Electric bikes help you go farther, faster and explore with ease and have gained in popularity in recent years and even more so this summer, as people are left during the coronavirus shutdowns with fewer options for entertainment and exercise.
But some people, and cities, are asking if there should be more rules for riding electric bikes, or e-bike as they are known, around town with sometimes unruly youngsters powering the machines that can reach upward 20 mph?
Reps for Aventon Bikes, which are sold in hundreds of independently owned shops across the United States, said California is the largest market in the country and sales are skyrocketing.
Sales in the state last month were up 681% when compared to July 2019, said Adele Nasr, chief marketing officer for the Ontario-based brand.
The South Bay saw big growth too, with sales up more than 800% in Hermosa Beach, 918% in Manhattan Beach and 453% in Redondo Beach, comparing July to the same period of 2019. Long Beach’s July figures were up 459% from the previous year, and nearly 300% when comparing January-through-July’s year-over-year data.
Orange County has seen the same surge, with sales up 3,700% in Laguna Beach, 763% in San Clemente, 877% in Newport Beach and 510% in Huntington Beach, Nasr's data shows.
The demand isn’t just in coastal cities. Lake Forest sales were up 2,112%, Santa Ana sales shot up 1,500% and Mission Viejo jumped up 1,233%, according to Nasr.
Nasr said it’s not just Aventon experiencing the growth, but the entire market reporting anywhere from 200% to 400% increases in sales this year.
“The big boom, we’re calling it, has been brought on by the fact that people need other ways to get out and exercise and combat cabin fever,” she said.
Other factors include the ease of use, meaning a person doesn't have to be an athlete to go long distances or up hill on the bike, and people's desire to stay away from public transportation during the pandemic, she said.
For others, e-bikes are simply a fun way to get out of the house. The bikes still use pedal systems like a traditional bike, but at the flip of a switch can go, in some cases, up to 28 mph, allowing riders to get to places they couldn’t reach before.
Mammoth Mountain, a summer destination for mountain bikers, has embraced the trend, opening a track earlier this month specifically made for e-bikes.
And, the United States is behind other countries in Europe and Asia when it comes to the e-bike trend, Nasr said.
Here, towns are just adapting and figuring out the rules of the road. Some states require helmets, while others are more relaxed with rules.
Nasr said teens under 16 should not ride some of the more powerful e-bikes.
“A lot of information needs to be put out there for parents on how to be safe,” she said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of reform as the industry continues to grow. And we hope to be a part of those conversations.”
Hermosa Beach does not allow the e-bikes on its Strand or Pier Plaza with the electric power in use, said the city's spokeswoman, Laura Mecoy. “The speed limit on the strand is 8 mph, so police officers actually look at speed for e-bikes and regular bikes."
San Clemente discussed the issue in 2018, adding e-bikes to an existing ordinance about bike use on its beach trail. Rather than banning them all together, officials decided to set a maximum of 10 mph, with all types of bicycles prohibited on the beach during summer months.
“No one is against bicycles, it’s about safety," said Newport Beach Councilwoman Diane Dixon, who was on a committee to discuss challenges the city faces with e-bikes before the coronavirus pandemic turned attentions to other matters. The city has an 8 mph max speed limit in place.
While she said she doesn’t want to ban electric bikes entirely, she feels some action is needed. The city has kicked around added signage and has talked about widening the beach promenade, which was not built for bikes, but that’s a challenge with the coastal agencies that would need to sign off on such a project, she said.
San Clemente resident Terrell Hill has been riding e-bikes for about a decade, first using one to get to his favorite surf spot, Lower Trestles, which requires a hike to reach.
He still remembers all the strange looks he’d get from people he’d pass, he said. “Everyone thought I was nuts."
It was about seven years ago that he started noticing more and more e-bikes, especially among surfers who would strap their boards on the side.
“The surfers picked it up first because they wanted to get to places that are hard to get to and get their quickly,” Hill said. “When they’re done surfing, they are tired and don’t want to huff it up the hill.”
Each year, he’s seen more on the busy streets of the quaint beach town and on the popular beach path and trails. More e-bike shops started popping up and now surf shops even carry selections.
Then, the pandemic happened, creating a new wave of popularity.
When beaches closed, along with their parking lots, some surfers found themselves wanting an e-bike to get to the spots still open to ride waves.
People also got extra stimulus money to burn, and with theme parks, movie theaters and many restaurants shut down, people had few options for fun – some of the same factors that have led to surfboard sales skyrocketing during the pandemic.
“Once you ride it, it blows people’s minds,” Hill said.
Although he's a proponent of the e-bikes, he also knows the risks that come with their popularity.
He said his car nearly collided with two girls who squeezed onto one bike, one of the girls sitting on a rack on the back of the bike.
“I do not know how I did not hit them,” he said, still shaken from the experience. “They came flying out of the alley, they screamed bloody murder because they thought I was going to kill them – which I almost did. It was so close."
“These kids don’t understand the power of the bike they have," he said, "and what they can do."