By Stephanie Banat
Editor’s note: This story first appeared on liherald.com, for which Banat interned over the summer of 2021. To read the original, click here.
Longtime cyclist Arne Johnson, 72, said that his riding speed has slowed with his age, and as a member of Huntington Bicycle Club, Johnson said he struggled to keep up with the younger, faster members in the group.
So when the Huntington resident purchased his first electric bike, it was a “life-changing experience,” he said.
Johnson said he began looking into e-bikes a few years ago after he suffered injuries that prevented him from cycling. He purchased his first e-bike from Brands Cycle and Fitness in Wantagh in September 2018.
E-bike sales at Brands have at least doubled since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, owner Gary Sirota said. That follows a national trend: According to the World Economic Forum, electric bike sales in the U.S. have increased by 145 percent since 2019.
“A lot of people took up cycling as a hobby during the pandemic and stuck with it after,” Sirota said.
On March 21, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York bike shops could remain open during the statewide closure order under Executive Order 202.6.
Sales have also increased at other local bike shops, including Merrick Bicycles in Merrick.
Owner Dan Yuricic, who also co-owns Long Beach Bicycles, said that when gyms and recreational facilities closed during the pandemic, many people turned to bike riding for exercise, since bike shops were open deemed essential, he said.
Yuricic said many of those cyclists have now switched to electric bikes. “E-bikes allow people to travel further distances, carry things on their bikes, combat winds, get up higher hills … It makes it easier for certain members of bicycle clubs to keep up with the rest of their groups,” Yuricic said, “especially in the case that those members are older than the rest and have less stamina.”
While some electric bikes only have a throttle, meaning the bike can be operated without pedaling, others, like Johnson’s, are pedal-assist bikes.
“[They] allow you to work out as much or as little as you want to,” Johnson said. “You can get a different level of assistance from the bike’s motor depending on which level you choose and how hard you pedal. On level one, you’ll do the most work and you’ll get the minimal help from the motor.”
Sirota said the majority of his e-bike customers ride for recreational and exercise purposes. Many Long Islanders, however, use e-bikes to commute to work so they don’t have to worry about finding space to park their vehicles, he said — or worry about breaking a sweat.
“Bicycles are a great and healthy way to travel to work,” he said, “but the problem is that you are bound to break a sweat. With e-bikes, you can get to your destination comfortably, without sweating.”
Electric bicycles are also efficient for long biking or camping trips, Johnson said, who noted that he once rode his e-bike from Huntington to the Hamptons.
“With e-bikes, you can make self-sustained trips by simply carrying your battery charger with you and finding an outlet to charge your bike’s battery at night,” he said, “you can even bring a bag full of your clothes with you because the motor makes it easy to carry extra weight.”
Although electric bike sales have increased, Yuricic said, they will never replace regular bikes. Sirota said he feels similarly.
“Regular bicycles will never go out of style,” Sirota said, who prefers to ride a regular bike. “Whether it’s younger children cruising around, adults exercising or going for joy rides, or even cyclists who compete in contests, everyone cycles for different reasons…so it’s nice to have a variety of different types of bikes to choose from.”