Are you Crazy if you Electrify Your Bike?

I used to think that electric bikes were for crazy old guys with headphones that swerve down the bike path singing their own eccentric tunes. But recently, two of my friends have converted their commuter bikes to electric and they say they’re never going back.

Jesse and his electric bike

My friend Jesse (pictured with his bike above) is an engineer at a local company. Before converting his bike, he describes his daily routine.

I was usually biking one way and busing home, spending almost two hours a day commuting.

I bet that many of you UBC-ers can relate to that. My own commute from Richmond to UBC is about 20km. In the morning, it takes me one hour by bus. During my best weeks, I’m able to bike commute 2-3 days per week. The short story is, that for most people, it’s too long of a commute to do on your bike every day.

Another friend of mine, Bruce, says it’s a different story after converting his own bike to electric.

Commutes that used to take too long are now perfectly suited for ebikes. Since I got my ebike I have been using it for 80% of my traveling needs and I only fill up my car’s gas tank about once a month.

Bruce is the first one of my friends to convert his bike to electric. A UBC engineering alumni, Bruce knew some friends who own a local company called that started out of the UBC electric bike club. Justin and Zev, also former UBC engineering students, followed-up on some interesting engineering projects from their senior design courses and started their own company. Justin from describes how they started,

For the first year and a half this was run out of my basement/ garage, and included importing, testing, and selling batteries and hub motors to people in the community who wanted to build custom ebike parts, as well as designing and fabricating our own line of ebike electronics. In January 2007 we moved into a commercial space on Main St. and we currently have 6 people working here on various aspects of the operation.

Justin says that he sells to all kinds of people including die-hard bicycle commuters. In addition to the older folks, he says that he’s also selling to young people who are excited about new green technologies. When he was first thinking about converting, Bruce calculated the costs of commuting by car ($4 in gasoline) versus traveling by electric bike (7 cents in electricity). He figures it’s a good return on investment. If you want to know more about electric bikes, you can check out this FAQ.

Whether you’d like to electrify your bike to be green, or to go further, to go up hills faster, or to be able to pull a heavy trailer, my friend Bruce, offers another reason to convert.

It is kinda fun passing elite road bikers in spandex full of sponsorship logos.

At first, I thought my friends Jesse and Bruce were just crazy. But now, I’m not so sure… especially when they pass me on my road bike.

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Joanne often gets really excited when she talks about Science. Luckily, she works in the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory, the educational arm of the Michael Smith Labs. She likes all kinds of science but has a special spot in her heart for biology, technology, and well, sports. As a scientist and educator at UBC, she hopes that she never becomes so specialized that she loses her global perspective. (When she gets around to writing an intro post, I'm sure that she'll link to it here).

7 Responses to “Are you Crazy if you Electrify Your Bike?”

  1. Dave Semeniuk

    I love biking, but not as a form of transportation. Yesterday I saw someone fly down Burrard on a motorized road bicycle – I seriously considered looking into where I could buy one.

  2. Joanne

    If you have an old car that you can get rid of, you can trade it in for rebates at You can get up to $1300 in credit towards the purchase of an electric bike and/or bus passes. The Scap-It Program is one of the national programs funded by Environment Canada.

  3. Joe

    Turning bicycle commuters into electric bicycle commuters is a significant step backwards.

    Turning transit commuters into electric bicycle commuters is a moderate step backwards.

    Turning car commuters into electric bicycle commuters is a significant step forwards.

    I am curious what the stats are for the users of these systems and the target markets. In my limited exposure, I have seen a focus on the worst target market: bicycle and transit commuters. I hope this isn’t yet another greenwashing marketing gimmick (i.e. take a product and sell it as environmentally benificial while its real impact is a negative).

  4. Joanne Fox

    @ Joe, It’s a good point that you make about stepping backwards if we turn current cycle commuters into electric bike commuters. I think you’re right, electric bikes could make a real impact if they’re marketed at the masses. I’m hoping initiatives like these, alongside initiatives to improve cycling infrastructure, make biking more accessible for more people. Personally, I plan to stick to my pedal bike. I too, hope that greenwashing isn’t at work here.

  5. Brooks B

    I biked to work for a while and hated fact that I got so sweaty after got to work. Electric in (or at least the last mile) and pedal home would have been perfect.

    I think the step backwards would apply in so few instances that it’s not really a concern.

    Having option of using electric motor might get a lot more people out on bikes. On low energy days, it keeps you out of the car and on a bike. On longer commutes, you could keep average speed higher having hill or up wind assistance. And, as pointed out, having help with heavy loads could broaden usage.

  6. Joanne

    @ Brooks B — Another good point. I like electric because I think it will get more people thinking about their bikes as a real transportation option. My two friends, Jesse and Bruce really love it — before the conversion one was a bike commuter and one was a driver. BOTH of them find that they ride their bikes more often (actually all the time) after converting to electric.

  7. Jiyoon

    I think the idea of an electric bike is nice and all, but I kind of disagree with it. Call me old-fashioned, but isn’t the very idea of a bike to propel yourself forward with the moving grace of your strong legs? Feel the hot breath under your helmet and still spur on the metal thoroughbred?

    I understand now that it’s not very fashionable to arrive at work/school sweaty and gross….But still!

    It is a very cool concept, though I’d never exchange my good hybrid bike for that.

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