Northern Virginia is blessed with an elaborate system of trails, from the W&OD Trail that spans 45 miles from Shirlington to Purcellville, to the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail stretching from George Washington’s estate to Theodore Roosevelt Island that connects several regional trails along the way. While a traditional bicycle does the job, you can cover much more ground with an e-bike.
An electric bicycle comes equipped with a rechargeable battery-powered electric motor that takes some of the work out of bicycling—especially when you are tackling steep hills and long distances. E-bikes fall into two main categories: pedal-assist models that work with the cyclist’s pedaling motion to add auxiliary power, and those that add a throttle (generally on the handlebar), making it more akin to a moped. Different speeds will allow you to travel up to 25 mph on an e-bike, and gear shifts like on regular bikes help you further regulate the ride. But make no mistake: E-bikes are not motorcycles, since they can still be operated by pedal power. Think of them as the two-wheeled version of a hybrid vehicle.
Electric bikes have surged in popularity over the past few years as both an alternative to traditional cycling and an eco-friendly commuting option. They can also open up a new activity to those with physical limitations who aren’t able to pedal a regular cycle.
Todd Ketch is the owner of Pedego Alexandria, currently the only e-bike outfit in Northern Virginia. Ketch rents bikes for self-guided rides and offers guided tours. He recently offered three-hour tours from Alexandria to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms; other excursions take riders to monuments and sights in D.C., and around charming Old Town by day or by night. He also sells e-bikes, and the past year or so, they’ve been so hot, he hasn’t been able to keep them in stock.
Here are some things for first-timers to keep in mind if you decide to embark on an e-bike ride or tour:
- The minimum age in Virginia to ride an e-bike is 14. Helmets are not required but are definitely recommended.
- It’s easy to get the hang of an e-bike. Start slowly at speed 1 or 2, and once you get used to the momentum and power, you can ramp it up if need be.
- Depending on the brand and model, the e-bike may need to be switched off or to zero speed before dismounting. As Ketch puts it, the bike doesn’t care if you are on it or off it; if you keep the battery engaged, step off and start walking alongside it, it can take off without you, potentially causing injury to you and damage to the bike.
- If you ever feel like you’re getting out of control, remember—you have brakes, just like on a regular bike.
- Have fun! E-bikes offer a whole new way to see the area on two wheels.
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