Welcome to the future of biking—and maybe commuting. Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, have been rising in popularity since the beginning of the pandemic. According to a 2021 report by the North American Bikeshare & Scootershare Association (NABSA), 50% of North American cities with shared scooter and bikeshare systems offered e-bikes, and the number of people using these bikeshare systems is rising annually. Included in this trend: the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota, with their extensive bike trails.
E-bikes are different from traditional bicycles because of their electric motors, which propel the bike and offer pedal assistance, allowing the rider to decide if, when, and how the bike ride becomes physically strenuous. With e-bikes’ powerful batteries, riders can go between 20 and 100 miles on a single charge. For those who want to travel sustainably, spend more time outdoors, and find a balance between leisure and exercise, the e-bike is a perfect fit.
One of the perks is how accessible e-bikes are across ages and abilities. The pedal assist technology makes riding long distances and getting outdoors more feasible for people with chronic pain or low mobility.
As with other motorized vehicles, Minnesota has rules and regulations to ensure a safe ride. Across the state, e-bikes are generally required to have operational pedals and an electric motor with a power output that doesn’t exceed 750 watts. E-bikes can’t exceed 20 miles per hour, so riders can remain in control of the motorized bicycle. While e-bike riders don’t need a license, persons younger than 15 cannot legally operate one.
There are three classes of e-bikes: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. Class 1 refers to an electric bike in which the electric motor only provides assistance when the user is pedaling or when the speed does not exceed 20 mph. Class 2 e-bike motors propel the bike forward without the rider needing to pedal, and Class 3 e-bike motors don’t provide assistance past the threshold speed of 28 mph.
The rules on where to ride e-bikes are similar to those regarding non-motorized bicycles. Bikers must ride with traffic, not against it, and shouldn’t ride on sidewalks. E-biking is permitted on all Minnesota state trails, but anyone riding when it’s dark outside should use a light to identify themselves to other riders and drivers. Helmets are legally optional but encouraged.
How to E-Bike
One of the biggest differences between a traditional bike and an e-bike is that the latter needs to be charged by connecting the battery pack to a power source. Most e-bikes only need to charge for a few hours, and those charges should last several long bike rides.
For those using an e-bike for the first time, the sensation may be a bit different than riding a traditional bike. Depending on the class of e-bike, begin either by pedaling or pushing forward to allow the electric motor to start propelling. Start slow and increase speed to build confidence.
Many local bike stores sell e-bikes, with the average commuter bike ranging from $1,000 to $4,000. For those who are not ready to make that financial investment or want to first try out the experience of riding an e-bike, consider a community-shared e-bike. In Minneapolis and surrounding areas, the Nice Ride app allows users to purchase an annual membership or a short-term pass to the green bikes parked around the city. Use the app to sign up and find a map that notes the location of all nearby and available Nice Ride bikes, perfect for biking around the Chain of Lakes or navigating downtown.
E-bikes truly are for everyone, so you can also take an e-bike out for a spin using Nice Ride for All, Nice Ride’s equity program that lowers costs for individuals over the age of 18 who qualify for certain state and federal assistance programs.
Hit the Trails
Minnesota is full of bike-friendly trails that will take you around its 10,000 lakes and through bustling downtowns. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, bike along the Chain of Lakes, the Stone Arch Bridge, or down to Minnehaha Falls. If you’re a bit farther north, bike under a canopy of fall foliage on the Mesabi Trail or take in scenic views of Lake Superior on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. And Root River State Trail allows you to bike along the beautiful bluffs of southeastern Minnesota.