On the move: Why we should all join the e-bike revolution

All over the world, younger populations are embracing cycling, not just because of the environment but because it’s a lifestyle

Take it easy on an e-bike in Canada. Photos by Rosemary Behan / The National
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I have tried most forms of transport, but until last month, I’d never been on an e-bike.

I love cycling, and will happily ride my mountain bike for at least 10 kilometres on any given day, on a flat surface such as Abu Dhabi Corniche. I’d always felt electric bikes were unnecessary, expensive, heavy, still somewhat polluting and, perhaps, ultimately cheating.

I was at Canada's Tweedsmuir Park Lodge – a high-end lodge in the remote Bella Coola Valley in British Columbia.This being outside the normal bear-viewing season and having no interest in fishing, I was wondering what other activities to take on when my eye caught a shed full of what looked like brand new fat bikes.

"Oh, these e-bikes just came in", said the manager, and so it was that I boarded a brand new, $2,600 (Dh9,600) Vall-E+ and took off up and down the valley, accompanied by a guide.

The Vall-E+ Pro 1:

What a joy. Looking like a normal chunky mountain bike, my model had nine speeds, with a lithium-ion battery and powered a Yamaha motor. Yet this "assisted" form of transport only kicks in when you pedal, making you feel superhuman. With the extra power and speed, we could cover far bigger distances, and hills were no problem.

With a battery 70 per cent charged, we went out for over two hours and still came back with 20 per cent to spare. Both on and off the road, along rivers and through parts of the Great Bear Rainforest, the experience felt game-changing.

Never again need you feel “too tired” to go out on your bike; nor would you be limited by distances, hills or weather. Feel like a good workout? Set your bike to “eco” mode. In a rush to get back? Sport+ mode.

I even started making plans to buy one. Although the home-grown Saluki brand has already brought e-bikes to the UAE, the Middle East lags way behind almost all other regions for the percentage of e-bikes sold annually.

Since the vast majority of all journeys are one person travelling less than five kilometres, in Asia, the United States and western Europe this technology offers such a challenge to conventional motoring, taxi and ride-sharing that firms including Uber and Lyft have started to buy into bike-share operators in North America, with the aim of taking e-bikes mainstream.

I'm in Portland, Oregon, a city which has developed a sophisticated, city-wide network of cycle paths and last year opened the Tilikum Crossing, a huge bridge which allows almost every form of transport apart from cars. I drove there before walking across and felt like dinosaur, surrounded by armies of speeding bikes.

Wakefield Gregg, owner of The eBike Store, Portland’s first electric-only bicycle shop, started his business 10 years ago while finishing the professional track of an MBA programme.

“As part of the MBA class we were in China, and there were over 90 million of these electric bikes on the road over there. The idea of going 5 to 80 miles at 15 to 20 miles an hour for 5 cents of electricity made sense. And it’s rare that you can see a business idea in which you can promote personal, environmental and geopolitical health all at the same time.”

The terrain here in Portland – big, wide, and flat – isn't so unlike Abu Dhabi or Dubai in terms of road space, distances between places and its relative lack of hills. All over the world, younger populations are embracing cycling, not just because of the environment but because it's a lifestyle.

With cost-feasible technology, increased energy efficiency, bigger populations and massive business opportunities, the time feels ripe for e-bikes and whoever is willing to ride the cusp of change.

Read more from Rosemary:

On the move: cabin fever offers us big life lessons 

On the move: In memory of Anthony Bourdain, a phenomenal meal in Vancouver

On the move: Don’t lose your bearings on a hike

On the move: Instantly intrigued in the unlikely state capital of Alaska

On the move: Passage to Alaska, part 2: raw nature

On the move: passage to Alaska, part 1: signals fade