By Maggie Miles | Outer Banks Voice on April 29, 2023
Chip Cowan of Outer Banks Bicycle in Kill Devil Hills was definitely not an e-bike guy.
“I’m a classic cyclist—a diehard bicycle guy,” he explained. “So when e-bikes first came out, I did not love them. I thought it was stupid. In the very beginning days, people were like, ‘hey, you should probably sell these e-bikes’ and I was like ‘no, I’m not going to do that. It’s not who we are,’” Cowan told the Voice.
But he’s now done a complete 180 on the issue. So much so that not only does everyone in his family own one, but Cowen has created his own branded e-bike line called Kill Devil Bikes, which comes in five different models.
“And I’ll tell you why…You know, for people who ride bikes like me and my son, we’re always gonna ride bikes. The e-bike’s not replacing our bicycle…What the e-bike is really replacing for us is our car,” Cowen explained.
Cowen and his family still go mountain biking on their mountain bikes, they take their regular bikes to the skatepark or out for family rides to exercise. But if he’s going to Food Lion, or to the beach or to a friend’s for a glass of wine—he takes the e-bike. His three eldest children use them to go to work in Duck and his youngest has had his e-bike since he was 12.
Put simply, an e-bike is a bicycle equipped with an electric motor that may be activated in order to assist with or replace pedaling. There are five levels of ‘assist.’ Level zero provides no assistance with the motor while level 5 allows the electric motor to take over completely. The federal speed limit for e-bikes is 20 miles per hour or less under motor power alone, but some of these bikes have the ability to go up to 70 miles per hour. The average price of an e-bike is around $1,500 to $2,000, but they can range in price from $600 to $8,000.
The modern version of e-bikes we use now experienced a major boom during the pandemic, with sales increasing 240% from 2019 to 2021, according to site TheRoundup.org. It also projects that the e-bike global market will leap from $27.22 billion in 2021 to $118.6 billion by 2030.
Charles Buxton, owner of Outer Banks E-Bikes, says the power of the e-bike is that it allows every age group to be able to get around and to get as much or as little exercise as they want. One of the misconceptions is that you don’t get exercise, but according to Buxton, you can crank up the throttle and be cruising 30 miles an hour without having to peddle at all, or you can turn it all the way down and get an extreme workout.
“It basically suits the most athletic person and the most lazy person all in one. It’s the all-around bicycle…we’ve had everybody from the youngest teens to people in their 80’s come out and ride,” said Buxton, who also gives eco e-bike tours through Nags Head Woods.
Buxton loves seeing the different setups people have on their bikes depending on their age and what they use it for. He notices a lot of the younger kids with surf racks to carry their surfboards. With the e-bikes, they can go up and down the beach checking the waves at every access easily.
One of those people is Savannah Wallace, a lifeguard with Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue. She bought her e-bike when gas prices started going up last year as a way to save money on gas and beat the summer traffic. She said her favorite thing about it is being able to decompress and let her mind wind down out in the elements, instead of being stuck in a hot boxy car. But, she added, if she was going to ride an e-bike, she wanted it to make a statement.
“I wanted it to be super girly—and just like, obnoxious,” said Wallace. So, she got a pink basket, a pink cup holder, pink light-up wheels, and a pink license plate. “It’s like…The Barbmobile. It’s just a super girly bike so when you see me biking, I want everyone to see me and just know that it’s me. I love that.”
According to Wallach, so many of her Ocean Rescue colleagues have now bought e-bikes that there is a designated parking area just for e-bikers.
Brian Brockway of Manteo Cyclery said he now sells more e-bikes than classic bikes and has a lucrative side business building e-bike kits that people buy online. The Town of Manteo just allowed Brockway to rent bikes and e-bikes out of its Magnolia Market building in downtown Manteo.
“A lot of people are going for the e-bike over the beach cruiser now because there’s so much value…Here’s this e-bike that costs $1,500 or $2,000 and it bikes for you…Instead of getting winded and bored riding your bike five miles, now you can ride 25 miles, and it goes 20 to 28 miles an hour, often without you having to pedal,” said Brockway.
That was certainly the appeal for Len Schmitz, 69, of Southern Shores. Schmitz discovered e-bikes after riding from Southern Shores to Corolla with his bike club on a classic bike in a 10-to-15 mile per hour wind. In many cities, the big obstacle for bikers are the hills.
“The wind on the beach is quite an issue. I came back and I thought I was gonna die…And one of the persons with us had an e-bike and he’d let me ride it for a little while. I was like ‘okay, I gotta get one of these.’ Just so I don’t have to worry about getting home,” said Schmitz.
Another big bonus for him, as a Southern Shores resident, is the ability to go grocery shopping. As most locals know, the summer traffic snarls in Southern Shores can be very challenging and frustrating. And for many e-bike riders like Schmitz, it’s the only way to get to the grocery store in the summer weekends without it taking hours.
Phil Delpierre, another retiree who resides in Southern Shores, has taken the long-distance riding to a whole other level. He rides to the north side of Duck and back every day and has clocked 7,400 miles on his e-bike. He uses it for exercise, and while he used to do eight miles a day with a regular bike, he now gets 12 miles a day on the e-bike.
With the uptick in e-bike users, Dare County municipalities say they have taken notice, and are looking into ways to make the roads safer for e-bike users and others on the roads.
Representatives of most of the towns told the Voice they are in the gathering-information phase when it comes to implementing e-bike rules. And Nags Head Police Chief Perry Hale told the Voice that the town has amended its regulations on the multi-use path to allow for e-bikes on the path in addition to bikes and pedestrians. The town of Duck indicated that it is working with local police to create a bicycle and pedestrian safety campaign.
That’s awesome…seeing more & more of those E-Bikes all over town. Another reason for folks to slow down…but they won’t! Be safe out there.
E-bikes should be banned from the multi-use pathways. I’ve seen way too many speeding, often above the legal speed limit. They are a danger to others on the paths.
Excellent article, well researched and well written.
Enjoyed reading it too, partly because I’ve known Chip and we’ve rode trails together. Dude rips a bmx bike on big half pipes.
His shop has been going strong for around two decades, an asset to the community..
Ah, the next gen liquor-cycle. Stealthily quiet. No pesky gas and oil. No license or registration. No tags. These things are pure, Chinese-made American freedum.
30 MPH, even on bike/pedestrian paths that say, “No motorized vehicles.” This is gonna get fun.
My first thought when reading this article was money talks. I wonder how many e-bike shoppers walked out of Chip’s store empty handed before he became a believer? I’ve done business with Chip and he is a stand up guy. That said once the Colington Road improvements are completed I would like to buy an e-bike for travel to the beach. I’m waiting because I wonder if motorized vehicles will be prohibited from using those new wide shoulders being installed along on Colington road?
Wow e-bikes can speed up to 30mph??? Are they going to allow motorized scooters, Vespas???Why in the world would any town allow e-bikes on the pedestrian paths!! Someone could get killed!!
No Motorized vehicles on pedestrian/bike paths. This needs to be enforced by the police.
Curious if Nags Head has ever studied expanding the shoulder on the West side of the Beach Road? This would certainly help with biking, walking, etc. As a Beach Road homeowner you can really see the explosion of Electric Bikes in the last few years.
Great exercise. I remember the days when you actually used your legs to pedal.
There is no way e-bikes, scooters or anything with a motor of any type should be on the multi-use path especially in RWS where the path is barely wide enough fir two bikes to pass each other. Being hit by anything at a speed of 20, 25, or 30mph will result in a catastrophic injury.
The purpose of the paths is to get people off of the shoulders and move them away from the road. No one contemplated that motorized items would follow walkers to the paths.
Allowing these e bikes on the pedestrian sidewalks in Nags Head is as well thought out as putting a pedestrian crosswalk on the causeway to allow fishermen to cross a 5 lane road to get to the opposite side of the bridge to fish. Fortunately they stopped people from fishing on the one side and got rid of the pedestrian crosswalk, of course AFTER a child got hit.
I can only imagine the accidents to come on the beach road with e bikes flying up and down the sidewalks dodging people pulling out of driveways and beach accesses. I say flying because that’s the whole point, if they wanted to take their time going somewhere they wouldn’t be on an electric bike.
The Voice might want to write a follow up article to address fire concerns with these e bikes, there was a story in the news last week about the number of fires they have started being charged in homes and garages.
These e-bikes are dangerous to pedestrians. They are too FAST and too QUIET for paved pedestrian walking path. They come up behind you so quickly and quietly that you don’t know they are there. One wrong move and you could get run over or seriously injured. They should be PROHIBITED from paved walk paths! The town councils should address this issue at once.
There needs to be regulations in place. Allowing children to ride e-bikes is totally irresponsible. There is basically no difference in speed between an e bike and a scooter. Keep them off the multi use paths. Very dangerous especially with kids.
Today morning, driving my car to work – going speed limit; I was passed by e-bike which was going on walkway – must move over 35 Mph, then I see the e-biker barely avoided collision with car when was crossing NC12. When anything has an engine, it should not be on the pedestrian area whatsoever – it is not a bicycle, it is motorcycle and the driver should be schooled for if not licensed to operate it.
When speeding is the problem, put up speed limit signs and Enforce them. Yes, on the pathways. Europe addressed the ‘too quiet’ issue by requiring electric vehicles to have small bell that rings every 10(?) seconds. Hopefully it would have an off switch for off road nature rides. Again enforce non compliance with a fine. How about an ordinance requiring a max speed of ? when passing a pedestrian? This is a very important new technology that will take cars off the road and improve participants health. How about Old Farts (me)? Allowing electric 3 wheelers on the paved path from northern west KDH to Colington Road allows a couple to get rid of one of their two costly cars because the trike can now reach the post office, library, Baum Center, bank, drug stores, the town hall, and much more without adding to and getting high blood pressure at the damn bypass traffic. Read up on how towns restricted automobiles when they were new. What’s old is new again.
E-Bikes, golf carts, those 3 wheel Jetson things, buggies, scooters. A nice newly paved bypass. More visitors and more Traffic. A month until Memorial Day weekend.
The other mike
Once again a controversial issue has brought out the pearl clutching, foot stomping masses of whiny outer banks locals. As an e-bike rider myself, I am hyper aware of traffic and pedestrians. I slow to a crawl when passing people and bicycles for safety and call out to them as I approach. There are places where people walk that aren’t “pedestrian paths” too you know so maybe we should outlaw pedestrians wherever there isn’t a sidewalk. AND most e bikes dont go more than about 25mph so they are too slow for any main road. So I guess we should just outlaw them altogether, right?
Since people can’t behave themselves lets outlaw guns and alcohol too…and cars…and planes…and chainsaws…you name it. They are all just to dangerous for the regular person to be trusted with, period. The town councils have a lot to talk about!