The Amish & E-bikes

I don’t know if it was just coincidence, but two stories on the Amish and e-bikes came out last week on the same day – one on Amish in Ohio, and the other on Iowa (that can’t be coincidence, I’m thinking).

If you’re not familiar, e-bikes are bicycles fitted with an electric motor which provide additional power when riding to provide an easier ride and achieve higher speeds. These can be conventional bicycles with a battery and motor attached, or, bicycles with the motor mechanism built in, produced by a number of specialty manufacturers. Over the past five years or so, these have enjoyed a boom in the large Holmes County Amish community.

First, Kevin Lynch writes in the Wooster Daily Record that e-bikes are popular and the popularity appears to be growing:

The “e” in e-bike does not stand for everywhere in Amish Country. But you could make a case for it with the proliferation of the battery-powered electric-bikes traversing the rolling hills.

From Sugarcreek to Walnut Creek and Millersburg to Berlin, a growing number of Amish on e-bikes are sharing the highways and back roads with cars, trucks, motorcycles, horse-pulled buggies and pedal-powered bicycles.

The e-bike trend has grown so much over the past few years that local law enforcement has started tracking e-bike vs. motor vehicle crashes. And bike safety programs are being offered to help drivers learn to better navigate the roadways with so many sizes and types of vehicles, all traveling at different speeds.

One Amishman shares his enthusiasm:

“I’ve been riding my e-bike to work every day for three months now and have put over 250 miles on it,” said Isaac Yoder, who represents a growing sentiment among the Amish community. “It’s amazing what a difference an e-bike can make.”

You can certainly see the appeal in a hilly area like the Holmes County community. Here’s a photo I took of one in the community in 2018 with motor and battery units visible:

Easy maintenance and affordability also contribute to their popularity. The article quotes an Amish e-bike rider as saying “they’re easier to maintain than a horse.” I suspect that over the medium to long term they are a more economical alternative to regularly hiring a driver.

The article also has a look at one of the main local dealers, E-bikes of Holmes County, which started up in 2016. Owner David Mullet began with the business part-time before moving to full-time later that year. He has now added a second store. I stopped in at the original store, also in 2018:

The Stromer brand is apparently the highest-end maker of them all. E-bike prices run from $1,499 to $10,000:

E-bikes are of particular interest because they are a motorized form of self-transport. The Amish don’t really use motorized self-transport outside of a few exceptions like driving tractors on the road in a limited number of communities. The interesting wrinkle is that the motor is tacked on to an existing form of self-transport, the bicycle, that is widely accepted by Amish (though certainly not by all).

One concern for some is that “motor + wheels” heads in the direction of a car, or essentially provides an extended degree of range and convenience, to where it could start getting comparable to what a car does. Though, with e-bikes maxing out at around 20 MPH and limited to one rider and whatever you can tow, that comparison may still be a bit hard to make.

In the piece in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, we get a look at the Kalona-area business of New Order Amishman Victor Yoder, who runs the “first and only Amish e-bike shop in Iowa”. Around 90% of his business is from non-Amish customers, but the local New Order people have taken to the bikes:

Business has been brisk, Yoder said, and he has hired Eric Gingerich to assist him in the shop. Although the surrounding territory is populated mostly by Old Order Amish families who do not ride, he estimates most of the New Order Amish have e-bikes, many of them purchased from Creekside.

The Kalona area is also fairly hilly so I can see the appeal here as well. “They are very efficient and take little energy to run. You can enjoy being outside and the hills are so much easier to climb,” Yoder explained.

In an earlier article, David Mullet also described them similarly – as making you feel like a kid again. While I’d be curious to hear a Swartzentruber Amish person’s view on e-bikes, it looks like they are here to stay, at least among some Amish. A related question is how widely popular will they become among the Amish.

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    15 Comments

    1. Lynn C Berry

      E-bikes

      I may be wrong, but weren’t the motorcycles first made exactly like this? They were originally a bicycle & then someone came up with the idea to attach a motor onto it — well, as the story goes, the rest is history!!

      1. Sunflower

        Bikes

        My father-in-law, who lives in Iowa, and is 97 years old built a small motor and added it to his bicycle when he was 12.

      2. Something like that is probably just the argument used by those against them. I can understand why some communities would be wary. I can also see the strong desire for something like this especially in places like Holmes County where the hilly terrain makes that e-bike kick even more valued (vs. a flatter area like Arthur, IL).

    2. DJ

      EBikes

      Are the batteries rechargeable? If so, how does that work since the Amish don’t have electrical lines into their homes?

      1. Yes they are rechargeable, Amish actually use a lot of batteries (for things like Dewalt lights). Usually they have diesel generators to recharge them or some will use solar power. Of course some Amish are going to be more restrictive on this, but speaking broadly.

    3. J.O.B.

      Some of those e-bikes seem to cost a lot.

      I get the feeling that many Amish are having fun using them. So they’re willing to pay up.

      It may make it easier to get to work and other places. But I think the fun factor is playing a major role here.

      1. A good point on fun, I’ve never ridden one but it certainly looks a lot more fun or at least pleasant to not have to grind up some of the area’s hills.

        I am not sure if they would be seen as that expensive for some Amish. If you are paying (ballpark) $10K for a buggy that you might use once or twice a week (not counting horse and associated costs), versus one of these which you might use near daily – say $5000 might seem like pretty good value.

        1. Reziac

          Buggies

          I suspect there’s a common misperception that buggies are much cheaper than cars, but $10k sounds about ballpark. You might want to drop by Engels Coach Shop channel on Youtube — he’s a wheelwright and wainwright, and will give folks a pretty good idea of the knowledge and manual labor involved even when you use modern power tools. (He does it as a teaching channel, so over time it covers pretty much everything.)

          Seems to me an E-bike can be plain in its own way — with the self-charging type, the rider provides all the manual labor, just distributed on the downhills.

    4. Jerry

      In my recent visits

      I’ve been to no less than 15 Amish Mud Sales this year. I have never seen an ebike or scooter for sale or being used by any of the several orders using ebikes.
      I tend to interact with Amish west of the Susquehanna river as the east side tends to be more progressive and covered by many others. My visits to Lebanon County, Upper Dauphin and Perry Counties have presented zero e=bikes. The western orders of OOA don’t even use bikes. The exception would be OOM’s in Synder and Union counties have innovations in regular bikes but zero ebikes.

      1. Nice observation Jerry, I haven’t dug into exactly which Amish are using these but this appears to be more of a Holmes County thing (and looks like northern Indiana as well, knowing that community and surveying some of the local bike shops online), with a lot of the PA Amish in the kick scooter category. Btw what about the groups in Big Valley, do you recall?

    5. Joshua Singleton

      None here so far...

      I live in an Amish community in East Springfield, NY and so far the most you will see is a regular big wheel push scooter. No e-bikes as of yet, although you do see them standing in the hedgerow on cellphones sometimes. As for the question as to how would they charge one?… well, at least in the communities in East Springfield, Canajoharie, Palatine Bridge, Fort Plain and Fultonville, they have many means by which they could and do charge batteries. They usually not only have generators, but also many diesel and propane powered heavy equipment. Actually, I got so used to hearing my neighbors generator run all day that I was taken by surprise when I didn’t hear it running one day and it was replaced that night with an outstandingly loud sound system blaring classic rock well into the night (I assume dad was out of town). There rules have nothing to do with limitations and everything to do with maintaining separation from the world and dependence on the grid and I completely respect that mentality. They are a thoroughly practical people and most use battery headlamps, drill battery house fans, and just about any other appliance that you can think of has a counterpart that can be run off of a Dewalt, Milkwaukee, or Makita battery (clothes washers, irons, blenders, regular vacuums, sheep shears, meat grinders, processors, lamps, you name it… there is a version that runs off of those brand tool batteries. There are plenty of mail order catalogs that I receive myself that market these goods specifically designed for plain communities. Not only that, but they also sell smart style phones with no internet capabilities, and good old fashioned suitcase satellite phones. They are no stranger to solar panels either. They are strong communities that utilize many if not most technologies but take careful consideration on the effect that it will have on their faith and children. Don’t assume they have no electricity just because you don’t see a wire running to the farm… touching the perimeter fence will tell you a different story!

      1. Jeremiah

        Funny

        Really interesting comment. Much appreciated.

    6. Michael Sparks

      E Bikes

      I spoke with an Amish friend of mine about these bikes and he told me he and his family are part of the “Dan” Church and cannot have these, just like they don’t have glass or mirrors on their buggies.

      Another acquaintance (non Amish) told me that E bikes are really changing the culture as a whole. He said, “why bother taking the time to hook a horse to a biggie when you can hop on your bike and go?”.

    7. BILINDA Klenoski

      E-Bike use in Florida

      We have been seeing quite a few ebikes being used in the Sarasota/Pinecraft area of Florida. A few years back it was mostly elderly using them (probably approved due to need) but now all ages are using them. There is also a big increase in electric golf cart usage.

    8. Amish on electric trikes in sarasota, FL

      here is the video which had us wondering too https://www.tiktok.com/@proedgebiker/video/7004658202818120965