Bike Down Electric Avenue


Cassandra Palor

Electric bikes in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

By Grace Mason

The University of Utah Sustainability Office and Utah Clean Energy announced on March 26 the launch of U Bike Electric, a campaign that aims to improve local air quality by encouraging the purchase of e-bikes.

E-bikes are considered one of the most environmentally friendly forms of motorized transportation because they cut down on traffic, pollution and energy consumption. U Bike Electric gives members of the U community the opportunity to purchase an e-bike at a discounted price and with lifetime support from participating bike shops.

Recent European studies have shown electric bikes are the most energy efficient form of motorized transport, consuming the electricity equivalent of about 1,000 miles per gallon of gasoline. A press release from the U said “almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution comes from tailpipe emissions,” and U Bike Electric hopes to implement a “creative solution” to improve air quality.

Through May 26, U community members can buy a variety of models of e-bikes at discounted prices from five local bike shops. Electric biking is an exhilarating rush of “freedom,” said Angela Wright of Bingham Cyclery, one of the participating bike shops.

She believes electric biking allows individuals to restore their childhood ability to explore the world around them without the environmental impact of a car and the added benefit of not breaking a sweat.

“Our city has been designed well for cyclists, and e-cyclists can benefit from the infrastructure in place as well,” Wright said. “With bike lanes throughout, commuting by e-bike can often be quicker than driving cars, and campus parking is already a challenge. … Bike parking stations are all over campus and closer to classrooms.”

The campaign was proposed to the Sustainability Office a little over four years ago. Amy Wildermuth, the chief sustainability officer, said one of the main goals of the U Bike Electric campaign is to “get people to consider bicycling as a serious alternative to commuting by car. We realize the grade change on campus and from downtown might be the biggest barrier for most people and an e-bike can solve it.”

Simply walking around campus is considered a workout for many, but e-bikes are advertised as a way to “stop the sweat” and “bike as if it’s downhill both ways.”

The five bike shops offering discounts were chosen through a screening process to participate in the program. They include: Bingham Cyclery, Guthrie Bicycle Company, Contender Bicycles, eSpokes Electric Bicycles and Trek Bicycle Salt Lake City Downtown.

Ryan Littlefield, the owner of Contender Bicycles, said he got involved with U Bike Electric because e-bikes “promote fitness, create a much smaller carbon footprint, and are much more friendly in terms of infrastructure.” Littlefield, an avid biker himself, has been e-biking for almost four years, using his e-bike for “most of my shorter errands and commutes. … I have also ridden an e-mountain bike extensively and now have an e-cargo bike that can haul my two 16-month-old twins around safely.”

At eSpokes, manager Dan Feldman believes electric bikes have a purpose for everyone.

“If you have never ridden a modern electric bicycle, it is very difficult to describe what it feels like,” Feldman said. “I tell my customers that it is like having power steering for your feet. If you can imagine what it feels like to ride a conventional bike on a nice, flat, paved road. Well, that’s pretty much what it feels like to ride a good electric bike up a steep hill. The bikes are usually much quieter than expected, and sometimes [you have] a bit [of a] sneaky feeling as if you have swapped your legs for those of an Olympic athlete.”

Feldman said the effort put into riding an e-bike is about 80 percent of that required for riding a regular bike.

“Because people feel confident enough to ride farther and longer than on a conventional bike, they tend to ride more often when they have access to electric — up to four to five times as much as they do on their regular bicycle,” Feldman said.

Wildermuth encouraged everyone to try out an e-bike model on April 11 at the Marriott Library Plaza. Participating bike shops will offer tests of a variety of bikes to help individuals find the best model for their lifestyle.

“Electric bikes are for everyone,” Wright said.

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