eBikes Are Awesome, But Do Not Ride One Like A Regular Bike

Luca Gattoni-Celli
6 min readSep 13, 2022


Our ebike hauing my acoustic bike plus a blue bag with maybe 40 pounds of groceries to donate.

It really did happen so fast. I was on our family’s Aventon Pace 500 electric bike and quickly went from enjoying an unseasonably warm New Year’s Eve to lying on the sidewalk catching my breath as my nearly three-year-old daughter helpfully interjected, “Daddy, we don’t lay on the ground.” I wrote on Facebook that evening:

In the interest to transparency, I just had a spill on the e-bike. Moderate intensity, my helmet worked great and I feel totally fine. [My daughter] was in the trailer and just came to an abrupt halt. She is totally unscathed. But you do need to be careful on these things. Turn slowly. I can see why they are less safe than normal bikes, especially for less experienced or fit riders. I came into a turn too hot, grabbed some brake, an uneven road surface helped unsettle the bike, and it snapped back and I high-sided. It all happened amazingly quickly.

I said “in the interest of transparency” because I was and am an evangelist for ebikes. The New York Times noted a joke: ‘How do you know if someone has an ebike? They will tell you.’ eBikes are going to transform how cities grow and build themselves up. Our Aventon replaces car trips, not bike trips, especially because we live in a hilly though admittedly pretty compact suburb. Online articles for people curious about purchasing their first ebike and living more of life on two wheels assure the uncertain novice, ‘It’s just like riding a regular bike.’ But that is simply not true, and for all of its virtues, I do not see the online urbanist community ever pausing to discuss how easily an ebike can seriously injure someone.

The right side of my helmet slammed the pavement with a thwack. My first two thoughts were:

“Wow, that was loud.”

“That would have been a lot worse without a helmet.”

My helmet was the difference between no concussion and maybe a cracked skull. I was lucky to avoid the ER. My right side was very sore for a couple of months. I knew immediately I wanted to get back on the horse and continue with the car-lite lifestyle my passion for urbanism had helped me discover. I had already started cycling again. But I started giving our ebike the respect it merited. I started treating it like a motorcycle.

The reason I feel a little entitled to extrapolate from that experience and others to make some critical observations about ebikes may be that I am an experienced cyclist. Think one level down from spandex-clad road warriors. I only had a couple of big crashes on a regular (“acoustic”) bike: once as a teenager standing on the pedals and waving at someone (dumb) and once as a recent college grad going too fast downhill to join a trail, causing another cyclist to crash and myself to completely flip over the handlebars (just about as dumb). The crucial distinction is, I crashed our ebike hard because I treated it like a regular bike. But an electric bike is faster and heavier. Or maybe to be fully accurate, it is never really slow.

Our Pace 500 has a 500-watt motor with a peak output of 750 watts, the U.S. legal limit for an ebike. That works out to about one horsepower, which is way more than non-elite cyclists can crank out. The bike weighs about 48 pounds. It has hydraulically actuated disc brakes, which provide lots of power, modulation, and feel, plus tires designed for an ebike. Compare to my 2010 Fuji Touring with a narrow flatbar. It weighs about 30 pounds. It has a relaxed road bike geometry and is nicely responsive in my hands. When the ebike crashed, I was along for the ride. I was turning left, realized I was going too fast, braked, started skidding left then the rear tire hooked up and threw me to the right. The forces involved were quite large. To be perfectly clear, I take responsibility for the crash and blame myself, not the ebike. This essay is what I would have wanted to read as I researched ebikes and imagined how fun one would be — which is very fun!

As a Class 3 ebike, the Pace 500 will electrically assist its rider up to 28 MPH. Going faster than 20 MPH for any meaningful amount of time will hurt your hearing, but you end up cruising at or just below 20 MPH if you ride along like someone trying to get somewhere. A Class 2 ebike (assist up to 20 MPH) would not be much slower. I am a decent cyclist, and my cruising speed on the green Fuji is maybe 16 or 17 if I am pushing. But the biggest difference on an ebike is that you are always within a few MPH of 20, unless you deliberately choose to slow down. On a regular bike, you lose speed pretty easily. Not so with a motor pitching in.

So stuff is always coming at you pretty quickly. Almost every time I am on the ebike without pulling the trailer, I have a moment where I have to really focus to not go off the path or the driveway or whatever. A moment where if I had not been paying attention, I would have crashed.

I have what I consider a bad habit of taking the Fuji around our little townhouse development without a helmet to see if some adjustment is correct or whatever. I would never dream of doing the same on an ebike. It is genuinely scary to see someone ebiking without a helmet. I think of my own head’s loud thwack on asphalt. And I think it is crazy that companies are renting out dockless ebikes like escooters, just casually tap and go.

Wear a helmet, and get your braking done early. Like driving on snow or ice, only ask an ebike to do one thing at a time: Accelerate, brake, or turn. As soon as I started riding the ebike, I figured out that I should only ever coast down hills. My mistake was pedaling through a turn, plus excess speed. Based on my experience, I completely believe the excellent motorcycling YouTube channel FortNine’s admonition that most crashes happen in a rider’s first year or so. Can confirm.

RyanF9, as he is known, also warns that ebikes are probably more dangerous than motorcycles. Consider that according to NHTSA, “Per vehicle miles traveled in 2020, motorcyclists were about 28 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and were 4 times more likely to be injured.” Not great, Bob! That is why I have a license plate holder that reads: “Save a life — watch for motorcycles.”

Given my love of cycling and excitable personality, part of me has long harbored a desire to ride a motorcycle, though safety concerns ward me off. I have kids, man. I joked that the ebike gave me a lot of the fun, and the danger. Maybe most of the danger, it turns out. A 2018 study cited by Ryan concludes “that e-bike-related trauma may involve serious injuries and have typical injury patterns that resemble those seen in motorcycle-related injuries.” Another study shared by our friend estimates ebike crashes are 2.8 times more likely to require hospitalization than a pedal bike crash. They are also approximately 3.3 times more likely to involve a pedestrian.

I tweeted this with the caption “My family loves our SUV” — the rack and basket adds even more utility for surprisingly little weight! Though it does probably push the total to 50 pounds.

In fairness, the most dangerous thing about riding an ebike seems, in my experience, to be bad infrastructure and cars, not in that order. The same may be true of motorcycles. And I still love our ebike and cannot wait for my next ride. I absolutely got back on the horse, but became more reflective about the experience of riding. I added a rear rack and (after more tinkering than I care to disclose) a basket to make a future grocery run without the trailer. I want to in the far future buy a second ebike, a nicer cargo one, so the wife and I can do dates on two wheels when, one day, inshallah, our children can be babysat by someone else. I am not satisfied with the cycling infrastructure where we live, but I will still ebike. My wife, much more prudent and reasonable than I, still does, with the kids in tow. We want to change our lives now. And obviously other people want that too, as skyrocketing ebike sales have become another cliché trend in news media. Ebikes will change many lives, the vast majority for the better. However, we must be realistic about their risks to avoid unnecessary loss of lives in the bargain.



Luca Gattoni-Celli

Recovered federal tax reporter currently working as a management consultant. Catholic, husband, father, student of economics. SDG