Confession: Despite loving both bikes and gadgets, e-bikes never excited me. Compared to my bicycle, e-bikes seemed unfair. Compared to my motorcycle, they seemed slow. Compared to my car, they seemed impractical.
But with $1,500 federal e-bike rebates potentially on the horizon at part of E-Bike Act, I decided it was past time to reconsider. Not just because 30% off would make them way more accessible, but because the entire idea that e-bikes could be worthy of a rebate changed the way I looked at them: less as toys, more as transit. Had I written off an entire way of getting around because I was looking at it the wrong way?
Yup. After spending a couple weeks with the Aventon Level.2, I have a different perspective entirely. Here’s why bike snobs, motorcycle snobs, and even car snobs should take another look at the transit solution right under their (upheld) noses.
Forget the spandex
Changing in and out of “bike clothes” every time you want to go somewhere is a hell of a deterrent to riding one. My bike commute used to entail an entire second wardrobe: bike shorts, clipless shoes, clean clothes to change into at the office, a second pair of shoes to plod around in the office with. And in the dog days of summer, I even needed to shower at work.
Not with an e-bike. While I still need to gear up for the rain, I’m otherwise able to wear the same clothes I’d wear to the office. That means I no longer clomp through lobbies in bike shoes like a horse, or need to change in and out of different clothes four times for a daily commute. It removes a huge mental barrier to hopping on the bike. I used to drive four minutes to the hardware store when I was in a hurry because I could be there and back in the time it would take just to suit up for a bike ride. Now I can simply hop on an e-bike and be there just as quickly, which brings me to …
The fastest urban option
It should come as little surprise that e-bikes are faster than human-powered bikes – what’s the motor for, after all? But in an urban environment, they can also be faster than cars. Since I can slide between cars and use bike lanes, my office commute takes just 16 minutes on an e-bike, which would be closer to 20 in a car, and a few more minutes on a traditional bike. Even my motorcycle is slower, since I’m stuck in the same stop-and-go traffic as the cars.
The Aventon Level.2 comes out of the box capped at 20 miles per hour, which doesn’t sound that fast, but since you can effortlessly average this speed for the entire ride, it cumulatively shaved more time off my commute than I expected. And if you install the app, you can crank the max all the way to 28 mph — if that’s legal in your area.
Sharing the road
Riding alongside cars means that extra speed can sometimes make you safer. For instance, when you need to leave a bike lane to, say, make a left turn, the motor assist means you can blend into car traffic rather than hoping everyone hits the brakes for you.
The boost is also handy when you need to start quickly from a dead stop, whether to sprint through an opening in cross traffic at an intersection, or get out of the way when someone makes an unexpected move. Stomp down on a pedal and whoosh, you’re across four lanes of traffic before anybody has a chance to do anything dumb. No fumbling with clip-in pedals or frantically flicking through gears.
I have strapped some stupid stuff to a bike rack. Coolers, six-foot breaker bars, you name it. But it’s a nightmare to carry this much weight, and most of the time, I admit I just end up driving whenever cargo is involved.
An e-bike doesn’t care how much it carries. Two gallons of milk? A 12-pack of beer? An Amazon Echo Studio (surprisingly heavy at 7.7 pounds)? All cargo was tossed in a pannier bag and barely noticed on the Level.2.
Everywhere is flat
Bike purists hate to admit it, but topography can seriously ruin a bike ride. Hills slow you down, drench your clothes in sweat, force you to take alternate routes, or may even prevent the ride entirely. A friend outside Seattle lives atop an enormous hill that would break just about any cyclist who’s not doping, and as a result, it’s effectively impossible for him to bike anywhere. He lives less than a mile from the urban core of his city, but never bikes there because the return trip is so arduous.
E-bikes let you ignore the terrain and go where you need to go without thinking too much about it. Is it “cheating?” Sure, if you look at biking as exercise. But if you’re just trying to get somewhere, the hill-crushing power of an electric motor is a game-changer that makes every road a viable commuter corridor.
It’s just fun
The logic is simple: riding fast is fun. E-bikes make riding fast easy for everyone. E-bikes make bike riding fun for everyone.
I like to think I’m reasonably quick on a normal bike, but I still look forward to the punch the Aventon Level.2 gives me in pulling away from stop signs, and as a result, I started riding more. Fun is the missing incentive that keeps a lot of people off bikes, and e-bikes don’t force you to ride religiously for six months before you can get a grin. Maybe that’s not as good for you as biking every day without a battery under your butt, but if the alternative is a car, you’re still better off.
Don’t knock it till you try it
While they’re not the fastest, the coolest-looking, or even the best for exercise, e-bikes are pretty damn unbeatable as a green way to get around town. And if the federal rebates become reality – they’ll be a lot more affordable, too. The Aventon Level.2 retails for $1,800, which would benefit from a $540 rebate under the terms of the proposed bill, dropping it to just $1,260. Other budget e-bikes can be had less for than $1,000.
Not sold? I understand. But next time a friend or coworker buys one, do yourself a favor and ask to take it for a spin. You may just find yourself shopping for a new ride.