How We’re Reducing Our Carbon Footprint: Ebikes

Learn how Mountaineers members are reducing the carbon footprint of their transportation and enhancing the fun on their adventures with ebikes.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
February 24, 2022

The Mountaineers made a commitment to reduce our organization’s carbon footprint as part of Vision 2022. In the Carbon Footprint Reduction Committee’s last blog post, we introduced you to carbon offsets. In this blog, we talk about the benefits of ebikes.

As we mentioned in our blog post on transportation, transportation is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions. Transportation emissions come in large part from passenger cars - so if we’re looking to reduce our carbon footprint, how we get around is a great place to start. 

For shorter trips near home, biking instead of driving when practical is an environmentally friendly choice. However, biking can require a lot of extra effort, especially for those of us who live in hilly places. Electric bicycles, or ebikes, provide additional power to your cycling so you don’t have to work as hard to get uphill and can ride farther than you might on a normal bike. 

Ebikes have become much more common in recent years, but it’s important to mention that they can be more expensive than non-electric bicycles. Their price might be out of reach for many, and their batteries contribute an additional carbon footprint, but for some they can be a total game changer. If an ebike isn’t for you, do not despair - the most environmentally friendly option is the bike you already own, or perhaps a used bike from a friend, family, or gear shop. 

Mountaineers member and newly retired REI Divisional Vice President Ben Johns recently penned a testimonial to the benefits of ebikes. Read on to learn more about how ebikes can enhance your everyday errands and backcountry adventures. 

Ben Johns, seattle branch

If you haven’t ridden an ebike yet, it’s time. Design and technology have progressed rapidly as the global market for EVs has expanded, giving businesses a huge economic incentive to develop battery and drive systems. Dozens of ebike brands and manufacturers have emerged, disrupting the market and traditional distribution network. The result is good for us consumers – meaningful innovation that can make our daily lives more fun, and greener too!

The beauty of an ebike is that the riding experience is not much different than a regular pedal bike. The watts provided by the drive systems are simply added to your own. Software manages the output to make the sensation feel natural, as if all the power is coming from your own legs. Instantly you are capable of riding farther, faster, or with less effort. These choices create wonderful options. Want to do errands and get some fresh air? No problem and no sweat. Concerned about fitness differential with a potential riding partner? Instantly equalized. Will a route be too far or too hilly? Not anymore!

My wife and I own a tandem bicycle that has not been off the hooks since we got our first ebike. And our repertoire of rides has exploded as we’ve gained confidence. Ride to the ferry at Fauntleroy, enjoy a lap around Vashon including lunch, and don’t worry about that last big hill – Turbo mode is there in a pinch. Exploring forest service roads in the Methow Valley on a chill autumn day, we carry a bag with puffy jackets, extra food, and gear because the additional weight is irrelevant. And quick rides to the store or library end up longer as we inevitably explore a neighborhood or take a more scenic route.

With an ebike you are in full control of how hard you work and how hard the bike works. You quickly learn to calibrate the amount of assist needed in the moment (options typically are “off” and three assist levels), similar to shifting. The more juice you use, the fewer total miles you can ride, and vice versa. Charge times depend on the battery size and the system you choose, while the interface provides data to let you monitor, plan, and learn. Through this process, you learn to assess the possibilities and expand your two-wheeled world, whether you’re commuting or on an adventure. And you can feel good knowing it only takes about 508 miles of riding an ebike instead of driving a gas-powered car to fully offset the impact of its production and delivery to you, according to PeopleForBikes.

Technology and demand will continue to drive innovations in ebike design, with new configurations developed by transit specialists or inspired by electric cars. There’s even an e-bike tax credit written into the federal Build Back Better Act, to encourage ebike ownership. In my view, there is no need to wait to rent or own an ebike right now. Bikes on the market today are wonderfully capable, versatile, and durable. Take a test ride. You won’t be able to finish without a smile, and we can all use more of that.

More ebike testimonials

If you need more convincing that an ebike is for you, or if you just like learning how our community rolls, keep reading. Ben’s testimonial inspired three more converts to tout the merits of ebikes.

Charlie Michel, Tacoma Branch

I’ve always been a die-hard traditional cyclist. I said that when I could no longer ride my (numerical) age in miles, I would get an ebike. But my cycling group all moved to the dark side, and me with them. Suddenly, a whole new cycling world opened!

I grocery shop on the bike if the list isn’t too big; getting up the hill with panniers was the limiting factor. Now, I can “motor-assist” my way up. There are some safety aspects I like with the new ebike too. When I am stopped at a traffic light with cars impatiently waiting behind me, I roar through as soon as it turns green. When insufficient shoulder width forces me to take the lane, oftentimes I can move fast enough now to keep up with traffic.

My commute to the gym used to take just over an hour round trip in hilly Kitsap County, and some days that was ok as that became the cardio part of the workout. But when pressed for time I would drive the car. Now I can cut the cycling time in half, and I have more fun doing it.

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Carol michel's ebike loaded up for an adventure. photo by charlie michel.

Lori Lawson, Everett Branch

Why e-bike? In a word, hills. Chasing my husband across Whidbey Island left me exhausted and sore. At 59 and after a hip replacement, the climbs were too much. Biking was becoming a thing of the past for me. Then I tried an ebike. On the first climb, the magic of pedal-assist kicked in, rendering a giant smile and instantly creating a convert.

In the five years since, I have logged thousands of miles. One of the best things I discovered is that I can bring along our grandson, at first in a rack-mounted seat, and now using a trail-a-bike. The power of the ebike gives me confidence on the hills, even with the extra weight. And of course, he loves it!

I enjoy riding with my husband again. Our adventures have taken us along beautiful trails and up scenic mountain roads. We have done overnight loops, using the ferries to island-hop or the train to reach other cities with awesome trails (and, since ferries and trains have electrical outlets, I recharge en route if needed). If I need to walk my bike anywhere, the walk-assist function makes hills and rough trails manageable. 

I love how flexible I can be now, too. Before the ebike, I would not have considered riding to the grocery store. Now I hop on and go, fill up the panniers, and ride back (uphill) with the groceries. I encourage people to try different ebikes to find the best fit. Mine has a very low step-through and an upright seating position, both of which are important for me. 

After riding an ebike, I immediately became an informal ambassador. I’m sure there are lots of people who could rediscover the fun of biking. You see so much more than riding in the car, and always discover hidden gems whether out on a big adventure or just running to the grocery.

Matt Simerson, Seattle Branch

I'm a biker and bike mechanic since youth. I have raced mountain bikes and bike-commuted in Seattle for years, and I want my two teenage children to bike more. 

A few years ago we got a Ninebot scooter, which was exciting while it lasted. It required balance and activity, and we looked for excuses to ride it. Next we got a toy-sized ebike with a top speed of 12 mph, which was slower than a pedal-only bike, but still fun.

Then I added a two-wheel-drive 600-watt fat tire ebike to the collection. It's a beast, with a burly frame and racks and panniers for hauling stuff. The fat tires give amazing traction on gravel, sand, and snow. With the added power I can blast up mountain trails and over hills. On a ride when a friend’s bike blew a tire beyond repair, we stashed her bike in the bushes. She hopped onto my back rack, and we finished the ride. There's no way I could have pedaled us both up a mountain without the assist.

We use the ebike regularly for shopping runs, far more often than our plain bikes. We can fill a box with purchases and bungee everything to the rack. 

I regularly hear bikers say, "ebikes are cheating." They are usually decades younger. I spent my years grinding up mountains and riding over Queen Ann hill and then climbing from the Fremont bridge up past the Zoo. More people could commute by bike, but folks willing to grind over those hills are a distinct minority. Ebikes level the hills and make biking accessible to a much wider audience. More cyclists mean more visibility to transportation planners and more support for protected bike lanes and supporting infrastructure. I say we welcome those "cheaters" with open arms and a more friendly label.

main photo of carol michel on an ebike ride. photo by charlie michel.


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