Wednesday, August 5, 2009

(electric) biking Oakland

bike parking rack

In a past life, I worked in Berkeley and used to commute by bike from the Oakland hills a couple of times a week. I was 10 years younger then, and biking on a regular basis and so in better shape. It was still hard work, mind you, but I didn't think twice about riding to and from work unless it was raining hard. The 1000' elevation gain was a consideration, but didn't stop me from doing it. That was then, this is now.

I don't ride nearly as often now, and my body is 10 years older, so that hill is a lot more daunting than it used to be. There's also the smaller but still daunting hill between us and the nearby regional parks. My wife and I had ridden it a number of times together, but it's enough of a hill to make it hard work right at the start of the ride.

Cars Out

These days I'm also a lot more aware of the impact of cars on the environment. Our main car is a 2002 Prius, but that just means less impact, not no impact. After checking out electric scooters and electric-assist bikes several years back and finding them wanting, a couple months ago I read about Pacific E-Bikes on TreeHugger. They're close by in Berkeley, so when I was in the area I went and took a test ride. I was impressed enough that I later borrowed one for a longer test drive and so my wife could try it out, too.

My wife thought it was OK, but didn't think she'd ride it that much. I liked it, and it made it up the hill OK, so we bought one ($897 + tax) and I brought it home. I've since used it to go out to the Habitat construction site, run errands, and even do some grocery shopping (a 12 pack of beer fits nicely on the rack, and we have panniers for the rest.) And my wife has ridden it a lot more than she expected. She's ridden it down to the village, but mostly over to Redwood Regional Park.

It's still work to go up a hill (sometimes a lot), but it takes enough of the edge off that I can once again ride up the hill to home. And for shorter rides like over to Redwood, as my wife says, "it makes biking fun again."

the Tribune Tower

Yesterday I took it for a longer, more challenging ride. I started with the easy ride (mostly) downhill to Kaiser. I had a break between appointments, so I went and had breakfast at Mama's Royal Cafe. I also took the opportunity to snap some pics of local signs. After that it was over to Chinatown to check on a possible source of LED undercabinet lights for our kitchen. I criss-crossed Downtown and Uptown taking pictures of signs and buildings. It was a lovely day at this point, with puffs of fog blowing past in a blue sky.

After that, I headed up Telegraph to the Tip Top Bike Shop (which has finished their expansion into the space next door.) There I bought a water bottle holder for the bike, a rear-view mirror for my wife's helmet, and the East Bay Biking Coalition's 'west of the hills' map showing suggested bike routes around the East Bay. From there, it was past the newly re-opened Kingfish pub (alas, they don't open until 4pm on weekdays.)

Finally, it was time to head for home. I'd ridden up the hill to home before, taking one of the less steep routes (e.g., the trail up Shepherd Canyon), but today it was time for a work-out for me and the e-bike. I headed up past the Claremont Hotel into Claremont Canyon, and the bike did better than I did. A couple parts of Claremont are pretty steep (>9% grade), and I had to stop and take a break, but the bike's battery lasted through it. Once I was up to Grizzly Peak the e-bike and I had an easy time of it; once I reached Skyline it was downhill to home.

In short, we love our new e-bike. It's still not zero impact, but is way better than even our Prius, and it's good exercise for us, too. If you've considered biking for transportation but need a little extra oomph, consider an e-bike. It's also a wonderful way to see Oakland. No worries about parking (except where racks haven't been installed to replace the old parking meters), and you see a lot more at a slower pace than driving. Even if you don't ride it every day, each bike trip is one less car trip.

Here are some resources for biking in Oakland:
(Also note that Pacific E-Bike has some electric scooters available, too. I haven't tested either of those, but I plan to in the future.)

see part 2 here


Colburn said...

Sweet! (That applies to the bike, and to your ride, which sounds like a lot of fun.)

Patrick M. Mitchell said...

Here's a link to a term paper that suggests that electric bikes are actually BETTER for the environment than human-powered bikes. It makes sense, I think. The food calories required to power a bicycle have to be replaced - and the carbon footprint of our food supply is pretty steep in this country.

Unknown said...

@Patrick: Interesting. It also touched on some of my questions: what if you're eating less processed foods (vegetarian, in my case) and attempting to eat more locally? And what if your local power supplies are more efficient (hydroelectic in the case of the paper, as they're in Canada)? It's very close then, but the batter-powered bike is still a little more efficient, depending on the battery chemistry.

But I think the added oomph is also significant. Even if a traditional bike was more efficient overall, I didn't use it as much as I do as the electric assist one. If I lived where it was flatter, it would be different, but the assist is enough extra to get me to ride when I wouldn't have otherwise. And it's no contest when comparing a car (even a hybrid) against an electric-assist bike in terms of efficiency.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

There is a site dedicated to info on electric bikes at

This site pulls news and developments from all over the world and organizes it for all to learn from. It is meant to serve all with an interest on the subject.

There are a lots of positive examples and some cautions to learn from.

Dave said...

Yesterday a cyclist passed me as I rode back to my home in mid-town Los Angeles from Marina del Rey, on the Ballona Creek bike path.

At first, I didn't realize the cyclist was on an ebike. He was also pedaling what appeared to be about 120 rpms.

These bikes are great for those who have to commute. I'm sticking with my human-powered bike for now. But I can also see these bikes would be a boon for those who are elderly but still active, or who want to be active. One day, not that far from now, I won't be able to ride up some of my beloved roads into our local mountains without assistance. One day, I'll barely be able to ride the bike path to the beach.

By the way, I love your part of the state. I've been able to ride up to Skyline a few times, spent part of my honeymoon in the Claremont, and in the past few years have enjoyed traveling to see friends close to both sides of the Oakland hills.

Unknown said...

@Dave: I love the area, too. That's why I bought a house here 15 years ago (not that I could afford the same house now.) Speaking of riding up to Skyline, I just got back from riding past the Claremont and up old Tunnel Road to Skyline on the e-bike. It's by far the most gentle grade to get to the top (and has blessedly few cars), so with the e-bike it's downright fun to ride up that way. My late friend Dave and I used to ride that way after work, then soak in the hot tub.