E-bike library lets Upper Valley check out a new way to ride

  • Laura Sibley, left, and her wife, Jessica Mitchell, of Norwich, Vt., listen to Charlie Lindner of the Norwich Energy Committee talk about the E-bike Mitchell was taking out for a test ride in Norwich on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Aaron Lamperti of the Norwich Energy Committee disinfects one of the three E-bikes members of the community could try for an hour in Norwich on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

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    Riding an E-bike, Jessica Mitchell, of Norwich, Vt., easily climbs a hill in Norwich on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. "I loved it, it was so fun," Mitchell said after her ride. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/15/2020 9:15:07 PM
Modified: 7/15/2020 9:15:00 PM

NORWICH — Daniel Haedrich and his wife, Ann, were always curious about electric bicycles, but it wasn’t until the Upper Valley E-bike Library rolled through Norwich that they decided to purchase one of their own.

“Her goal is not to be sweaty when she arrives at work,” Haedrich said of his wife, who works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and commutes from their home in downtown Norwich. “You hit the (Ledyard) bridge and you immediately start climbing. With a pedal assist it’s so much easier. You don’t have to put as much effort in. You arrive feeling pretty clean and dry.”

The Upper Valley E-bike Library is a collaboration between Burlington-based nonprofit organization Local Motion, which aims to connect people with e-bikes through bike rentals, and energy committees in Norwich, Hartford, Hanover, Thetford, Cornish, Plainfield and Hartland, to allow residents to try out the bicycles.

“Our whole goal is to introduce people to e-bikes and ultimately have them be able to hopefully decide to integrate them into how they regularly get around,” said Linda Gray, chairwoman of the Norwich Energy Committee. “Ultimately, I think it would be a wonderful outgrowth if people around here ended up identifying that they could keep one car, get rid of the second car and rely on an e-bike to do a lot of transportation.”

The idea came about last year, after Local Motion brought e-bikes to Norwich for about a month.

Residents quickly took to the program, and it got Gray and others thinking about establishing a fleet in the Upper Valley.

The energy committees began meeting at Vital Communities last fall to sketch out a plan and raise money for three bikes: a Turbo Como 3.0 priced at $2,950, RadWagon 3 Electric Cargo Bike ($1,499) and a mountain bike that was turned into an e-bike using a conversion kit ($810, which broke down to $683 for motor and battery, and $127 for new tires, brakes and accessories).

All three bikes have a pedal assist, which means that people must pedal while using them (though there are e-bikes that exist where a rider does not need to pedal). They are powered by an electric motor, which runs on a rechargeable battery. In the case of the RadWagon, the battery needs to be recharged every 25-45 miles.

On average, e-bikes can reach speeds of around 20 mph.

Helmets are required to borrow the bikes, Gray said. Adult borrowers may allow their children to try out the e-bikes, but children cannot check them out on their own.

Each of the towns involved has access to the bikes for a three-week period this summer or early fall. Norwich has been the first town to host the rental fleet, which was anchored at the Norwich Public Library.

People could borrow them for around an hour for a quick ride or do a weekend rental like the Haedrichs did.

Their decision to purchase order an e-bike is twofold, Daniel Haedrich said: less time using a vehicle and avoiding parking hassles at DHMC, which have worsened since construction began on the North Tower project.

“She can ride right to the door,” he said, adding that it takes his wife about 20 minutes to get to DHMC from their home. “Because of the parking situation, it’s actually faster on the bike. In the winter she’ll be back (in the car), but for now it gives her a break.”

Ron Eberhardt, chairman of the Plainfield Selectboard and member of the town’s energy committee, which often partners with Cornish’s committee, regularly uses an e-bike to run errands in Windsor and West Lebanon.

“We do have people from Plainfield who commute into Etna to one of the tech companies or into Lebanon or West Lebanon,” Eberhardt said. “It’s wonderful exercise. It just opens up a lot of places, a lot of back roads and hills that would either take all my energy for a day’s exercise and now I can ride for an hour or two and still do other things whether it’s splitting wood or working in the yard.”

Anecdotally, it appears that more people are embracing e-bikes in the Upper Valley.

“I definitely think there has been increased interest in e-bikes,” said Bethany Fleishman, transportation program manager at Vital Communities.

It’s important to note that the cost of e-bikes might be prohibitive for some. Green Mountain Power gives customers who purchase e-bikes a $300 rebate, and Brattleboro-based nonprofit organization VBike has partnered with credit union VSECU to offer low-interest loans for bicycles used for transportation.

“People are starting to figure out ways to bring the cost down for people who can’t afford the upfront cost because it’s pretty high,” Fleishman said. “I’m hoping that they can become a realistic option for more people.”

The Upper Valley E-Bike Library could also be a place to start for people who aren’t sure if they want to make an investment.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for people to try out a new, exciting, healthy and really fun way to get around,” Fleishman wrote in a follow-up email. “We aim for the library to be the tipping point for people considering purchasing an e-bike of their own, but I also see it as a fun adventure for a day or a few days even if someone isn’t planning or isn’t able to buy an e-bike of their own.”

As more people embrace biking, it has the potential to influence the way the area’s throughways are approached.

“The more people riding a bike for transportation, whether it be a be an e-bike or regular bike, the more car drivers see bikes and get used to bikes on the roads, I think it can be easier for towns to justify putting in bike lanes,” Fleishman said. “When you start building more of a biking culture in the community, you can end up building political will and community will to making sure that bikers and walkers and people in wheelchairs are given the spaces they need on the road to get where they need to go.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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