Have you noticed? Electric bikes or “e-bikes” are popping up everywhere. I’m learning to spot them. As I breathe hard pedaling my traditional road bike, e-bikers are the ones riding at the same speed while looking suspiciously comfortable and happy. Could an e-bike be right for me or for you?

What are e-bikes? E-bikes are bicycles that have a small electric motor to assist the rider when they pedal. Some e-bikes (“class 2”) have a motor engaged with a hand throttle. Because e-bikes have an electric assist, they are typically heavier, and some can even carry passengers or cargo. E-bikes allow riders to go farther and faster than a traditional bike without as much effort.

Why get an e-bike? For some, e-bikes make it easier to get outside and enjoy cycling for recreation. Hills and aging joints are no longer obstacles. E-bikes can also provide reliable, effective transportation to commute to work or shuttle children to school or daycare. According to Jean Sideris of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, 60% of car trips in Maine are within a 5-mile radius of home. Car ownership is expensive, now costing about $10,000 per year as reported by AAA. Substituting an e-bike for these trips can save money. It’s also good for your health as well as the climate.

Can you afford an e-bike? A mid-range e-bike costs $1,500-$2,000. Larger or more sophisticated models are more expensive. Thanks to a bill sponsored by Sen. Mattie Daughtry and signed into law in June 2023, e-bikes will soon qualify for Efficiency Maine’s electric vehicle rebate for those with low and moderate incomes.

Are there special rules for e-bikes? In Maine, e-bikes are regulated mostly like regular bikes. The same “rules of the road” apply. You don’t need a driver’s license. As with regular bikes, anyone under 16 is required by law to wear a bike helmet (all riders at the higher speeds common with e-bikes should wear a helmet.) There are also some restrictions based on e-bike type. Those under age 16 cannot operate an e-bike with a hand throttle (class 2) or those that can reach motor speeds up to 28 mph (class 3). Unless otherwise specified, class 3 e-bikes are not permitted on sidewalks or bike paths.

What about charging e-bikes? Charging an e-bike is simple and relatively quick. E-bike batteries can be removed from the bike and plugged into a regular wall outlet. Electric car owners talk about “range anxiety,” but that’s less of a concern with e-bikes. On a full charge, e-bikes can travel between 20-100 miles. The actual distance depends on multiple factors, including the type of e-bike, the terrain, and how much the rider contributes with pedaling. Unlike with an electric car, however, if you run out of charge you can still pedal home. It will just be more laborious.

Where can I buy an e-bike? It’s recommended that you get an e-bike from a reputable source. All local bike shops including Center Street Cycles, Gorham Bike and Ski, The Rusty Crank, Bath Cycle and Ski, and LL Bean sell standard e-bikes and provide some e-bike repair. I found they are also great sources of information!

Kathy Thorson is a co-chair of the Brunswick Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BBPAC.)

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