Over the past couple of years, electric bikes, or e-bikes, have begun to be a regular appearance on Cortes roads.

Today, we’ll hear from a few local e-bike users, ask them about their bikes and their experience riding on Cortes.

Photo courtesy Max Thaysen
Cortes Currents: Max Thaysen interviews Juli Nelson, Mike Brown, Chris Napper, Andrew Baskin and Barry Saxifrage about e-Bikes on Cortes Island

Juli Nelson

Juli Nelson is a potter, a tiny home builder and a mother of young child. She got the Rad Wagon from Rad Bikes, which has a reinforced rear seat which can accommodate an adult or a child.

Juli lived in Whaletown when she first got the bike. We asked her how long it takes to get to Mansons from Whaletown – and how far her range is.

She said that her child didn’t like going very fast, so it was about an hour. But on her own it was 40-45 minutes. And she could do that twice on a single charge.

Juli says that the bike paid itself off in the first 10 months. She didn’t have a car during that period, so she used the bike almost exclusively. Between getting last year’s model in 2019, and the scrap-it rebate, it only cost her $1000.

“Scrap-it” is a BC Government rebate program that provides funding to individuals for electric car and bike purchases when they recycle their older or more polluting vehicles. You can get $1,050 from SCRAP-IT when you purchase your new electric bike.

Mike Brown

Mike Brown was a cyclist and a hitchhiker, until the pandemic cancelled hitchhiking. He dislikes product research, so he called a friend who had an e-bike for advice. His friend Mark Appleyard had a Rad Rover and said he liked it. So Mike got one too. Mike says, “it’s good”.

Mike describes the Rad Rover as the one with the fat tyres. He doesn’t think the tyres need to be 4” wide, but maybe it helps on gravel roads.

Mike says he thinks the the Rad Power Bikes excel at providing a decent bike for a good price. He compared the Rad Rover, which cost him $2000 plus tax, with an entry level model from Specialized at $3000. To hit that price point, Mike says Rad uses cheaper components – but he’s happy enough with the balance they struck.

Mike likes the fact that the bike comes with front and rear lights – which he says is a requirement for safety on Cortes.

Mike thinks people should know that it is heavy, so if you have to lift it for some reason as part of your lifestyle, that’s something to be aware of.

We asked Mike about his range. He said that a benchmark for him is whether he can get to Campbell River, gather a bunch of supplies, and get back again without worrying about his battery quitting – and the Rad Rover does that. He can also ride from his place on Olmstead to Smelt Bay, load up with what-have-you, and get home with one or two out of five bars remaining on his battery indicator.

Chris Nappier

Chris Napper – Chris is a homesteader, retired.

Chris wanted to keep his bike, rather than buy a new one, so he looked into a conversion kit to add electric power to his mountain bike. After doing much research, he decided on a 1000W Bafang BBHSD mid-drive, bottom bracked mounted motor that drives the chain – so each gear can be powered.

Chris says he doesn’t use all the power his motor can put out, but he’s glad it’s there if he needs it.

He likes the motor being centrally mounted, with the weight down low. And the conversion was relatively easy to do.

Chris looked into getting a complete bike and found that an affordable model would cost $2200, his conversion kit cost $1600. He already had a nice quality bike, and it would be hard to get it’s value back by selling it, and he really wanted avoid it ending up in the scrap heap – so for him, a conversion kit was an easy decision.

Unfortunately, keeping the bike he had and converting it to electric meant that he wouldn’t qualify for the scrap-it program – you can only get a rebate for new ebikes.

Despite missing out on the rebate, Chris says the cost savings have been numerous. He says that he avoids fuel costs, ferry costs, vehicle maintenance costs and insurance costs – the e-bike allows him to qualify for a low-kilometer 10% discount from ICBC.

Range

As for range, Chris says that he typically charges after 70-80 kilometers and has tested his theoretical maximum range at 100 kilometers.

Chris says that there can be technical issues with any e-bike, and he has had some trouble with his battery management system, the circuitry that protects the cells in the battery. It takes some time to work things out and you need some help from the internet.

Chris acknowledges that many folks conversing online fear that the mid-drive systems cause excessive wear on the drivetrain of the bike. One could carry a spare chain to address this, but he has not found the wear to be an issue. Regardless, Chris says that annual replacement of the chain and cassette is a small price to pay if someone needs more insurance against breaking down and being stranded with a bike and no way to power it.

Photo courtesy Andy Baskin of Dandy Horse Bikes

Andrew Baskin of Dandy Horse Bikes

For a different perspective, Cortes Currents contacted the Owner and Operator of Dandy Horse Bikes, Andrew Baskin. Dandy Horse is the only bicycle repair shop on Cortes.

Dandy Horse is a supplier of Grin Technologies which sells e-bike conversion kits and parts. He likes that their parts are broadly compatible with each other and with many other conversion kits sold by other companies. The company is fairly local, supplying parts they design and manufacture, as well as parts from overseas. Andrew says that they thoroughly test everything they sell and provide excellent support for customers.

Andrew says that the major manufacturers of complete e-bikes have made it difficult to work on their bikes without buying their parts, and often would risk voiding the warranty. Sometimes, you even have to ship the whole bike back to their factory. He says that it is important to consider that, living on Cortes, we have a greater need for self-sufficiency, local supplies, locally repairable equipment and inter-changeable parts – “and that’s the way it should be”, he says.

Why buy an e-Bike?

So, we’ve heard about a few different e-bikes and the cost savings these riders have experienced. Next, they describe other motivations at the heart of their decision.

Chris says that the environment is a factor. Another big benefit is not having to wait in lines for two hours or more to get on the ferry. He can arrive five minutes before sailing and expect to roll right on. Chris does acknowledge that he still has a car, but it does just sit there for many trips.

Juli says that the fun and cost-savings are as big a part of her decision as is the environment. She thinks about it everytime she buys gas, “it doesn’t feel great”. And she says that she loves the e-bike, especially how it allows her to experience the world with her sense as she moves through it. For Juli, every trip on the e-bike is an adventure.

For Mike, it’s all about the sense of freedom. He feels like a teenager again, pushing boundaries and experiencing a fresh sense of mobility. He says that he feels liberated from the feeling of tension that many of his friends describe when they wish they would drive less, but have to keep driving.

Andrew says that e-bikes are a huge step in reducing our climate emissions and are accessible to a large percentage of people.

Cortes Currents reached out to local climate journalist Barry Saxifrage to get a sense of just how big a reduction in climate pollution an e-bike has over an internal combustion engine. He said, by email, that “an internal combustion engine (ICE) is80x more climate polluting than a similar electric vehicle (EV) in BC(or you could say it as: EVs in BC are 99% less climate polluting than ICE). [And] e-Bikes use 1/10th to 1/20th the amount of electricity per kilometre as an EV. So they will only use 5% to 10% of what an EV does per mile. That means they are 99.9% less climate polluting in BC than an ICE car.

Next we asked our interviewees some of the common questions that come up for those interested in e-bikes.

Do e-Bike riders exercise?

We began by wondering if the riders still get exercise.

Juli says that she gets more exercise. For her the e-bike replaces driving, it doesn’t replace walking or riding a bike without the electric assist. But it’s not too much exercise, generally she doesn’t want a hard workout before spending the day outside, walking and exploring.

Chris also says that he figures he gets more exercise because the e-bike replaces car trips, not bike trips.

Mike says that he gets enough exercise just by living on Cortes. His goal was to get less exercise. He says he keeps his assist level at maximum and that works for him, but if one wanted to get exercise, they could just dial it down.

How can riding e-Bikes be safer?

Next we asked if these riders felt safe riding on Cortes and whether there is anything that could make riding safer.

Juli says that people in cars can become desentized to how dangerous the activity is. Not so on the bike, she says that she is more alert and aware and can more easily keep herself safe. She has had a few close calls and thinks drivers should slow down, especially on the tight corners, and remind themselves that there are other people on the roads. Juli doesn’t feel, however, that the roads should be expanded, “that wouldn’t feel good”.

Juli also says that she appreciates not being a source of danger to others. By avoiding car trips, she avoids the risk that she could be responsible for an accident that hurts another being. And she adds that on an e-bike, one can see just how many animals get squished on roads by cars and one is much less likely to be squishing them.

Chris says that riding an e-bike on Cortes is riskier than on Quadra where the roads are a little wider. In Campbell River, Chris recommends being aware that other road-users may not judge your speed accurately because of the electric assist and so they may not make the right decisions accordingly – he tends to ride with the electric-assist turned off when he’s in town.

Chris goes on to say that he doesn’t think widening the roads is a practical solution, it would be too costly on Cortes. Wearing high visibility clothing is a good idea. And he suggests that drivers should wait to pass when it’s safe, not on the corners.

Mike says that his many years of riding an unassisted bike in the city gave him a good road sense, and that makes him feel safe on the roads on Cortes. He advises that the increased weight of an e-bike means that it is even more important that the brakes be in good condition. This is something people can learn to do themselves, he says, it’s easy.

The Ferry

Next we asked the three riders if it was feasible to make a connecting ferry when crossing Quadra.

Juli says that she hasn’t had a problem making the connection. And Mike says that he’s made it a couple times, but it was unnecessarily stressful so he takes the non-connecting ferry to give himself plenty of time.

Words of advice

We wrap up this review with a few final pieces of advice .

Chris says: do your research; don’t get a european model, they don’t have enough power; get a 48 volt or 52 volt model.

And he says that you should only charge your battery to 100% when you need to. Charging to 80% most of the time can double or triple the lifespan of your battery. You’ll need a special charger for that, most standard e-bike chargers don’t come with that option. Smart chargers that permit that setting run about $100, as opposed to $40 for a basic unit. ‘The Satiator’, a charger made by Grin Technologies is the top of the line, but it will cost you up to $400.

The satiator is one of the products designed and manufactured by Grin Technology. Mike told us by email that the Rad power bikes, which he and Juli both have, doesn’t come with an option to limit the state of charge to 80%.

One last word from Andrea at Dandy Horse: Andrew is offering e-bike demos and rentals, as well as sales and installations of e-bike conversion kits.

And be sure to read previous e-bike reviews on Cortes Currents by De Clark.

If you’re a driver on Cortes, and you’d like to support other road users: slow down, pass when it’s safe and ride when you can.

Links of interest:

This program was funded by a grant from the Community Radio Fund of Canada and the Government of Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative