Recently, my partner and I bought a Lectric XPedition cargo e-bike. It’s a newer model the company just started offering. Cargo bikes are what you would expect: sturdy frame, big butt and lots of power. The XPedition is 75 pounds with both batteries installed. Lectric offers a variety of accessories like pannier bags and a passenger seat to make the most out of the hauling power.
Manufacturers often pitch cargo e-bikes as vehicle replacements. The added space and power along with the aforementioned array of accessories makes swapping out car trips to the store or your kid’s school a viable option. Cities that invest in the proper infrastructure make that consideration even more appealing to folks who are looking to cut down on their carbon footprint or add to their exercise routine. Bikes also tend to be cheaper to buy and maintain.
I’ve been a bike commuter for almost a decade and have evangelized the lifestyle to whomever will listen. I wrote a column for the April/May issue of Durham Magazine trying to persuade more folks to adopt #bikelife in celebration of National Bike Month. But this is my first foray into the world of e-bikes. I’ve had mine for almost a month and I’m addicted. All the best parts of riding a bike turned up to 11 (or in this case 5 since that’s the highest level of pedal assistance). I rode with another e-bike owner last week. We bonded over the fact that now we look for excuses to leave the house just to get in more riding time.
Grocery shopping was something I already did on my regular commuter bike. The smaller panniers allowed me to get a couple of essentials on each side which meant I was making smaller trips more often. Most big trips were done with Mom’s car or with my roommate in his car. I’ve taken the e-bike on a couple of big grocery trips in the last month. Did I make the run in less than 12 parsecs? Not quite. But the 6-mile ride through downtown to the Durham Co-Op and Harris Teeter couldn’t have taken much longer than driving, and with the pedal assist, I could hardly feel the additional 27 pounds hanging off the rear of the bike. We don’t have a ramp at the house yet, so I had to unload the bags before deadlifting the bike onto the porch. I did say the bike was great for exercise…
Chapel Hill Street has bike lanes starting at the downtown bus terminal. They get you all the way to Immaculata before the “sharrow” sends you across Buchanan Avenue toward the Co-Op. Buchanan serves as a decent cut-through to Main Street and also includes a sharrow. The bike lane picks back up at Main next to Duke East Campus toward Ninth Street and the Harris Teeter. Depending on the time of day, you could encounter any number of obstacles. Aside from the chaos of peak hour traffic, you’ll sometimes find drivers using the bike lanes as school pick-up and drop-off zones. You should never expect drivers to know how to interact with cyclists on the road.
In preparation for Bike Month, GoTriangle and Bike Durham teamed up to present an educational webinar on “Vehicular Cycling” that I had the pleasure of hosting. The bulk of the session was about how to navigate through traffic as a cyclist and the different infrastructure available for riding safely and easily. Even the most confident riders may not known all the rules of the road. I’ve been a bike commuter for almost a decade and still learned a ton last year when working toward my LCI certification.
The challenge is that drivers aren’t aware of this information. The North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles includes an entire section on bicycles in their Driver’s Handbook but when is the last time any of us took the driving test? Things like bike boxes didn’t exist in Durham until recently. Expecting drivers to know how to navigate them when some cyclists barely do is a problem for all parties involved.
Durham continues to increase and improve its bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The city just announced a plethora of new projects being constructed in the next few months. These projects are necessary for creating a strong cycle network but they’re not the end of the road. Drivers and cyclists have to work in harmony like singers in a duet. Without educating both groups on how to travel the streets together, no amount of infrastructure will get us to Vision Zero.
Whenever I talk to people about biking, I feel my personality split. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to do, especially with others, yet I hesitate to nudge people toward a lifestyle that remains quite dangerous. Still, the individual benefits of being a bike commuter are tremendous: better health, lower cost, more time spent in your community, and way more fun than being stuck in a large metal box. For city governments that encourage people to get from behind the wheel and ride on two instead, those benefits grow exponentially.