Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cleaner, greener, and somewhat more active e-transportation options

How we get around has huge impact on the environment, and our personal health. A recent study confirms common sense: the physical inactivity of long car commutes impairs your health. On the other hand, a zero commute (I work from home) has the same effect. The answer to both is to be more active when we can, something I’ve resolved to do, adding a lot more miles to my shoes and my bicycle this year. I’m also helping make Barrie a better place for walking & cycling through the Active Transportation Working Group at City Hall.
But as you plod along for miles, or bike up a long hill, you start to wish for a bit of help. And help is out there, in the form of various electrically-assisted active vehicles.
The first I discovered are e-bikes (‘e’ for electric). These come in two flavours. The first look like normal bikes, with electric components you might not spot at first, sometimes even tucked inside a wider-than-standard frame. But since these tend to be based on high-end bike models, they can set you back as much as a couple of grand.
Another style of e-bike becoming popular looks more like a moped or Vespa. For some reason these are cheaper; I’ve seen them new for under a thousand dollars. Pedals are required by law, but I’ve never yet seen anyone pedalling one. It looks more comfortable for a long ride than a bike-style model, but it also seems less likely you’ll get any exercise. Zipping everywhere by battery is easier on the air quality and environment than driving a gas-powered vehicle, but won’t keep you in shape. So if I were to go the e-bike route, I would stick with the bike-based version, not the electric moped.
Last weekend at Barrie’s third Ecofest I got to try something new, what Z├╝ terms an “e-scooterbike”. It has the traditional lines of a kick-scooter, like kids have been riding for over a century and has recently become popular for adults in Europe in the form of “kick-bikes”. But like an e-bike, it has an electric assist motor.

I took one for a test-drive around downtown, uphill and down, and found it a very pleasant ride. Since you’re standing up, you don’t have to worry about the seat comfort issues of bikes. You also have a better view of traffic, and are more visible to cars. It’s not as fast as a bike, but forces a more active ride than an e-bike.
Today you needn’t strap yourself into a car to get around, nor must you use only human power. E-bikes and e-scooterbikes provide an intriguing middle ground of machine-assisted human-based transportation.

PS. I see from the comments on the Barrie Examiner website that there is some confusion about the rules around e-bikes. You can find them here.
Published in the Barrie Examiner as my Root Issues column under the title "Delving deeper into electrically assisted vehicles"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

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