Recently, the New York Times did a story about the rise of pedal-assisted electronic bikes. According to the story, e-bikes may actually be a better exercise than standard bikes.
The reason is that people are likely to ride them more often but for about the same distance. Even though they help with the hard work, e-bikes get your heart rate up to the moderately active category, so that exercise is valuable. You’ll get more out of an e-bike than a traditional bike if you indeed ride it more often.
But are they safe? It depends in part on whether you rent it from a ride-sharing service or buy your own. With your own bike, you are in charge of the maintenance. As we’ve seen from other experiences with ride-sharing, that’s important because the services may not always do a good job of keeping their vehicles roadworthy.
There is some reason to believe that e-bikes may be, overall, somewhat more dangerous than standard bikes. A recent study by NYU’s Medical School found that, when comparing traditional bikes, motorized scooters and e-bikes, the riders of the e-bikes tended to be injured more seriously and require hospitalization more often.
It’s not clear from the study exactly why that might be, according to experts. What we do know is that e-bikes can go quite a bit faster than most people can go on traditional bikes — 20 to 30 mph. Increased speed is often responsible for more serious injuries.
However, the injury statistics the researchers pored over had another possible conclusion. There was some evidence that the injury rates went down as people became more familiar with riding e-bikes. As it turns out, an e-bike can be somewhat different from a regular bike, which could cause problems.
Are they safe to ride on a moment’s notice?
An experienced bike rider can probably quite easily pick up how to ride an e-bike. However, there are important differences.
First, e-bikes accelerate more quickly than standard bikes. You’re likely to experience sudden momentum that can be disconcerting, so you should be prepared for it. Start with the bike’s lowest assistance setting.
Second, e-bikes are heavier than standard bikes. That means that they rake longer and further to slow down. You will need to practice slowing and stopping before you’re reasonably safe on the e-bike.
Since e-bike riding takes practice, you may not want to risk renting one on an impulse. Instead, give yourself time to practice in a safe area such as a closed parking lot.
As we’ve seen with other ride-sharing situations, be aware that your e-bike may not come equipped with a helmet. That does not imply that you should not wear one. You definitely should. The last thing you want is to take a header at 30 mph.
Before you ride any vehicle — especially a rented one — you should always carefully check to ensure that all its systems are in order. Bad brakes, disconnecting handlebars or a faulty motor could put you at risk.
Another thing to watch out for is battery life. Since e-bikes are heavier than standard bikes, you don’t want to be caught out with a dead battery. It could be a long slog home without pedal assistance.
Finally, remember to follow all traffic laws and be vigilant for other vehicles. Never drive when you’re impaired and do your best to be visible.