Eight years of riding an electric-assist bicycle almost every day

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Eight years ago, I started riding an electric-assist bicycle to work almost every day, and on weekends for recreation and errands.

I have used it in all sorts of weather year-round, including November and December days with high winds and drenching rain.

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In fact, that’s my main excuse for using an electric bicycle, instead of one that is 100% human-powered. I’m the weak-willed sort that would look out the window on a windy, rainy day and decide that bicycling would be too tough and unpleasant, and I’d take the car. With the electric boost, and good rain gear, I’ve overcome that mental obstacle.

On most relatively pleasant days riding into work, pedaling plays a bigger role than the motor. But at night, going home, and on days with lousy weather, the motor is dominant. It’s particularly handy on the final stretch home, which involves going up hill.

It’s an electric-assist bike in that it wasn’t designed to run just on the motor. Pedalling isn’t necessary on flat terrain, but it is when going up a hill, unless you’re willing to go very slow and risk tipping over. Still, on hills, despite the need to pedal, the electric-assist is very helpful.

Riding an electric bike has sparked the occasional derisive comment from other cyclists: “That’s a sissy bike.” “You’re riding a cheater bike.” “Hey, get a real bike!”

But I've also been approached quite often by people curious about the bike, who were thinking about getting one for themselves. One night, while I was waiting in a left-turn lane, a pickup truck pulled up beside me. The driver rolled down his window and quizzed me about the bike’s performance and range. I gave him a 30-second explanation before my light turned green.

Having the electric bike allowed our household to drop to one car from two, saving us money.

But running the bicycle has still required a good bit of spending. Daily use over eight years takes a toll.

I bought the bike, an eZee Sprint, when electric bicycles were just beginning to get traction in Canada. The technology, I suspect, was a touch experimental.

The seller was upfront about battery vulnerability: It probably wouldn’t last beyond five years. But I was smitten by the bicycle and the prospect of saving money by running just one car.

The bicycle cost $2,084.85, with tax. The battery and the motor assembly were replaced under warranty in the first year.

Since then, there have been:

Three sets of tires, and a sprinkling of tubes because of punctures.

A new seat post, after the original one snapped around Year 6. (Thinking back, I wonder if it might have been damaged in a fall in Year 1.)

Two more replacements of motor parts, at Year 4 and Year 6. Wonder if there was a design problem.

New brake pads a couple of times a year.

A new kick stand after the old one broke in Year 7.

In the early years, I rode it downtown for errands and eating. But then, I noticed two attempts to steal my bike. On both occasions, I had locked it to a sidewalk stand. In attempt one, it looked like someone had tried to break the lock. In attempt two, my front wheel bolt was removed in an effort to steal the wheel. After that, I stopped riding downtown and mostly restricted myself to trips between home and work, where I had an indoor lockup, and to recreational rides where the bike was always with me or was within sight. Yes, I know. Overly paranoid.

The bike was still doing well at the end of Year 8, which was in late October. The battery had outlasted predictions of its demise, and still had more than enough power for my daily rides, a minimum of 10 to 12 kilometres, and often 20 to 30. But in late November, the motor started to act up again. It would conk out sometimes when I went over a bump or turned. The estimated repair cost: $200. But would that be the end of it?

Time for a new electric bike, I decided, perhaps a bit too impulsively.

So, I am riding a new electric bike, feeling a little dazed and guilty about abandoning an old friend.

[Correction: I had trouble counting. I originally wrote that Year 8 began at the end of this October. But I had actually been riding the bike for a full eight years as of Oct. 28, 2015.]

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