by Dan Shyrock
The popular Banks-Vernonia State Trail leading into Oregon’s northwest timber country is decidedly uphill. It’s not steep, but there’s a steady tilt that can make a bicyclist’s legs weary. However, more people are discovering a way to enjoy this remote, forest-shaded bikeway without worrying about getting tired by using pedal-assisted electric bicycles—also known as e-bikes.
Americans looking for a new way to explore the Pacific Northwest are turning to e-bikes to take advantage of vehicle-free routes such as the Banks-Vernonia trail and the North Idaho Centennial Trail, two paths that stretch more than 20 miles. On some models, a rider may need to pedal to get help from a motor, but the benefit is to be able to comfortably ride farther without over-exertion.
The e-bike phenomenon is rolling across the United States. More than 880,000 electric bikes were imported across the country in 2021, according to Ed Benjamin, chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association, a number that nearly doubled domestic sales in 2020. Benjamin expects 2022 sales will approach 2021’s level once final totals are tabulated.
The increased interest also can be seen at local bike shops. For example, two rows of high-end electric bikes stand front and center on the sales floor at the Bike Peddler in downtown Salem. “A lot of folks ask about e-bikes,” said store co-owner Kalan Lathrop. “We have been carrying e-bikes since the early 2010s but but they were a fringe part of our business until the past three years.”
Americans are discovering e-bikes are convenient, comfortable, easy to use and fun to ride. Those looking for recreation can take an e-bike onto a nearby country road, a quiet path or even a mountain bike trail.
“E-bikes can be a great tool for folks to experience riding in a way that they couldn’t before,” Lathrop said. “Staying physically active is challenging for some people, and the inertia to overcome is much smaller when you know there’s some assistance there to back you up. Be it commuting, road or mountain biking, it’s virtually impossible to not enjoy a ride on an e-bike.”
Ojai’s fabled reputation began even earlier with a ploy to boost train ridership after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Written at the behest of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1873, New York Evening Post editor Charles Nordhoff’s California for Health, Pleasure and Residence extolled the virtues of the sunny region and prompted a migration of wintering visitors. The guidebook proved so influential in shaping Ojai that residents initially named the developing town after the author. One notable visitor drawn by Ojai’s reputed curative powers was a young Jiddu Krishnamurti, the celebrated philosopher who arrived in 1922 with his tuberculosis-stricken brother. Though his brother eventually succumbed to his illness, Krishnamurti fell in love with the town and made it his seasonal home. Over the ensuing years, his lectures on mindful living at his Ojai home drew scores of wellness seekers and practitioners. Many stayed, and Ojai’s culture of wellbeing was enshrined. Today, Krishnamurti’s former home is open to the public as a library and retreat center.
Dan Shryock, an Oregon-based travel writer, has roamed from the Willamette Valley to Tuscany and New Zealand in search of cycle tourism stories. He expects to publish a book in 2023 in which he explores rural Oregon by bike.