E-biking Through the Pandemic

COVID-19 prompted my husband Will and me to buy e-bikes. Our thinking was that with most of our usual activities likely to be gone or restricted this summer, it would be good to expand the ones we’d be able to do. This included cycling. We’d always enjoyed getting out on our twenty-five-year-old bikes and hoped electric bicycles would let us ride longer and farther and handle steeper hills.

I didn’t quite know what an e-bike was before I bought one. Since then, I’ve learned they have motors that provide pedal-assist. You still pedal the same as with a regular bike, but get more for your effort. E-bikes can go up to 32 kilometres per hour (20 mph) to be classified as bicycles, not mopeds. After each use, you plug them in to recharge the battery.

The motor makes e-bikes heavier than regular bicycles. Usually the battery is attached to the frame. We chose models with built-in batteries and aren’t much heavier than our old regular bikes. This will make them easier to load in our car for outings and easier to ride if the battery ever runs out. I’m especially glad we got the lighter bikes after hearing about a friend’s holiday in Paris. During her first day of renting a heavy e-bike, it toppled onto her and broke her leg.

I chose an upright cruiser style, with a comfortable seat and handy front basket.

Will and I bought our bikes at a local bicycle store, which has been doing a steady business this spring. Some companies are thriving during the pandemic and I see lineups outside of every bike shop in Calgary, where I live. We walked to the store to pick up our e-bikes, rode them home, and tried them out on our quiet, flat neighbourhood streets. The next day, we went for a longer ride on a city bike path, with a hill I previously couldn’t ride all the way up. Half way, I’d have to get off and walk my old bike. On the e-bike, I cruised to the top, passing a group of fit-looking riders in their twenties. What a thrill for a senior citizen!

Will chose a racier model. We’ll enjoy the lunch box on the back for picnics. On a ride to downtown, we had our first look at Calgary’s kayak course on the Bow River.

Calgary enjoyed a couple of weeks of fine weather after we bought our bikes. Will and I took them out every day or two. We conquered numerous hills we’d have struggled with or walked up before. I could still feel the cardio exercise as I pedalled to the crest. We could also do longer rides, to parts of the city we hadn’t previously biked to from our home. I returned feeling less tired than I used to from my regular bike rides, although my sore muscles suggested I’d had a workout.

I’m still cautious about riding a more powerful bike. Wind from the higher speed makes me cooler when I ride. I’ve had to wear more layers of clothing this spring, but this might make biking on hot summer days more comfortable. My e-bike has nine gears, which are easy to change with the paddles on the handle. The power level button on the frame is trickier to use. I still haven’t got the knack of pressing the button 1,2 or 3 times to shift the power up or down while riding.

Colourful, layered clothing in the cool wind.

E-bikes aren’t cheap. Ours were in the lower price range and each one cost more than Will’s first car. But with this spring, summer and probably fall of non travel, e-bikes turn staying at home into a vacation. When Calgary’s weather warms up again, we plan to load our e-bikes into the van and ride in the rolling countryside, tackling hills with ease. Not much beats coasting to the top, leaving those twenty-somethings in our dust.