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Zornio: Colorado’s e-bike rebates could help many of us reduce our carbon footprint, with a smile

Electric bikes are a cheaper, healthier and more eco-friendly way to commute than cars. And they're fun to ride.

As a long-time bike commuter, I’ve easily pedaled thousands of miles over the years. But as much as I love to ride, I’ve always felt a small pang of guilt for falling short in not using my bicycle for all my daily transportation needs.

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

Hopefully, Colorado is about to reduce my carbon footprint with its first statewide e-bike rebates program.

Thanks to new legislation spearheaded by state Sens. Steve Fenberg and Julie Gonzales, as well as Reps. Meg Froelich and Alex Valdez, the state of Colorado is set to provide $12 million in e-bike rebates to 12,000 locals. The program details have yet to be released in full, but it is set to launch in January after the wildly successful Denver e-bike rebate program and other local initiatives.

The new e-bike program is yet another example of a burgeoning transportation market, one seeing tremendous gains at 12% in 2021 and projections of $80.6 billion in worth by 2027. 

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Bryn Grunwald, an Associate at RMI and fellow bicycle enthusiast, also tipped her hat to the state’s e-bike growth and next steps. 

“E-bike adoption is growing in Colorado and there’s a lot of excitement around it. Since electricity is generally cheaper than gas, e-bikes are a great way to help reduce people’s transportation costs and their emissions. However, to increase e-bikes in our cities, bikers need safe and protected bike infrastructure, financial support to buy a bike, and a demonstration of how a bike can fit into their daily lives,” Grunwald said.

As a matter of due diligence, I decided to take Grunwald’s latter point to heart: I rode my non e-bike a quarter mile down the street to the local e-bike shop and proceeded to ask a lot of questions and take a test ride: How would an e-bike fit into my daily life? What do studies show as the benefits? Would e-bikes really help reduce my carbon emissions? How do I pick one? And, best of all, what does it feel like to ride one?

Let’s start with the last question, as it’s by far the most fun. 

Simply put, if you’ve never ridden an e-bike before, it’s exhilarating. The first time you ride up a steep dirt hill at 18 miles an hour while barely pedaling, you will feel an overwhelming sense of childish glee and an odd sense of accomplishment for reaching the top without breaking a sweat. It feels like an elusive happy medium of bicycle meets battery where nothing — not even the great McCaslin hill with a full load of groceries or kid in tow — can stand in your way.

But shopping for e-bikes can also feel a little daunting at first. 

Unlike traditional bikes where one is primarily focused on features such as gears, frames and brakes, e-bikes come with all that and more. The more complex technical specifications of batteries and motors lead to insider lingo like hub-drive versus mid-drive, 250 versus 500 watts and varying pedal assist levels and throttles. This makes a buyer’s first venture into e-bikes a bit daunting or, for some, even a barrier to entry. It’s why local e-bike shops are necessary — to get the best bike for you, it turns out you’ve just got to try them.

So I did, and taking the time to learn more about e-bikes was definitely worth it. 

The lifetime cost savings alone are huge, and the environmental and health gains even greater — espeically if your e-bike replaces gas-powered and not human-powered trips. Some studies even suggest that carbon emissions could be reduced by 12% almost instantaneously if a mere 15% of car trips were made with e-bikes instead. This would also reduce air pollution and improve individual health with moderate level exercise on a more frequent basis due to the ability to take longer trips at a more consistent pedal pace. 

Additionally, there are equity benefits for older or disabled riders, with increased mobility providing an increased sense of freedom and reduction of health problems.

Personally, I haven’t yet decided on which e-bike I’ll get — I’ve got until January to test ride various models. So far, I’ve got my eye on a fun little class 2 step-through hub-drive. While others may opt for different pros and cons, the 500-watt motor and fast-charging 48-volt lithium ion battery would let me travel on roads up to 28 miles per hour and, depending on my level of pedal assistance, up to 60 miles. With sturdier than average tires, fenders and a rack, I can even haul up to an additional 150 pounds rain or shine. Rider alert: Most bike trails limit speed to 15 miles per hour and class 2 bikes, so if you plan to ride on trails, research local laws before you buy.

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In terms of my daily life — and it’s different for everyone — this means that from my Louisville home I can commute pretty much anywhere in Boulder County and Denver — twice that if I have access to four-hour charging before my return trip. With regular use, lower gas and insurance costs, a lifespan of up to 10 years and only basic bike maintenance, I figure the upfront cost with a state rebate and electricity use would pay for itself in one to three years.

Looking at the markets, this is only the beginning of a transition in Colorado culture to a more bike-friendly state. This January, I hope that you’ll be one of the other 11,999 to apply with me.


Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.


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