Just as a battery on an electric bicycle helps a rider zip down the road, the COVID-19 pandemic gave the e-bike industry a big boost nationwide.
Many Americans cooped up at home and looking for an eco-friendly way to get outside while avoiding commuter crowds turned to e-bikes, which look and feel like traditional bicycles but feature an electric motor and rechargeable battery.
“We’ve definitely seen e-bikes growing on an annual basis,” said Gary Stern, the co-founder of Infinity Bike Shop at 804 E. Hibiscus Blvd. in Melbourne. “It’s prolonging the amount of riding that people get to do. We typically see it’s an older clientele oftentimes, and/or people who are using them for commuting as well.”
Electric bikes have been around since the 1890s, but the first pedal-assisted models also known as pedelecs didn’t arrive until the 1990s. Infinity, which opened in 2010, started adding e-bikes to its selection of traditional bikes about five years ago, Stern said.
E-bikes come in styles such as mountain, road, cruise and cargo, and some can fold up for easier storage and transport.
Mike and Patty Tipton chose e-bikes with wide tires and have enjoyed zipping around Cape Canaveral and Port Canaveral. They’ve had their Ecotric e-bikes for about two years.
“We looked at the fat tire e-bikes,” Mike Tipton said. “They are foldable and you can easily get them in your car. We wanted bikes we could transport easily.”
The Tiptons, of Cape Canaveral, can get up to 25 miles on a single charge. They said it takes a lot of pedal effort if the wide tire bike runs out of battery power.
When a bicyclist pedals an e-bike, its motor kicks in and adds power to help the rider reach speeds of up to 20 mph, overcome such obstacles as hills and headwinds and arrive less sweaty at a destination. The motor also can propel the bike even when the rider is not pedaling. A second type of e-bike has a pedal-assist mode of up to 20 mph plus a purely throttle-powered mode. A third type of e-bike is solely pedal-assist but adds power until a rider hits
“I love the fact that I can get some exercise without the wear and tear on my knees,” Patty Tipton said.
She said they enjoy riding their wide tire e-bikes on the beach when the tide is low.
E-bikes have a lithium battery that can be recharged from a standard wall outlet. A typical recharge takes anywhere from two to eight hours, Stern noted.
Handlebar controls let the bicyclist turn the bike on and off and brake, while LCD displays show the bike’s speed and pedal-assist levels.
An e-bike’s range depends on rider weight, wind, hills, and how much pedal assist or throttle the rider selects, Stern said. “Sometimes you can run them only on the e-motor the whole time, in which case you’ll only get maybe 25 to 35 miles of use,” he said. “Other times, if you’re using it just on an assist basis, it could be unlimited miles, depending on once the battery finally runs out if you’re doing the last bit of pedaling.”
In Florida, e-bike riders must be 16 or older but don’t need a license to ride. Helmets are encouraged but not required. By state law, e-bikes can operate on the same roads, bike lanes, bike paths and sidewalks as regular bikes. However, local communities can pass their own ordinances regarding e-bike use. Bikes equipped with gas-powered motors are not legal vehicles and can’t be registered or driven on Florida highways, according to floridabicyclelaw.org.
E-bikes can be pricey, Stern said. Bikes can range from $500 to $8,000, with an average price around $2,000.
“I say the challenge for the e-bike industry or consumer is the consumer expects the bikes to be priced according to the same pricing as a manual bicycle, and that’s just not the case,” said Stern, whose shop sells e-bikes made by Swiss-based Scott Sports and Taiwan’s Giant Manufacturing Co.
To encourage Americans to try the zero-emission bikes, Congress is considering offering consumers a refundable 30 percent tax credit of up to $1,500 on the purchase of a new e-bike.
Infinity doesn’t carry many e-bikes, but demand is picking up, Stern said.
“We’ve done very well,” he said. “We only have one in stock right now. We typically will have anywhere from three to six in stock at any given time but there has been a big supply crunch in general in the bicycle industry over the last two years as a result of the COVID supply crunch. Just three years ago, we were selling zero. There’s definitely a market for it.”
Jim Twigg, the co-owner of Revolutions Cyclery at 6300 N. Wickham Road in Suntree, said e-bikes are “a blast to ride.”
“It almost feels like it’s effortless,” said Twigg, a Palm Bay resident. “Anybody who gets on these bikes gets a big smile on their face.”