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JONESIE: E-bikes should spark a transportation revolution



I bought an electric bicycle a few years ago.

A few friends kinda snickered, one outright laughed, as if it were a four-wheel Wal-Mart shopper scooter or “hiking” poles. If I’m honest, I think I kinda laughed when I saw the first one too, but only because it was $10,000.

“I could buy a car for that."

Now? I think they’re the first step to replacing the car.

They’re simple, reliable and manageable for any age. They can be adapted for people with disabilities. They’re easily storable and user maintainable.

When I moved to a mountain in West Kelowna, I stopped riding my old bike — riding anywhere meant walking your way back. But with an e-bike, those hills are evened right out. I can go from my home, 12 kilometres to downtown Kelowna and back on my battery range. I got to City Park in 45 minutes. By car, it’s usually 30, depending on traffic.

Most e-bikes now can get up to 50 km/h or more on a straight stretch with very little effort, if you choose. People might misunderstand that about e-bikes; riders can put in as much effort as they want. The only real variable is speed. 50 km/h might not sound like much if you’re a car guy or late to soccer practice, but they’re a perfect commuter vehicle. If they put proper protected bike lanes next to commuter routes — so people raging in cars could see how fast these other guys are getting home — rush hour would never be the same.

Yes, everyone has seen the skinny guys with colour-coordinated helmets and jerseys, but they’re not enticing anyone. E-bikes allow regular folks to do the same thing. They’re far more attainable than a car and without the obvious burdens of gas and insurance.

And, perhaps the biggest bonus with an e-bike — you’re not on a damn scooter. If you don’t have scooters in your city yet, just wait. They’re infiltrating the world. When they do, they appear out of nowhere in packs, littering sidewalks and parks. They’ve completely replaced the rented bicycle in Kelowna for reasons I don’t understand. One Kelowna doctor called them a “fracture factory”. Ever see one come wobbling down a path or road towards you? It’s terrifying.

My bike's got me thinking about transportation in general. The e-bike could change everything — but only if our cities and towns build the infrastructure around it.

I said earlier I can ride to Kelowna, but that’s no easy feat. Like many places in Kamloops and the Okanagan, you can follow bike lanes or even roads with sufficient shoulders, but usually those routes run you straight into a gauntlet of traffic. It’s frightening and dangerous and stressful.

While Penticton recently made a big and wise investments in its bike lanes, you don’t see that often. There’s no way to go from my home to nearby Peachland, for example, because you’re riding with highway traffic and no shoulders to speak of.

We live in a truly beautiful part of the world and some of those views and vistas can only be found by a very long walk or hike or by bike. We also have an incredible opportunity here to create an international cycling destination if we can connect our trails from from the Shuswap to the South Okanagan and even into Washington State. Some of it wouldn’t even be that hard to do.

But that’s just recreation. Simply making biking a safe and viable alternative for all those cars that can’t go into the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes would make a tremendous difference.
Transportation needs to be disrupted, not modified. E-bikes are a great first step and hopefully leads to more off-road cycling routes (I’m looking at you, Peachland and West Kelowna, but congratulations Penticton) but should also change how we think about transportation.

So long as it isn't a scooter.

— Marshall Jones is the Managing Editor of

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column has been substantially modified since it was first published.

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