As the managing editor of Ars Technica, one of my duties is to monitor the daily torrent of news tips and PR emails. The overwhelming majority of them is deleted after a glance, and the news tips and story ideas are passed along to the appropriate writer. Sometimes a product announcement will catch my eye, and I will follow up. Once in a blue moon, I'll say, "please send me one so that I may review it." And that's how I ended up riding an electric bike around the Chicago suburbs for two weeks.
An itinerant wordsmith with a broad constellation of interests, Lydia Chipman has turned iconoclasm into a livelihood of sorts. Bearing the scars and stripes of an uncommon diversity of experience -- with the notable exceptions of joining a religious order or becoming an artist -- she still can’t resist the temptation to learn something new. Lydia holds a master of arts in English from Georgia Southern University, and a bachelor of arts cum laude in integrative studies from Clayton College. Her expertise is in the areas of robotics, electronics, toys, and outdoors and computer equipment.
Under Arizona law, motorized electric bicycles and tricycles meeting the definition under the applicable statute are not subject to title, licensing, insurance, or registration requirements, and may be used upon any roadway authorized for use by conventional bicycles, including use in bike lanes integrated with motor vehicle roadways. Unless specifically prohibited, electric bicycles may be operated on multi-use trails designated for hiking, biking, equestrian, or other non-motorized usage, and upon paths designated for the exclusive use of bicycles. No operator's license is required, but anyone operating a bicycle on Arizona roads must carry proof of identity. A "motorized electric bicycle or tricycle" is legally defined as a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with a helper motor that may be self-propelled, which is operated at speeds of less than twenty miles per hour. Electric bicycles operated at speeds of twenty miles an hour or more, but less than twenty-five miles per hour may be registered for legal use on the roadways as mopeds, and above twenty-five miles per hour as a registered moped with an 'M' endorsement on the operator's driving license. However, mopeds in Arizona are prohibited from using bike lanes on motor vehicle roadways. The Arizona statute governing motorized electric bicycles does not prohibit local jurisdictions from adopting an ordinance that further regulates or prohibits the operation of motorized electric bicycles or tricycles.
Photo: Zap Electric's power-assist kit turns a conventional bike into an electric one. There's a bolt-on DC electric motor (weighing just over 3kg or 7lb) just above the back wheel, behind the police officer's foot, pressing against the tire and driving it by simple friction. The motor's powered by a compact lead-acid battery (weighing about 5.5 kg or 12 lb) inside a protective nylon bag. This kit adds quite bit of weight to the bike, but gives extra range and speed when needed. Photo taken in Santa Rosa, California by Rick Tang courtesy of US DOE/NREL.
One of the most important categories of ebikes is the low-cost, entry-level sector. What I call the eBigBox models. Obviously, not everyone can’t afford a $7500 Riese and Muller and frankly a lot of people are skeptical on how much they will use and enjoy an ebike. So even if they can afford a few thousand dollars for an ebike, they might not want to put it all down on a category they aren’t sure about.
The environmental effects involved in recharging the batteries can of course be reduced. The small size of the battery pack on an e-bike, relative to the larger pack used in an electric car, makes them very good candidates for charging via solar power or other renewable energy resources. Sanyo capitalized on this benefit when it set up "solar parking lots", in which e-bike riders can charge their vehicles while parked under photovoltaic panels.
Step-throughs were popular partly for practical reasons and partly for social mores of the day. For most of the history of bicycles' popularity women have worn long skirts, and the lower frame accommodated these better than the top-tube. Furthermore, it was considered "unladylike" for women to open their legs to mount and dismount—in more conservative times women who rode bicycles at all were vilified as immoral or immodest. These practices were akin to the older practice of riding horse sidesaddle.
Having spent some quality time with Wing’s e-bike, I understand why so many people are excited about the growing popularity of electric-powered vehicles like bikes and scooters. They take a lot of the work out of getting from point A to point B, while retaining all of the joy. They can give you more confidence when navigating a treacherous city terrain that prioritizes cars over people. And let’s face it: bikes are cool, and always will be.
On the other hand, the battery doesn’t lock into the bike, which means you can’t just leave it on your bike when you park at the bike rack. Anyone could walk by and simply remove your battery. That seems like an oversight to me, though perhaps the designers assumed that such a small battery would just be easy to take with you. And it is. My wife could probably lose this battery in her purse.