Betsy and Tony Pfannenstiel have ridden a couple thousand miles together on their Rad Rover e-bikes.

Maybe eight years ago, I strolled into Bikes and Beyond and fell in love with a nifty three-speed island-themed fat-tire bike with palm trees and coconuts on its fender. The first time I rode it on the black-topped path to Beard’s Hollow I was so excited to feel 11 again that I pedaled too fast, missed a corner, cracked up into the salal and skinned my knee.

Lying there looking at the sky, laughing gleefully, I just hoped I hadn’t broken anything. It was glorious. I’d managed to re-enter those kid-dom days of yore, bike riding through, around, in, out, and over the vacant lots on the way to all the houses of my neighborhood buds. In pre-driver’s-license mode, a bike meant speed! Freedom! Transportability!

Guess what — bikes are back, though there’s a new kid on the block: e-bikes. I stopped by Bikes and Beyond again this past weekend to check things out. (Note their location has changed to 125 9th Street, 503-325-2961, in Astoria.)


The e-bike story is one that’s been growing quietly for the last couple decades; it spiked recently during the pandemic and has gained momentum with new battery technology and pricing. It’s making a big splash in urban areas where couriers, commuters, and messengers can bomb around and maneuver through traffic without the encumbrance of an auto or hassle about where to park. A recent article in the New Yorker by Patricia Marx, “Uneasy Rider” lays out some fascinating details (January 2 and 9, 2023 issue).

But New York is one thing. I wanted to explore e-bikes in our neck of the woods, and, funnily, that’s exactly where they started for Bikes and Beyond owner Scott Lee. “I started building electric bikes for hunters about fifteen years ago, to access behind the gates, to get them back into the woods. We were really fortunate that that was an opportunity we had because it laid the ground work for our breaking into the field. Basically e-bikes have changed the business and changed the industry.”

Scott continues, “I had a lot of experience in low voltage, working on boats. When we started customizing e-bikes, we started researching the new lithium batteries which were just coming out — this was 2008, and the price of the batteries has gone down over these last years — we were really able to get in on the ground floor. Now over 50% of our sales are e-bikes. About four years ago it just picked up from selling three or four bikes a year to now we’re selling half a dozen or more a month, especially in the summer.”

Some details

When I dropped in to the store, mechanic Riley Clauser was working on a scooter while Scott gave me a tour of some of his favorite e-bikes. It’s a booming field now with a complex array of options available, and it’s changing all the time. In basic terms, e-bikes are bicycles with a battery and a motor, so they can weigh upwards of 70 pounds (though the battery can be removed if needed). But how those elements are put together varies widely, along with a vast array of prices. Don’t think it’s your typical kid-type-bike expenditure: a decent e-bike will cost you between $1,000-3,000, not counting helmet, knee pads, upgraded seat, car rack, pet transport option, basket, cargo straps, even passenger seat, or other accoutrements. In fact, the Pervaves MonoTracer MTE-150 cited in Marx’s article — with a Kevlar dome, stereo, temp control, and top speed of 150 m.p.h. — goes for a cool $85,000. (Sheesh! you can buy an entry-level Tesla for around $30,000.)

Bikes and Beyond owner Scott Lee

Bikes and Beyond owner Scott Lee stands in front of his Astoria shop with a pink Retrospect, one of his favorite e-bikes.

But back to the basics: there are two kinds of e-bike mechanisms: hub-drives, with motors that assist in turning the wheels, have been around for about 20 years; but it’s the newer mid-drives, with motors by the pedals, that have fueled the revolution. Mid-drive means that the engine is actually accessing the pedals and gears of the bike, so the speed-boost is more sophisticated and gives a smoother ride. Either hub or mid-drives can also have throttles on the handlebars that juice the motors.

Legally, there are three classes of e-bikes depending on their top speeds. Class one bikes, generally top-off at 18-20 m.p.h. and don’t have a throttle. Class two bikes, with pedal-assist and a throttle, run about the same speed. And bikes in class three, with pedal-assist and a throttle, can reach 28 m.p.h. Yikes! Skinned knees might be the least of your problems at this speed. (Note that you do not need a driver’s license to operate any of the three classes of e-bikes.) Motors for e-bikes are measured in watts and the class three e-bike motor is capped at 750 watts.

As you may imagine in this field, and others where the engineering, technology and public demand have outpaced administrative functions, rules for e-bikes are either non-existent, confusing, or still being devised. Scott says, “The rules are complicated or changing right now. For instance, only class one e-bikes are allowed in any National Park.” (Though tickets for riding e-bikes are not common… yet.)

Tony and the eagles

Scott thinks the top makers of e-bikes are Bosch, Shimano and Yamaha. But there are a wide range of e-bikes and prices. In terms of local brands, Rad Rover e-bikes in Seattle are a popular choice for some folks ( Though Scott says, “RadPower© bikes, usually with Bafang hub drives, are popular but they tend to be rather heavy and parts can be expensive. We see a lot of them in the shop. Mid-drives tend to be taking over the market as consumers mature toward more expensive choices.” A couple of his favorites include the e-Dash ($2,200) and the e-Dash Mini ($1,700), a folding bike.

I think I discovered the bottom line on e-bikes when talking to Rad Rover riders Tony and Betsy Pfannenstiel of Surfside. Tony says, “I got my bike as a covid present — I think it cost around $1,700 — so maybe that was March 2020. But you know we e-bikers take a lot of harassment when we pass people with regular bikes. People say,’You’re cheating!’ I just laugh because my bike weighs 72 pounds, so I’m getting a heckuva workout. And people with e-bikes generally ride so many more miles than people who don’t have e-bikes. I’ve ridden 2,500 miles on my bike so far!”

“There are a lot of places to ride on the Peninsula. We go up to Oysterville from our house. Or we take our bikes down to Long Beach or Ilwaco and get on the Discovery Trail. Then there’s a 70-mile trail that goes from Raymond to Chehalis. Betsy and I have done that whole trail, in three segments. We get about 40 miles to a charge.”

“E-bikes are so much fun. Mine has four-inch tires so I can ride on the beach. Isn’t that every person’s dream? I can ride all the way north to the end of the Peninsula to Leadbetter. Just me and the eagles! Some people say, I don’t want to ride my bike on the beach — it will get salty and sandy and that will ruin it. So what? — it’s only a bike! Just ride it and you’ll have the time of your life!”

So if you’re ready for some kid-like adult fun, hurry on over the river and let Scott or Riley educate you on e-bikes. They’ve got a lot of great choices. You can even buy one at Costco and they’ll put it together for you (for about $100). Tell them Tony sent you!

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