accessibility · cycling · fitness

Women and e-assist bikes… Sam has some worries

Image description: A white women’s arms in a white sweater resting on her legs. She’s wearing white bottoms with large white polka dots. Her hands are nervously clutching the fabric. Photo by Unsplash.

So first I hated electric bikes. I blogged about it. “The ones I hate are like bloated overgrown scooters on steroids with vestigial pedals. As far as I can tell no one actually uses the pedals. They’re just there to make the thing legally a bike. As the ad for e-bikes at a shop near my house says “Ride with no license, no insurance, and no registration.”

But not all e-bikes are like that. The best are like regular bikes with e-assist. You still pedal but it’s easier going uphill. Then I thought about it again, read some stuff and changed my mind. See Sam is sorry she was a bit of a fitness snob about e-bikes.

I learned about the fitness benefits of e-biking and thought about people riding long (for them) distances, especially carrying heavy stuff (groceries, children, etc.).

Then I talked to some women about their new e-bikes and got all worried again. The thing is it’s only women who are talking to me about e-assist. (Maybe men are also buying these bikes. I don’t know. They aren’t talking about, not to me anyway.) My women friends and acquaintances are claiming that without e-assist they’d never make it up hills. I know that’s not true. Hills aren’t my fave thing either but I’ve learned to live with them and make it to the top on my own steam. They say that now, and only now, they can keep up with their male bike riding partners. Maybe? But you could ride with other women. Or you could train and get faster. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they are buying bikes and getting out there. But I am genuinely surprised at the insecurity that seems attached to the decision to buy an e-bike.

Some of them, it seems to me, could have bought lighter, more expensive road bikes.

Maybe I’m fretting for nothing. I am glad more people are riding. It’s still good exercise and it’s great for the environment.

Thoughts? Have you considered an e-bike purchase?

20 thoughts on “Women and e-assist bikes… Sam has some worries

  1. I know one woman with an e-bike: she’s experienced some back issues, and finds that the e-bike’s “turbo” makes it possible for her to ride again.

    I also know an 80-year-old retired prof. who has an e-bike. He LOVES it. He can go pretty much wherever he wants to go, and as far afield as he wishes…and he’s quite enjoying surprising the heck out of younger male riders, with his assisted bursts of speed…

    1. Right. Right. I get that. And I love it. But I just worry that it will mean fewer women, esp. women my age, riding non electric bikes. Maybe I’m wrong to worry. Still fretting!

      1. I would rather see older women enjoying the great outdoors..even if it means some are on e-bike. An e-bike doesn’t not eliminate understanding how to use certain gears by the rider.

        What is off-putting is the heavier weight of the bike because of the charger…which presumably is compensated by the electric assist, I suppose. I haven’t tried one yet and am not certain if I would freak out abit initially. I’ve never ridden a moped either. To me, personally, cruiser bikes just look painful to me!

        E-bikes may be a bit more popular in parts of Asia. Where motorcycles (smelly ones) and mopeds are more popular. North America is always behind in alternative transportation. I do see e-bike as a viable option but it catching on big won’t happen for a long time.

        I still think ALOT of North Americans are married to their cars. (How many blog readers here are car-free????)

  2. Oh for goodness sake! The most macho of mountain bikers have taken up e-mtbs with a vengence and sensible older roadies are all planning which make/model they’ll get when they can’t maintain their Strava presence without a little help. There’s been chat about e-Strava so that you don’t have to fudge it when you are using a battery. (keeping things honest) All this stuff is in the ‘male’ domain – just check out some of the great (tongue in cheek) videos on GCN or the sister eGMBN (electric mountain biking network).
    OK there are still some men (mostly still too young and ‘invincible’ to have gained any wisdom) that are snobbish about ebikes, but most of the men I know are going to quite happily follow in the wheel tracks of Brian Robinson (first British winner of a stage of the Tour de France back in the 50s). I rode an ‘all abilities’ sportive a couple of years ago in Yorkshire (from whence I hail) and Brian was there on his ebike. I can imagine Chris Boardman adding an ebike to his range of bikes in the near future, following other major brands making ebikes seriously cool.

  3. E bikes used to be illegal in NYC, so you really had no choice I’d you wanted to stay on the right side of the law. Now I think they are legal but with certain rules. I personally have no problem, provided they follow the rules of the road like everyone else (something which a lot of bike riders in NYC do NOT do).

  4. I too have an 80-year-old male friend who has had a heart attack. He has always been an ardent cyclist, and didn’t want to give it up, but he gets breathless on hills. His e-bike is a normal bike with an assist, and it means he can keep cycling, but with a bit of a boost when he gets tired.

  5. Anything that gets people out on bikes is good in my opinion, especially if it’s replacing a car trip. I don’t understand the “hate” on eBikes. It’s easy to think that many of the people (men AND women) riding eBikes could just get fitter or ride harder to make it up the hills, but many don’t want to – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some find no pleasure in steep hills and simply wish to soft pedal around in the fresh air or make longer trips without sweating too much.

    I’d love an e-assist cargo bike! 🙂

  6. Well, when I use to ride a bicycle and the hills got too tough for me, I would just get off my bicycle and walk up the hill.

  7. Sam, it seems like you are worried that e-bikes are being sold to women as a soft option and that you think that the marketing of e-bikes of the you still have to pedal variety is somehow steering women who might otherwise ride an ordinary bike away from them .

    Yes I have heard women talk about using them to get to work without getting sweaty, or to tackle the long steep uphills, but I have heard men saying the same.

    I’m not worried about it. The people who are talking about getting an e-bike are the people who weren’t considering getting a conventional bike, or they’re not using the conventional bike for longer distances.

    It seems like this is important to you, in which case, find the data. If you are worried about it, find the data. There will be data around of the demographics of e-bikes purchases. There may even be data on what people use them for and the data might either cement the unease into something definite. The data might show you something different. Don’t let lack of information be the reason you are worrying about something.

  8. I had a knee replacement a little over one year ago. I haven’t been back on my bike, other than riding the stationary bike for physical therapy. I would love an e-bike to help me get back in the saddle again. I just don’t have an idea of the best one to buy. I like the idea of minimal assistance, and don’t wan’t the equivalent of a scooter. Do you have any recommendations for brands, or styles, I could look at?

  9. Sam, I share your worries that there is a gendered element–that women will be sold e-assist bikes more quickly than men. And, more worrisome, that they will undersell themselves and their potential too quickly. That said, I’m a huge fan if the e-assist is to keep someone on the bike vs. not at all, or on a bike instead of a car or other less environmental option. I’m with you on feeling uncomfortable with women riding e-assist so they can “keep up” with men. Ugh. I want women to expand into their strength, not diminish themselves by comparison to men (who are simply larger, muscularly stronger creatures in an absolute sense, which is certainly not to say they are better creatures).

    1. Right. Partly this is prompted by my walking into bike shop the other day and being asked if I want to see an e-bike. And I wonder I will make the regular to e-bike switch b/c of age too early! Esp. if my women friends all ride them. So complicated!

      1. I was in a bike shop the other day, to pick up my freshly-tuned bike, and a man with a not-as-nice-as-mine bike came by and said, “Oh that’s a nice bike, do you know how nice that bike is?” His tone was “you are clearly not up to that bike.” I had uncharitable thoughts about him and his fitness vs mine, but I kept them to myself.

  10. Sam– I agree with Mina and you in worrying (and noticing how) ebikes get marketed to women who might otherwise be buying a road bike. These same women used to and still get sold women’s models of bikes, where the women’s models are markedly inferior to the so-called men’s models. (ex. Specialized Dolce instead of Allez, the latter of which is the standard entry-level workhorse of a bike). The parts aren’t as good and the bike doesn’t handle as well (IMHO– I’ve ridden one). Of course a woman isn’t going to feel as good or ride as well on one. Argh.

    I reposted a blog by a friend of mine who has been a long-time cyclist, but now, at age 69 and living in the Berkshire Mountains, wanted an e-bike to help get her back on the road. She feels reconnected to the roads she used to ride on her road bike.

    However, exploiting gender insecurities and doubling down on macho/no-drop/hammer-down riding styles, requiring slower climbers to kill themselves up the hills while faster riders wait, and then rush off as soon as the slower ones arrive (yes, I speak from experience) is unnecessary and unkind and unwelcoming. It’s possible and even a fun thing to get a regular road bike and ride with friends, solo, at one’s pace. I go on rides this like all the time with faster cyclist friends.

  11. Well, in my own experience there has been no particular gender issue. The first e-bike rider I rode with was a woman who was riding with a group of 6 fairly serious cyclists – 3 male, 3 female – and she is not a cyclist. So it made it possible for all of us to have a great day riding together. Next, a man we know was with us in the Alps and had not ridden for a while (he’s quite an athlete in general) so rented an e-bike to go up Col du Galibier. He felt fine, so turned it in for a regular bike when we did Alpe d’Huez a couple of days later. Then, an older friend – we are 66, not exactly young – who had some heart issues wanted to join us in the Pyrenees and brought along his e-bike. Yup, it allowed him to ride Tourmalet with the rest of us. I happened to be the only woman in that particular group, but it didn’t seem to matter. Who was riding what sort of bike, how fast we got there, it just didn’t matter to this touring (NOT racing) oriented group of friends. As is often the case on climbs that take hours, we all just set our own paces. So the e-bike truly only made the day possible for one (male) rider who would not have been able to do it otherwise.

    By the way, if this all sounds like rather exotic cycling, I am newly retired and am making a point of visiting dream locations while I can. But I mostly ride a lot near home, which happens to be very hilly, and seems to attract a lot of riders who simply do the climbs. Don’t see a lot of e-bikes (men or women) other than in more urban settings..

    I haven’t been shopping for bikes for a couple of years, so I don’t know anything about your marketing concern. But the next time my car gives out, I am going to be looking at maybe a Smart Car for truly dismal weather errands, and definitely an e-bike so I can haul groceries, grandchildren, whatever, up to my house, which sits about 200 meters above downtown. Yes, if it will fill the cargo-hauling needs, I will definitely be looking at something that looks and feels sorta like my road bike, but if not? Anything that fills the need!

  12. Currently my only bike is an old clunker of a mountain bike. I don’t have a lot of money to spend on bicycles, and this bike was given to me for free, which makes it a good bike for me. It’s not a fast bike however, and it’s freaking hard to get that thing up a steep hill.

    If I had money to spend on upgrading my bike to make cycling faster and up hills easier, what is inherently better about your choice to spend your money on an expensive road bike v. someone else’s choice to use their money to purchase an e-assist? Both are methods for making cycling easier via upgrading one’s hardware. Maybe I should keep my money and just train harder to be able to keep up with both of you on my old clunker?

    Except that I don’t enjoy cycling hard. I do quite enjoy leisurely bike rides, however. An e-bike would cause me to cycle more and drive less because it would move the majority of trips I currently take now by car into the leisurely bike ride realm. An e-bike would also enable me to workout more because my preferred location for my preferred intense workout activity (running) is not within leisurely bike ride range for me on a fully manual bike but would be on an e-bike.

    Personally, I ignore sales people who attempt to steer my purchases based on their assumption of my abilities (whether their assumptions appear to be based on my gender, my age, or anything else). If a sales person fails to listen to me and what I tell them about my abilities, needs, and desires, they’re unlikely to succeed in selling me anything at all. Scooter style e-bikes have their place. E-assist bikes have their place. Expensive fast road bikes have their place. Old clunker mountain bikes have their place too. And everyone, regardless of their gender, is well served by learning how to figure out what they want and base their purchase decisions not on sales (or other social) pressures but on what is right for them.

Comments are closed.