E-bikes get more Mainers out of their cars and could help state meet climate goals

It’s 5:15 a.m. and the sky is starting to lighten in the east as Becki Morin pulls her e-bike out of her garage in Falmouth.

Morin lives about four miles from Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she is a nurse practitioner. He says he used to ride a conventional bike to work one day a week, but often arrived sweating. Since she and her husband bought electric bikes in May, she says commuting has been a breeze and she now rides to work almost every day, unless it rains.

“With gas prices going up so much, the two of us, our commute is so short, there’s no reason to drive five or six miles to work,” Morin says. “And it’s beautiful, the journey is beautiful. . . And every time I do it I’m so happy. It’s silly, but it’s true.”

And with that, Morin heads out into the morning, her taillight shining in the dawn, a smile on her face.

Morin is far from alone: ​​electric bikes have become very popular. While many Mainers use them for recreation, others rely on them for functional transportation or in lieu of a car. Transportation planners see e-bikes as part of the state’s effort to meet its climate goals over the next three decades.

Doug Watts, who sells e-bikes at Lincoln and Main Electric Bike Café and Winery in South Portland, says e-bikes make people happy.

Murray Carpenter

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Maine audience

Doug Watts is the co-founder and COO of Lincoln and Main, an e-bike shop and cafe in South Portland. He says many riders return from trials with an “e-bike smile”.

“We call it the e-bike smile,” says Watts. “You go on an electric bike and come back, you smile, inevitably, everyone is. Even the naysayers, who are hardcore bike people, like I was originally, “Oh, it’s a trap.” Well, sometimes, if you want to call it cheating, it can be fun.”

Most of the shop’s e-bikes are similar in design to traditional bikes, which Watts calls “acoustic bikes,” but have an electric motor that assists the rider’s pedaling, adding a boost of energy. The batteries are recharged by plugging into a household outlet and typically last tens of kilometers per charge. Watts uses hers to drive her son to school and has started to see many more parents doing the same.

Show a cargo bike with racks that will carry a load of 400 pounds.

“This will easily replace a car,” says Watts. “You can see how this bike is set up with the frame. You carry your kid, you carry your groceries, you carry two kids and your groceries. You can fit a basket on the front. 400 pounds is a lot.”

Electric bikes are not cheap. Most cost between $1,000 and $4,000, but Watts says the store has sold more than 50 in its first year.

Nationally, the National Bicycle Dealers Association reports that e-bike sales nearly doubled last year to more than 800,000, about 4 percent of the total bicycle market.

Jim Tasse of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine says e-bikes have a lot of appeal.

Lincoln and Main cargo bike.jpg

Murray Carpenter

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Maine audience

This electric cargo bike has a capacity of 400 lbs. Watts says it will easily carry a cyclist with two kids and some groceries.

“You get more range, more mobility and more comfort,” says Tasse.

And Tasse says that as they catch on, they could drive infrastructure improvements for all Mainers who prefer car-free transportation.

“The more bikes there are, the more people on the road with them, the more planners and designers will start to say, ‘We really have to accommodate these vehicles in a particular way,'” he says.

Joyce Taylor, the chief engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation, says that’s already happening and that her department is focusing on designing streets for safety.

“I think bicycle fatalities could go up because I think there will be more people riding,” Taylor says. “I think we’re not going to get to all of our roads to make them as safe as I’d like them to be. So I’m concerned about that and that’s part of our attention to the problem. We want people to feel like they can use our system and feel safe and that’s a conversation we’re definitely having internally across all of our projects.”

Morin, on Back Cove Trail.jpg

Murray Carpenter

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Maine audience

Morin’s trip includes a section of the Back Cove Trail, where he can often watch the sun rise over Casco Bay.

But Taylor, who is also active with the Maine Climate Council, says e-bikes can play a role in reducing car and truck trips, as measured in vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.

“It makes that trip to the store that’s maybe 3-4 miles away, a lot of people would take the e-bike now, instead of driving,” says Taylor. “So I think it’s a tool to reduce vehicle miles. . . And certainly as part of our climate goals, reducing VMT is very much a strategy that we’re proposing.”

Morin’s early morning commute to Maine Medical Center takes her along some roads that have bike lanes and others that don’t. And he also runs a section of Portland’s Back Cove Trail, stopping briefly to watch the sun rise over Casco Bay as traffic passes by on I-295.

Soon, Morin is at the hospital, where she locks her bike in a rack just 50 meters from the front door, saving her the time and hassle of going from the garage where she parks when she drives. She says she and her husband still like to ride regular bikes for recreation, but their e-bikes are all about functional transportation.

“As of May, I think there’s 550 miles on this bike,” says Morin. “And they’re just places I would have driven, not just out for a ride.”

And while it’s not a ride, per se, Morin says the commute is often the best part of his day.

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