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Aug 20, 2023

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Ashley Reefer, 35, owner of Flat Tire Co. Bike Shop in Greensburg, recognized the advantages of electric bikes after her friend broke his arm.

“We’re all mountain bikers,” Reefer said. “The only reason we really started picking up locally was because our buddy broke his arm and then he couldn’t ride. We told him to get back on an e-bike because he’s about 50 years old trying to recover.”

Once they had one person in their group on an e-bike, the rest of her friends quickly followed until Reefer found herself thinking, “Well, if everybody else is getting one, I guess I should get one too.”

As the technology has evolved and the average price of a bike has fallen, she and her team have made it their business to stay up to date on the newest e-bike developments. They have seen a huge rise in customer interest.

“We’ve literally quadrupled in sales in the past year or two,” Reefer said.

After trying out the two-wheeled vehicle, Reefer discovered other advantages to e-bikes.

“E-bikes bridge gaps between fitness,” she said.

Most electric cycles on the market allow the rider to control how much the bike assists them. This way, they are able to match the engine power with the fitness level of the people they are riding with. Older riders, less experienced riders or people recovering from injuries are able to enjoy a ride with their friends without being left behind.

Reefer is an avid rider and a member of Team Flat Tire Co., a bike team that hosts events for the community such as weekly rides, races in the WPCX cyclocross series and Keystone Triathlon.

She bikes trails with people ranging in age from 18 to 60. During a casual ride, they use e-bikes, often choose different assist modes and are easily able to remain together.

Reefer has been selling e-bikes since 2015. She said she often had two on the floor of her shop and it was difficult to move them because of the higher price point.

“(E-bikes) are what’s keeping most stores in business since the pandemic,” said Frank Bruno, owner of Biketek in Squirrel Hill. “Non-e-bike sales are off 80% nationwide. E-bikes make you bionic. They’re never going away. It is now the permanent bike between $1,000 and $2,000.”

“It’s a new era of cycling,” Reefer said.

New category

Bryan Metzgar, 52, co-owner of Greensburg Bike Shop in Youngwood, said e-bikes have opened up opportunities to a new category of riders.

“A lot of these people haven’t ridden for 20 years, and now they’ve decided that maybe with a little less effort, they can make it happen,” Metzgar said. “We see a lot of seniors riding them.”

Metzgar said he has had hunters buy “fat-tire” e-bikes to drive to their tree stands rather than risk scaring away animals by making noise on quads. He said many state parks and trails allow up to Class 2 e-bikes, a bike that uses a throttle and can go up to 20 mph.

Metzgar and his co-owner, Sam Echard, sell and repair both electric and “acoustic” bikes, a nickname they adopted for traditional bicycles after officially joining in the e-bike sale frenzy.

Pandemic boom

The covid-19 pandemic led to a boom in bicycle sales, especially e-bike sales, and the trend has shown no sign of stopping as technology continues to evolve to meet cyclists’ needs. There are three categories of e-bikes on the market as of 2023:

• Mountain or off-road bikes are designed for riding on trails with less effort than a traditional bicycle.

• Comfort or cruiser bikes are designed for a casual recreational ride.

• Hybrid or commuter bikes are designed for commuting to work, getting around town or just getting exercise without being too strenuous.

More than 1 million e-bikes were sold in the United States in 2021.

George Gatto, president of Gatto Cycle Shop in Tarentum, said although the pandemic presented an opportunity for e-bikes to become a genuine competitor in the transportation market, it also opened up buyers to inferior vehicles from other countries.

When riders invest in e-bikes online in an attempt to save money, they are risking the possibility of receiving an irreparable bike with a short lifespan. If buyers do not go to a reputable seller, Gatto said, the wiring on the bikes could leave them vulnerable to lithium battery fires.

“I know a whole bunch of bicycle dealers that won’t even bring those batteries into their stores,” Gatto said. “I would tell people to just pay a little more. Buy a product that’s safe and one that you can get repair parts for.”

David Auth, 25, of North Oakland said his e-bike is “fantastic” and he has put 400 miles on the Aventon that he bought from Biketek in Squirrel Hill three months ago.

Auth decided he would invest in an e-bike after he had been riding a nonelectric bike since moving to the city in the fall. The bike was well used and had to have multiple wheel repairs. He paid for a few repairs before the shop said he had a bad wheel and it would be upward of $200 to fix.

“If I was going to be spending that much money on a bike that wasn’t really working for me, I figured I should invest in something that would be able to get me where I wanted to go.”

Auth said he would stay close to home in flat areas such as Shadyside and East Liberty while using his old bike. With his e-bike, he makes frequent trips to see friends outside the city, goes bird-watching in Frick Park and has explored more of the city.

“I don’t have to worry about getting public transit to go into the suburbs or having to get into a car and have to worry about parking,” Auth said.

The framework

Depending on the model, motors are commonly found in two locations on an e-bike. A hub motor can be found in the back wheel of the bike, a design that Greensburg’s Flat Tire bicycle shop owner Ashley Reefer says may be an inconvenience for avid trail riders.

“Let’s say you buy one of these and you’re out on Five Star (Trail) and you get a flat,” she said. “You’re going to have to have tools with you, and you’re probably going to have to unwire (the motor) in the back. It’s just a pain for someone to do all of that while on a trail.”

A mid-drive motor is found in the frame of the bike. Not only is the motor more protected in this type of design, Reefer said, but shop workers are able to easily plug equipment into the motor and load system updates.

“I usually encourage people to buy a mid-drive, if they can afford it,” Reefer said. “It’s going to have some better performance and be easier for us to help the person.”

Reefer added that a lot of people make the mistake of buying an e-bike without also purchasing the proper accessories.

For example, on average, an e-bike weighs almost twice as much as a traditional pedal bike. Because of this, riders need to purchase racks that can hold that extra weight.

Haley Daugherty is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Haley at 724-850-1203 or [email protected].

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E-bikes: Ride before you buyCategories:E-bikes: Ride before you buy