ST. GEORGE — Ever wonder how some bicyclists are able to zoom up Foremaster Ridge or zip by in the regular flow of traffic on Bluff Street? Chances are they’re riding an electronic bike. Thanks to an abundance of both paved and dirt trails, the e-bike craze is in full swing in Southern Utah.
Fueled in part by the pandemic, e-bikes are flying off the racks at stores like Red Rock Bicycle Company in St. George. Sales Representative Lacey Johnson said half of all sales are now e-bikes. This portends with national trends, which saw a 145% increase in e-bike sales from 2019 to 2020.
So what exactly is an e-bike? Basically, it’s a bike with a battery-powered assist. There are two primary types: a pedal assist or a throttle. A pedal assist is like a regular bike that you pedal. When the going gets tough, there is an assist option that can propel the bike up a hill or increase speed on level surfaces. Throttle e-bikes, on the other hand, can move even when they aren’t being peddled. These are sort of like a scooter with a bike seat.
Johnson said the brands of pedal assist they carry at Red Rock Bicycle Company feature three levels of assist.
“You still coast like you are on a bike; you still pedal like you are on a normal bike,” Johnson said. “It’s you but just faster.”
The maintenance on an e-bike is similar to a regular bike except they need to be charged at the end of a ride. Johnson said using 100% assist, riders can typically get 20 to 25 miles per charge, equaling about a three-hour ride. The duration of the battery can be extended by toggling between the different modes. There’s a lot of variation depending on the style and brand of the e-bike.
Johnson believes e-bikes are a great investment, even though the price is steep compared to manual bikes. The average manual bike Red Rock Bicycle Company offers is around $750. That same bike with a motor and battery jumps to $3,250.
Taking it to the streets
Southern Utah city planners are responding to the e-bike trend. In St. George, the Complete Streets Policy is being discussed this month. This is part of the Active Transportation Plan passed in 2018. The purpose of the plan is to delineate the spaces needed to accommodate the various modes of transportation including cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians. Marc Mortensen, city of St. George support services director, said the policy outlines where new infrastructure needs to be added.
“It helps us improve the design of roadways to accommodate all modes of transportation, not just vehicles,” Mortensen said.
E-bikes are allowed on streets, bike paths and dirt paths in Utah. Mortensen said cyclists need to follow the same rules of the road as cars. Mortensen recommends motorists give cyclists 3 feet of space, noting they sometimes have to ride with traffic because there is too much debris on the shoulder of the road.
“Cyclists have the responsibility to be very predictable and not erratic in the way they turn or move,” Mortensen said. “Both motorists and cyclists are responsible for knowing the rules of the road.”
For safety’s sake, Mortensen advises cyclists to wear a helmet and use a bell or some other signal to alert pedestrians when they are passing by.
Try before you buy
Rentals of e-bikes are going like gangbusters in Southern Utah. The abundance of breathtaking scenery combined with a network of both paved and dirt trails brings out riders of all ages and abilities. Greg Federman, owner of Blue Raven Bikes in Kayenta calls e-bikes “the great equalizer” because there is a style to meet every kind of rider regardless of age and experience.
“There’s usually something they can feel comfortable with,” Federman said. “Once they do a little test drive and they seem like they’ve got the hang of it, by the time they get back, they’re all smiles.”
Sixty-nine year old Debbie Justice hasn’t ridden any sort of bike since she was in the seventh grade. Justice said she was surprised at how easy and fun it was to ride an e-bike.
“It was really a nice way to be able to see so much more than I believe I would have if I was just on a standard bike,” she said.
Get on your e-bikes and ride!
Bicycles are a great way to get some exercise or just enjoy the beauty of Southern Utah. Whether people are riding an e-bike or a manual one, it’s a good idea to always wear a helmet, use a bell when passing pedestrians or other cyclists and always obey all traffic rules and regulations.
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