Thanks to the legalization of e-bikes in Ontario, Alastair Russell will find cycling on Toronto streets a little easier – not to mention his target market has just expanded.
Russell heads one of the biggest electric bicycle distribution companies in Canada, Airstream Technologies Corp, and is a user himself.
He has ridden an electric bicycle for five years now to ease the pressure on his artificial knee. He created a slogan to best describe the assisted cycling experience for first time users:“You are 10 pounds lighter and 10 years younger when you are riding an electric bike.
“You really get a ‘Wow’ response from people trying the bike because of the ease of operation,” he explained. “That’s how much energy you have.”
In a push to promote alternative forms of transportation, Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield announced on Oct. 3 that e-bikes would become legal on Ontario streets as part of the three-year pilot project.
According to the Ministry of Transportation, a street-legal e-bike is a bicycle with a “battery-powered electric motor.”
The battery can assist the rider up to 32 kilometres per hour and cannot exceed 500 watts. Depending on the model, riders can choose to pedal the bike normally, pedal and use assistance from the battery, or simply use the battery to power the bike.
Cansfield said e-bikes can help riders get up those tough hills. She added that other benefits include less traffic congestion, the encouragement of a healthy alternative to driving and an environmentally-friendly solution to transportation.
“You are getting some good exercise, which serves the obesity issue, and you’re really taking a vehicle off the road which results in cleaner air,” she said. “The only emissions would be your huffing and puffing.”
Introducing e-bikes to Ontario markets
E-bikes follow similar guidelines for road use as normal bicycles; riders do not require a license or insurance but they must be 16 years of age or older.
Russell said that he has sold a small number of e-bikes in Ontario over four years now, but expects the market to thrive now that they are street-legal.
“They’ve been legal, but not legal for road use, so you could use them on private property and bike paths,” he explained.
The move to legalize e-bikes has generated interest from many companies. Russell has completed a contract with a major Niagara Falls tour company that will begin using the bikes for its wine tours. He said that he has received major orders from the Hudson Bay Company and Home Hardware.
However one bike store owner is not convinced the e-bike concept will fly. Tom Zielinski had an e-bike in his bike shop in Newmarket for years and couldn’t generate any interest in it. Even though the laws have changed to allow e-bikes, Zielinski said that the mentality towards bike riding has not.
“Bicycling is not only for people to commute from point A to point B, bicycling is also part of your lifestyle and fitness,” he said. “So I’m looking at bikes as something that help you get into shape and maintain your health.”
On the other hand, Zielinski said that e-bikes could prove very useful for commuting Torontonians who normally don’t ride a bike because physically, they cannot tackle steep hills.
Russell agreed. “The bike addresses those people who would like an alternative that is less expensive to get to work,” he said, “and who haven’t used a regular bike because maybe they have a huge hill in front of them that they don’t want to face coming home from work at night.”
With government and business support, now it is up to the consumer to see if the e-bike concept flies.