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The e-bike memorial at Santa Fe Drive and El Camino Real tells all

Class three bikes require no pedal assistance once they reach 28 miles per hour.

Because they are on the coast, SoCal Bikes sells more standard beach cruisers than any other bicycle type. E-bikes would be next, followed by off-road (mountain) bikes.
Because they are on the coast, SoCal Bikes sells more standard beach cruisers than any other bicycle type. E-bikes would be next, followed by off-road (mountain) bikes.

I would happily argue that electronic bikes, or e-bikes as they are commonly known, have changed the transportation of humans more than anything since the invention of the internal combustion engine. These vehicles, which combine old-fashioned pedal-pushing with cutting-edge motorization, decrease all sorts of hazards: traffic, air pollution, transportation costs, and teen obesity. However, they increase at least one hazard, and it’s a big one: being run down by a car.

Driving that point sadly home is a makeshift memorial on the corner of Santa Fe Drive and El Camino Real in Encinitas. It stands to remind passersby of gifted and popular teen Brodee Champlain Kingman, who was hit and killed last summer while on his e-bike. This roadside tribute, which features Champlain-Kingman’s image and regularly replenished flowers, serves as a (perhaps unintentional) warning about the potential hazards of e-bikes. Deep grief was the initial reaction to the tragedy. That was followed by suggestions from do-gooders, ranging from stricter e-bike regulation to the elimination of e-bikes from roadways. The latter suggestion proved impractical, considering e-bikes’ popularity and, more importantly, their classification as bicycles. According to the California Vehicle Code, “A person operating a bicycle on a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to a motor vehicle driver.”

Accompanying those rights are responsibilities, which, in the case of e-bikes, can be found in both written and unwritten traffic laws. Ignorance of — or simply ignoring — these laws is occasionally fatal and, more often, injurious. According to San Diego County Sheriff records, “crashes involving bikes of all sorts from Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Encinitas increased nearly 50% from 2018 to 2022.” These numbers registered as mere statistics with most Encinitans until Champlain-Kingman’s death pierced the community’s heart.

Encinitas City Council, headed by Mayor Tony Kranz, who, along with his wife, is an e-biker, recalls, “Since e-bikes are unlicensed, many young riders don’t know the rules of the road. When Brodee passed, we declared an emergency and focused more on bike safety. Even before that, for a couple years, we had been looking into hiring a ‘mobility manager’ to help people get around town without cars. Better instruction and certification are being looked at. However, as a city, we are limited in regulation of bikes, because Encinitas city regulations become unenforceable when someone rides in from adjacent cities like Solana Beach, or Del Mar. Local school districts are helping with e-bike safety instructions, and the Sheriff’s Department is working to help identify unsafe practices. When riding my e-bike, I sometimes encounter situations that make me realize that some drivers need to slow down. I have learned to avoid routes that need more room for bikes. We aim to educate people about those and help them find safe routes through town. To that end, we have posted bike maps on our website.”

State law categorizes e-bikes into three classes. A class one e-bike has a top-assisted speed of 20 miles per hour and must be pedaled to operate. Class two e-bikes also have a top-assisted speed of 20 miles per hour, but they can be used without pedaling through a handlebar-operated throttle. Class three e-bikes require no pedal assistance once they reach speeds of 28 miles per hour. Due to their potential for higher speeds, class three e-bikes are illegal in specific terrains, and riders must be at least 16 years old to operate them. (Riders of any sort of bike who are under 18 must wear helmets.) When it comes to riding the streets, e-bikes are subject to the same rules and legal requirements as traditional bicycles. These include laws on proper passing, observing the same speed limits that apply to automobiles, and all other state and local ordinances. Motorists, for their part, must give e-bikes at least three feet of clearance when passing.

While a bike rider with a driver’s license remains at a disadvantage when competing with a car for a lane in traffic, that licensed driver on a bike still has a better chance than someone without a license. Through understanding safety rules and having experience, a bike rider is more likely to make informed choices. Kids under 16 are unlicensed and often un­informed; as a result, they are left guessing what a driver’s next move might be. And that next move might be disastrous.

The possibility of such disasters is compounded when youngsters ride in groups. The situation resembles ‘50s car culture, when kids played “chicken,” like the teens did in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. In the film — and occasionally in real life — two drivers headed for a cliff, and the first one to jump out of the car was deemed a chicken. In almost every generation, youth will dare one another to do dumb stuff, stuff like driving with their eyes closed, or riding a bike at top speed in dangerous conditions. Few teenagers want to be the one who scoots along safely at 10 miles per hour while the leader of the pack races ahead at more than twice that speed. Nobody wants to be a chicken, even though a live chicken is better than a…well, you get the point.

Jim Norris: “Young bike riders are often not licensed drivers.”

Bicycles have changed significantly since my paper route days, when I flung newspapers from the comfort of my Schwinn Streamliner. But apparently, young cyclists have not changed much. This current generation seems intent on finding new ways, often dangerous, of proving themselves — just as we did. My neighbor George rode his bike from his garage roof into the family’s inflatable pool — without harm. He called me chicken when I refused to attempt his feat. As for me, I would ride in the opposite direction of automobile traffic rather than with it. I reasoned that if I saw a car swerving toward me, I would have time to dodge it. At least my chosen form of self-assertion made enough sense that I still think I’m right — even though a bike expert recently attempted to convince me that my reckoning of time was (and is) incorrect here. Perhaps mine were simply the jumbled musings of an undeveloped prefrontal teenage cortex.

And perhaps not having a fully formed brain explains one big problem with e-bikes. For who in their childhood contemplates that motorized vehicles weighing many times more than their Rad Runner 3 e-bike can crush its 60-plus pounds of steel tubing and rubber like an aluminum can? The problem is compounded by the increased numbers of bikes and autos sharing our roads — most, but not all, attempting to ride harmoniously on streets built for a fraction of the vehicles currently using them. Yet another problem stems from the open secret that teenagers are more apt to be under the influence of some mind-altering substance than they were 50 years ago.

And then there are the drivers behind the wheels of those cars. Driving through Carlsbad recently, I became distracted by a new north swell showing on the reefs. I had only turned away for a moment when a young girl (by the look of her, no older than 14) on an e-bike pulled out from the bike lane and into my lane of traffic. I don’t think she ever saw me. Fortunately, I spotted her in time, jerked the wheel, and avoided a collision. While we were both partly at fault, that would have been no comfort to me or to the poor girl if I had hit her. My knee-jerk reaction was to shout, “Hey, watch where you’re going!” Rude and unnecessary, I realize, but I had crossed the line into grumpy old man territory. And being grumpy is not a good state to be in when contemplating the relative merits of e-bikes. With that in mind, I sought those smarter than myself.

Futuristic thinker and Grauer School founder Dr. Stuart Grauer is a longtime bike advocate who attempts to limit the regulation of most student activity. He had enjoyed riding e-bikes for years before becoming aware of their possible dark side. That came to light after one of the school’s students was in an accident. Dr. Grauer said, “I quickly understood that not all e-bikes are created equal after one of our students ran into a wall on a class 3 e-bike. That was my wake-up call, and shortly afterward, another one of our students was hit by a car while on a class 2 bike. He was bruised but not terribly hurt. Still, that’s always alarming.

“Since our school’s early days” — the Grauer School was founded in the early 90s — “I have been discouraged that not enough kids are riding their bikes to school. I was very excited about e-bikes being a trend that would help reverse that. But immediately after these accidents, I created an application to ride your bike to school. Going through the application, you attested that you would get the proper training. You revealed the make and model of your bike, which has to be a class one — because you’re not eligible to ride class two and three bikes to our school. The application allowed us to know that each student had the knowledge they needed to operate their bikes safely. Finally, they had to get their parents to sign off. I soon realized that many of the parents had been being duped. The kids said, ‘Oh, look at this cool thing; everybody’s got one. This is what I want for my birthday.’ One problem is that e-bikes came on the market so fast that only a few parents knew the risks. The application worked wonders.”

Since many bike shops rent e-bikes, investing $20 to rent an e-bike for an hour might be a good idea. A test ride to determine what bike you want seems logical, since you will lay out between $1600 and $10,000 for an e-bike. If $1600 sounds expensive, consider that a tank of gas lasts about a week and runs around $50. If you set aside that gas money toward a $1600 bike, you’ll have it in eight months or so. From then on, it’s a free ride, except for the maintenance cost.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Jim Norris, who was taught to work on bikes by his father before he was in his teens, has worked in bike shops since seventh grade. Norris, who currently owns and operates SoCal bikes in Oceanside, said, “We moved to our Coast Highway location about four years ago. We were a small bike rental company at the time, but once Covid hit, our rental business ended overnight. After that, everybody wanted their bike fixed or wanted to buy a new bike. That’s when we developed into a complete bike shop rather than just doing rentals.

Norris is a bike booster, and that includes e-bikes. “Bikes are already a highly efficient means of transportation, and e-bikes are a nice addition. There are as many different styles of e-bikes as there are regular bicycles. These include commuters, mountain bikes, and beach cruisers — the fat-tired bikes that can go on the sand, which, by the way, are legal. Some e-bikes are designed to assist you in pedaling, but you still get some exercise.”

Norris said that the two biggest obstacles for most people when it comes to bikes are flat tires and hills. “Today, there are sealants to help eliminate flat tires, and e-bikes make it easier to get up hills. Because of that, e-bikes open the doors for more people to ride bikes.”

E-bikes aren’t allowed on this trail.

But Norris shared my concerns about youth. “Young bike riders are often not licensed drivers, so they need help understanding how to operate in traffic. I recommend that anyone without a driver’s license take training through the county or Bike Coalition. Inevitably, however, parents need to be responsible for teaching their kids how to ride bikes. They must know their kids and teach them the rules, restrictions, etc. If they do that, their kids are less likely to ride on the sidewalk, driveway, or into traffic. If nobody is teaching kids the right things to do on a bike, all the wrong things are more likely to happen. Again, this has to be the parent’s responsibility because no law prevents a three-year-old from getting on an e-bike. The law does not differentiate bikes and e-bikes, and a bike always loses in a collision with a car.

“Just like drivers of cars, who need instructions on how to drive before getting on the road injured, kids now need to take a class before they can ride their e-bikes to school. That’s a good place to start. It teaches you where to ride, what the car’s driver is likely to do, and what to look for when you see brake lights flash or car doors opening while you’re riding.”

But there is only so much education can do. “In the past, kids would learn about riding their bikes at ten miles per hour. Now, you have a 12-year-old learning at 25 miles per hour. In Europe, they don’t allow throttles on bikes at all. Here in America, throttles are popular, due to our desire for instant gratification. With a throttle, you can go 20 miles per hour right away. The idea of not having a throttle and having to pedal — with motor assist only when needed — is the better way to go.” In any case, he said, “Riders under 18 might think they know best, but to buy an e-bike from us, you need someone over 18 signing for you.”

But while adults may do the buying, youth is the market. “We sell e-bikes to all sorts of people, most of them to youth. Getting a bike gives a kid more freedom and allows parents more time since they no longer have to transport them everywhere. E-bikes weigh around 60 pounds, which can be a lot for a young kid. But we don’t sell any ‘kid-friendly’ e-bikes. Costco has a little e-bike with 16-inch wheels, which costs around 500 bucks. It weighs about 30 or 40 pounds and has a smaller battery. That might sound like a good deal until you need someone to service your bike.

(Unfortunately, kids will sometimes do some servicing of their own, warned Norris. “Kids are smart and really good with computers, so through a specific configuration of buttons, they can alter the top speed of an e-bike. When learning to ride an e-bike, you know to keep your hands on the brakes, because hitting the brake kills the motor. But because some kids want to pop wheelies on their e-bikes, they will disconnect the brakes. That, for obvious reasons, is not a good idea.”)

Norries said that “after youth, adults, often in their sixties and seventies, are our biggest customers. The 30-year-olds are not usually as interested in e-bikes because they can pedal most anywhere without assistance if they’re serious riders.” Because they are on the coast, SoCal Bikes sells more standard beach cruisers than any other bicycle type. E-bikes would be next, followed by off-road (mountain) bikes.

E-bikes or otherwise, Norris is encouraged by the progress made by Oceanside, Carlsbad, and Encinitas. He said, “There are now more and better bike lanes, better bike paths, and markings on some roads. It’s getting more bike-friendly to ride a bike on Coast Highway.”

Sixty-five-year-old Pastor Larry Grine traded San Diego County for Oregon 18 years ago, but he recently returned home to live in Oceanside. Grine is a lifelong bike rider and a deep thinker. He is not now, nor has he ever been an e-bike rider. Nonetheless, he had some keen observations on the subject of e-biking. According to Pastor Larry, “I like bikes because of the sense of adventure and being able to go outside to places you usually wouldn’t. There are great uses for e-bikes, but they remind me of fire. Fire is amoral, and can be used for good or bad. It can heat the house or burn it down. If you’re not managing a fire, watch out.”

Grine said that “of the various changes I’ve observed in Southern California since leaving here, the proliferation of e-bikes is among the most startling. In Carlsbad, I watch bikes with and without surfboards, whipping in and out of traffic, sometimes in bike lanes, and sometimes out into the main road. Seeing them, two things come to mind. The first is, Geez, I wish I had one of those before I was old enough to drive. The second thing I think is, Someone is going to get killed on that thing. It looks like a recipe for disaster when you have vehicles that are so fun, so easy to use, and so fast, sharing lanes with cars. I have to ask myself, Is this a motorcycle? They sure don’t look and act like bicycles to me. It gets worse when you get a bunch of 14-year-olds together in a group. I was that kid. In my case, it was a gang of skateboarders encouraging one another to zip through traffic on Nautilus Street down to Windansea. I did things in groups I would not have done alone.”

Grine doesn’t see e-bikes as the future of bicycles. “I’ve been on some fairly serious mountain bike trails in Oregon where signs say that e-bikes aren’t allowed. The motivation for that could be that hardcore mountain bikers don’t want anyone else to experience an advantage they don’t have. In the past, before e-bikes, everyone who got to the top of a mountain had earned it. It could also be that mountain bikers feel more confident on a hill that others couldn’t get up to except by being an experienced rider. Anybody can get to the top of the hill, but only some have the confidence to get down the hill. E-bikes basically offer a ticket to the top of the hill for anyone. That can be a problem since mountain bike trails can be dangerous for those who only mountain bike sometimes. After they get up there, they might bomb down the hill.”

However, he granted that “many mountain bikers use e-bikes and have great skill. I have a friend I’ve ridden mountain bikes with since before the mountain bike was invented. He’s a little older than me, and would no longer consider doing anything like that. And I know I can’t do everything I once did on a bike. If you need an e-bike to ride, get one, especially one that requires some pedalling. We certainly know how much America needs exercise, heightened by these horrible statistics about increasing obesity among children. When I was a kid, bike riding was how you got places. My mom didn’t drive me to my soccer games; I rode my bike there and had a paper route. I plan not to buy an e-bike, but my friend has begun using one. He only uses a little assist from the motor — only about 20 percent assist sometimes, which is all he needs. But if he didn’t have an e-bike, we would no longer ride together at the same level. I realize that it won’t be long until I’m that guy.”

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Dobson’s puts its soup in a song

“Come try our mussel bisque/ It’s our signature dish.”
Because they are on the coast, SoCal Bikes sells more standard beach cruisers than any other bicycle type. E-bikes would be next, followed by off-road (mountain) bikes.
Because they are on the coast, SoCal Bikes sells more standard beach cruisers than any other bicycle type. E-bikes would be next, followed by off-road (mountain) bikes.

I would happily argue that electronic bikes, or e-bikes as they are commonly known, have changed the transportation of humans more than anything since the invention of the internal combustion engine. These vehicles, which combine old-fashioned pedal-pushing with cutting-edge motorization, decrease all sorts of hazards: traffic, air pollution, transportation costs, and teen obesity. However, they increase at least one hazard, and it’s a big one: being run down by a car.

Driving that point sadly home is a makeshift memorial on the corner of Santa Fe Drive and El Camino Real in Encinitas. It stands to remind passersby of gifted and popular teen Brodee Champlain Kingman, who was hit and killed last summer while on his e-bike. This roadside tribute, which features Champlain-Kingman’s image and regularly replenished flowers, serves as a (perhaps unintentional) warning about the potential hazards of e-bikes. Deep grief was the initial reaction to the tragedy. That was followed by suggestions from do-gooders, ranging from stricter e-bike regulation to the elimination of e-bikes from roadways. The latter suggestion proved impractical, considering e-bikes’ popularity and, more importantly, their classification as bicycles. According to the California Vehicle Code, “A person operating a bicycle on a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to a motor vehicle driver.”

Accompanying those rights are responsibilities, which, in the case of e-bikes, can be found in both written and unwritten traffic laws. Ignorance of — or simply ignoring — these laws is occasionally fatal and, more often, injurious. According to San Diego County Sheriff records, “crashes involving bikes of all sorts from Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Encinitas increased nearly 50% from 2018 to 2022.” These numbers registered as mere statistics with most Encinitans until Champlain-Kingman’s death pierced the community’s heart.

Encinitas City Council, headed by Mayor Tony Kranz, who, along with his wife, is an e-biker, recalls, “Since e-bikes are unlicensed, many young riders don’t know the rules of the road. When Brodee passed, we declared an emergency and focused more on bike safety. Even before that, for a couple years, we had been looking into hiring a ‘mobility manager’ to help people get around town without cars. Better instruction and certification are being looked at. However, as a city, we are limited in regulation of bikes, because Encinitas city regulations become unenforceable when someone rides in from adjacent cities like Solana Beach, or Del Mar. Local school districts are helping with e-bike safety instructions, and the Sheriff’s Department is working to help identify unsafe practices. When riding my e-bike, I sometimes encounter situations that make me realize that some drivers need to slow down. I have learned to avoid routes that need more room for bikes. We aim to educate people about those and help them find safe routes through town. To that end, we have posted bike maps on our website.”

State law categorizes e-bikes into three classes. A class one e-bike has a top-assisted speed of 20 miles per hour and must be pedaled to operate. Class two e-bikes also have a top-assisted speed of 20 miles per hour, but they can be used without pedaling through a handlebar-operated throttle. Class three e-bikes require no pedal assistance once they reach speeds of 28 miles per hour. Due to their potential for higher speeds, class three e-bikes are illegal in specific terrains, and riders must be at least 16 years old to operate them. (Riders of any sort of bike who are under 18 must wear helmets.) When it comes to riding the streets, e-bikes are subject to the same rules and legal requirements as traditional bicycles. These include laws on proper passing, observing the same speed limits that apply to automobiles, and all other state and local ordinances. Motorists, for their part, must give e-bikes at least three feet of clearance when passing.

While a bike rider with a driver’s license remains at a disadvantage when competing with a car for a lane in traffic, that licensed driver on a bike still has a better chance than someone without a license. Through understanding safety rules and having experience, a bike rider is more likely to make informed choices. Kids under 16 are unlicensed and often un­informed; as a result, they are left guessing what a driver’s next move might be. And that next move might be disastrous.

The possibility of such disasters is compounded when youngsters ride in groups. The situation resembles ‘50s car culture, when kids played “chicken,” like the teens did in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. In the film — and occasionally in real life — two drivers headed for a cliff, and the first one to jump out of the car was deemed a chicken. In almost every generation, youth will dare one another to do dumb stuff, stuff like driving with their eyes closed, or riding a bike at top speed in dangerous conditions. Few teenagers want to be the one who scoots along safely at 10 miles per hour while the leader of the pack races ahead at more than twice that speed. Nobody wants to be a chicken, even though a live chicken is better than a…well, you get the point.

Jim Norris: “Young bike riders are often not licensed drivers.”

Bicycles have changed significantly since my paper route days, when I flung newspapers from the comfort of my Schwinn Streamliner. But apparently, young cyclists have not changed much. This current generation seems intent on finding new ways, often dangerous, of proving themselves — just as we did. My neighbor George rode his bike from his garage roof into the family’s inflatable pool — without harm. He called me chicken when I refused to attempt his feat. As for me, I would ride in the opposite direction of automobile traffic rather than with it. I reasoned that if I saw a car swerving toward me, I would have time to dodge it. At least my chosen form of self-assertion made enough sense that I still think I’m right — even though a bike expert recently attempted to convince me that my reckoning of time was (and is) incorrect here. Perhaps mine were simply the jumbled musings of an undeveloped prefrontal teenage cortex.

And perhaps not having a fully formed brain explains one big problem with e-bikes. For who in their childhood contemplates that motorized vehicles weighing many times more than their Rad Runner 3 e-bike can crush its 60-plus pounds of steel tubing and rubber like an aluminum can? The problem is compounded by the increased numbers of bikes and autos sharing our roads — most, but not all, attempting to ride harmoniously on streets built for a fraction of the vehicles currently using them. Yet another problem stems from the open secret that teenagers are more apt to be under the influence of some mind-altering substance than they were 50 years ago.

And then there are the drivers behind the wheels of those cars. Driving through Carlsbad recently, I became distracted by a new north swell showing on the reefs. I had only turned away for a moment when a young girl (by the look of her, no older than 14) on an e-bike pulled out from the bike lane and into my lane of traffic. I don’t think she ever saw me. Fortunately, I spotted her in time, jerked the wheel, and avoided a collision. While we were both partly at fault, that would have been no comfort to me or to the poor girl if I had hit her. My knee-jerk reaction was to shout, “Hey, watch where you’re going!” Rude and unnecessary, I realize, but I had crossed the line into grumpy old man territory. And being grumpy is not a good state to be in when contemplating the relative merits of e-bikes. With that in mind, I sought those smarter than myself.

Futuristic thinker and Grauer School founder Dr. Stuart Grauer is a longtime bike advocate who attempts to limit the regulation of most student activity. He had enjoyed riding e-bikes for years before becoming aware of their possible dark side. That came to light after one of the school’s students was in an accident. Dr. Grauer said, “I quickly understood that not all e-bikes are created equal after one of our students ran into a wall on a class 3 e-bike. That was my wake-up call, and shortly afterward, another one of our students was hit by a car while on a class 2 bike. He was bruised but not terribly hurt. Still, that’s always alarming.

“Since our school’s early days” — the Grauer School was founded in the early 90s — “I have been discouraged that not enough kids are riding their bikes to school. I was very excited about e-bikes being a trend that would help reverse that. But immediately after these accidents, I created an application to ride your bike to school. Going through the application, you attested that you would get the proper training. You revealed the make and model of your bike, which has to be a class one — because you’re not eligible to ride class two and three bikes to our school. The application allowed us to know that each student had the knowledge they needed to operate their bikes safely. Finally, they had to get their parents to sign off. I soon realized that many of the parents had been being duped. The kids said, ‘Oh, look at this cool thing; everybody’s got one. This is what I want for my birthday.’ One problem is that e-bikes came on the market so fast that only a few parents knew the risks. The application worked wonders.”

Since many bike shops rent e-bikes, investing $20 to rent an e-bike for an hour might be a good idea. A test ride to determine what bike you want seems logical, since you will lay out between $1600 and $10,000 for an e-bike. If $1600 sounds expensive, consider that a tank of gas lasts about a week and runs around $50. If you set aside that gas money toward a $1600 bike, you’ll have it in eight months or so. From then on, it’s a free ride, except for the maintenance cost.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Jim Norris, who was taught to work on bikes by his father before he was in his teens, has worked in bike shops since seventh grade. Norris, who currently owns and operates SoCal bikes in Oceanside, said, “We moved to our Coast Highway location about four years ago. We were a small bike rental company at the time, but once Covid hit, our rental business ended overnight. After that, everybody wanted their bike fixed or wanted to buy a new bike. That’s when we developed into a complete bike shop rather than just doing rentals.

Norris is a bike booster, and that includes e-bikes. “Bikes are already a highly efficient means of transportation, and e-bikes are a nice addition. There are as many different styles of e-bikes as there are regular bicycles. These include commuters, mountain bikes, and beach cruisers — the fat-tired bikes that can go on the sand, which, by the way, are legal. Some e-bikes are designed to assist you in pedaling, but you still get some exercise.”

Norris said that the two biggest obstacles for most people when it comes to bikes are flat tires and hills. “Today, there are sealants to help eliminate flat tires, and e-bikes make it easier to get up hills. Because of that, e-bikes open the doors for more people to ride bikes.”

E-bikes aren’t allowed on this trail.

But Norris shared my concerns about youth. “Young bike riders are often not licensed drivers, so they need help understanding how to operate in traffic. I recommend that anyone without a driver’s license take training through the county or Bike Coalition. Inevitably, however, parents need to be responsible for teaching their kids how to ride bikes. They must know their kids and teach them the rules, restrictions, etc. If they do that, their kids are less likely to ride on the sidewalk, driveway, or into traffic. If nobody is teaching kids the right things to do on a bike, all the wrong things are more likely to happen. Again, this has to be the parent’s responsibility because no law prevents a three-year-old from getting on an e-bike. The law does not differentiate bikes and e-bikes, and a bike always loses in a collision with a car.

“Just like drivers of cars, who need instructions on how to drive before getting on the road injured, kids now need to take a class before they can ride their e-bikes to school. That’s a good place to start. It teaches you where to ride, what the car’s driver is likely to do, and what to look for when you see brake lights flash or car doors opening while you’re riding.”

But there is only so much education can do. “In the past, kids would learn about riding their bikes at ten miles per hour. Now, you have a 12-year-old learning at 25 miles per hour. In Europe, they don’t allow throttles on bikes at all. Here in America, throttles are popular, due to our desire for instant gratification. With a throttle, you can go 20 miles per hour right away. The idea of not having a throttle and having to pedal — with motor assist only when needed — is the better way to go.” In any case, he said, “Riders under 18 might think they know best, but to buy an e-bike from us, you need someone over 18 signing for you.”

But while adults may do the buying, youth is the market. “We sell e-bikes to all sorts of people, most of them to youth. Getting a bike gives a kid more freedom and allows parents more time since they no longer have to transport them everywhere. E-bikes weigh around 60 pounds, which can be a lot for a young kid. But we don’t sell any ‘kid-friendly’ e-bikes. Costco has a little e-bike with 16-inch wheels, which costs around 500 bucks. It weighs about 30 or 40 pounds and has a smaller battery. That might sound like a good deal until you need someone to service your bike.

(Unfortunately, kids will sometimes do some servicing of their own, warned Norris. “Kids are smart and really good with computers, so through a specific configuration of buttons, they can alter the top speed of an e-bike. When learning to ride an e-bike, you know to keep your hands on the brakes, because hitting the brake kills the motor. But because some kids want to pop wheelies on their e-bikes, they will disconnect the brakes. That, for obvious reasons, is not a good idea.”)

Norries said that “after youth, adults, often in their sixties and seventies, are our biggest customers. The 30-year-olds are not usually as interested in e-bikes because they can pedal most anywhere without assistance if they’re serious riders.” Because they are on the coast, SoCal Bikes sells more standard beach cruisers than any other bicycle type. E-bikes would be next, followed by off-road (mountain) bikes.

E-bikes or otherwise, Norris is encouraged by the progress made by Oceanside, Carlsbad, and Encinitas. He said, “There are now more and better bike lanes, better bike paths, and markings on some roads. It’s getting more bike-friendly to ride a bike on Coast Highway.”

Sixty-five-year-old Pastor Larry Grine traded San Diego County for Oregon 18 years ago, but he recently returned home to live in Oceanside. Grine is a lifelong bike rider and a deep thinker. He is not now, nor has he ever been an e-bike rider. Nonetheless, he had some keen observations on the subject of e-biking. According to Pastor Larry, “I like bikes because of the sense of adventure and being able to go outside to places you usually wouldn’t. There are great uses for e-bikes, but they remind me of fire. Fire is amoral, and can be used for good or bad. It can heat the house or burn it down. If you’re not managing a fire, watch out.”

Grine said that “of the various changes I’ve observed in Southern California since leaving here, the proliferation of e-bikes is among the most startling. In Carlsbad, I watch bikes with and without surfboards, whipping in and out of traffic, sometimes in bike lanes, and sometimes out into the main road. Seeing them, two things come to mind. The first is, Geez, I wish I had one of those before I was old enough to drive. The second thing I think is, Someone is going to get killed on that thing. It looks like a recipe for disaster when you have vehicles that are so fun, so easy to use, and so fast, sharing lanes with cars. I have to ask myself, Is this a motorcycle? They sure don’t look and act like bicycles to me. It gets worse when you get a bunch of 14-year-olds together in a group. I was that kid. In my case, it was a gang of skateboarders encouraging one another to zip through traffic on Nautilus Street down to Windansea. I did things in groups I would not have done alone.”

Grine doesn’t see e-bikes as the future of bicycles. “I’ve been on some fairly serious mountain bike trails in Oregon where signs say that e-bikes aren’t allowed. The motivation for that could be that hardcore mountain bikers don’t want anyone else to experience an advantage they don’t have. In the past, before e-bikes, everyone who got to the top of a mountain had earned it. It could also be that mountain bikers feel more confident on a hill that others couldn’t get up to except by being an experienced rider. Anybody can get to the top of the hill, but only some have the confidence to get down the hill. E-bikes basically offer a ticket to the top of the hill for anyone. That can be a problem since mountain bike trails can be dangerous for those who only mountain bike sometimes. After they get up there, they might bomb down the hill.”

However, he granted that “many mountain bikers use e-bikes and have great skill. I have a friend I’ve ridden mountain bikes with since before the mountain bike was invented. He’s a little older than me, and would no longer consider doing anything like that. And I know I can’t do everything I once did on a bike. If you need an e-bike to ride, get one, especially one that requires some pedalling. We certainly know how much America needs exercise, heightened by these horrible statistics about increasing obesity among children. When I was a kid, bike riding was how you got places. My mom didn’t drive me to my soccer games; I rode my bike there and had a paper route. I plan not to buy an e-bike, but my friend has begun using one. He only uses a little assist from the motor — only about 20 percent assist sometimes, which is all he needs. But if he didn’t have an e-bike, we would no longer ride together at the same level. I realize that it won’t be long until I’m that guy.”

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