I Thought an E-Bike Was an Impulse Buy. But It Changed How I Thought About Bike Commuting.

Confessions of an e-bike convert.

IMAGE: Max Pixel

My purchase of a sleek, expensive new vehicle felt like the outgrowth of a midlife crisis. I was like a dude buying a Porsche convertible.

But in truth? My cargo e-bike was more like a minivan.

My kid loves it. I take it grocery shopping. It's the most practical impulse buy I ever made.

The moms at school tried to comfort me when I shared that I'd bought a two-wheeled minivan. "You should call it a 'striker' instead of a minivan," one offered as they gathered to gaze at the orange e-bike.

But the fact remains: Buying an e-bike was boring, responsible, serious. And it made traveling Portland by bicycle possible for me.

I'd been bike commuting for more than a year. I finally decided: I couldn't give up my car and ride my bike to work every day. I took breaks whenever I caught a winter cold. I wasn't in shape. I'm not disciplined enough about being on time to count myself among the die-hard cyclists.

But then I tried e-scooters.

I didn't like them. The wheels were too small, the shocks jolted middle-age ankles, and there was nowhere to balance my laptop bag. I felt like I was going to die.

But when the scooters returned this summer, I tried them again. And I had the same sense that I might die on one—but in a good way, like riding a motorcycle fast down a country road (or, in the case of the e-scooter, fast over streetcar tracks).

That was my gateway drug to e-life.

At a kid's birthday party last June, the parents brought their e-bike for me to try. It didn't feel significantly heavier than a Biketown rental, and with the electric assist from the battery, it was my idea of fun.

I ordered mine. And now I'm moving faster than Portland traffic.

I had been among the slowest cyclists on the road. So part of the joy is speed. I discovered I could make the 3.5-mile commute to WW in 17 minutes.

The temptation to drive? Almost gone. One morning I was late to a coffee less than 2 miles away from home. Instead of hopping in the car, I turned up the assist on the e-bike (mine has four levels) all the way to turbo and arrived at a socially acceptable level of lateness.

I am no longer afraid of getting tired and stranded. An e-bike has helped shrink the city down—sometimes just to its actual size.

I took it across Tilikum Crossing to a doctor's appointment on the South Waterfront. In hindsight, that trip probably presented more of a psychological obstacle than an actual one (3.1 miles), even for a bike without a battery. But the electric assist pushed through my mental block.

I kept expanding how far I was going. I rode 8.2 miles from Slabtown to Southeast 82nd Avenue. I rode it 20 miles in a single day, hitting all five quadrants, without feeling overwhelmed.

The electric assist is key. Without it, carting groceries and a first-grader is impossible.

But the other day, my e-bike battery nearly ran out—and I pedaled 3 miles home from the farmers market with my daughter and two cargo bags filled with apples, honey and other groceries. I was exhausted from using the electric assist sparingly—but I had done something I would never have tried before.

A future without cars doesn't have to be impossible, I've learned. It can even be pleasant.

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