This month, the bicycle season picks up in earnest , so now is the time for interested newcomers to purchase a bike for a rapidly growing Maine sport.

For some folks, an electric bicycle fits the bill for calorie burning and transportation for short to longer distances. Further, e-bike pedalers can rely on electric power to lessen the workload on hills, so they need not make a major commitment to toning legs for killer climbs.

Because of my penchant for riding skinny-tired road bicycles, I wouldn’t be caught dead on an electric bicycle, so this column may surprise friends who know about my snobbism. The topic does fascinate me, though, and in the 21st century, most folks in the industrial world usually opt for any choice that demands less energy from our bodies – a propensity that will ensure the popularity of e-bikes in the future.

Bicyclists can pedal e-bikes more leisurely, without sweat and sore muscles if they so choose, but this tool provides as much of a calorie-burning work as the pedaler volunteers. (“Volunteer” is the key word.) In the bargain, e-bikes offer riders low-cost transportation beyond the bike purchase, occasional new battery and minimal price for an electric-outlet charge.

On regular bicycles, newcomers suffer before building leg muscles, so riding requires a breaking-in process – certainly for hills. E-bike motors can provide a boost on climbs, making up for lack of hard-earned endurance.

A 2012 sales forecast in The Economist predicted that the E-bike global market will reach $13.2 billion by 2020, and bicycling companies will sell 466 million e-bikes between 2010 and 2016.

E-bicycle sales haven’t exploded in Maine, and in fact, I once encountered more homemade power bicycles with combustion engines fitted onto pedal-bike frames than actual e-bikes. I see far less gas motors now.

In China, e-bikes account for a huge market, where pragmatic buyers account for more than 90 percent of world sales. Low prices, small sizes and maneuverability for ultra-crowded city streets please the Chinese.

Speaking of urban areas, an insurance study claims that a motor vehicle in heavy city traffic averages 5 to 15 mph, and an e-bike equals or beats that speed, partly because operators can slip around vehicles. Later, they can park in a far tinier space than a car can.

On the other hand, e-bikes can also be ideal for Maine’s back roads, providing fresh air, light exercise, inexpensive transportation and solitude.

Recharge times vary with brands, but two to three hours for the battery to reach full capacity is typical, and a full charge may last for a 37- to 62-mile trip – ideal for rural Maine.

I have never looked at an e-bicycle under $1,000, but Internet sellers have e-bikes in low price ranges from $80 to $300, mid-ranges from $300 to $1,000, and high ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 – and even as high as $7,500. I suspect low-end prices will continue to drop, though.

Bicycle prices in the United States shock folks out of the loop. My road bicycle has a little over $3,000 in it, including upgrades like two tires for $100 each, a $200 seat, $180 pedals, and a $570 bicycling Garmin GPS that does everything but pedal me around.

My bicycle costs may surprise readers, but serious pedalers have paid far more. In 2011 in Belgrade Lakes village, a rider passed me on an all-black $9,900 Specialized road bike, not counting the $495 Maine sales tax then. Fabian Cancellara had won the 2010 Paris-Roubaix on a similar model the previous spring.

Where landowners allow bicycles on private gravel roads, hunters and anglers on e-bikes can travel past gates to fish and hunt. A small, growing crowd already uses cross and mountain bikes for woodlands.

The e-bike industry thinks this product lacks aesthetic appeal, so manufacturers are making more snazzy versions that appeal to every social and professional stratum. To a road biker, though, e-bikes look ugly in any color or style.

Not long ago, a little tidbit about Zurich intrigued me. City officials had devised a plan to increase e-bikes in that city, hoping the move would reduce motor vehicle traffic by 10 percent.

This reminded me of an anecdote from my 20s. In Amsterdam, I noted that bicycles then comprised about 50 percent of the traffic on city streets, impressing me forever. You have to love the Dutch – words from a man with Sylvester in his geneology chart.

According to another statistic, one in seven bicycles in the world is an e-bikes. I’m dubious about this stat, but live in a state where customers haven’t stampeded Maine bicycle shops, looking for e-bikes.

Whether folks choose e-bikes or traditional ones, the Maine bicycling season hits full swing this month, and I for one am ecstatic about the possibilities on those warm days with soft westerly breezes.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at

[email protected]

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