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· Deranged Touring Cyclist
6,240 Posts
Although I choose not to ride an e-bike myself, Mrs. Newleaf has one and loves it. I'm generally a fan. You present some good arguments for e-bikes (or regular bikes, depending on one's fitness level), but seem to have missed some of the down sides when it comes to actually replacing a car with an e-bike. I believe some of these bear consideration.

First off, weather: I live in the Denver area of CO and ride year round, if mostly for pleasure. I highly recommend winter riding, especially in fresh snow, but it introduces a whole range of gear and skill requirements which are best eased into. I ride with studded tires in the winter, for example. They are a great option and provide unreal traction, but the learning curve is steep. I found it very difficult to get used to riding while both of my tires slide in different directions at the same time. That none of the slides last for more than fractional inches means you don't crash, it just constantly feels as though you're about to, at first.

Similarly, I ride through winter, but since I do it for pleasure, I'm able to cherry pick the conditions I want. Replacing a car with a bike means giving up some of that ability, especially if using the bike for a commute. I have been known to leave work early during the winter due to worsening conditions raising safety concerns for me in my car. As much as I love cycling, riding a bike in such weather, especially for any distance, will take dedication, along with the right skills and gear. Get it wrong and discomfort will be the least of your problems. Frostbite is real, and it hurts. At best.

It's also worth remembering that no matter how much traction your bike has, if you are riding on the road with cars, most of them lack that same traction. I've literally lost count of the number of times I've adjusted my cycling speed on an icy road to accommodate a driver who is moving too fast for the conditions and destined to slide through a stop sign or traffic light ahead of me, depending. These instances are only safe for me because I'm aware of the cross traffic and have enough experience to predict with fair reliability when a motorist will or will not be able to stop in time.

On the e-bike specific front, charging the battery may be an issue. Bikes get nasty quickly when ridden in adverse conditions. In the winter, this can necessitate bringing the bike inside or otherwise out of the weather to let it dry out somewhere above freezing, lest the clinging ice and slush harden to concrete-like consistency and immobilize the bike. Batteries generally charge poorly in the cold unless equipped with internal warmers. I believe some e-bike batteries include this feature while most do not.

Outside the cold and snow, there's rain. I've been in rain storms out here in the mostly desert which soaked me to the skin and filled my shoes with water in the space of seconds. Without a friendly windshield and wipers to keep it clear, it's a lot harder to see when the rain is really coming down. I hasten to add that I've never ridden in a truly hard rain, such as featured daily in FL during monsoon season. I've driven in it, and that was bad enough. I shudder at the prospect of having to ride my bike in such downpours, and I generally enjoy riding in the rain! At the least, more specialized skills are required. Riding any bicycle on wet pavement is, by its nature, more dangerous than riding the same bike on dry pavement. That isn't a reason to only ride dry pavement, but is a reason to move slowly and hopefully develop the necessary skills before ditching the car altogether.

It's worth being aware that it is safe to drive a car during a thunder storm while the same cannot be said of riding a bike in the same conditions: the metal bits in the car's body form what's called a Faraday cage around its occupants which generally protects them from lightning strikes. Bikes lack any such rider-encompassing body work and therefore offer their riders zero protection. Is that a reason to stick with the car for some commutes? I wouldn't know, except for me. Only the individual can answer that.

Ditto hail. I've driven through a few hail storms that did damage to my car. I hate to think of what that would look like for someone on a bike who was not prepared with some means of shelter.

None of these things are deal breakers, but all deserve careful consideration when it comes to taking the laudable step to replace a car with a bike or e-bike. Though I ride regular bikes myself, if I were to consider such a step, I'd likely pick some type of fat tire cargo e-bike, equip it carefully, and never look back.

Alas, that brings up another issue: out this way there are not many public transportation options. Distances are such that even a Type III e-bike is going to be challenged to make many trips in a reasonable amount of time. Add to it that many public options specifically disallow the transportation of e-bikes, and having a car continues to make sense, if only as a means of quickly getting your bike to a cool, less local place to ride.

I get the goal of having fewer cars on the road and definitely see e-bikes as a wonderful alternative to cars in many cases. I believe it's still best to sit down and think carefully about what it means to swap a car for an e-bike. There are many good reasons to do so, but a surprising variety of hazards and pitfalls as well. It takes a lot of effort to learn to operate a car safely in adverse conditions. The same is true of bikes, but unfortunately the skill sets do not much overlap. Thus the motorist looking to ditch their car for a bike is looking at the need to learn a bunch of new things when it comes to operating the bicycle in all the same conditions in which it's reasonably safe to drive.

In the end, I think going into such a swap with good awareness of what it means to ride a bike year round in your local environment will lead to a happier experience and greater likelihood of success. It is really neat to ride in bad weather, provided you have the skills and gear needed to do so comfortably and safely.
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