Houston’s bike-sharing service is booming, with nearly 1,000 trips per day being taken by members, and is sure to grow as more stations are continually added to the network.
Earlier this month, B-Cycle launched their e-bike pilot program and I believe that e-bikes will be a bridge to help more residents utilize the bike share network and possibly even replace a car in their household.
The biggest reason to use an e-bike is that they’re fun. Like, really freaking fun. Almost all of the work of riding is taken away instantly. While assisted speed is limited to 17 MPH, that is plenty enough to feel fast and gobble up plenty of distance. ‘Feeling fast’ is more about acceleration than top speed, and the Bosche e-bike system provides plenty. When in the fastest mode, I inadvertently popped a wheelie when pumping my legs hard.
The operation of the motor system is simple: you don’t do anything differently. While some e-bikes allow you to ride without pedaling and use a throttle, like a moped or a scooter, the B-Cycle e-bikes rely on a technology called pedal-assist. It’s rather self-explanatory in that when the system detects you pedaling, it adds some juice to help you go faster.
There are 5 different assist modes that you can choose from, with the help of a small screen mounted to the handlebars. The available modes include off (no assist), eco, tour, sport, and turbo. You can read more about the individual modes on the Bosche website, but the gist is no assist to most assist.
The amount of assist does affect the range of the battery with turbo mode providing as little as 25 miles with the battery capacity that B-Cycle has chosen. The Eco mode can provide more than 200 miles of range, though.
So what are the downsides? For one thing, there are only four e-bikes in the Houston B-Cycle fleet, so they are not widely available considering there are more than 90 stations. Availability is tricky, to say the least. The app and website show a special lightning bolt symbol when there is an e-bike parked there, but it doesn’t guarantee that the e-bike has any juice left in the battery (I was bamboozled 4 different times).
I talked with some B-Cycle employees as they were picking up a dead bike, and they told me that they actually take the bikes back into the shop to charge them. The bikes are equipped with a removable battery, but due to the limited nature of the pilot program, they didn’t order any spare batteries.
Also, the best places to ride bikes in Houston have a ban on all motorized vehicles (e-bikes and electric scooters included). That includes all of Buffalo Bayou Park and any other Houston trails. The e-bikes are emblazoned with a request for renters to please not use them on the trails. I understand the concern (trails currently have a 10 MPH speed limit and it’s trivial to take the e-bikes up to 17 MPH) but it’s a huge bummer to not enjoy the beautiful separated trails. I resisted the urge, but I suspect most are not.
There also is an additional cost to rent an e-bike: $3 per hour. This is on top of whichever B-Cycle membership you have (which normally include unlimited 30 or 60 minute B-Cycle rentals). However, it’s worth every penny and I would choose an e-bike every time.
It’s unclear when the pilot program will end (the bikes were originally scheduled to be in the fleet from June 1 to July 31, but weren’t introduced until mid July) Update: Houston B-Cycle has confirmed that the pilot will still be a full 60 days, so expect them to be around into early September.
B-Cycle clearly sees the benefits of these e-bikes. Houston B-Cycle’s director Beth Martin recently told Houston Public Media that they wished that they had the funding to replace all of their traditional bikes with e-bikes.
This isn’t an outlandish idea as Madison, Wisconsin’s B-Cycle network recently replaced their entire fleet with e-bikes, and the change would certainly be welcome here as well. (Kinder Foundation or maybe some large health corporation, can you help us out here?!?)
If you haven’t tried them yet, definitely give them a shot. Even if you don’t have a B-Cycle membership, you can rent one for $6 for 30 minutes, which is plenty of time to experience how much fun you can have with an e-bike.
Download the B-Cycle app for iPhone or Android app or sign up on their website here. Let me know what you think about riding an e-bike!