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  • If you’re looking for a fun or an environmentally friendly way to get around, there’s now a plethora of electric transportation available.

  • You’re a senior or almost one. You’ve lived your life as a straight person, maybe with a spouse, children and grandchildren. Your friends know you as straight. So does your community. But that’s not who you are.

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  • Brian Hills lost his wife of 46 years in fewer than five months — the hardest four months of his life. He and his beloved wife Sam had just returned from Cuba when she got the diagnosis — her third bout of breast cancer, and this one had metastasized.

A guide to your new e-ride

Sales of e-bikes, which offer a little help on the hills but can still be solely people-powered for exercise, have surged since 2020. 

If you’re looking for a fun or an environmentally friendly way to get around, there’s now a plethora of electric transportation available. There are electric scooters, both sit-down and stand-up versions, electric skateboards, with one wheel or four, e-bikes, e-motorbikes, e-mobility scooters and, of course, a large variety of electric cars and trucks.

Within all those categories of e-carriage, there are Volkswagen and Ferrari options, in base price and features. For brevity, we’re leaving cars and trucks out, though some broad principles apply.

An overview

Before COVID, e-bikes and e-scooters were just starting to get popular. The pandemic then made sales explode as folks looked for fun ways to get outside and away from that nasty virus. In 2020–21, e-bikes sales surged 240 per cent.

“There is so much demand for many because people have found out that they didn’t necessarily need a car,” says Daniel Breton, president and CEO of Electric Mobility Canada, a national industry association. “It’s also something that’s going to be good for the environment. Not to mention the fact that more and more people are older who like to go and do a bit of bicycling.”

We asked Breton advice on buying into this trend.

“Just don’t buy the first thing you see on the market because it’s cheap,” he says. “Because there are some there are some very bad quality bikes, just like scooters out there. And the batteries sometimes are not certified for Canada.”

Careful with the batteries

Some call the creation of lithium-ion batteries — powering e-vehicles, as well as cell phones and laptops — one of humanity’s greatest technological achievements. The batteries’ inventors were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in spite of the toxic ingredients and the risk of them incinerating. If you’re wondering, Google “lithium-ion battery fire” to see plenty of examples of stores, homes, subway cars, even transport ships catching fire when lithium-ion batteries overheated.

“We have seen issues with some batteries catching on fire because people were buying cheap, low-quality equipment or they tried to tinker with it,” Breton says. “You don’t try to tinker with a gas tank. Well, don’t tinker with a battery.”

Fully charging a lithium-ion battery as well as storing it inside in winter will extend its lifespan, he says.

Mike Radenbaugh is CEO and founder of Rad Power Bikes, a crowd-sourced company that soon became North America’s biggest direct to consumer e-bike manufacturer.

“We’ve seen the most noticeable improvements in two areas: safety and e-bike design,” Radenbaugh says. “As micromobility continues to grow in popularity, we’re seeing more stringent safety standards implemented across the U.S. and consumers are seeking brands that meet or exceed them.”

Radenbaugh recommends reading your e-bike’s manual and riding it for the first time in an open area.

Consider shopping local

But not everyone thinks you should buy your e-bike online, even if it is from a reputable manufacturer.

Eric Thibault owns the Gatineau, Que., shop E-Cycliste, a business he launched after retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces, not to get rich, he says, but because he loves cycling and wants to share that love.

“If you go with a bike built in China equipped with the cheapest components, yeah, it’s gonna be cheap,“ he says. “But as soon as the bike breaks, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to get it fixed?”

The electric components of an e-bike must be serviced by professionals and tune-ups are recommended every six months or 500 to 1,000 kilometres.

There are only two types of e-bikes: those with rear hub-drive motors and those with mid-drive motors. Rear hub drive are less expensive, but less efficient, with the motor mounted in the hub of the rear wheel, driving the wheel and not the chain. They’re much harder to change a tire on, but you can buy solid rubber tires that can’t get punctured. Mid-drive motors, mounted below the seat, are more expensive, but better balanced and their improved efficiency means you can go much greater distances. Also, these motors are attached to the chain, and therefore the gearing, so they have a more natural ride and both wheels are easier to remove for fixing flats.

Some-bikes are pedal assist, where you have to pedal to kick in the motor, at speed settings of one through five, five being the speediest. Other e-bikes allow riding using only the throttle to start the motor, giving a more motorcycle-like ride.

Federal Retirees member John Large.
Federal Retirees member John Large has led cycling tours in Mallorca for the past 24 years.

John Large, is a also a Federal Retirees member and cycling aficionado. He’s a former national team racer who has organized elite races in both Quebec and Ontario, run a cycling club, led cycling tours in Mallorca for the past 24 years, and owns many top end bikes, as well as an e-bike of which he’s quite fond.

“I love them. I’m a big fan, actually,” Large says. “Going up a hill is hard. As soon as you’re on an e-bike, it opens it up for so many people who wouldn’t ride otherwise.

Don’t go cheap but don’t break the bank

Large recommends folks not buy bikes from big box stores such as Canadian Tire, but go to a reputable shop and buy a well-known brand. Large bought his Giant e-bike from the rental shop at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa, which replaces its fleet every season. BIXI in Montreal is the pioneer of bikeshare services in North America and now has a fleet of 2,600 e-bikes for rent. But as a bikeshare service, BIXI doesn’t engage in selling them, but those near Montreal could easily test drive one before buying by renting from BIXI.  

Everyone interviewed for this guide recommended renting an e-bike before buying one, to make sure it’s the right one for you. You can spend anywhere from $500-$5,000 on an e-bike, with some sellers even offering payment plans for ownership. The experts advise finding a sweet spot in the middle. Don’t break the bank, but don’t buy the cheapest one, either.

And there’s no licensing or insurance required for riding an e-bike, though helmets and bells are recommended.

Eric Thibault says E-Cycliste doesn’t normally rent, but he sometimes does allow folks visiting from other continents to rent on an informal basis. And when he does, he issues them a challenge: try not to smile on your way back.

“They always smile,” he says. “Because it’s so much fun!”

About the author

Mick Gzowski, a writer and filmmaker based in Aylmer, Qué., doesn’t own an e-bike… yet.