The recent wave of hot weather has made e-bikes an even hotter commodity in Vero than they already were, but at the same time has raised new questions about their safety, both on and off the road.
“It’s been so hot that people who would normally go for a traditional bike ride are more inclined to stay indoors because it’s just too hot to pedal or do any exercise,” says Mike Costner, the owner of the Bicycle Sport shop on 7th Avenue. “With a pedal-assisted e-bike, you don’t have to pedal as hard, and you can still go a little faster so you can catch a good breeze.
“That’s why it’s an ideal way to still get some exercise outdoors even when it’s hot. We’ve seen a definite uptick in sales since the start of the hot, sticky days of summer.”
E-bikes come in all shapes and sizes, and range in price from a no-frills basic model costing around $1,700 to an all-bells-and-whistles-included superbike with more powerful batteries that’s made of lightweight materials so it’s easier to carry. Top-of-the-line models will run to around $15,000.
The people buying e-bikes include all age groups and both genders at Costner’s Bicycle Sport shop as well as at the Trek dealer on Commerce Avenue, while Mike Logue, owner of the Pedego dealership on Miracle Mile, says his typical customer is male and between 50 and 70 years of age.
“We see a lot of couples buying e-bikes for both the husband and the wife,” Costner says.
“Without insulting either sex or any age group, there are a lot of situations where one partner has a little more physical strength than the other, so one has a hard time keeping up if they go for a ride together on traditional bikes. The e-bike will allow that physically less-strong partner to keep up so they can still ride together.”
All bicycle sales soared during the COVID pandemic as people were looking for ways to safely get out of lockdowns, but traditional bike sales plummeted when life started returning to normal.
The only segment of the industry that keeps growing is e-bike sales.
“They’re selling like hotcakes,” said a salesman at the Trek shop. “We’re selling about two a day.”
“The summer may be a little slow for us, but once we get into the winter season and the snowbirds return, we really expect sales to take off,” said Logue, the Pedego dealer.
E-bikes are ideal for the Vero populace, said Costner of Bicycle Sport, because a lot of older, retired people who want to continue to exercise outdoors have knee or hip issues that make traditional pedaling difficult. Also, on flat terrain close to the ocean with often a stiff breeze, e-bikes can help make going against the wind a lot easier.
Costner said he has heard of a few minor scrapes involving e-bikes, but no more than you would expect from bikes riders pedal. “I don’t think e-bikes are inherently more dangerous,” Costner says. “It’s like everything else. You have to pay attention, obey all the traffic rules and don’t do anything crazy.”
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said that while he and his officers have noted the increase in e-bikes on the streets of Vero Beach, he has seen no specific problems with them.
“No accidents have been reported to us that specifically involved e-bikes. I guess we’ve been lucky so far.”
The Indian River County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to questions about e-bike safety and traffic enforcement involving e-bikes.
The more basic e-bikes can reach speeds of up to 20 mph, while the bikes with more powerful batteries can go up to 28 mph, which allows e-bike riders to fly under the radar of any regulations applying to traditional motorcycle riders. Unlike Harley enthusiasts, people do not have to be licensed to ride an e-bike.
Costner said he knows of a couple of people around town who have “tuned” their e-bikes, tinkering with them and using after-market kits to plug into the e-system and bypass the speed limits on the bikes, allowing them to go considerably faster than 30 mph.
“I’ve seen them, but that’s illegal,” Costner says. “If they go faster than 30 mph, they should get regular licenses like motorcycle riders – and I predict sooner or later there will be bad consequences for that kind of behavior. You can just do some many crazy things before you inevitably come to a bad end.”
Traditional motorcycle riders don’t like sharing the road with e-bikers, especially those riding souped-up machines. “These guys don’t have to be licensed and they go too fast, running red lights and ignoring traffic rules,” said Arnie Summers, an experienced motorcycle rider. “It’s just not right.”
Others have issues with e-bikes as well. Some pedestrians complain that e-bikers don’t give them the right of way they are entitled to on sidewalks. One woman said she had to jump out of the way when two e-bikers came at her from opposite directions at a pretty good clip and neither made any move to slow down to let the other biker pass.
Apart from on-road hazards, e-bikes also present other dangers. Several condominium buildings around Vero Beach have banned e-bikes from being stored in their bike rooms because of the fire danger when the batteries are being charged. The fires that have occurred mostly involve off-label parts or batteries ordered over the Internet.
Since most e-bikes weigh upwards of 40 pounds, storing them has become a problem for some condo residents since they’re difficult to lug upstairs and keep inside an apartment, although the newer, more expensive models are made with light-weight materials and weigh less.
Some e-bikes have internal batteries, meaning the whole bike has to be plugged into an outlet to recharge the battery, while others have external batteries, which can be detached and recharged inside a home or business.
“Since this is a new thing that has come along, different jurisdictions are still struggling with how to respond,” says Costner. “To limit the fire hazard, I heard that New York City is now considering requiring the electronics on all e-bikes to be UL-certified (referring to the Underwriter Laboratory standards). But I don’t know how they’re going to enforce that.”
The state of California is also considering regulation of e-bikes, especially for teenagers after two deadly crashes involving teens in the San Diego area.
Nationwide, a million e-bikes are expected to be sold across the country this year and e-bikes have also become very popular in Europe.
The range for e-bikes varies widely by type of battery and how the bike is used. Almost all bikes are pedal-assisted, and if you pedal more, it uses less battery; if you pedal less and use the motor more, you’ll run down the battery sooner and will have to recharge sooner.
The smaller 36-volt batteries on the cheaper models have a range between 16 and 32 miles, depending on how much you pedal, while the more powerful 52-volt battery models can have a range up to 76 miles.
Among the celebrities who have endorsed e-bikes is William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame, who says he rides with children and grandchildren in a three-generation group. “It’s hard to pick the adults out of the crowd when we’re out (e-biking) together,” he says. “They all giggle and race around like unruly schoolchildren.”
And a 70-year-old British cancer survivor, David Hayles, e-biked 21,000 miles around the world through 28 countries in less than a year and a half, shipping his bike across two oceans to complete the voyage. “My particular stupid thing was to bicycle around the world,” he said.