DRIFTLESS - Many folks, as they age, tend to get out on their bikes a lot less than when they were younger. Add to that, the hills-and-valleys terrain of the Driftless Area, and you could see a perfect storm of sluggish slothfulness start to creep into your everyday life.
Enter the e-bike, a marvel of ingenuity and forward thinking, which offers all of the fun and healthfulness of taking a bike ride, without any of the terror of sitting at the bottom of a big hill looking up.Taking an e-bike ride (and training) with Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) President Timm Zumm on Earth Day seemed like a perfect way to celebrate the sunny day. Zumm insisted that the best way to learn how to ride an e-bike is to have an experienced rider show you the tips and tricks, and he was right!
Add to that a visit to downtown Spring Green to commune with the ‘Geezers,’ and a visit to the Spring Green Dog Park, and you could say it was Earth Day at its finest. Zumm pulls a bike trailer with his faithful friend ‘Bowie the River Dog’ behind him.
“For me, it’s not just getting out on the bike for some exercise,” Zumm said. “It’s also a way to get downtown and see my buddies, and then take Bowie to the dog park to see his buddies. And I get a little exercise too.”
Zumm shopped around and settled on the ‘Lectric’ brand of foldable, fat tire e-bikes as the choice that best fit his lifestyle and his budget. In the spring of 2020, he bought two bikes and also his pet-friendly bike trailer, and reports that he hasn’t had a single problem with the bikes that come fully assembled and ready to go. One bike now has over 200 miles on it, and the other has over 1,300 miles on it – most of the miles with Bowie in the trailer.
“I decided to get an e-bike when I realized that I was getting older, and just wasn’t getting out on my bike and riding anymore,” Zumm said. “And I also had the problem of needing to get the dog out for some exercise at the dog park.”
The big hill test
Zumm got his e-bike and reports that “I can now get a work out without getting worn out.” He says that biking has now become fun for him again.
“My big test was seeing if I could get up the hill on Neuheisel Road without having to get off and walk,” Zumm remembered. “Even pulling the trailer with Bowie in it, I was able to just pedal slow and steady up that hill, in first gear with the ‘pedal assist’ set on its highest setting, and it was just enjoyable – I didn’t really have to work very hard.”
Zumm says that there are lots of different styles of e-bikes on the market, but considers the Lectric brand to be ideal for older folks, folks on a limited budget, and folks that like to get off the paved surface and ride on forest trails and such.
“The fat, nubby tires make for a nice smooth ride on a paved surface, and give you lots of traction and cushion even off the pavement,” Zumm says. “You’re not going to be able to do that with those skinny-tired bikes, but those are better for the younger folks that want to go further and faster.”
Zumm is especially a fan of the Lectric bike’s foldability. He says that when it’s folded up, he can fit it in the back of his Prius without even having to put the seat down.
Training the dog
As far as training Bowie to ride in the bike trailer, Zumm says that “some dogs will and some dogs won’t.” Bowie, he says, is one of those dogs that just likes to go everywhere with him, and he knows that when he gets in the trailer, he gets to go to the dog park and play with his pals. Zumm says that, and a few doggie biscuits, were all he needed to convince Bowie that riding in the trailer was a good thing.
The bike trailer Zumm selected has a rear door entrance, which means the dog can just hop in and doesn’t need to be lifted. Inside the trailer is a short leash, attached to the side of the trailer, which can be attached to the dog’s collar or harness. Zumm says he keeps a stash of dog biscuits, a leash, and some water in the trailer as well. The trailer itself is very easy to travel with. The wheels can be easily removed, and the trailer itself can be folded virtually flat.
“I’m really more of a commuter than just a bike rider,” Zumm says. “The bike allows me to combine exercise with other activities, and whenever I go, I always have a goal in mind. So, for me, it’s more of a lifestyle than a sport, and it’s been great for my health and great for my dog.”
Zumm says if the parades return this summer, he thinks he might try to pull FLOW’s mascot, ‘Flow the Paddle Fish,’ in some of the local community parades using the e-bike.
According to Consumer Reports, sales of e-bikes in the U.S. grew more than eightfold between 2014 and 2017, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. But the number of people in the U.S. who use e-bikes is still quite small—especially compared with the product’s massive popularity in China and parts of Europe.
Consumer Reports has conducted a review of the different e-bike brands on the market. Their review covers the different construction, application, and price range for consumers, and can help guide making the choice of which bike would best meet your needs and budget.
Their report can be found at:
They tested five models that included a variety of features, at prices ranging from $600 to $2,600. All the bikes tested are regulated as either Class 1 (where the assist is activated by your pedaling and gets you up to 20 mph) or Class 2 (where the assist is activated by a throttle and gets you up to a maximum of 20 mph). They did not test any Class 3 bikes, which have top speeds of 28 mph.
On their website, the e-bikes are presented in alphabetical order. Each is rated on several features, but there is no Overall Score.
What you need to know
According to Consumer Reports, here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about buying an e-bike—including the safety considerations—along with details about their testing program and their findings.
“Think about what you want to use an e-bike for, and how far you’ll need it to go on a charge,” says Bernie Deitrick, who leads CR’s electric bike testing. “On our hilly course, the bikes we tested went between 15 and 30 miles before running out of juice—though that range is even wider when you look at the whole e-bike market, and also varies depending on how and where you ride.
You should also keep in mind how a bike rides when it’s not charged—especially if you need to cover long distances, or if you won’t always be able to charge it fully between rides.
“The electric assist is important, but the bicycle itself is important, too,” Deitrick says.
“Compared with nonelectric bikes, e-bikes tend to be heavy. Some of the bikes we tested were almost unrideable without the charged assist function, while others made for a pleasant ride with or without a boost.
“You can have an e-bike that’s a great electric vehicle, but a terrible bike,” Deitrick says.
“One more thing to keep in mind: While a serious cyclist on a nonelectric racing bike can speed past a person on an e-bike, on average, people riding e-bikes go about three miles-per-hour faster than someone on a traditional bike,” MacArthur says. “That difference tends to be greater on uphill (climbs).”
“Finally, think about whether it is safe to ride where you live. The safety issues we see with bicycles we also see with e-bikes,” Lommele says. “We’re still vulnerable users.”
For the Lectric bike that Zumm favors, here is what Consumer Reports has to say:
“Ultra affordable (at $899) folding electric fat bike that looks pretty nice in two colors (black or white) with stylish accents. Great utility here with sturdy steel fenders, rear cargo rack, and integrated LED lights. Impressive 28 mile-per-hour top speed option. The step-thru version is super-approachable with a low stand-over height but reinforced for stiffness and strength, supporting up to 330 lbs. total.
“Adjustable seat post and telescoping steer post allows this bike to fit a range of riders, though it's only available in one frame size. Though the company began fairly recently, in 2019, they have focused on customer support and hardware quality to become one of the fastest growing e-bike brands in North America.
“Seven-speed drivetrain provides a decent range of pedal speeds, the fat four inch wide tires offer stability and comfort, ergonomic grips reduce hand numbness, the thick padded saddle has rubber bumpers to take the edge off.“No suspension fork, but they do sell an optional suspension seat post and the padded saddle has built-in bumpers to improve ride quality. May encounter rust on the steel fork, fenders, rear rack, and non-sealed headset while some competing products use aluminum alloy or sealed parts that cost more. The lights help you to be seen, more than they illuminate the path and there's no USB charging port on the display or bottle cage bosses on the frame. The battery locking cylinder is below the main tube, making it somewhat difficult to reach for battery removal.”