Editor’s Note: This article was originally written by Rachel Mucha and Arlana Shikongo for Ithaca Week, an Ithaca College student publication. It is republished with permission.
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ITHACA, NY – As the weather gets warmer, more Ithacans will be using bicycles to tackle the steep hills instead of cars for transportation. On Friday, April 1 Ithaca Boxy Bikes extended their hours for the spring season, anticipating more customers.
The electric and cargo bike shop opened its doors to Ithaca three years ago and has seen a steady growth ever since. Laurence Clarkberg, the owner of Boxy Bikes, says the bikes have come in handy for commuting Ithacans who are deterred from cycling because of the steep terrain of the city. He explains that the shop is especially busy during this time of the year.
“During the summer, there’s maybe three or four people a day renting them, and we sell maybe one a week,” he said. “We also repair bikes, and we sell all kinds of accessories.”
Clarkberg explained that electric bikes are just like human-powered bicycles in the sense that they can be pedaled normally. However, he said the motor power helps with getting up hills, which is helpful in Ithaca.
“When you come to a hill, you just typically twist the throttle and you can pedal and use the motor at the same time and go right up the hill,” he said. “So going up a hill on an electric bike feels like going on a flat surface on a normal bike.”
Gabe Gaydos started helping out Clarkberg as an intern, and now has a paid position at Boxy Bikes. He’s ridden electric bikes frequently since getting the job, and thinks the experience is pretty incredible.
“Really what [the bike] does is enhance your ability. It makes you feel like superman,” Gaydos said.
The bike shop reduces its hours during the winter when weather conditions make cycling difficult, he said, explaining that the business sees stark fluctuations in high peaks and low peaks throughout the year.
“It’s very slow from about December into March. In fact, I’m looking for someone who might want to use this shop during the winter,” Clarkberg said.
Clarkberg explained that electric bike use is encouraged because it could be safer than a human-powered bike, although it seems counterintuitive.
“The main difference for me is I feel like I can go faster, it’s safer. If you can keep up with the traffic, then you can ride in the street with the rest of the traffic and you don’t have to worry about cars trying to pass you,” he said.
According to Clarkberg, although he encounters plenty of people in Ithaca who use electric bikes, many still don’t know a lot about them. Last year, Boxy Bikes organized a game of Quidditch in the Commons with the players riding cargo bikes to raise awareness. Clarkberg and Gaydos are planning on doing it again this year.
“We put brooms on the bikes…as far as we know it was the first cargo bike Quidditch match ever,” Clarkberg said.
Electric bikes, though more expensive than regular bikes, are a good solution for environmentalists who like to exercise explains Clarkberg. He explained that the bikes can get people where they need to go faster and also carry heavier loads, such as additional passengers or groceries. In fact, Clarkberg said he sees people buying electric bikes to replace their cars.
“A lot of commuters–that’s I guess the next reason people use it. People want to get to work without being all sweaty, it’s a lot faster often to get places by bike,” he said.
Clarkberg said he thinks electric bikes are good investments; they typically last a lifetime, minus a few repairs such as replacing the battery every five years. Like a regular bike, the tires and the brakes need to be replaced every few years as well. Clarkberg and Gaydos help out cyclists by organizing a bike clinic once a year.
“It’s in Fall Creek during the summer. We’ll help fix small things like brakes and flat tires. It’s free,” Gaydos said.
Clarkberg said he thinks college students especially would benefit from having electric bikes. Dane Eckweiler is an Ithaca College student who rides a bike around campus a few times a week. He said he would definitely be interested in switching to an electric bike.
“It would be so useful here in Ithaca, especially with all these hills,” he said.
Eckweiler also said he notices many people ride bikes into town but are forced to take the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit back up the hill.
“If more people had electric bikes the TCATs wouldn’t need bike racks at all,” he said.
Now, Clarkberg wants to educate more college students on the benefits of electric bikes, and is hoping to organize a visit to Ithaca College with an electric bicycle for the students to try.
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