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.

Related Posts

Implications of U.S. Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement

It is not over.

Last week, the Trump Administration began the yearlong process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. What does this mean for Americans?

Before we talk about ramifications, let’s do a quick refresher on the Paris Agreement; what it is and why you and I should care about it.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is not the first international environmental-related treaty shepherded by the United Nations and it is unlikely to be the last.

United Nations Leaders Celebrating Paris Climate Agreement
United Nations leaders celebrating the 2015 Paris Agreement – photo United Nations.

The environment and global warming took the world stage during the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment hosted by Sweden. During that meeting, the Stockholm Declaration was created and agreed on. It contains both environmental and development principles.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was founded that year to coordinate the UN’s environmental activities.

United Nations international environmental treaties include the 1987 Montreal Protocol aimed at phasing-out ozone-depleting substances (which it is doing), the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with an objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol establishing greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments for developed countries (the U.S. did not ratify it).

In 1995, the UNFCCC parties (countries) began coming together each year to assess progress, establish new commitments, and negotiate new treaties and amendments to existing treaties. This meeting is called the Conference of the Parties (COP).

President Barack Obama at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France on November 30, 2015

The Paris Agreement was negotiated and agreed to during COP 21 in December 2015. It was entered into force on November 4, 2016.

Then U.S. President Barack Obama attended the COP 21 climate conference – photo credit Arnaud Bouissou – MEDDE/SG COP 21

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement builds on the UNFCCC (Convention) which is still in force. The Convention’s objective was and is:

“stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

The Paris Agreement objective is described in Article 2:

1. This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C [ 2.7°F] above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; and

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

Attendees Wearing T-Shirts with Hashtag 2050startsnow at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France
Two attendees at the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network session at the 2015 COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France – photo United Nations.

Of the 195 parties (every country) that signed the Paris Agreement only 10 countries did not ratify it (Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen).

My layperson interpretation is that the intent of the Paris Agreement is to up the ante by establishing a specific temperature ceiling, requiring each country to determine a greenhouse gas emission reduction target, and obliging developed countries to provide financial assistance to help developing countries (who are also the lowest emitters) adapt to climate change impacts.

U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Article 28 of the Paris Agreement states that any party may withdraw from the Agreement three years after it was entered into force and that the withdrawal will take effect one year after notification.

When the U.S. Department of State issued a statement on November 4, 2019, announcing that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, it was not a surprise. Trump had announced his intention to do so while speaking in the White House Rose Garden on June 1, 2017.

Man Holding a Crystal Ball Showing Future Years Inside
Photo credit – iStock/shutter_m.

I am not a policy expert nor do I own a crystal ball (you probably do not either), so I do not know what the future repercussions will be, but here are a few observations so far.

  • Regardless of the fact that the U.S. has been a party to the Agreement since before he took office; Trump has been purposefully rolling back environmental regulations and protections and thwarting climate action.
  • The credibility of the United States has already been undermined by the actions of the Trump Administration so pulling out of this international agreement just adds more tarnish to our battered reputation.
  • By withdrawing from the Agreement, Trump is abdicating U.S. leadership of the climate movement which could have far-reaching economic and social ramifications. His actions are further endangering the health and wellbeing of Americans and people all around the world (including his own children and grandchildren).

There is some good news.

When the U.S. officially withdraws from the Agreement in 2020, there will still be 184 parties working towards its common goals.

A growing number of U.S. governors, mayors, and business leaders have stated that they are still in and are committed to achieving the Agreement objective. These leaders are actively taking climate action and creating their own partnerships with each other and other countries.

What Can You Do?

We have an opportunity in 2020 to elect a president that will put us back in the Paris Agreement. In the meantime, we can keep the climate movement alive and moving forward in our own communities, cities, counties, regions, and states.

  • Support climate action initiatives and policies where you live that are advancing things like clean renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, decarbonized transportation and buildings, infrastructure resilience, and waste reduction.
  • Tell your elected officials that you support the Green New Deal.
  • Give your time and/or money to environmental justice organizations that are helping people who are and will be more impacted by the climate crisis than others.
  • Be an informed voter and vote in local, state, and national elections.
  • Participate in climate rallies, vigils, and marches (people in the streets demanding change do get things done).
What Do Love Ribbon Banner at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France
This banner was seen at the Alternatiba festival during the 2015 United Nations COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France – photo credit Mark Dixon.

I can imagine the people of the United States fulfilling and even exceeding the commitments in the Paris Agreement in spite of the fact that technically we will not be part of it.

I am still in. Are you?

Featured Image at Top: This is a photo of the Eiffel Tower lit up with 1.5 degrees being projected on it during the United Nations COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France on November 30, 2015 – photo credit Francois Mori/AP.

Related Posts

Resources

  1. As Trump Steps Away from Paris Climate Agreement, U.S. States, Cities and Businesses Step Up – by Joel Jaeger, Tom Cyrs and Kevin Kennedy, World Resources Institute, 10/23/19
  2. China, France reaffirm support of Paris climate agreement, call it ‘irreversible’ – by Marine Pennetier, Reuter, 11/05/19
  3. On the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – Press Statement, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, 11/04/19
  4. Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know – NRDC
  5. Statement by President Trump on the Paris Climate Accord – the White House, 06/01/17
  6. The Climate Crisis in Terms Trump Can Understand – by Ban Ki-moon and Patrick Verkooijen, The New York Times, 11/07/19
  7. The Paris Agreement: When is a Treaty not a Treaty? – by Josh Busby, Global Policy, 04/26/16
  8. The Real Impact of US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord – by Michele Bonanno, Impakter, 06/10/17
  9. The Reality of U.S. Climate Action: Non-Federal Leadership is Delivering Ambition and Action – America’s Pledge, September 2019
  10. Trump Isn’t a Climate Denier. He’s Worse. – by Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 11/05/19
  11. U.S. Climate Alliance Governors Oppose Administration’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – press release, United States Climate Alliance, 11/04/19
  12. U.S. Withdraws From Paris Accord, Ceding Leadership To China. – by Ariel Cohen, Forbes, 11/07/19
  13. Virginia Democrats campaigned on their Green New Deal and fighting climate change. And won. – by Umair Irfan, Vox, 11/06/19
  14. What is the Paris Agreement? – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change