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The Cycle Of Life

E-bikes growing in popularity, especially among seniors

July 2023

Rich Alloway

Story and photos by Jeff Reid, Contributing Writer

What is an e-bike? According to bicycling.com, e-bikes are bicycles with a battery-powered “assist” that comes from pedaling and, in some cases, a throttle. When you pump the pedals on a pedal-assist e-bike, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can zip up hills and cruise over uneven terrain without wearing yourself out. Think of it like a moving sidewalk in an airport, where you’re still walking, but you’re also getting an electronic assist.

A rising interest in e-bikes or electric bikes has been well-documented for several years now, with more and more people discovering the benefits of cycling using this less-strenuous option.

E-bike interest has surged in popularity with both suburban and urban commuters who see them as a practical form of transportation and a potential way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by reducing combustion vehicle travel.

One local area where e-bikes are becoming increasingly popular is on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

“The e-bike industry is exploding here,” says Rich Alloway, owner of Chincoteague Bike Shop on Chincoteague Island. Alloway says he is the only business on the Eastern Shore of Virginia to rent and sell e-bikes.

“We have witnessed continued growth on the island as well as the demand for different ways to experience it,” he says, “We started Chincoteague Bike Shop because we believe electric bikes are the future. E-bikes run on clean energy and provide an up close and personal experience, unlike any other mode of transportation. From Chincoteague Island to the Assateague seashore, we believe e-bikes provide the best touring experience.”

Alloway, a retired judge and former state senator from Pennsylvania, opened his shop last summer after his first e-bike experience.

“A friend introduced me to electric bikes and as soon as I rode one, I was hooked,” he says. “They are so much fun. I have ridden bikes my whole life for pleasure and exercise. With e-bikes, you can do as much exercise as you want,” he says, adding that e-bikes’ electric-assist motors generally allow for speeds up to 20 mph.

Jeff Reid In 2023, e-bike sales are estimated to reach 40 million units worldwide, generating about $20 billion.

Alloway says his e-bikes can operate up to 40 miles of travel on one battery charge, and at the end of each day you simply plug them into the wall, and they are charged for the next day. The shop also carries e-trikes for people who have balance issues.

With battery-assisted pedaling, e-bikes can also allow more people to enjoy nature; including those whose physical fitness, age, disability or convenience might otherwise make them unable to venture into natural settings. Most National Parks such as Assateague and Virginia State Parks now welcome the use of class one (pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum speed of 20 mph) and class two (maximum speed of 20 mph, throttle-assisted) on any bicycle path or trail designated for such use.

Alloway says that many of his customers are seniors and that e-bikes allow them to stay active. He says they can pedal as much as they want, but if they get tired they can simply engage the electric assist.

“I had a 70-year-old gentleman come back to the shop in tears after riding all over Assateague Island,” he says. “He just had two knee replacements and did not think he would ever be active again. But the electric pedal assist allowed him to just keep going.

“I hear stories like that every day at our shop,” Alloway adds. “For me, keeping seniors active is incredibly fulfilling. E-bikes are also great if one person in the group is not able to keep up with the others by only pedaling.”

If interested in purchasing an e-bike, Alloway says you should do your homework. E-bikes can run anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000, and some are better quality than others.