For Ayolanda Williams, an avid bicyclist who suffered a torn meniscus and a ruptured Achilles heel, an electric bicycle changed her life. “My family bikes, and I want to be able to keep up with them,” said Williams one June morning after she demonstrated her electric bicycle at a parking lot in North Minneapolis. “The pedal assistance on the e-bike helps me be able to keep up.”
Since getting her e-bike last year, she has been riding around with her family, which includes a nine-year-old and a 12-year-old, for local commuting, including at last year’s Open Streets West Broadway event. She has not tried to ride long distances to St. Paul, in part because the bike is very heavy. Nonetheless, the battery on her bike could support rides up to 40 miles, which is enough for a round trip to and from St. Paul.
Williams is among the few people of color in the Twin Cities who owns an electric bike. Although e-bikes have long been around, the technology did not take off until the last decade. They have grown significantly in popularity since the pandemic began as people sought ways to be out and about, with bike shops in Duluth, Rochester and Minneapolis selling more and more every year.
“Over the last five years, and certainly over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a huge increase in the interest and demand for all kinds of e-bikes,” said John McConaghay, one of The Hub’s worker-owners. The Hub is a worker-owned bicycle shop with locations in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood and the University of Minnesota East Bank campus.
E-bikes are expensive to buy, with the cheapest model available in the Twin Cities starting at just around $1,200—that’s the discounted price—at local retail bike shops like Erik’s and REI. Nonetheless, McConaghay expects e-bikes to become more popular as the state implements a rebate of up to $1,500 for e-bike purchases based on the buyer’s income and the amount they paid for the bike starting next year.
Williams paid around $800 for her RadPower RadRunner bike, and despite the cost being lower than the e-bikes we see on the market today, it almost dissuaded her from getting it. “It’s hard to justify paying this much money for a bike,” said Williams. “I had to really convince myself that this investment was going to be worth it both for my health, for my family, and even for the environment.”
E-bikes are also helpful for those who have to carry a lot of heavy equipment. Take Wesley Ferguson, who got an e-bike from his time working at Venture North so he could help people with their bicycles. With Venture North closed, he now owns the e-bike.
“I’ve been using it as my main mode of transportation ever since,” said Ferguson, who uses it to transport batteries to swap out of rental bikes and scooters. “I know I can bring whatever I want [with this e-bike.] I haven’t paid for gas in two years!”
Aside from cost, buying an e-bike might be the last thing on the minds of people of color. Giving people of color more opportunities to try them out through culturally-specific clubs, such as through NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center’s discontinued orange bike program, may help. It certainly helped Williams.
“I was a participant of the orange bike program [where people from marginalized communities get a bike to ride for the summer]. Once you finish the program, they give you a voucher towards your bike,” said Williams. “So something similar to an orange bike program, but with e-bikes.”
McConaghay also suggests taking as many test rides as you can to find the e-bike that works best for you. “Find a bike that fits you and take it for a test ride. That way you can compare the different drive systems and wheel sizes and things that affect how the bike rides and what your experience is going to be like with it,” recommends McConaghay.
Even though e-bikes have evolved significantly over the past decade, some challenges remain. The batteries they use may start fires, as they did in New York City in recent years. It is unclear if such fires have happened in Minneapolis or St. Paul (fire officials from neither city responded to our inquiries about them), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission SaferProducts.gov database does not have any record of fires involving electric bicycle batteries.
Experts believe the batteries that ignited in New York City did so because they were improperly charged or made under questionable circumstances. To mitigate fire risk, The Hub does not charge batteries overnight and will not allow anyone to drop off a battery if they cannot determine who manufactured it.
The Hub also recommends buying e-bikes that are more on the expensive side as they may come from more reputable manufacturers. “The more you spend, the more relevant the bike will stay for a longer period. And the better it will work for longer in addition to being supported by the manufacturers for any warranty or follow-up service issues,” says McConaghay.
Where can I test-ride or buy an e-bike?
You can test-ride an electric bike by presenting your ID as collateral at the bike shops listed below. Most bike shops will also require a credit card for collateral. Call ahead for hours, days open, and to see if they have your desired model available.
Although none of the Minnesota bike shops that sell e-bikes listed below are owned by a person of color, there will be one when Venture Bikes Midtown opens on the Midtown Greenway at 10th Avenue in Minneapolis, in August.
3016 Minnehaha Ave.
401 SE Oak St.
3342 Hennepin Ave.
No credit card required; appointment strongly recommended..
2900 E. 42nd St.
Farmstead Bike Shop
4001 Bryant Ave. S.
No credit card required; will also accept car keys
Tangletown Bike Shop
816 W. 50th St.
No credit card required
Behind Bar Bicycle Shop
208 13th Ave. NE
Twin Cities suburbs
1812 S. 6th St., Minneapolis
799 Grand Ave., St. Paul
1955 W. County Rd. B2, Roseville
6824 Penn Ave. S., Richfield
3916 W Old Shakopee Rd, Bloomington
10750 Cedar Bend, Minnetonka
12910 Plaza Dr, Eden Prairie
1275 Promenade Pl, Eagan
6415 Lake Road Terrace, Woodbury
1312 4th St. SE, Minneapolis
2191 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul
6515 Richfield Pkwy., Richfield
8006 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park
12500 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka
2059 Snelling Ave. N., Roseville
501 E. County Rd. 42, Burnsville
1555 Cliff Rd., Eagan
16570 Main St., Eden Prairie
6850 Hemlock Ln., Maple Grove
1825 Radio Dr., Woodbury
925 County Rd. E E, Vadnais Heights
2120 Northdale Blvd. NW, Coon Rapids
1220 16th St. SW, Rochester
2115 W. Division St, St. Cloud
750 W. American Blvd., Bloomington
1955 W. County Rd. B2, Roseville
11581 Fountains Dr., Maple Grove
Cargo Bike Shop
1592 Selby Ave.
Lowertown Bike Shop
214 4th St. E.
New Spin Bicycle Shop
5335 E. Frontage Rd. Ste. C
401 N. Broadway Ave. Ste. 150
Test rides require the tester to sign a waiver.
4407 E. Superior St.