out of their windows could see a little over a dozen cyclists pass by on a ride through 12 miles of trails and city streets on both flat and hilly surfaces. If these residents stepped outside, however, they might hear something surprising: motors.
Fifteen cyclists participated in the group ride sponsored by the City of Columbia's Parks and Recreation department. The event was held to promote electric bikes, which are widely considered a much easier vehicle for cycling than traditional bicycles.
Ted Curtis, the Bike/Ped program manager of Columbia led a group on a meandering loop from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial trail access toward Scott Boulevard around neighborhoods near Twin Lakes Recreation, back through to the MKT and back to the trail.
Everyone was on electric bikes. It was a leisurely ride, and even up some of Columbia's steeper hills, hardly anyone broke a sweat.
Curtis's interest in electric bicycles started about nine years ago when he purchased one on eBay.
“The older generation tends to like them a lot,” Curtis said. Curtis said the electric bicycles can make the hills in Columbia more surmountable, help commuters get to work without breaking a sweat and make biking more accessible to a wider range of riders both in age and ability.
Cyclex and Walt’s Bike Shop have a few models of electric bikes ranging from older Schwinn models to newer Easy Motion, Trek and Electra bikes.
At Cyclex, newer models are lined up next to older models, and one can visibly see how far the technology has come from larger batteries anchored above the rear tire of the older Schwinn models to sleek batteries placed within the down tube of the bike frame on the Easy Motion models.
A standard hybrid bike averages 27 pounds and the easy motion electric bikes are about 45 pounds. On each Easy Motion bike there are four levels of pedal assist, not including the option to turn it off. The amount of time and distance the battery will last is directly related to how big the motor on the bike is and what level of pedal assistance the rider selects.
A bike with a bigger motor will drain the battery faster, and using the highest level of pedal assist will also drain the battery faster.
According to a battery usage chart attached to the Easy Motion bikes at Cyclex, the batteries could easily make the 36-mile round trip ride from Columbia to Rocheport on the highest level of peddle assistance.
“Many people think of electric bikes as cheating,” said Angela Peterson, a Cyclex employee. “But it can really allow people to bike places they previously thought they couldn’t.”
Cyclex started selling electric bikes last spring and have sold about 15 or 16 since they started offering them. They also rent the bikes for $45 a day. Demo rides on the bikes are free, but riders must bring in a driver's license.