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Riding an Electric Bike is Good for You and the Planet

Freedom on two (or three) wheels.

E-bikes make it possible for people of all ages, abilities, and incomes to get around town via a carbon-free means of transportation. And it is good exercise.

As a kid, I rode a bike to and from school and around our neighborhood. Back then, I never thought of bike riding as being an environmentally friendly transportation method or that it was a form of exercise. For me riding a bike was about freedom and fun.

There was never a time when I did not own a bike but as the years passed I rode less and less. I held onto my last bike for years because I had every intention of getting back into the habit of riding it…someday.

Driving a Car to Take a Walk

I thought my bike riding aspirations might become a reality when my spouse and I moved from Southern California to Cambria a small town on the California Central Coast.

Situated on the edge of the Pacific Ocean two miles from our house sits the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve a beautiful swath of land crisscrossed with hiking paths. It seemed like it would be a wonderful place to take a daily walk (it is). I naively thought we would ride our bikes there, take a walk, and ride back home. The daily walks materialized but the biking riding did not.

I blame our driveway.

Our house is perched at the end of a long steep driveway (with a turn halfway up) that we share with our next-door neighbor. It leads onto a steep street. Driving my car up the driveway the first time was a daunting experience that has only gotten moderately less so in the twelve years that we have lived here. Riding a human only powered bike up these asphalt inclines was and still is not within my ability.

I remember one of my sons said to me some years ago something along the lines of “Isn’t it hypocritical for you to drive a car someplace so you can go for a walk?”

No, I do not think it is hypocritical. Environmentalists are people, too. We do not always make environmentally friendly choices and we also know how to justify our actions (just like everyone else).

In May 2013, while I was writing a post about National Bike Month, I became interested in trying bike riding again. But I did not do it. Occasionally, since then, I have looked longingly at my bike hanging upside down from a rafter in our garage.

But the driveway and street have persisted in their steepness. It seemed more and more likely that my bike riding days had come to an end.

Then I discovered electric bikes.

National Drive Electric Week

I think I had been aware that electric bikes existed but I had not really thought about one in conjunction with myself until I joined the SLO Climate Coalition.

Last summer the Coalition’s decarbonized transportation team was preparing to host two events in San Luis Obispo for National Drive Electric Week that would showcase electric cars and electric bikes. To support the team, I wrote a post entitled Electric Vehicles are Good for People and the Environment with information about U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, electric cars and bikes, and National Drive Electric Week.

Researching this topic had me pondering the possibility of riding a bike again.

My spouse and I are striving to live more lightly on Earth and to reduce our transportation carbon footprint. So far this has mostly been accomplished by working out of our home, combining errands, and walking as many places as possible.

We have not replaced our gasoline-powered cars with electric versions because we are hoping that other transportation methods will make car ownership obsolete and besides it does not fit within our current budget.

I got to thinking “Maybe we could ride electric bikes for all the stuff we need to do where we live and to places where we like to walk.” My vision expanded to “And we could take bikes on the bus to San Luis Obispo and then ride them to run errands, go to meetings and appointments, and for fun and other activities.”

Determined to test ride an electric bike, I marked my calendar for the Ride & Drive event scheduled for Saturday, September 14.

Mayor Heidi Harmon with SLO Climate Coalition Leaders at 2019 Drive Electric Week in San Luis Obispo, CA
San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon paused from her test ride of an electric cargo bike from BoltAbout to pose with SLO Climate Coalition leaders (left to right) Justin Bradshaw, Eric Veium, and Barry Rands at National Drive Electric Week in San Luis Obispo, CA on September 14, 2019.

That day BoltAbout and Wally’s Bicycle Works both had booths and a variety of electric bikes for people to try out.

First, I tried an electric bike from BoltAbout that was similar to the model they lease with an option to buy. After not having been on a bike for many years, I was pleased that I did not fall off. When the pedal-assist motor kicked in, I zoomed by the people in the parking lot checking out the electric cars.

At Wally’s booth, I spotted a bike that looked easier for me to get on and off so I asked if I could try that one. It was a Votani electric bike. The seat was comfy and I could see and work the controls. What I really liked was being able to sit up straight while riding it. After a couple of circuits around the parking lot, I was thinking “This is the bike I want.” We thanked Wally and took one of his business cards.

This is me on my Votani electric bike test ride at National Drive Electric Week in San Luis Obispo, CA on September 14, 2019.

Testing an E-Bike at Home

Now, I was seriously considering buying an electric bike but I did not want to buy a bike until I had tried riding it up and down our driveway and the street.

The next week we showed up at Wally’s Bicycle Works store in San Luis Obispo. Wally remembered us. I asked him if I could rent the Votani bike for a week. He let me do it free of charge.

At home, I dusted off my bike helmet and then proved to myself that I could ride the bike down and up our driveway and the street. Going down was terrifying and going up was difficult. I figured it would get easier as I rode more and got in better bike riding shape.

One day during the test week, coming up the driveway, I crashed into the curb and fell off. An instant before I hit the ground, I knew I was falling but there was not a thing I could do about it. My spouse came running down the driveway. Laying there I could feel myself going into shock. I was badly hurt.

I will spare you the gruesome details but I had some serious cuts on my left knee and elbow and the next day enormous bruised patches appeared all over the left side of my body. It took weeks for me to heal and I will have some nasty looking scars on my knee forever.

I am definitely not someone who enjoys tacking chances with my body so it would have not been out of character for me to take the bike back to Wally’s and call it day.

Strangely, I was more determined than ever to buy an electric bike and to learn how to ride it. I had been afraid of falling off and getting hurt. But now that I had fallen off and gotten hurt, it was as if I had overcome some kind of mental hurdle. I did not need to worry about it anymore because it had already happened.

A few days later we took the demo bike back to Wally’s and he ordered a new one for me. My spouse walked out of the store that day pushing a Raleigh electric bike equipped with saddlebags.

Wally of Wally's Bicycle Works with My New Votani E-Bike
This is Wally the owner of Wally’s Bicycle Works posing with my new Votani electric bike equipped with saddlebags.

A week later I picked up my new electric bike and that is when the adventure really began. If you are interested, you can read about it in the next post.

Start your own electric bike adventure by visiting a local bike shop or bike-share kiosk and taking one for a spin.

Featured Image at Top: An electric bike control panel is shown mounted on the handlebars – photo credit iStock/123ducu.

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Thanksgiving – Gratitude

Saying thank you is easy and free.

This Thanksgiving I am sending someone I love a handwritten thank-you note and doing something that you may find silly (or maybe not).

In years past, I used to write Thanksgiving posts about topics more easily tied to the environment like consumerism and green actions that you and I can do. Then there was the year my family saved me from writing about food waste.

Nowadays at Thanksgiving, I find myself pondering the interconnectedness of humans and the rest of nature or how I can put forth my kindest self every day. That is the person that I, you, and everyone else needs to bring to the table if we are to heal ourselves and Earth, the place we all call home.

This year gratitude is on my mind.

I believe everyone appreciates being appreciated. I know I do. Showing gratitude by saying “Thank you.” is easy and free. Yet, sometimes in our society, it seems like we are all so busy, rushed, and frazzled that we forget who and what we have to be grateful for or to thank the people in our lives.

Maybe all we need to get back on track is a friendly reminder and a little practice.

This year for my Thanksgiving post I knew I wanted to write about gratitude and to encourage readers to take a specific gratitude-related action. But what?

Then a few weeks ago, I was reading Elizabeth Kubey’s “Kids’ Corner” column in the fall issue of Flora, a quarterly magazine published by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) of which I am a member. Even though my kids are grown, I always enjoy reading Elizabeth’s column. It is filled with educational and fun activities and she has a delightful kid-friendly writing style.

Flora-V3N1-Kids-Corner_Letter_Elizabeth-Kubey-LR-300x388

The “Kids’ Corner” fall column had several activities for kids to learn about chlorophyll and photosynthesis. The item that caught my eye was entitled Thank-you plants! It involved asking kids to write several thank-you notes. One thanking a native plant, one as if they were a native plant thanking a part of the ecosystem, and perhaps one to a family member. Photo —Elizabeth Kubey/CNPS.

I instantly thought, “That’s it. I want to share this idea in my Thanksgiving post.”

Since it was Elizabeth’s idea, I contacted her to thank her and ask her permission to share her idea and to use the thank-you note. She agreed.

I Used to Write Thank-You Notes

One of the many things that my mother taught me as a kid was how to write a handwritten thank-you note. My brother and sister learned, too. We were expected to write thank-you notes when someone had given us a gift even if we had thanked the gift giver in person. I do not remember if there was any wheedling involved, but she probably had to remind us to write them, at least sometimes.

I carried the thank-you note habit into adulthood writing thank-you notes for birthday, wedding, baby, and holiday gifts and occasionally for another reason like thanking an interviewer after a job interview.

There was always a box or two of thank-you note cards in a desk drawer at home.

Once, when I was preparing to leave a company that I had worked with for a long time, I wrote a thank-you note to every employee. That was over 300 thank-you notes.

Now, I have mostly fallen out of the habit of writing thank-you notes. The demise of my thank-you note writing may have coincided with the decision my spouse and I made in 2013 to stop the practice of obligatory gift-giving and receiving as part of our effort to live more lightly on the planet.

And yet, there are many, many people and things to be thankful for that do not involve exchanging gifts. Can my lapsed thank-you note habit be resuscitated and reimagined? I think it can.

Thank-You Note for a Person

To me, Thanksgiving seems like an ideal time to write a handwritten thank-you note.

My Thanksgiving Thank-You Note Card and Vase with Artificial Fall Flowers
I wrote my Thanksgiving thank-you note inside this card.

I hope you will join me in writing a thank-you note sometime during this week to a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or anyone for that matter thanking them for, well, anything.

You and everyone else may have a lot going on this week such as preparing to host a Thanksgiving feast at your home, getting ready to travel, or cramming five days of work into three days. Some of you may be steeling yourself for working on Black Friday.

So, let’s keep it simple and agree that we will not agonize over writing a thank-you note. We will write from our hearts without worrying about spelling, grammar, and punctuation (at least not too much).

If you do not have a box of thank-you note cards stuck in the back of a drawer, no worries. Any kind of card will do and you can easily pick one up at almost any store including a grocery market.

The thank-you note that I wrote is winging its way to my mother; however, she will probably not have received it before reading this post.

Thank-You Note for a Plant or Animal

Now for the silly part that I mentioned earlier.

I am an enthusiastic native plant novice who enjoys growing native plants from seeds and giving native plants a place in our yard.

The first native plant I ever grew from a seed was a California Buckwheat which I named Becky. I am one of those people who anthropomorphize plants and animals. It helps me appreciate and connect with other parts of nature.

Even though Elizabeth’s Thank-you plants! is not related to Thanksgiving, I do not think she will mind if you and I appropriate her format to thank a fellow member of nature.

My native plant thank-you note is for Becky. As you can see I kept it short and sweet. Protected by a plastic bag it is mounted on a bamboo stick left from our Monterey pine seedling growing project. I placed it in the yard with Becky. This will remind me to thank the plant every time I pass by.

If you would like to join me in this endeavor, I feel certain there is a plant or animal living near you that would love to receive a thank-you note.

For good measure on Thanksgiving, I think I will go hug a few trees.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Featured Image at Top: Thanksgiving still life with thank-you note card – Photo credit iStock/CatLane.

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