Electronic bicycles gaining in popularity | nnbw.com
J.P. Kelsey
jpkelsey@tahoedailytribune.com

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Electronic bicycles gaining in popularity

An electronic bicycle isn't necessarily a new concept, but the interest around them has been getting a charge lately and there are several bike shops around the basin that have been either renting or selling them.

The reception from most people around the region, from riders to biking organizations, has been mostly positive. There are still some issues that may arise from having a motorized bike zipping around town, though.

"We sold them a couple years ago then we stopped for a little while," said Wyatt Albright, manager at South Shore Bikes. "Now there's more of a demand so we started selling them again."

According to Albright, electronic bikes, or e-bikes, have varying speeds they can reach, depending on the design, but his shop tends to sell the ones that are more street friendly.

"Ours are more for in-town and comfort cruising," said Albright. "They're bike-path legal and would even be less than class 1."

A class 1 electronic bike is a bicycle that has an electric motor of no more than 750 watts, is pedal assisted and reaches a maximum speed of 20 mph. In these bikes, the electronic motor can only be activated through pedaling.

Depending on either size of motor or if the bike has a throttle on demand feature, the class will go up to a 2 or 3. A class 2 bike will usually be OK to ride on a class 1 bike path as long as it doesn't have the ability to exceed 20 mph. Electronic bikes can also be outfitted for trails or road riding.

Many states, including California and Nevada, have regulations in place to designate the class of an electronic bicycle, which dictates where it can be ridden and if it surpasses being considered an electronically motorized bike.

Nevada, for example, follows the class 1 guidelines to determine what an electronic bike is that can be on a bicycle path. Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition say they typically look to the state's guidelines to determine what is appropriate for the local riders.

"In the past few years, Nevada and California have adopted standards for electric bikes," said Chris Carney, president of Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition. "Now … there are so many different types so the states had to start creating regulations. In California, as long as you have a governor that limits the speed to 20 miles-per-hour, it's allowed on all bike paths. This would be like one of our class 1, separated bike paths."

Carney explained that Nevada's classification is similar in that they go by engine size, which is 750 watts or lower, and a speed of no higher than 20 mph to be allowed on bike paths. "We just want everyone to be friendly and safe on the bike paths," said Carney. "An electronic bicycle is still basically a bicycle and keeping at lower speeds is usually safe."

There still is an issue with the occasional rider that may be on a trail or path when they shouldn't be. "We've had a few complaints about people riding electric bikes on mountain bike trails," said Albright. "That's illegal because it's still considered a motorized vehicle and a lot of the forest service trails prohibit that. People don't want to see an electronic bike cruising past them at 30 miles-per-hour."

Aside from just having fun on one, Carney and Albright say that electronic bikes can help someone who doesn't have the ability to pedal a bike all day, and there's also the option of riding an electronic bike greater distances where a car might have been used before. "If someone has to go to work that may be a little too far for a traditional bike, they can use and electric bike so that they can still make the trip," said Carney. "That is something that would really help out if someone was trying to bike instead of drive."

It also seems that electronic bikes will likely grow in popularity before they would diminish, Carney and Albright say. "Electronic bikes are creating a huge scene in both the mountain and urban biking platform," said Albright. "That's the main reason we got back into selling them. It's just popular demand."