E-bikes are getting more commuters out of their cars — and could help the state meet its climate goals.

It’s 5:15 a.m., and the sky is just beginning to lighten in the east as Becky Morin rolls her electric bicycle out of her garage in Falmouth.

Maureen lives about six miles from Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she is a nurse practitioner. She says she used to ride a conventional bike to work one day a week, but often arrived sweating. She and her husband bought the e-bike in May, says the commute was a breeze, and she now rides to work almost every day, unless it rains.

“Gas prices have skyrocketed, the two of us, our commute is so short, there’s no reason we should drive five or six miles to work,” says Morin. “And it’s beautiful, the ride is beautiful. . . and every time I do it I’m so happy. It’s silly, but it’s true.”

And with that, Maureen heads out for the morning, her taillight shining in the morning light, a smile on her face.

Morin is far from alone – e-bikes have become very popular. While many Mainers use them for recreation, others rely on them for functional transportation, or in lieu of a car. Transportation planners see e-bikes as part of the state’s efforts to achieve its climate goals over the next three decades.

Doug Watts, who sells e-bikes at Lincoln and Maine Electric Bike Cafe & Winery in South Portland, says e-bikes make people happy.

Murray Carpenter

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Maine Public

Doug Watts is the co-founder and operations manager of Lincoln & Main, a South Portland e-bike store and cafe. He says many cyclists come back from test rides with an “e-bike smile.”

“We call it the e-bike smile,” says Watts. “You ride an e-bike and you come back, you’re smiling, essentially, everyone is. Even the skeptics, those die-hard bike people, like I was at first, ‘Oh, this is cheating.’ Well, sometimes, if you want to call it cheating, it can be fun.

Most of the store’s e-bikes are similar in design to traditional bikes, which Watts calls “acoustic bikes,” but they have an electric motor that assists the rider’s pedal stroke, increasing energy. The batteries are recharged by plugging into a home outlet, and typically last dozens of miles per charge. Watts uses hers to drive her child to school, and is starting to see more parents doing the same.

He shows off a cargo bike with a rack that will carry a 400-pound load.

“It will easily replace a car,” says Watts. “You can see how this bike is set up with a rack. Carry your kid, carry your groceries, carry two kids and groceries. You can install a basket in the front. 400 pounds is a lot of stuff.”

E-bikes are not cheap. Most cost between $1,000 and $4,000, but Watts says the store sold more than 50 in its first year.

Nationwide, the National Bicycle Dealers Association reports that e-bike sales nearly doubled last year to more than 800,000, about 4% of the total bike market.

Jim Tasse of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine says e-bikes have a lot of appeal.

Lincoln and Main Cargo Bike.jpg

Murray Carpenter

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Maine Public

This cargo e-bike has a capacity of 400 lbs. Watts says it can easily carry a cyclist with two children and some groceries.

“You get greater range, you get more mobility, and you get more comfort,” says Tasse.

And Tasse says that if they catch on, they could drive infrastructure improvements for all majors who prefer car-free transportation.

“The more bikes that are out there, the more people that are on the road with them, the more planners and designers are going to start saying, ‘We need to accommodate these vehicles in a special way,'” he says.

Joyce Taylor, chief engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation, says that’s already happening, and her department is focused on designing roads for safety.

“I think the bicycle fatality rate could go up because I think you’re going to have more people riding,” Taylor says. to be And so I’m concerned about that and that’s part of our focus on this issue. We want people to feel like they can ride our system and feel safe and that’s a conversation we’re definitely having internally on all of our projects. “

Morin, on the Back Cove Trail.jpg

Murray Carpenter

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Maine Public

Morin’s commute includes a section of the Back Cove Trail, where she can often see the sunrise over Casco Bay.

But Taylor, who is also active with the Maine Climate Council, said e-bikes can play a role in reducing car and truck trips, as measured in vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.

“It makes a 3-4 mile trip to the store, more people will now take an e-bike instead of driving,” says Taylor. . And of course, as part of our climate goals, reducing VMT is a strategy we propose.”

Maureen’s morning commute to Maine Medical Center takes her along some streets with bike lanes, and some that don’t. And she also rides a section of the Back Cove Trail in Portland, where she stops briefly to take in the sunrise over Casco Bay as traffic rushes past on I-295.

Soon, Maureen is at the hospital, where she locks her bike in a rack 50 yards from the front door, saving her the time and hassle of shuttling from the garage to park while she drives. She says she and her husband still enjoy riding regular bikes for fun, but their e-bikes are all about functional transportation.

“Since May, I think it’s got 550 miles on the bike,” Morin says. “And it was just places I drove, it wasn’t just to go out for a joyride.”

And although it’s not a joyride, per se, Morin says the commute is the best part of her day.

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