Motorin’ past the gas station E-bikes, scooters take the pain out of high gas prices
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/07/2022 (205 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Gas stations are almost foreign territory for Ian Walker.
Prices climb to record highs — $1.99 per litre one day, more than $2 the next — and Walker cruises by, unaffected.
He’s one of a growing number of Manitobans who’ve shifted their feet from gas pedals to the footholds of electric bikes and scooters.
“If we’re going long distances, the e-bike is amazing,” Walker, 41, said. “I’ve found the e-bike is replacing car trips.”
He’s cycled his Urban Arrow to Birds Hill Provincial Park. One “wickedly windy” May day, he loaded his son in the bike’s front basket and trekked him to a birthday party a half hour’s ride away.
“It would’ve been way too much work on a conventional bike,” Walker said.
He’ll adjust the bike’s motor to work in tandem with him as he lugs equipment to his Grade 3 classroom, as he comes home from a grocery store and as he battles weather conditions.
Walker isn’t new to the e-bike industry — he’s been a rider for two years — but the number of people joining him has skyrocketed in tandem with the rising cost of fuel.
“It’s been explosive,” said Michael Pasquali, president of the Canadian Electric Bike Association.
Governments don’t track the number of e-bike users, so growth rates are anecdotal, Pasquali said. Still, the association has noted a sharp uptick in the past months by talking with Canadian shop owners.
“With gas prices, obviously, it’s put a big crunch on people,” Pasquali said.
A typical e-bike charge costs about 10 to 25 cents, he said. Owners plug their bikes’ lithium batteries into electrical outlets; Walker’s bike takes four hours to recharge.
“With gas prices, obviously, it’s put a big crunch on people.” – Michael Pasquali
It’s a roughly $3 to $5 increase to the monthly Hydro bill, depending on the rider, Pasquali said. A typical e-bike charge has a distance of 30 to 60 kilometres, he said.
“There are not many things you can invest in today that’s going to pay for itself as quickly as an e-bike,” he said.
The two-wheelers can range from around $1,000 to upwards of $15,000.
Woodcock Cycle Works on St. Mary’s Road has more than doubled the number of e-bike sales this year compared to last, owner Tim Woodcock said.
“In Canada, we’re just hitting the point where they’re becoming more recognized,” Woodcock said.
He’ll take his down city streets, along gravel floodway paths and through grassy plains. He might bump the bike’s motor to a higher setting, meaning it does more work and he doesn’t break a sweat.
En route home, Woodcock might choose eco-mode to “get more of a workout.” E-bikes in Manitoba have a maximum speed of 32 km/h.
Kevin McLaren sold five electric bikes in 2017, his first year of bringing them to market through More Than Bikes.
This summer, he might sell five in a week.
“Once the gas started hitting $2, the demand for bikes picked up,” McLaren said.
So has the desire for electric scooters.
“The high-end ones we’ve sold more of — a lot more than we did last year,” McLaren said.
Then, More Than Bikes sold more scooters in the $2,000 to $2,500 range, he said. This year, models costing $4,000 to $6,000 are more popular.
“(Customers) went with bigger batteries and that so they could get a farther range,” he said.
“Once the gas started hitting $2, the demand for bikes picked up.” – Kevin McLaren
Gas-powered scooters, known as mopeds, have also entered the spotlight.
Jennifer Abel swapped her Kia Niro for a canary yellow Vespa to get around Virden, her home community.
“The thought of driving an entire summer on likely about $50 for gas is very appealing,” Abel said.
The 49-year-old said she bought the Vespa to celebrate her 50th birthday, but the gas savings are a major perk. The tank fills up — with premium gas — for less than $15, Abel said.
“I’ve driven 35 km on it so far and it hasn’t even come off ‘F,’ (for full)” she said.
She didn’t need a new licence — the vehicle has a top speed of 50 km/h, and her Class 5 driver’s licence is sufficient. However, she needed to get a licence plate and basic insurance.
Electric scooters, which have a maximum speed of 32 km/h, don’t require users to have a licence, but drivers to be at least 14 years old.
“I believe the culture of scooters has grown so much, and every year, it grows more,” said Leehee Hasid, general manager of Scooter City.
Neither electric nor gas-powered scooters stay in the Main Street retailer long before being sold, Hasid said.
“Once you ride it, you really get addicted to it,” she said.
Manitoba had 1,632 registered mopeds as of March 31, an increase of 28 from the previous year, said Kristy Rydz, Manitoba Public Insurance’s communications manager.
Both figures are from before gas prices spiked.
Abel is keeping her Kia. She can’t take her yellow Vespa on the highway, and she’s a regular highway user.
Walker avoids driving his family’s electric car whenever possible, but it’s still an option. He’s also on the Peg City Car Co-op’s board and borrows vehicles when needed, like the pickup truck he took to this year’s Winnipeg Folk Festival.
“We’ve designed Winnipeg to be very car-dependent,” Walker said. “It’s a hard city to live in without a car. Now it’s leaving people at the mercy of the fossil fuel industry.”
“We’ve designed Winnipeg to be very car-dependent… It’s a hard city to live in without a car. Now it’s leaving people at the mercy of the fossil fuel industry.” – Ian Walker
Walker will ride his e-bike in the middle of winter if roads and paths are cleared.
“As long as it’s dry on the ground, you can still ride your e-bike,” said Pasquali from the Canadian Electric Bike Association.
A major problem facing the industry is a lack of mechanics with expertise, he added.
“They’re pulling parts off and trying to plug parts in until they figure out the problem,” said Pasquali, who heads a program for new technicians through Canadian bike association. “You want it to be standardized, just like a mechanic.”
Without mechanics’ proper training, bikes that need fixing will remain in shops or must be sent back without repair, Pasquali said.
There are a “few hundred” e-bike technicians across Canada, he said. He wouldn’t give an exact number but said there’s plenty of room for more.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
Updated on Friday, July 8, 2022 9:45 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Orly in photo caption.