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E-Bikes Find a New Customer: Police Officers

In Idaho, a local police department has turned to electric-assist bicycles to help officers do their job.

by Scott Jackson, Moscow-Pullman Daily News / June 11, 2018
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(TNS) — Despite a price tag reaching into the thousands of dollars, local shops in Idaho are having trouble keeping electric assist bicycles, or e-bikes, in stock.

Even the Moscow, Idaho, Police Department has purchased its own e-bike, which differs from other motorized bicycles in that the engine only adds to the power of the person peddling rather than propelling the bike on its own.

MPD Officer Casey Green said the bikes are useful in certain environments where a vehicle may be an impediment.

"Part of the reason that we're so bike heavy is that we get out there on bikes and they're quiet, and you can roam neighborhoods and be pretty autonomous," Green said. "You can cover a lot of ground at your own pace so that you can get out there and see things."

Although Pullman has more hills than Moscow, Pullman Police Department Cmdr. Chris Tennant said the city does not have pedal-assist bikes and there are no plans to purchase one.

That is not to say PPD officers are not interested in the bikes.

"I have several officers, especially riding bikes up and down the hill, that think electronically-assisted bikes would definitely be an aid," Tennant said. "I'm certainly not opposed to it, but is it really necessary? That's kind of where we are right now in our budget process is if it's not necessary, it probably doesn't happen."

Sean Ellis, an employee of B&L Bicycles in Pullman, said one advantage of e-bikes is that they make bicycles a more viable option for those commuters worried about steep grades but still want the health benefits of biking to work.

"Here in Pullman, the No. 1 reason people don't ride bikes is probably the hills," Ellis said. "Around here, most of the people are buying them for commute reasons — so if you're a professional at WSU, it's nice to show up at your job and not be all hot and sweaty."

Ellis said e-bikes can reach prices as high as $9,000, but those carried by B&L range from about $2,300 to $3,700. Ellis said the shop has sold 30 e-bikes so far in 2018. E-bikes are in the middle of a boom, Ellis said. The industry is attracting a broad field of manufacturers, new and old, some producing high quality bikes — others, not so much. Some of the cheaper models can actually be dangerous, Ellis said, noting at least a couple of bike shops in the United States have burned down due to batteries that exploded while charging.

A Lewiston resident, Ellis said he has purchased a few of the bikes for himself and his wife and they have changed the landscape of his commute. Ellis said he occasionally likes to bike the 30 or more miles to his job at B&L and having a pedal-assist makes the route much more viable.

©2018 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.