We can all agree that the last couple of years hasn’t been the greatest due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the transportation advocate in me sees one upside to the pandemic: more people on bikes. People were out biking on our streets and trails at an unprecedented rate, a some of our St. Louis parks were even closed in part to cars to make room for people to walk and ride, and bike sales skyrocketed. One of the largest positive trends of these sales was for e-bikes, and the trends speak for themselves. In 2021, e-bikes outsold electric cars and there has been a massive growth in e-bike sales, often showing more growth than traditional bikes. E-bikes aren’t just the newest fad in biking culture, they are here to stay, and I wanted to learn more about e-biking trends and stories from e-bike commuters in the St. Louis region.
A Conversation with E-Bike Store Owners
The first people who were on my list to talk to on this subject are probably the region’s most knowledgeable duo on e-bikes, Bill and Carla Sauerwein. The two, along with being daily e-bike commuters, are the owners of Pedego Electric Bikes in Kirkwood. I chatted with them in their store about what e-biking means to them and the trends their seeing in the e-bike industry and culture.
Since 2019, the Sauerwein’s have owned and operated Pedego, which sits conveniently next to Grant’s Trail, and for them, their main mission is getting people out on bikes. They talked about how a lot of their clientele is older adults who are rediscovering biking after years off of a saddle. Carla Sauerwein notes that some of their customers have medical conditions or have gone through serious health procedures, and e-bikes have provided them an opportunity to reignite a passion for biking that a normal road-style bike couldn’t offer. Her husband Bill went through similar injuries from road biking and now finds comfort biking to their store and running errands throughout Kirkwood every day on his electric bike.
As many of us who are involved in the bike community know, there is prejudice in biking culture. There’s prejudice against people of color, women, and e-bike riders. Bill mentions that during the Moonlight Ramble in 2020, a small group of people riding road bikes called him a “cheater” for riding his e-bike during the Ramble. He believes this misguided disdain for people who ride e-bikes comes from a false sense of unfairness, mentioning that some people believe e-bike riders aren’t working as hard as people riding non-motorized bikes. Carla also doesn’t understand the criticism, saying that it shouldn’t matter what type of bike someone is riding, they want to see more people on bikes, regardless if it’s a Pedego e-bike. She has talked with riders who have battled diseases and long-term medical conditions, and those people shouldn’t be shamed for getting out and riding a bike. Though Bill provides some light at the end of the tunnel, making it clear that this prejudice has decreased over the years and only comes from a small vocal minority.
I believe the prejudice around e-biking has decreased partly due to the “bike boom” that occurred over the COVID-19 pandemic. When I asked Bill and Carla about the “bike boom” they mentioned that nationwide e-bike sales and ridership have increased. They speculate that during the lockdown people were searching for a positive outlet, and biking and being outside provided that for many people. They are optimistic that the increase in ridership and sales will provide greater awareness and funding for biking infrastructure and policy not only in St. Louis but across the country.
One of the last things we discussed was one of the biggest barriers to entry for most people interested in e-bikes (and bikes in general): cost and safety. Both Carla and Bill noted several conversations they’ve had with customers and personal experiences about the cost benefits of owning an e-bike. “When you run the math about what it costs to own and operate a car, owning an electric bike is much more cost-effective,” Bill notes. He goes on to mention several line items that go into owning a car: insurance, parking, repairs/maintenance, licensing, etc, all of which easily cost more than an average-priced e-bike.
Carla then dives into the steps she and Bill go into with each customer to make sure they feel safe on a bike. She mentions that they’ll spend the needed amount of time with people making sure they feel safe riding. Whether that be doing test rides on Grant’s Trail to make sure people know how to operate the bike properly, or going over the rules of the road, and trail riding etiquette, essentially taking on the role of an American League of Bicyclists-Certified Bicycle Instructor. They believe that this attention to detail on safety helps people to feel more comfortable and safe when riding, and also encourages them to ride more often, benefitting their store and the greater St. Louis biking community.
A View from the Streets: Chatting with a Daily E-bike Commuter
I also spoke with NextSTL contributor and e-bike commuter (as well as former roommate and friend) Tony Nipert about his experience of e-biking in St. Louis. For most workdays (except on days when he has to haul baseball equipment and coach the Metro High baseball team) Tony rides his Ride1UP Roadster v2 e-bike from his home in Skinker DeBaliviere to Metro High School in the Central West End. He regularly uses the new Union protected bike lanes (which he says are always clean, despite the concerns people had about maintenance when it was implemented) before meandering through the side streets of the Central West End before arriving at Metro.
Tony said that before he bought his e-bike, bike commuting to work wasn’t something he did or ever considered. For him, biking was a few laps around the Forest Park Bike Loop maybe once a week. Like most of us, including Tony, there’s often one thing holding us back from bike commuting: sweat. He mentions that a lot of people are probably very insecure about showing up to work covered in sweat and that most of us don’t want to have a bad experience getting to work. For a good part of the year, due to Missouri humidity, most people are going to choose an air-conditioned vehicle instead of a bike. But after Tony purchased his e-bike things changed dramatically; he began biking to work almost every single day and began to explore more of St. Louis by bike.
Around the same time as the e-bike purchase, Tony and his fiance Erin essentially became a one-car household. He believes the combination of the e-bike purchase and the opportunity for his partner to work remotely made it a lot easier for both of them to ditch one of their vehicles and opt to share one car. Nipert notes that the transition to a one-car household has been incredibly seamless, and he firmly believes if we want to reduce car dependency in our cities one of the easiest ways is for families to transition from a 2-car household to a 1-car household. Want to follow his plan, it’s three easy steps: 1) ditch one of the cars 2) plan better with the person you’re sharing the car with, and 3) buy an e-bike with the money you received from selling the car. Now go execute that!
We concluded our conversation by talking about the future of bike infrastructure in the City of St. Louis. Similar to the beliefs of Bill and Carla Sauwerwein, Tony believes that our city/region needs to do a lot more to get people out and ride bikes. He said of the highly debated Lindell Bike Lane project, which he is an avid supporter of, “if that project was implemented it would make my bike commute into work a lot easier, it would be a straight shot to Metro (High School)”. He goes on to talk about utilizing St. Louis’ grid system for protected bike connections, especially to move people from North to South in the City. As many of us believe, if we’re able to make efficient and safe bike connections to the places we know people are going, the number of people biking will increase.
Other Stories from E-bike Riders
I also heard stories from people on Bikelife STL and received personal emails about what e-biking means to people. Here are some of my favorite stories and comments.
From Daniel Burroughs – Festus, MO resident
- “It only took one ride on the e-bikes to convince us (Daniel and his wife Brenda) that we could really enjoy bicycling with e-bikes”
- “Has having e-bikes impacted us? Absolutely, and for the good; especially with my muscular dystrophy. With an e-bike I am a young buck again with my bride on my side, enjoying life to the fullest.”
- “But the most exciting e-bike change is that my wife and I travel all across the USA to ride some of the best trails in the country.“
“It was really great having the boost of power. We didn’t even sweat. It was like walking but faster. It was really nice.” – quote on riding bike-share in Memphis where the fleet is e-bikes.
“I can go on 35-mile rides with hills and still do something else the same day.”
“My e-bike has enabled me to ride to nearby trails and up steep hills to return home. I’ve also started commuting to work on it. It makes riding so much fun and gives me the confidence that I can ride steeper hills and go on longer rides.”
“I bought an E-bike to commute and do grocery store runs. The ‘sweat factor’ was a convincing selling point. Living in the city, it has greatly reduced my car dependence and I am looking to go completely carless before long.”
“Getting two e-bikes has allowed my wife to get back into biking. She had not ridden for over ten years and we are back at it.”
“We started riding it (e-bikes) that summer and haven’t stopped. We now own two e-bike hybrids and three EMTB (electric mountain bikes) They are great for pulling kids in trailers”