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A new spin on an old hobby

Yvonne Boose

A bit of power has turned a manual piece of equipment into something more, allowing its users to cover more ground.

An electric bicycle or e-bike is not a motorcycle – it’s a bicycle with assisted power, which means the user still needs to pedal. Most have a torque sensor. This takes the input that the person puts into pedaling and assists accordingly.

Tom Cassidy, co-owner of 1881 Electric Cycle in Aurora, said these bicycles give those who normally wouldn’t ride a bike the ability to cruise again.

“It's not hard for somebody who's in even poor shape,” he said, “to go two, three, four miles on an electric bike and get out and you know, feel the air going across their face.”

Sycamore resident Carol Meeks said she loved riding bikes, but she was starting to have issues with her knees. Three years ago, a friend came up with a solution to her problem.

“And so, as a surprise for my birthday, one year he gave me this electric bike,” Meeks explained.

Meeks said her electric bike takes some of the stress off her knees and this allows her to ride farther.

“I can add the assist. So, then you can have a speed and you can add a one, two, three, four, five assist,” she explained. “I've not done five because it takes you at 20 miles an hour. I'm not that brave.”

Anton Kirner is the other co-owner of 1881 Electric Cycle. He said electric bikes are the next best transportation option.

“Gas is expensive right now. And you know, besides just the gas, you get to get out a little bit,” he added. You get to start your morning with a bike ride. Maybe there's some baby geese walking across, maybe meet a strange dog or something. Go on with your day, rather than jumping in your car, especially for those three to five-mile commutes. It's just absolutely ridiculous.”

The bikes can cost up to thousands of dollars although a 2020 article from cyclingweekly.com states that, like other new products, as more are produced, over time the price could go down.

Yvonne Boose

The bikes can charge at home much like a laptop. Kirner said the power could last anywhere from 30 to 80 miles with combined pedaling, depending on the brand.

Kirner suggess that owning an electric bike is a good option for those living in a downtown area or small town.

“A lot of people don't look at a bike as anything but recreation. What we're trying to do is teach people that it can be transportation on a daily basis,” he explained.

Carol Meeks is already working on that.

“I like to figure out how I can get from one place in Sycamore to the other,” she said. “And by way of streets that aren't too dangerous to be on. So that's kind of been fun.”

There are a number of manufacturers of electric bicycles. They range from relative newcomers devoted exclusively to making e-bikes, to established bicycle companies that have added electric options to their lineup. Along with direct sales, the bikes have begun to show up at online retail sites, and in shops like 1881 Electric Cycle.

For those curious about the experience, the owners of the Aurora store invite anyone who’ve never been on an electric bike to come in for a ride – no obligation. Kirner said shopping over the internet isn’t the same as riding the bike. He wants people to see how it feels for themselves or - put their own spin on it.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.