SunBreak: Is Seattle finally reaching the e-bike tipping point?

Seattle E-Bikes in Pioneer Square

It seems like I’ve read the same story for several years claiming that this will be the year of the e-bike. Then every year, e-bike sales grow modestly, but nothing akin to a revolution.

Seattle, with its steep hills and technology-driven economy could easily be the American city where e-bikes finally take hold and become mainstream.

Capitol Hill-based Clean Republic makes an easy-to-install electric front wheel they call the Hill Topper (a brilliant name if you ask me) that has become very popular. Electric Bikes Northwest has been selling e-bikes in Ballard for years, and a recent surge in new e-bike shops begs the question: Could it be that Seattle is nearing its e-bike tipping point?

From the SunBreak:

Here in the Northwest, electric bikes have enjoyed an elevated popularity for years, at least according to Google, which ranks Oregon’s interest highest, Washington’s second. (“E-bike” is apparently a Californian term.) Seattle’s cliff-faced hills have long prompted a certain surreptitious interest in some kind of help getting up them. Electric Bikes Northwest was founded in the misty past of 1996. They remain the go-to source for e-bike information, with a guide to picking out the electric bike for you, and four different kinds of electric conversion kits.

But as of just two years ago, Sightline could run a whole series wondering where the e-bike excitement was. It still makes good reading, but the market is catching up fast. E-bikes can now be a low-end or high-end purchase. In Portland, you can pick up a top-of-the-line Kalkhoff for just $4,999. (Or you can rent a Kalkhoff and pretend you own a very expensive electric bike for the weekend.)

Here in Seattle, most of your new-bike options are in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. Besides Electric Bikes Northwest, there’s also Greenwood’s Seattle Electric Bike, who sell OHM electric bicycles; Pioneer Square’s Seattle E-Bike, who sell Prodeco when they’re in stock; and Laurelhurst’s Bicycle Center of Seattle, who have an electric bike department with a variety of brands. (They also sell an electric trailer, which will push your regular bicycle around.)

Like with non-e-bikes, the tipping point will truly arrive when separated, safe bike facilities become the norm. I’m guessing—with exceptions, of course—that many of the people who will find e-bikes appealing are not cycling today. They would fall into the “willing but wary” segment of the population, and AAA (all ages and abilities) bike facilities are the key to getting them to try cycling with or without an e-boost.

So when e-bike sales spike, we’ll know the city has done something right.

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12 Responses to SunBreak: Is Seattle finally reaching the e-bike tipping point?

  1. JAT says:

    The P-I today ran a Your Bike Law Questions Answered feature which stated that motorized biked are not permitted on the Burke Gilman trail; as these sorts of FAQs always fail to do, the obvious related issues were not explored… Are e-Bike permitted to use all the rest of the bicycle infrastructure some insist we need to have?

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I saw that P-I post and found it a little lacking in specifics. the question you refer to is about e-bikes, but then it goes on to talk about electric scooters. An electric-assist bicycle is totally allowed on bike trails (to the best of my knowledge). But where is the line between electric-assist and electric scooter? I don’t know. This gray area is a problem China is battling: http://www.bikeradar.com/news/article/legal-threat-to-chinas-electric-bikes-postponed-24440/

      If we get to the point where we have so many e-bikes that we have to tackle this issue, that will be a great problem to have!

  2. S. Morris Rose says:

    Vancouver Sun ran a story today that reports on a court decision that if you take the pedals off your e-bike, it isn’t legal to ride on *any* public right-of-way. Up and down your driveway, if you have one, yeah.

    http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/judge+confirms+electric+bikes+without+pedals+public+roads/6946100/story.html

  3. It’s kind of like porn: You KNOW when something is pornography, but it is difficult to actually define. Roughly I define it as a bike that is assisted over 15mph. Since the speed limit on many trails is 15mph, that seems like a good cutoff.

  4. Re: VeloBusDriver: Yes, similar to porn, most e-anythings aren’t anything but ‘bikes’ unless they pack more than a 750-watt motor and take you faster than 20mph without pedaling. The Hill Topper is designed to keep YOUR bike just that, your bike, in many different respects! Cheers, -Mike

  5. Pingback: SunBreak: Is Seattle finally reaching the e-bike tipping point … | Bicycle News

  6. Hey you! says:

    If you are that old guy who drives his e-bike uphill on Pike on the sidewalk at high speeds. Get on the road ass hole! We get that you have an e-bike and can ride uphill fast, but to ride on the sidewalk in Seattle you have to yield to peds and go slow.

  7. Worlds Fastest e-bike? says:

    http://www.bikeradar.com/news/article/video-specialized-turbo-the-worlds-fastest-electric-bike-33568/

    What do you do about this? If I had one of these I’d be passing cars in the bike lane all the time.

    • Kirk from Ballard says:

      That Specialized ebike is sweet, but I look at it, and see it’s speed and power, and really, it’s a moped. I’ve seen a few bicycles fitted with small gas engines that can go that speed too. I think the federal law is good, limiting ebikes to 20 mph and letting them go wherever a regular bicycle can go.

      • sparklee says:

        There’s an argument to be made against allowing them on sidewalks in some areas, but there should conversely be bike lanes available so that they don’t have to contend directly with full-lane vehicle traffic.

  8. old guy says:

    I apologize, thank you for reminding me that respect is given before it can be received.
    My enthusiasm provided by my new mobility has blinded me to the added responsibility. My future excursions shall include your reminder.
    Thank you again.

  9. Jen says:

    I have a pedal assist bike. I turn off the motor on trails and trust me, I’m not doing anywhere near 15 mph. There are plenty of jerks exceeding the limit all on their own power and making using thr B-G unpleasant for the rest of us.

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