BRATTLEBORO—Have you ever wondered if you could really run all of your errands on a bicycle?
Until recently, the only way most people could find out was by purchasing a bike and learning the hard way.
Beginning this month, Brattleboro residents can conduct a thorough test-drive on a bike “outfitted with a really cool electric assist,” said Dave Cohen, founder of Vbike, the local nonprofit dedicated to getting more people on bicycles.
The program, called “Take It Home,” has six bikes available for short-term loan.
The five cargo bikes and one commuter bike all have the e-assist device to help riders maintain a comfortable speed — even while going up Brattleboro’s steep hills.
As VBike Outreach Coordinator Josh Traeger told The Commons last year, the e-assist is “the button that makes Brattleboro flatter."
The goal of Take It Home is for locals to experience running errands, commuting to work or school, visiting friends, and, if applicable, carting around kids, all on an e-assist bicycle.
“If people are using this as a viable [transportation] option, it needs an electric-assist,” Cohen said.
’The body has to be engaged’
E-assist bikes allow more people — especially the elderly, the not-so-in-shape, and those with physical limitations — to “incorporate the human body” in getting around town, Cohen said. “We can’t be closed off in a shell, the body has to be engaged,” he added.
With this project, Cohen hopes to continue VBike’s goal of achieving “a critical mass” of bikes on the road.
“If we don’t make bikes relevant, all the good intentions don’t matter,” he said.
Cohen believes e-bikes can also help wary riders feel safer sharing the road with cars. Because the bicycles have the power to travel faster, they become more visible to automobile drivers — Cohen explained that a driver is more likely to see a moving object than one that appears to be stationary.
“I want to see kids and the elderly out enjoying our roads and using their bodies without fear of the automobile,” Cohen said.
“People say riding a bicycle is dangerous,” Cohen said. “Yeah, [automobiles are] a thing we created that’s so dangerous."
He calls the e-bike “the ultimate hybrid,” because it uses human power combined with supplemental power.
A rechargeable boost
The battery-powered e-assist is fully rechargeable, and Cohen said a full charge will take the bikes between 10 and 30 miles, depending on the bike.
Because of the bikes’ range, Take It Home is offered only to those living within 10 miles of Brattleboro. The loan period is “four or five days,” Cohen said.
An orientation is planned for early May, Cohen said, when interested parties can learn about the bikes and sign up for a one-on-one training to get a full education in how to use an e-assist bike and how to safely haul cargo and children.
The bike loans are free, Cohen said, “but donations are accepted."
“The more money we have, the more we can do,” Cohen said, noting his hope is to raise enough money to increase the fleet to 30 loaner bikes.
Extra money may also help Take It Home purchase bigger batteries, allowing riders to take the e-bikes even further before having to recharge.
With the exception of the commuter bike, the fleet comes from Yuba, a Petaluma, Calif.-based bicycle maker specializing in cargo models. Cohen said Yuba donated the five bikes, and the only expectation is that he “maybe sell one bike."
“They’re our best friends right now,” Cohen said of Yuba.
“I think this fleet, and this project, is the only one of its kind in the United States,” Cohen said, “and we have it here in Brattleboro."