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Electric bike makes escaping car less daunting

Electric bike makes escaping car less daunting

The problem with biking is that when you face a hill, it can feel like you're hitting a brick wall. At Point Reyes National Seashore, a new rental program for electric bikes is knocking down that wall.

For new riders, electric bikes provide a way to flatten out the hills and make it an easy sport to try. For experienced riders, once they get over the initial sting of pride, electric bikes can extend a day of riding over many hills.

The vision of laughing your way up a hill on a bike could transform the sport and create a new segment of riders. Electric bikes are not motorcycles or Mopeds, and most do not have throttles. You still pedal, but the motor kicks in on the hills to help get you over the top. Most electric bikes have small computer sensors that determine pedal force and based on that, add a push when needed.

"The motor kicks in on the ups," said John Granatir, owner of Go Green Electric Bikes and Blue Waters Kayak, who got the idea to rent and sell electric bikes to expand his Point Reyes-based adventure business. "It gets people out that normally wouldn't be."

Since electric bikes were introduced, they carry the stigma that riders are cheating. Many avid cyclists believe that you should earn every hill on your own.

In practice, those who ride electric bikes quickly get over that. Because you no longer face an epic physical challenge every time you get your bike out, it makes it easy to get out of your chair, ride and enjoy the outdoors. They also provide a portal to the sport for those who have not ridden for years and are concerned about hitting that brick wall.

At bike shops, electric bikes retail for about $500 to $2,000. At Point Reyes, they rent for $30 for the first hour, $10 an hour after that, with a maximum cost of $80.

Most of the rentals at Go Green come with a 250-watt DC "earth magnet motor" that is mounted on the rear wheel and powered by a 24-volt Lithium-ion rechargeable battery mounted just over the rear wheel. According to Granatir, the battery on the typical electric bike provides a range of 15 to 22 miles, depending on hills and the weight of the rider.

Michael Furniss, longtime correspondent, has owned an electric bike for five years.

"I felt the stigma from bike shops and they've been courteous, but you can tell they don't think you should have a motor on a bike," Furniss said. "My feeling, it's like wearing fins while swimming, you get helped along. Is that cheating?