Close up of an e-bike on a dirt road.

Photograph by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Why you should buy your pastor an e-bike for Christmas

December 7, 2023

Jenny texted me at 1:10 p.m. on Thursday, October 12, “They’re just about to turn off the oxygen…Can you come up here?” Her husband Larry was in the ICU about to die. At 1:20 p.m. I jumped on my e-bike, shifted into 8th gear, clicked it to “Turbo,” and pedaled like it was nobody’s business on bike paths and side streets to Hennepin County Medical Center, 7.5 miles away. Google maps said it would take me 17 minutes by car (without updates for traffic and construction), 33 minutes by bike. I arrived in Larry’s room in the ICU at 1:44pm. I led the family in prayers and an end-of-life ritual. At 1:51 p.m., Larry took his last breath. I could not have driven, parked, walked to the front door, and made it to the ICU in time to be there for the family, but I was able to make it in time because I was pedaling an e-bike. I am now an e-bike convert!

In the winter of 2013, I started an experiment of walking, taking public transit, and bicycling for my job as a pastor. Today, almost 11 years later, I am still at it. But this fall I added a new form of transit, an e-bike. Specifically, my wife Lori and I bought a Tern Quick Haul, a fully equipped compact, pedal-assist, e-cargo bike for $4,000. I’ll give you a minute to recover from the sticker shock, but stay with me. Don’t think of an e-bike as an expensive bike, think of it as a low-cost car!

Let me explain some terminology. On a pedal-assist e-bike you still must pedal to make the bike go forward. You still “feel it in your legs” when you go up a hill. The motor, however, assists you as you pedal (it’s like an angel is pushing you along from behind). Our bike has eight gears and four speeds (eco, tour, sport, and turbo). A cargo bike is not like a bike you see riding on the Tour de France, it is more like a minivan. It has large rear bags that can easily haul a week’s worth of groceries; a rear rack that can handle a child seat (for the record, Lori could pedal and I could ride on the back!); and it is designed to be ridden at an upright angle. You are not hunched over with all the weight on your hands. Instead, you ride upright, like you are sitting in a chair: your weight is on your seat. Additionally, the bike has full fenders, front shocks, a carbon “chain” which never needs lubrication and never leaves a grease mark on your leg, and can accommodate riders from 5’2” to 6’4” with seat and handlebar adjustments. Simply put, it is like no other bike you have ever ridden. It truly is a “low-cost car.”

In the winter of 2013, I started an experiment of walking, taking public transit, and bicycling for my job as a pastor. This fall I added a new form of transit, an e-bike. E-bikes are not for everyone, but they can be an alternative to cars for many, especially pastors.

For years I called this kind of bicycling “cheating.” I giggled to myself as friends bought cheap e-bikes and paid heavily for repairs, while I pedaled away on my low-cost traditional/analog bike. I giggle now, for sure, while gleefully riding my e-bike. E-bikes allow me to continue to pedal for exercise, intimately know my community, and keep costs low, while at same time increasing my mobility range but allowing me to arrive fresh and ready, not panting and sweaty.

Studies show that people on e-bikes actually get more exercise than those on an analog bike! How can that be? Because people ride farther and longer. I find this to be true. I am on my e-bike, more than I ever have been on my analog bike. I find I am also more connected to my community on my e-bike because I am not as concerned about momentum. It is a small thing, but on my analog bike I would rather wave/nod at a neighbor than stop and talk to them because I would lose momentum. Now, on the e-bike, I stop to talk more often (and because I get a small boost when I pedal, I start again with greater ease).  Finally, when you view and use the pedal-assist e-cargo bike as a low-cost car, rather than an expensive bike, you start to see your savings pile up. In the fall of 2023, for the first time ever, the average monthly cost for a new car topped $1,000. The costs of climate change, fossil fuel usage, mining for rare minerals, and high interest rates will keep the cost of owning and maintaining an automobile high.

Most people are hesitant to go car-lite, more or less car-free. They say, rightly, that there is not reliable public transit in their area and there is not proper bike infrastructure. These are legitimate reasons to stay in your car, but an e-bike can cut through most of those hesitations. It can get you from A to B faster than most forms of public transit; you can still use side roads effectively on an e-bike if there is not adequate bike infrastructure. In addition, e-trikes (three-wheeled bicycles, which are popular in Finland for senior citizens and delivery workers) can also provide more stability for those who fear falling over or have some physical restrictions. E-bikes and analog bikes are not for everyone, but they can be an alternative to cars for many, especially pastors.

This Christmas, give your pastor the gift that keeps giving: a pedal-assist e-cargo bike. On the gift card, invite them to explore the parish, go on pastoral calls, engage with neighbors, get out of the office, and listen to some music all while they pedal on their new bike! I guarantee their sermons will be better, they will arrive for pastoral visits more present, and if a church council meeting goes sour there is no greater way to let off steam and release frustration than to pedal it away.

Rev. G. Travis Norvell is pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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