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.