Boulder is consistently ranked as one of the top cycling cities in America—and that’s not a big surprise to those of us who live here and regularly take advantage of the many bike lanes, paths and trails throughout our beautiful town and the surrounding Foothills. The Boulder Valley boasts hundreds of miles of connected bikeways, which makes for nearly uninterrupted bike travel no matter which direction you’re headed.
It’s also no surprise, then, that new types of bikes are also starting to become more popular here, including electric bicycles, or e-bikes. In general, e-bikes allow riders to pedal farther and ride longer. They can be a good entry point into cycling for people who are new to the sport or working to improve their fitness levels.
“What usually happens is there are some hills, they don’t get very far, their legs get tired, so they quit,” says Jim Turner, the founder of Colorado-based e-bike manufacturer Optibike. “Whereas with the e-bike, that doesn’t happen, they ride longer, and then they start having fun. They see results in their fitness, so they’re hooked.”
What’s more, e-bikes are an environmentally friendly way to get around. Whether for pleasure, fitness or transportation, e-bikes are helping to change people’s lives for the better. Their popularity—which has skyrocketed in the last five years or so—shows no signs of slowing down, either, so if you’re curious about e-bikes, read on to learn more.
What is an E-Bike?
An e-bike uses a small electric motor (not more than 750 watts), powered by a battery, to aid the operation of pedaling. It usually has two wheels, sometimes three, but must have operational pedals.
There are three classes, or categories, of e-bikes. A category 1 e-bike, or a pedal-assist e-bike, may or may not have a throttle. A sensor will activate its motor once pedaling is detected. The motor ceases to aid the rider once the bike reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour. Category 2 e-bikes can move without pedaling and have a throttle. The throttle assist also ceases to aid the rider at 20 miles per hour. Category 3 is essentially the same as category 1, only the max speed is 28 miles per hour. However, it may also be prohibited on some multi-use paths.
How to Ride an E-Bike
Take time to get to know your e-bike before taking it out on a spin. It’s a different experience than riding a standard bike because of the speeds involved. Settings for the motor can vary anywhere from “eco” to “turbo” (and the terms vary by manufacturer). Keep an eye on your power gauge. Different factors will affect the life of your battery, such as the frequency of using your boost and your cadence (use a faster pedaling speed, especially climbing hills). Try to keep your speed in “eco” mode and save “turbo” for when you really need it.
E-bikes are generally heavier than standard bikes, so getting used to the weight while also becoming accustomed to the gears and braking ability is paramount when getting started. Try to feel comfortable before turning on the assist. If you need the assist to get started, use it on the lowest setting, but always be aware of the direction of the bike. Also keep in mind that you’ll need to brake harder than you may be used to to slow down this heavier style of bike.
Rules and Etiquette
The rules and etiquette around e-bikes are basically the same as for regular bikes—with the exception of where you can and can’t ride. Always pedal with the flow of traffic and keep right. Pass pedestrians and other cyclists on the left, and give an audible alert when passing. Yield to pedestrians, ride at safe speeds and obey all posted dismount zones. You’re not required to wear a helmet while e-biking, but it’s a very good idea.
For more information, you can check out Boulder County’s rules and regulations online at https://bouldercounty.gov/open-space/management/e-bikes/ and the City of Boulder’s rules at https://bouldercolorado.gov/services/shared-e-scooters-and-e-bikes.
Rentals and Tours
A good way to try e-biking for the first time is to join a tour or rent a bike from a local shop, like Pedego Electric Bikes (2512 Broadway).
“We make sure everyone feels safe on their bike before taking it out,” says Tina Moses, owner of Pedego in Boulder. “We take safety very seriously.”
Pedego owns a fleet of e-bikes and can accommodate groups up to 50 people; the location also has monitored parking. The company offers tours year-round in Boulder, as well as rentals.
“If you’re interested in renting a bike or joining us on a tour, it’s a good idea to check with us at least two weeks or more in advance during the spring and summer season,” she says.
Learn more online: https://pedegoelectricbikes.com/dealers/boulder/
Another option is JD’s Joyrides (2030 17th St.), where founder and “chief joyrider” Joel Davis distinguishes himself with a little different approach to e-bikes.
“With JD’s joyrides, it’s not a tour. It’s a joyride,” says Davis. “Boulder is one of the best cities in the world to ride bikes, it’s really built for biking, infrastructure-wise and weather-wise. I love showing people around Boulder and customizing each tour to what the riders are looking for.”
The company offers a variety of e-bike tours, including one that takes riders past many of Boulder’s colorful murals and another focused on hill climbs. You can also rent e-bikes if you’d prefer to do your own thing.
Learn more online: jdsjoyrides.com
Buying an E-Bike
After taking one out for a spin a few times, you might decide you’d like to add an e-bike to your collection. You can test ride, demo and, ultimately, buy an e-bike at several shops here in Boulder, including University Bicycles, Full Cycle, Boulder Cycle Sport and Sports Garage. Other places to check out are Trek Bicycle Boulder, the Specialized Experience Center and REI.
If you’re new to cycling, Turner recommends starting with a cheaper model. Then, if you start to ride a lot and find value in the e-bike, consider investing more money to get a better bike.
“You can buy an e-bike at Walmart for $600 or you can buy one of ours for $20,000 and there are prices all in between,” he says.