MY RELATIONSHIP with my commuter bike greatly improved last year after I got a proper bike fitting ["Fit While You Sit," Feature, June 3, 2015], but I'm still lukewarm about riding it around town. It's so slow and tedious—like I'm hauling a granite countertop behind me.
But there's a miracle bike out there, and I LOVE IT.
I was grinning like a fool when I came back from my first ride on an e-bike—one of those bulky, battery-assisted rigs you might have seen someone flying past you on. So this is what people who are bananas about riding feel like! Who knew?
Rich Fein, no doubt. As co-owner of Cynergy E-Bikes (3838 SE Powell, cynergyebikes.com), he will gladly extol the virtues of electric bicycles, but he hardly needed to because I was sold from the first moment my butt met the seat of a comfortable IZIP bike. This was the solution to every cycling complaint I’ve ever had; it was the missing link between just getting somewhere and having a blast.
After a quick tutorial, Fein took me on a Southeast Portland neighborhood tour, filled with public enemy #1: hills. I climbed the first in “normal” electric-assist mode—the engine helping my pedal strokes just a bit—and then squealed, “It’s so easy!” Fein shot me a quizzical look, and said, “Some people think that e-bikes are ‘cheating.’” Is it really cheating if you’re still pedaling furiously, taking longer rides, and undaunted by the weight of hauling groceries or the huge incline between your house and the store? If so, cheaters definitely prosper.
The folks at Cynergy set me up with a bike lock, battery charger, and side mirror, and then sent me out for three days with IZIP’s E3 Path PLUS Low-Step model. Borrowing a $2,299 machine was a bit nerve-racking, but the joy of not being weighed down by gravity was worth the worry. For three days, I took it everywhere, putting in something like 55 miles with just one charge on the battery (which takes about three and a half hours to fully recharge). Hills be damned, I ran errands with ease, didn’t care that it was raining, and took steep routes that I never would’ve dreamed of tackling on my everyday bike. The e-bike was—is—the perfect city mode of transport: easy, fast, comfortable.
The model I borrowed had a torque sensor in the pedals, so the harder you bear down, the more help you get from the motor. You’re still always pedaling, but there’s very little resistance—kinda like a stationary bike. My high speed was 25 mph, but my average neighborhood rate was about 17 mph. I found that I was more likely to obey stop signs on an e-bike because I didn’t care if stopping stole all my momentum. But I did have to keep a close eye on car drivers, who weren’t expecting me to be so zippy.
Not fast enough to win a race, though. I pitted the IZIP against a friend’s road bike on a flat three-mile stretch of the Springwater Corridor. She beat me by seconds, though I’d been gaining on her in a headwind. If we’d raced the hills around Reed College, I’d have smoked her.
Back at Cynergy, Fein told me that e-bikes are common all over the world, and they’re finally starting to catch on in the US. I can see why. Days after returning the IZIP, I miss it dearly, and I’m thinking about selling my possessions to afford one of these dreamboats. After you’ve had a taste of the high life, it’s hard to go back to coach.