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Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

What I learned from three years commuting with an E-bike

Emilie Phillips updated June 14, 2019

Three years ago I started commuting into Cambridge on a brand new e-bike. Before this, I had never commuted by bike. I had bicycled recreationally a few times a year and I was in good shape, so I thought I was ready.

Bike Commute

Bike commuting in a city is quite different from easy rides on the weekend. I learned a lot that’s generic to all forms of bike commuters.

  • Don’t put the inside pedal down on a turn.
  • Better yet, don’t take turns that fast.
  • Always check the side mirror before drifting left or switching lanes. To cement the habit, congratulate yourself each time you remember.
  • As cars start moving for a light, don’t ride up beside them. You’ll be entering their blind spot when they turn right.
  • Treat break lights like turn signals.
  • A right turning car stopped for pedestrians likely won’t move out of the bike lane before you get there.
  • Plan to pull over into car lane. Further, plan to leave space for other bicycles that you are passing to pull into car lane.
  • It’s safer to proactively pull out into the car lane when you see a right turning car ahead, than to rely on your right of way in the bike lane to keep you safe.
  • Cars notice you more in their side mirror if you have a blinking front light.
  • Watch out for cars starting on a patch of ice. They may spin their tires and slide sideways towards you.
  • Studded snow tires don’t stick as well to dry pavement.
  • Always buy a new spare tube immediately after replacing a tube in case you installed the replacement wrong and it pops.

E-bike

The E-bike adds its own challenges on top of bike commuting. My E-bike is an iZip. The motor boosts proportional to the torque on the pedals with a sharp dead band around zero torque. The net effect is jerky and unpredictable when starting and stopping. It’s a class 3 E-bike which means it can assist up to 28mph. It’s allowed on bike lanes on roads, but not on bike paths.

  • Don’t get off the bike with the motor still on. The motor may engage if the pedals are jostled.
  • Hold the brakes at stops so it doesn’t kick forward.
  • Wet metal plates are extra dangerous. Even if you hold your feet steady, the motor may surge.
  • With an E-bike, hills are barely noticeable.
  • Just like with a motorcycle, leave room to escape at stop lights in case car behind doesn’t see you.
  • Claim the whole car lane instead of drifting into it when you need to avoid an obstacle in the bike lane
  • Different bicyclists playing by different rules is annoying, especially the slow bicyclists that run red lights.
  • Some other bicyclists like you to yell “on your left” even if you are passing way out in the car lane.
  • Pass buses on the left at bus stops. Pass them on the right at a light only if you can get in front of them before the light turns green.
  • Big E-bikes don’t fit well between parked cars and parked traffic. Trying to weave slowly is hard. It’s easier if you decrease the boost level.
  • The fastest route for an E-bike is the main car route, not the less congested side streets.
  • Practice good battery maintenance or the battery will loose capacity. Specifically, wait for the battery to cool before changing, and leave it at half charge over the weekends or during a rainy spell.
  • Use all the gears instead of just the high ones with max boost. The extra torque from the motor stretches out the chain.
  • It’s hard to shift correctly because the motor doesn’t let off until I stop pedalling. Constantly shifting under torque wears out the deraileur.

In Conclusion

The last thing I learned, is that all my practice checking for traffic in the side mirror carried over to driving a UHaul. Now, the house is too far from work to bicycle, even with an E-bike.

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