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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Go to a Native Plant Society Plant Sale

You will be glad you did.

If you live in a temperate climate, a fall native plant society sales event is an ideal place to shop for native plants and obtain free expert advice. For readers living in other climates, there is sure to be an event for you sometime during the year.

On the California Central Coast, where I reside, a good time to plant native plants is in November before the rainy season begins. This gives the plants a chance to become established in their new homes well ahead of dry summertime conditions.

Why should you plant native plants in your yard or garden? The short answer is because they are beautiful, good for the environment, and connect you to the place where you live.

A few additional reasons for growing native plants are because it is fun, rewarding, and good for your wellbeing.

This post contains three examples that illustrate the wonderfulness of native plants.

A Tale of Three California Native Plants

The first of the three California native plants described below is one that I grew from a seed I obtained at a California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo (CNPS-SLO) chapter seed exchange. The second I grew from a tiny seedling I bought at last year’s CNPS-SLO native plant sale (this year’s sale is coming up on Saturday, November 2). The third volunteered to grow in our yard, meaning we did not purposefully plant it.

California Buckwheat

Regular readers will recognize Becky the California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) in the top photo above as this individual plant has been featured in other stories I have written about native plants. For new readers here is a brief recap.

As an amateur native plant enthusiast wanting to learn about native plants, I joined CNPS-SLO in October 2017. The first meeting I ever attended coincided with the chapter’s annual seed exchange where I selected seeds for five California native plants I wanted to try growing, including California buckwheat.

Of the California buckwheat seeds I planted, only one germinated and grew into a plant. Once it seemed big enough to try to make of go of it in our mostly wild yard, I named the plant Becky and transplanted it into a carefully selected spot where I hoped it would receive enough sun and would have adequate room to grow.

I decided to provide supplemental water during Becky’s first year living in the yard. It was thrilling to watch the plant double in size. I was astonished when Becky had spread out to cover a space with about a five-foot radius. The plant looked happy but I wondered if it would ever bloom and attract bees.

In early July, I spotted the first buds forming and waited in anticipation for flowers to appear. At first, there were just a few flower clusters and then more and then many more.

Recently, when I was taking photos of Becky, I just stood there for a minute admiring this magnificent plant that I had grown from a tiny seed.

California Fuchsia

Before last year’s CNPS-SLO native plant sale in November, I had made a list of plants I wanted to try growing in our yard. California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) was one of the plants on my list that I was able to buy at the event. I bought six of the small seedlings (about 2-3” tall) to try in various places in our yard.

When we got home, I planted the seedlings in 1-gallon pots and placed them on a landing for the stairs that lead up to our front door. Apparently, raccoons (or someone else) discovered the pots and decided to dig for bugs leaving the seedlings overturned.

Fortunately, I noticed the mishap the following morning. After repotting the seedlings, I moved them to a safer area on the deck outside of our dining room.

With regular watering, the seedlings soon grew taller and continued to grow and fill out the pots.

In February of this year, I deemed the plants were ready to try living in the yard so I transplanted one to see if the deer would eat it or not. They did not so in March I planted the remaining five plants. For insurance, I planted one California fuchsia within the small fenced-in area of our yard near Becky.

All the plants seemed like they were doing okay at first, but after a few months, I noticed that there was a large variance in growth. I have been giving them supplemental watering and as far as I can tell the plants are not being eaten by the deer. Perhaps the variation is due to the amount of sun they receive, the soil conditions, or something I have yet to discover.

California Fuchsia Blooming - October 2019
I did not expect the plants to bloom during the first year, but this California fuchsia that lives in the fenced-in area of our yard gave me a lovely surprise – October 2019.
Coast Live Oak

Our home is on a tiny piece of land in the midst of a native stand of Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) forest where Monterey pines and coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) trees live together. The oaks in our yard volunteered to grow in various locations from acorns dropped by neighborhood oak trees or by the squirrels and birds that collect and store them.

During the first several years that we lived here, I observed the various trees, plants, and wildlife sharing our yard with us. I knew that oaks are generally slow-growing and long-lived trees but our oak trees seemed exceptionally slow growing.

On a spring day in 2013, I found out why. I had gotten up from my desk to stretch and walked over to look out one of our home office windows. You cannot imagine my amazement to see a mule deer buck munching on the leaves of one of the tiny oak trees.

I was used to seeing deer cruise through our yard eating various things but I had never seen a deer eat anything on an oak tree. I had just assumed that they did not like to eat the spiky edged leaves. That day I learned that deer do eat oak leaves and that they had been doing it for years when we were not looking. Who knew deer were so sneaky.

The oak trees living in our yard were not exceedingly slow-growing. They were stunted from years of deer grazing.

Of course, getting rid of the deer was not an option nor would my spouse and I want it to be. Our neighbor’s fenced-in yard has several mature oak trees (which I have now witnessed being pruned by deer) so we deduced that maybe if the oak trees in our yard could be protected until some of the branches grew taller than the deer can reach then maybe they could coexist with the deer.

We decided to try providing a few oak trees with protective fencing and see what happened. After a few years, all the protected trees had at least doubled in height so we surveyed our yard and then enclosed more trees.

We now have seventeen oak trees of various heights living in wire enclosures. The first tree we enclosed in 2013 is about eight feet tall so in a year or so we will remove the fencing and let it spread out however it wishes. As the other trees grow beyond deer height they will have a chance to live un-fenced, too.

Coast live oak trees are an important part of the history, beauty, and biodiversity of this area so it gladdens our hearts that we can help the trees and the deer occupy the land together.

Shopping for Native Plants

Native plants are sometimes available at nurseries and big box store garden centers. However, I prefer buying native plants at a botanical garden or native plant society plant sale because you can find plants suitable for where you live and obtain free expert advice on how to care for them.

The California fuchsia described above is just one of the native plants and trees I have purchased at botanical garden and native plant society plant sales over the past several years.

Hiking around our hilly yard to observe and tend our native plants is good exercise and a continuous learning experience that brings joy into my life.

Add beauty to your own yard or garden and contribute to your wellbeing by planting native plants, grasses, and trees. Search the web for a native plant society plant sale where you live and then go to it.

Next year, you will be admiring the native plants that you bought this year that have now settled into their locations in your yard or garden.

Featured Image at Top: This is Becky the California buckwheat who has been blooming in our yard and attracting bees for that past four months – October 2019.

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