Mar 252019
Introducing Zelda the E-Bike

I’ve been talking up electric-assist bicycles — e-bikes — for quite a while now. When they came on the scene I immediately saw how they could open up bicycling to people for whom effort or distance or hills or some other factor created a barrier to getting on two wheels (or three). As I said in a tweet to a certain bike opinionator who rants against e-bikes, “Every person on a bicycle — any bicycle — is a reason to rejoice.”

The research bears me out on this. As John MacArthur et al. of Portland State University found in a national survey of e-bike owners, fully a quarter of them wouldn’t be bicycling on a regular bike. People riding e-bikes rode more miles on average and were willing to ride a bit farther out of their way to reach more comfortable, lower-stress bike connections if necessary.

This willingness to ride longer distances has the Netherlands — already a place where bicycling is made easier through great infrastructure — making investments in “cycling superhighways” to attract suburban residents with e-bikes into riding into the city. These investments reduce car traffic congestion, improving conditions for those who still drive. (Yes, many Dutch do drive, and they’re among the happiest drivers on earth.) [I can’t resist a transportation policy aside on the effectiveness of the infrastructure investments: “Since the opening of the first route in 2012, the number of bike commuters has increased by 52%. Twenty-one percent of those using the Cycle Superhighways are new commuters who have made the switch from the car or public transport.”]

E-bike riders aren’t giving up the health gains of bicycling, either. In particular, e-bikes can get previously inactive people moving, with all the gains for cardiovascular health, mental health, and muscle tone that go with increased physical activity. Find it uncomfortable to walk for some reason? Bicycling is easier than walking, and the e-assist makes it even easier.

I could go on and on about the benefits. I’ll just cut to the chase, though — Zelda has joined the Chamberlain-Abbott bike family.

Rides so far:

  • From G&O Family Cyclery, where I picked her up and Davey Oil checked me out on the tech, to Seattle Center, where she got to park safely inside while I attended an all-day workshop. (6.31 miles)
  • Home from there — a trip I usually make by bus, but with an e-assist the steep hills aren’t the barrier they otherwise would be at the end of a long, intensive day of learning. (10.91 miles)
  • Back to the third day of the workshop and home again. (21.87 miles)
  • To the grocery store for a big load and back. (6.84 miles)
  • And to Greenbridge Cafe for a Saturday breakfast date with my Sweet Hubs. (2.06 miles)

Observations so far:

  • Riding an e-bike is exercise. Zelda weighs nearly 50 pounds before I put any baggage on, whereas Sweetie the road bike weighs about 18. I’m pushing all that metal and I don’t use the e-assist on the flats.
  • It’s still exercise when I do use the e-assist. It doesn’t do anything if I don’t turn the cranks — this isn’t a moped.
  • I don’t really go any faster than I went on my road bike — it’s just easier in the spots where I appreciate the help.
  • Boy, do I appreciate the assist when the bike is really loaded with groceries.
  • It’s still possible to find myself unable to get going up a steep hill with a fully loaded bike; it’s a big load to move from a dead stop. My route coming home from the grocery store often puts me at a red light on a steep hill and I just need to get to the sidewalk for that block so I’m not in traffic. (For you Seattleites, it’s 4th Ave SW at S 128th Street, heading north.)
  • I expect to double my weekly mileage because I’m now willing to ride home. It’s not that I technically couldn’t ride my road bike home all along. It’s just that at the end of a long day, when I’ve likely made a lot of use of my standing desk (sitting is the new smoking, you know) and I face the prospect of a couple of really steep bits along with the usual up and down of a Seattle bike ride, it’s a lot easier to throw my bike on the bus and pull out my Kindle to add to my reading time.
  • I also know I’ll be more willing to do things a bit beyond my usual range, knowing that if I’m really tired at the end I’ll have some help getting home.
White woman standing with peach electric-assist bicycle with a medium blue bag on the front handlebars. Woman wearing black hat, charcoal gray overcoat and scarf, white blouse.
With Zelda on our first day together outside G&O Family Cyclery, Seattle.

Why Zelda? Some brainstorming via text with my creative Eldest and Second Daughters produced a number of ideas. The bike is a Gazelle, the paint color is Georgia Peach. Calling the bike “Georgia” just didn’t fit; I have no particular connection to the state and the name didn’t sing for me. The paint color also led to “Peachy Keen” as one idea, a phrase I remember being fond of as a teenager. Then the idea of playing with the G and Z in Gazelle led naturally to Zelda. Her full name is possibly “Zelda Keen the Peach Machine” to weave all these threads together. That’s quite a mouthful, so Zelda it is.

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