Nicole Tsong borrows a ride from Rad Power Bikes and learns the power really helps you pedal.
IF YOU’RE GOING to ride an electric bike, my recommendation is to keep it charged. Fully.
Otherwise, you might end up huffing up a Seattle hill with almost no battery, i.e. no power, while riding a bike that weighs 60 pounds. Oh, wait — was that just me?
Let’s be clear: I’m no cyclist. I own a bike; I’ve ridden it a few times, and it stays indoors. I didn’t think adding a motor would make me like biking more.
Rad Power Bikes
But as soon as I zoomed across my first intersection, I was sold.
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E-bikes come in many varieties, with different features. I borrowed a bike from Rad Power Bikes, a Ballard-based company. My cruiser-style bike had a battery-powered electric motor, with a steady jet-pack boost at five levels of power called passenger assist, plus a throttle for added speed. Co-founder Mike Radenbaugh — who hauled my bike across the city on his e-bike — said most people combine the assist and the throttle. I’d get 20 to 40 miles on one battery charge, he said.
My original plan was to ride from my home in Rainier Beach to light rail, then head in to South Lake Union. E-bikes can be unwieldy on the train in rush hour, too heavy to prop up. Radenbaugh estimated my route would take 25 to 30 minutes. I decided to ride all the way.
As soon as I got on, I loved the thrill of a power boost. I then spent the first downhill part of my ride concentrating on braking and remembering cycling rules of the road.
I stopped at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. I was nervous about crossing the wide, busy street. When the light turned, I hit the throttle. Whoosh — I sailed right across.
I could get down with this.
I hopped on a greenway, and played with the controls. You go faster when you pedal, though you can coast. Hills felt breezy, and I enjoyed the fresh air. On Capitol Hill, I cranked my throttle, and felt like I had a zippy defense system to speed through dicey situations.
I also hadn’t given myself enough time, a combination of a new route and a lack of confidence speeding across the city. But I made it, and was exhilarated from my ride.
I rashly decided not to charge the bike. I had ridden 8 miles; it takes three to five hours to fully charge, and I had only one hour. I skipped it.
I headed home via scenic Lake Washington Boulevard, a longer route. About halfway there, I noticed the battery meter flashing. I was getting low.
I wondered how fast the battery drained, and remembered Radenbaugh mentioned that people charge their bikes at work to maintain the zip.
I took the passenger assist to zero on flats to save battery, and hoped I had enough juice for the final hills ahead.
I was a mile from home when things got dire. I turned up the passenger assist, but didn’t feel much power. I felt like I was biking through mud; my leg burn was intense. I was dripping sweat and breathless, and I told myself I could walk if needed.
For the final, short uphill, I turned the assist to the highest level and churned, my quads screaming.
When I got home, I was triumphant. I promptly collapsed.
A couple days later, I rode to the grocery store. I charged the bike fully, and hills were easy again, except for one steep stretch with a full load of groceries. But even that wasn’t nearly as tough as an e-bike with a dying battery.
I loved the flexibility of an easy ride to the store, or using it to commute while getting in some movement.
I thought this experiment might get me back on my bike. Instead, it’s converted me to e-bikes. Try one. And don’t forget to charge it.