Electric bikes gain popularity among Columbia residents

Some Columbia residents offer their expertise on how to convert regular bikes to e-bikes.

Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, are gaining popularity among Columbia residents. These bikes have a reputation as a fast, cheap and fun method of transportation.

An e-bike is simply a bicycle with an electric assist. The bikes have all of the components of a regular bicycle, but also are equipped with a battery, motor and controls. Some e-bike owners across Columbia agree the electric bike can make biking a more enjoyable experience.

“(Riding electric bikes) makes me feel young again,” Ted Curtis of the Columbia Electric Assist Bicycle Program said. “(The bikes) make you feel like you are really strong.”

The electric aspect adds another benefit to bike riding.

“(I like) getting out in nature and seeing things I wouldn’t see if I were in a car,” said Columbia resident Dennis Langdon, who also owns several e-bikes.

E-bikes are useful with assisting riders up hills and over long distances. A biker who suffers from a hip or knee injury might enjoy the benefits of a pedal assist.

“It’s handy for someone who is not in good shape and wants to get in shape,” Curtis said. “(It would help) people with knee injuries, but it’s not like an electric scooter. It’s an assist, so it adds power to your power.”

This extra assistance makes bikes appealing to more people.

“It makes it a lot easier to get up a hill," Langdon said. "A lot of people won’t get on a bike because they are afraid of getting worn out, but with this you can get assistance.”

Although e-bikes assist the rider on difficult terrain and over long distances, Stephen Ball, Associate Professor of the MU Human Environmental College, said riders would still get a good workout.

“You might think that it will take away from someone exercising,” he said. “But actually the bike is heavier.”

He said that e-bikes might increase the usage of bikes, since people would be able to go longer distances without making a carbon footprint. They have been around for several years, but electrically-powered bicycles are just now growing in popularity due to a new lightweight and energy-efficient design.

“As the batteries get lighter and the charges get faster, they will definitely catch on,” Langdon said.

Some e-bike users in Columbia are enthusiastic about raising awareness for this mode of transportation and have offered to install the components of or loan bikes.

“There are other e-bike owners in Columbia,” Curtis said. “They want to let people try their bikes. (My) website, ebikecolumbia.org, gives people information about them, like how to get them and evaluate them. We are setting up a non-profit organization to promote them. We are just getting that off the ground.”

For anyone interested in installing the components of an e-bike onto a regular bike they already own, John Holmes of Holmes Hobbies can help.

“The easiest way to do it is to buy a pre-made kit including everything you would need,” he said. “I would suggest one that has a lithium battery. At that point it is a fairly easy installation, as most companies will have instructions. Just a little bit of technical knowledge needed. It (takes) about an hour after everything is said and done.”

E-bikes range in price from $400 to $500 for a basic bike, to $2,000 to $3,000 for a fancier model, Curtis said. Well-built kits range from $1,200 to $1,300, and basic kits are priced as low as $300.

“Typically, you just buy a bike unless you have a bike you really love,” Curtis said. “And you want to put (higher-end kits) on a good bike.”

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