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COURTESY: DAWN RICHARDSON - Portland Tribune writer Joseph Gallivan tests out one of the foldable ebikes on a nice fall day.Electric bikes don’t get a lot of respect in Portland these days. In the commuting world, they’re somewhere between Segways and Razor scooters, widely considered overpriced and underpowered.


But people here may warm to "ebikes" if they give them a try. Anecdotal evidence from a Drive Oregon study of Portland-area commuters suggests that nonbikers found electric bikes both useful and fun. Some participants even gave up their cars and bought one.

Drive Oregon, a nonprofit trade association promoting the electric vehicle industry, secured 30 electric bicycles to assess how they might be used by people here. They teamed with Kaiser Permanente Northwest, which loaned the ebikes to its staff for commuting to and from its three big area campuses in the Lloyd Center, Sunnyside and Hillsboro. Funding came from a Metro grant.

“The big takeaway was it got people out who hadn’t ridden a bike since they were 10,” says Lauren Whyte, Kaiser employee wellness consultant. “It was a fun new tool, which made them feel less intimidated than an actual bike. It made them get out and conquer the hills.”

After the test, more people traded cars for transit, Whyte says. “It opened up their eyes, and several of them even bought eBikes.”

“The intention was first/last mile usage,” says Zach Henkin, Drive Oregon program director. “We expected people to bring them on the MAX and the bus, but they used them for the whole commute. They said they enjoyed riding.”

The bikes are foldable fixies with front-wheel drive and the battery cell under the rear luggage rack. Henkin still has a few of the bikes around the office.

Kaiser Permanente liked the idea because it fit its “thrive” concept of an active, healthy work force. Participants in its Northwest Employee Ebike Commute Project biked for 10 weeks.

Henkin says the target market for eBikes is either young people, former cyclists who are maybe getting over an injury, and people who don’t want too much sweat or Spandex.

“At the end of the day, if people were more likely to be more confident on a bike, that was a measure of success,” he says.

Portland State University professor John Macarthur is still finalizing the official study of the pilot project for release this fall. However, anecdotal evidence, taken from more than 100 comments left by participants, suggests to Henkin that they were pleasantly surprised at how easy their commute was by eBike.

“In Portland we have great bike infrastructure; it’s just a matter of getting people to use it,” Henkin says.

<h3>No pain, plenty of gain

The IZIP E3 Compact bikes used by Kaiser commuters have three modes: You can pedal without power, with power assist, or just relax and whir along without doing anything.

With front-wheel drive, you can burn rubber if you don't have enough weight on the front wheel. Once you get going, though, the bike has power and delivers it smoothly up to around 20 miles an hour.

Pulling away from junctions is made easy, as is going uphill. Just at the time you feel like giving up, such as an uphill ride home, the added power is a blessing. That’s a strange feeling, making you wonder why you'd ever want to pedal.

Is it green or thrifty?

Drive Oregon estimates the cost of the average Portland commute at $884 per month, versus $35 on an eBike.

Henkin calculates a gasoline-powered car puts out 12 pounds of carbon dioxide per day, versus 0.002 pounds from an ebike.

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