RACINE — When retirement age comes, some people pick up hobbies like golf or writing. Others might travel or start a part-time job. But for Racine resident Russ Wahl, he spends the majority of his days riding his e-bike.
An e-bike, or electric bike, is a traditional-sized bike that is usually battery-powered and assists riders when pedaling, making it easier to travel up hills or through tough terrain. It is easier to travel longer distances because of the special assist feature on the e-bike, which still allows riders to control the speed by pedaling — essentially amplifying the riders efforts.
“I get up in the morning, have a piece of toast and I get on the trail,” said Wahl.
Wahl, 64, retired June of 2017. And last April, after having not ridden a bike for over 30 years, he bought an e-bike after he tried out his friends’ bike.
It’s now almost 10 months after he started riding his e-bike and he has quickly approached 2,000 total miles traveled. Rain or shine — and even in snow — Russ is on his e-bike, usually riding back and forth from Racine to Kenosha, often times with a close group of friends. His temperature limit for taking the bike out is 20 degrees.
“We rode it in the snowstorm (recently) … it was fun,” Wahl said.
Last April, Russ and his wife, Sandy, went to the Wheel and Sprocket Bike Expo Sale at State Fair Park in West Allis. Russ knew he wanted to try out an e-bike, but he didn’t know he’d leave with one that day. Russ got a deal on his e-bike and even Sandy was hooked after a quick test ride. She bought one as well, and, although she is not retired yet, she still rides it often. But she doesn’t ride as much as Russ.
“He goes morning, afternoon and night ... I can’t get him off this thing. He loves it,” she said.
E-bikes still need to be charged, usually every 50 to 60 miles. Some e-bikes even come with a throttle that can engage the motor by simply pressing a button.
Wahl is part of an expanding group of people who are switching to e-bikes to stay active and healthy, as well as to get around town. E-bike sales totaled $77.1 million in 2017 — up 91 percent over the previous year, according to the NDP Group’s U.S. Retail Tracking Service. Sales of electric bikes have grown more than eight-fold since 2014.
The growth is being felt here at home as well. Wheel and Sprocket, a Milwaukee-area based bicycle retail chain, that hosted the bike expo where Russ first bought his bike at, has seen a 225 percent growth in e-bike sales from 2017 to 2018.
“There were a lot of haters and doubters in the past, but this is the future,” said Noel Kegel, president of Wheel and Sprocket. “We have had a lot of success with baby boomers at the moment, but it’s really for everyone.”
“Data is starting to show that although the effort you’re putting in is not as much, people are doing it more,” said Kegel. “You are active and there is a health benefit.”
A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity last November found that although traditional cycling is better for health overall, e-bikes provide a better workout than walking. “E-cycling can improve cardio-respiratory fitness in physically inactive individuals,” that study said. The study also found that e-bike riders perform at “greater intensity than walking.”
Russ and Sandy say that an added benefit is the beautiful rides they’re able to take in the Kenosha and Racine area. Russ often takes the Racine bike path that connects to Kenosha. He also takes a path that’s just beyond Case High School in Mount Pleasant.
“I call it the enchanted forest. There’s nothing but big tall pines on both sides. You feel like you’re up north,” he said of the path behind Case High School.
Russ will also often see wildlife on his trips. He remembers one early morning on the trail better than the others.
“There’s a deer standing right there on the side of the trail, and if I would’ve reached out I could’ve walked right out with him but we let him go right by and didn’t move a bit,” said Russ.
“There were a lot of haters and doubters in the past, but this is the future. We have had a lot of success with baby boomers at the moment, but it’s really for everyone.” Noel Kegel, president of Wheel and Sprocket, speaking of the popularity of e-bikes