Thursday, August 29, 2019

BikeWalkLee: To e- or not to e-

BikeWalkLee Column
The News-Press, August 29, 2019
by Ken Gooderham

If you’ve been on a bike path lately and have been passed by another cyclist who’s moving right along without doing much pedaling – welcome to e-bicycling!

E-bikes are a hot-selling new wave in cycling, cranking up an increased share of sales in the past few years as more manufacturers have joined the fray. They’ve also become a semi-hot item legislatively, with some governments taking action to limit or prohibit their use.

So what is an e-bike?

Simply put, it’s a bicycle that has an electric motor to boost pedaling (or eliminate it altogether). Pedal-assisted bikes augment your own pedal power (so you do some of the work), while throttle-operated bikes run on the motor alone (so you can do none of the work if you wish). Either way, to be considered a bicycle they must not be able to exceed 20 mph (per state law), and they can (mostly) legally be ridden anywhere a regular bicycle can go (exceptions to be discussed in a minute).

A little online searching reveals a number of places locally that sell and/or rent e-bikes, if you decide to give one a try.

But should you?

If your goal with bicycling is to get some exercise, probably not. If your goal is transportation, maybe so.

As far as exercise, pedal-assist does mean you have to do some of the work… so not a complete loss. However, in flat-as-a-pancake Florida making a case that you need help riding is a little more difficult – unless this about distance rather than elevation. And if you as a Florida cyclist ever find yourself somewhere with actual hills… well, an e-bike could be a good bet there.

A pedal-assisted e-bike. Source: wikimedia

The benefits of e-bikes:
  • They can be a good way to get (or keep) people on bikes… by making it easier to get started in riding or stay on a bike longer.
  • They can be a good equalizer… making slow riders faster and weak climbers better.
  • They can be a great short-trip mode of transportation… again, easier to ride and haul things when there’s a little help.
The negatives of e-bikes:
  • They’re heavy and more expensive… because you’ve added a motor and batteries on board.
  • They take some getting used to compared to a regular bike… they may start faster, brake slower and ride differently due to the extra weight and oomph.
  • They may not be allowed where you want to ride… Fort Myers Beach banned them on sand, sidewalks and paths last year, and Sanibel is considering a similar prohibition (next hearing will be Sept. 9). There may be other prohibitions in parks and other restricted-riding places, so check that out before you plan to e-bike there… and be aware of the legal issues in the paragraph after next.

Of course, a big concern with e-bikes is speed (theirs) and safety (everyone else’s). Mixing bicycles that can easily do 20 mph on a shared-use path with much slower walkers, runners and riders is asking for trouble if the e-cyclist isn’t used to navigating a bigger and faster bike amidst the other path users. Riding a bike where the amount of assistance can be controlled would be a plus here, as the e-cyclist could ride like a normal cyclist in traffic then open it up again once (and if) the other slower users thinned out. (If you regularly ride on the road with other motorized traffic, the boost that pedal-assist brings could be a welcome benefit.)

This brings up an even more pressing issue: Per Florida Statutes, e-bikes aren’t actually legal to ride on a bike path or sidewalk unless specifically allowed by local ordinance – something that hasn’t occurred locally, except in the instances cited above where their use is explicitly banned. (Devices used by people with mobility issues are not banned under this statute.) This e-bike prohibition isn’t rigorously (or even lackadaisically) enforced, but it does exist… so if you’re looking at an e-bike, also look at where you can legally ride it so there aren’t any surprises (or potential liability) down the road.

Any development that could convince more people to try cycling – and enable cyclists to stay riding longer – is certainly worth considering. But those e-cyclists must be ready to ride responsibly rather than recklessly, recognizing their size and speed could bring risk to others even as they bring a boost to the person behind the handlebars.

NOTE: Remember that school is back in session, which means kids are back at bus stops… so slow down and watch out for students.

Ready to ride or run? 

Run? Labor Day kicks off the fall running schedule, with a Naples 5K on Monday. Things really pick up on Sept. 14, with the Tunnel to Towers 5K run/walk in Lakes Park, the Average Joe 5K in North Collier Regional Park, and a half-marathon in Venice. Details at,, and

Ride? A big weekend for Critical Mass, with the Cape ride Friday night, the Slow Roll in downtown Fort Myers Saturday morning, and an anniversary party Saturday afternoon that morphs into a night ride. Then the regular downtown ride happens on Sept. 6. Lights required for the night rides and helmets recommended for all rides; details at

Both? Upcoming events include:


Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at 


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