Why An Electric Bicycle Might Be The Right Fit For Honolulu - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Anthony Chang

Anthony Chang is a transportation advocate and scholar who is dedicated to making streets safer. His sister, Emelia Hung died tragically in 2013 after being struck by a car crossing the street. He has been honored as Advocate of the Year by Hawaii Bicycling League and holds a master’s in urban and regional planning from the University of Hawaii-Manoa with a focus on transportation safety statistics and infrastructure.

As a proud owner of an electric bicycle since May, I wanted to share my experiences and analysis.

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It is a relatively clean and healthy form of transportation. While e-bikes have a higher emission rate than bicycles, they still overall have a lower emission rate compared to gas-powered, electric or hybrid vehicles.

Electric bicycles are gaining in popularity all around the world, including in Hawaii, despite very little support from the federal government — unlike electric cars which get plenty of subsidies and infrastructure support. This is even as electric bicycles have outsold electric cars for years in the United States.

Studies have shown that people on average get more exercise on e-bikes than on regular bikes. They are on them more on average because they are having so much fun.

This is true for me. I plateaued on weight loss on a normal bike but started losing weight again when I bought my e-bike in May. I’ve probably ridden my electric bike at least twice as much as I would a normal bicycle.

No, It’s Not Cheating

It is a common argument that e-bike riders are “cheating.” But most e-cyclists say they get more exercise than on regular bikes. And there is no evidence electric cyclists use their bikes in nonelectric bike competitions. It is not a competition to do errands, commute or run a small business. This argument also falls apart if people choose to use electric bicycles over cars.

Electric bikes make hills a lot easier, especially those that have motors designed for hills. You’ll also be able to see more in a shorter amount of time, as even the slowest e-bike moves at 20 mph on pedal assist, meaning you have to pedal to get the power. Some e-bikes have a top speed of 28 mph on pedal assist while still being able to go on paths cars cannot.

graphic for Anthong Chang's Feb 2022 CV on e-bikes

Some bikes have throttles, meaning you just turn a knob and it carries you on their own. They are paired with pedal assist modes to not make them a moped. Being able to choose the level of assistance is great, as you can choose how much exercise or how hard you want to work out.

There are some disadvantages to using and owning an electric bicycle. They are expensive, costing around $1,000 for reputable brands. The bike is also single speed, gearing-wise, though you have choices when it comes to motorized assist levels.

You can save money by buying cheaper bikes with traditional chains and derailleurs. Though they are cheaper, they require more maintenance, more frequently. And you may end up spending more money in the long run because of maintenance and replacement costs.

Because they’re so expensive, e-bikes can make tempting targets for thieves. You’ll want to lock them up for peace of mind. I use a cafe lock only during deliveries along with a brake lock that has an alarm feature. For longer errands and commutes I use 2 D locks — a cafe lock that acts like a boot for the back tire and a chain that attaches to the D lock. E-bikes also weigh more than conventional bikes so they’re harder to steal if locked up properly.

As there are fewer e-bikes than conventional bikes, most drivers aren’t expecting you to move at 20 mph and instead expect you to move slower. Even if they’re supposed to yield, if they see you coming, they may turn into your lane because they think you’re moving slower than you actually are moving.

But this will change over time, as e-bikes are growing in popularity. And collisions that result in death are rare, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Anthony Chang and his plaque
Anthony Chang  has been recognized for his work in bikes and transportation. Submitted/2022

In fact, you are far more likely to get a head injury crossing the street than riding a bicycle, electric or not electric. My sister Emelia Hung died in March 2013 from head injuries after being hit by a car while walking and crossing the street.

There is debate on whether to wear helmets with e-bikes. I personally do not wear a helmet during my one-mile work commute, as it’s on shared-use paths with pedestrians, where buses never try to pass me and the speed limit is 15 mph (the odds of death and injury are incredibly low at that speed).

However, during deliveries I do wear a helmet all the time, as I am in heavier traffic and go into areas where I’m less familiar with traffic patterns. A helmet also helps restaurant staff identify me as a delivery person.

Collisions that result in death are rare.

You can earn income a lot easier on an electric bicycle than a bicycle. For me personally the income I’ve gotten has more than paid for my electric bike. As a bicycle delivery person, I make anywhere from $18 to $50 an hour depending on the time of day, the day of the week and the weather. I have a full-time office job now but still do deliveries on weekends and some evenings.

I have had a lot of fun on my electric bicycle. It’s the first vehicle I ever bought — my previous bicycle, non-electric, was a gift from a friend. I don’t own a car and never plan to.

Growing up here on Oahu, my single mom raised me and my sister without ever driving. We walked everywhere and rode the bus for longer distances. I will be able to give her rides on my next electric bicycle.

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About the Author

Anthony Chang

Anthony Chang is a transportation advocate and scholar who is dedicated to making streets safer. His sister, Emelia Hung died tragically in 2013 after being struck by a car crossing the street. He has been honored as Advocate of the Year by Hawaii Bicycling League and holds a master’s in urban and regional planning from the University of Hawaii-Manoa with a focus on transportation safety statistics and infrastructure.

Latest Comments (0)

This opinion editorial has been on the front page of Civil Beat for nearly 2 weeks if you use a computer. Next article will push it off.I wanted to thank everyone who participated in the discussion. I've read and appreciate all your comments. Thank you.Its gotten the most comments of any Community Voice in several months and I'm glad it was such a popular and relatable topic.

Anthony_Chang · 1 year ago

Good source of streets and transportation news, including microtransportation: streetsblog USA.

annviera · 1 year ago

Please MTA, keep these things out of the Ravine Park path. They are ridden much too fast by people who have no idea what they are doing. They pass people and dogs with no warning and are quite dangerous in the confines of the path. Also parents and kids without helmets who have none of the skills of experienced cyclists are setting up potential tragedies and taxpayers will have to pay for the emergency response.

JimP · 1 year ago

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