A small electrically-powered motor is attached to the crank.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Berkshire Bike and Board is finding a burgeoning market in e-bikes.
Electronic bicycles have been in existence for more than a decade but only recently has the technology begun to take hold in the Berkshires.
The bicycles are just like traditional bikes and made by traditional bike manufacturers. But they come with a small battery-powered motor attached to the crank to assist with the peddling.
"There are no throttles. You have to pedal to make them go. They are definitely different from a moped or a motorcycle or anything like that," Berkshire Bike and Board owner Steffen Root said.
The bikes come with a rechargeable battery connected to a head unit and the motor at the crank. There are settings to control how much assistance the rider gets and the motor also responds to the power applied by the rider to the pedals. That gives the bikers assistance based on the rider's preferences.
Root said the technology has lowered the barrier for people to recreationally ride and for commuters.
For example, Root said if somebody was commuting to work, the rider could use extra assistance to get there without ending up sweaty and needing a shower. But at the end of the shift, the same rider could use less power -- or turn it off completely -- and get a workout in.
Conversely, those who recreationally ride can use low power to get the workout in, but if they go too far they can use some extra help getting back.
Riders who are aging out of the sport have been particularly attracted to the bikes. It is a way for them to stay on the road or trails and keep up with their friends.
"People who have been road riding most of their lives don't want to stop. But they may be aging, older than the rest of their friends who are riding and can't keep up anymore, so they are getting on e-bikes. Now they can continue to ride with their friends," Root said.
He said the bikes "level the playing field" for people at different skill levels to go out for a ride without one rider feeling like they are holding another back and vice versa. The less skilled rider can use a greater amount of assistance and still get the work out they need while staying with the more skilled rider.
"This levels the playing field. That has been a boon for people that haven't been able to get out. There is a hurdle to getting on a bike because it is a significant amount of effort. This lowers that amount of effort and lowers the barrier to entry," Root said.
The e-bikes have already taken hold in Europe where two out of every three bicycles sold have motors. But it had only recently been making its way to the rural and motor-vehicle-dominated United States. More urban places like New York City and in California have seen the technology take off in recent years.
The newness in America has led states to start figuring out how to classify the technology. Root said it had caused a problem in New York City because delivery drivers were souping up the machines to go much faster and adding throttles. Root said that tainted the technology's reputation.
There are classes of e-bikes, some with pedal assist up to 20 mph, some with pedal assist up to 28 mph, and some do come with a throttle up to 20 mph. Berkshire Bike and Board sells predominately the first class, pedal assist up to 20 mph.
Root said while the bikes can assist up to 20, it still requires a tremendous of energy to get that fast uphill.
The motorized aspect lead to some skepticism when the bikes were first developed. There have been a number of misconceptions about the products, said Root, who has been asking people to take a test ride to see for themselves.
"If you get on one you will come back with a smile, almost guaranteed," he said.
That skepticism is starting to wane. The first year Berkshire Bike and Board had them, Root said three were ordered but took all summer to sell.
Each year since, the number of e-bikes in stock has grown as more and more people began to test them out. Last year, the company made a stronger commitment to carry more in its Great Barrington and Pittsfield stores.
"We are now starting to see more and more people say 'hey, I tried an e-bike and this is something I want to do,'" Root said.
Berkshire Bike and Board both sells and rents e-bikes.
The technology has advanced and the prices have been cut nearly in half since they first emerged onto the local scene. The batteries now last twice as long -- both mileage and overall lifetime.
Root said a battery can be fully emptied and recharged 1,000 times and each charge can take somebody more than 60 miles.
Meanwhile, the prices have dropped to the $2,000 range for a quality e-bike from Berkshire Bike and Board from the $4,000 range a decade ago -- much closer to the price of a traditional bicycle.
"The price point we feel comfortable standing behind and really supporting is that $2,000. You are getting a quality machine that is going to be supported by a known manufacturer which will support the product and give a warranty. It is not going to be problematic and we are not going to be seeing a lot of returns," Root said.
"With the internet, you can buy everything a lot cheaper but a lot of times it is not apples to apples."
The company also purchased a number of e-bikes for people to rent this year. He said those have been renting "at a brisk pace" and he sees that market growing. He thinks in a few years more e-bikes will be rented than traditional.
The combination of information, people testing them, availability, price, and technology have all come together for the industry recently and more and more e-bikes are being sold throughout the country.
"It is really transforming transportation. We haven't quite got there in America but we are getting there. Right now for most people, it is for recreation," Root said.
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