You might have seen this bike around Needham and asked, “What is that?” We have the answer; it is an Urban Arrow Family electric-assist bicycle (otherwise known as a box bike, bucket bike, or cargo bike). Green Needham sees bicycles as another solution to help realize a clean, green, climate-resilient future.
Across the US, electric-assist bicycles, also called pedal-assist, e-assist bicycles, or simply “e-bikes,” are gaining in popularity. E-bikes are bicycles with a small electric motor that provides a boost while you pedal that makes bicycling easier for everyday trips. The top reasons people cite for choosing electric bikes are ease of going up hills; ability to bicycle longer distances or with heavier loads; increased fitness due to ease of using a bicycle for transportation; not sweating (if you don’t want to); and ability to replace car trips. E-bikes come in many shapes and sizes, ranging in price from as low as $600 to over $8000, with an average range of $1500-$4000. For many people the bike pays for itself over time when replacing car trips, and bikes retain value for resale.
We caught up with Needham resident Jackie DeWolfe to learn all about it. For the DeWolfe family, the bicycle means Jackie can take her two kids (ages 2 and 4) to school by bike every day. In just two months she pedaled over 200 miles in Needham — all trips she would have driven if she didn’t have the e-bike.
It is incredibly fun and really rewarding. The combination of electric-assist and bucket design is a game changer. I love that I can take my kids to school by bike, and they have a blast. I use it to go everywhere in town now — to the grocery store, library, Rosemary pool, restaurants, friends’ houses. Needham is well suited to become a great biking town too because there are so many destinations all so close together. Plus, now I can keep up with my mom, who just retired and bought an electric bike for transportation and recreation.
What about the hills in Needham?
I remember the first time I had three kids in the bucket and we were leaving the Rosemary pool. Looking up at the long uphill driveway, I questioned the bike’s power. I thought, this is the real test of the electric-assist. When we made it to the top with no issue and I wasn’t out of breath or sweating, I had the biggest smile.
What does it feel like to ride?
A standard electric bike feels like a regular bike with superhero power to get up hills. The bucket bike, at first, was awkward compared to a standard bicycle. It felt big and intimidating. I test rode a lot of different styles of family bikes before I got used to it. Now it is really easy to ride and I love the step-through frame and being upright as I pedal. The electric-assist provides instant balance, too, which is helpful when starting from a stop and carrying heavier loads — in my case two kids. There are a lot of features that make the bike comfortable and convenient.
The chain is enclosed, so I never have to worry about grease or rolling up my pants, for example. There are built-in lights powered by the electric motor that automatically turn on. There is a built-in wheel lock so if I’m running into a store, I can just turn a key and walk away. There are three-point harnesses that keep kids secure. I love that the kids are in front of me too; we talk as we go. The battery locks in for security.
How far can you go on a battery charge?
In eco mode the range is 53 miles, and that is if you are continuously using the electric-assist. There are four settings of increasing power; the highest is turbo with a range of 25 miles. The charger looks like a laptop charger, and you can charge the battery while it is on the bike or off the bike. I find that when I use the bike every day for all my local trips, I charge the battery every four days.
What type of reactions have you received?
The reactions have been great. The best is more often spontaneously running into friends around town. Also, my kids have a blast. They are engaged with what is happening outside – getting to know all the Needham public works, construction and safety officers; saying hi to every dog; asking about house decorations. Every trip, multiple people come up to me to ask about it, and yell out “love that” or “that is so cool.” One person driving a truck asked me where he can buy one so he could go on rides together with his fiancée, who uses a wheelchair. Another person in a very nice sports car yelled out, “Your ride is better than mine!” It is fun how many more people you run into and talk to when you bike to get around. The sense of community is really strong.
What is your advice for readers interested in an electric-assist bike?
Go try them out. E-bikes are sold at most bike shops, but do make sure they have some in stock for test rides before you go because of supply-chain issues at the moment. I welcome anyone to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more and test out my bike here in Needham. There are also great forums online where people share experiences and tips, and people who offer their bike for a test ride. My favorite is when people share what they use the bike for — picking up a tree with a kid in the bucket, or 20 pizzas, or ten 2×4 pieces of lumber. There are a lot of styles and options for individuals as well as kids and families. Lastly, talk to your neighbors and friends and find out if they are interested in biking together. When I started bicycling again as an adult, having people to bike with made all the difference. There are already many people who bike around town.
The interview with Jackie got us thinking. According to state data, over 50% of all trips in Massachusetts are less than three miles, and three miles is about 16 minutes on a non-electric bike. Most people in Needham live within three miles of Needham Center. If just 5% of the Needham population replaced just five miles of driving with cycling each week in town, that would equate to replacing 412,386 vehicle-miles traveled and prevent 165 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Now imagine 10%, 20% . . . That’s less pollution, less vehicle traffic, and reduced dependency on driving, for a greener, healthier and more livable community.
This is part one of a series of posts on bicycling. Send your questions to Green Needham at info@GreenNeedham.org.