If a packed Banff Town Hall is a barometer of interest, the future of transportation is e-bikes.
Nearly 100 curious residents filled the hall on March 26 to listen to the latest information on e-bikes, hosted by Community Cruisers and the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley.
In the second of a series of discussions on the pros and cons of pedal-assisted bikes hosted by the two organizations, Mandy Johnson of Community Cruisers highlighted the cost-savings associated with e-bikes. When she traded in her car for an e-bike, it allowed her to save enough money to afford a home in Canmore. According to the Alberta Motor Association, the cost of owning a car is about $10,000 a year.
"Imagine what you would do with an extra $10,000 a year," Johnson said, who noted e-bikes cost anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000.
E-bikes, which use a battery to assist the cyclist, are quite popular in Europe, where they are pushed as an alternative to cars for those concerned with greenhouse gases, air quality and cost savings. Antwerp, Belgium offers sizable subsidies to those who buy e-bikes. The bikes are legal on Town of Banff roads and trails, but are banned from Parks Canada trails, including the Legacy Trail. More rental shops are carrying them in Banff.
Town of Banff Environmental Manager Chad Townsend has worked with council to implement the trails master plan for the past two seasons and said electric-assist bikes fit into that strategy. The Town wants to increase cycling commuting by 15 per cent, and Townsend sees e-bikes as part of that.
"When we ask what would make you bike more, we asked what the barriers were. One was the topography of the town. Residents may work at the Banff Centre, or live in Middle Springs. For others, they had an injury or surgery, and biking was no longer an option," Townsend said. "There are several motivations for people to look at electronic assist bikes ... I hope it's an option over taking the car."
Many attendees said they had recently had surgery, or experienced mobility issues, and e-bikes appeared to be a way of regaining their freedom. E-bike travel distances varies between 50 and 100 km, depending on how much pedal assist is used. Johnson said the main advantage is they "flatten the hills" and must still be pedaled to move.
Canadian laws around e-bikes are evolving. Alberta recently dropped the motorcycle helmet requirement for the bikes.
Several staff members at the Town of Banff spoke glowingly about their own e-bikes. Randall McKay, director of planning and development, lives in Middle Springs, and said he was able to park his car all summer and simply use his e-bike. He became interested in them after hearing former Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance Doug Topp had purchased one after moving to Squamish. Topp was "Mr. Mountain Bike" in Banff, and McKay, who after surgery, wanted to find a way to keep riding his bike. He said there was a stigma around the bikes, but that is changing.
"It changed my life. I stopped driving in the summer and it has given me so much flexibility," McKay said.
Jeff Eamon, trails supervisor with Alberta Parks, purchased six e-bikes for his trail crews. He said they worked so well, he purchased one for his own personal use.
"We use it to haul chainsaws and tools into the backcountry," Eamon said.
At eight per cent the cost of an electric car, Johnson said they might be the greenest form of transportation available for many.