Ashland, Oregon, has many things that make it a dream location for an active cyclist to live or visit. The city has a Gold status as a Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists, miles upon miles of single track mountain bike trails surround the city, and 55 miles and more than 5,000 feet of elevation climb of the Cascade Siskiyou Scenic Bikeway rise up above town, part of Oregon’s scenic bikeway program, the only one in the nation. There is also the Bear Creek Greenway, a 20-mile paved multimodal path running parallel to Interstate 5 that connects Ashland to neighboring towns and cities with car-free transport.
While these are all incredible assets for the relatively fit and outdoorsy population, the dramatic scenery and topography mean that riding a traditional bike, even the nicest models, can be too much work for many citizens to effectively get through town. Some roads have grades that exceed 20 percent. “These are the kind of things that will cause even the most robust bicyclist to say ‘no, I am taking the car today’,” says Gus Janeway Owner of the local shop, Piccadilly Bicycles. Being a city that already loves bikes, with a downtown that is hard to get around comfortably, makes Ashland a perfect place for e-bikes.
We first noticed Ashland as a stand out e-bike city due to its e-bike subsidy program. The program ran as a pilot offering 50 vouchers for $300 off an e-bike costing less than $3,000 when purchased from a local bike shop by a resident. The program started with environmental concerns in mind. “One of the reasons our e-bike program exists is to reduce transportation emissions, which are the biggest single emission source from our residents,” says Stu Green, Climate and Energy Analyst for the city of Ashland. “Whatever we can do to help them go car free or switch, we are trying to do that. That is helpful to us for emissions.”
Green started the program with a grant from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to fund the project and prove it could work. In order to make it more approachable, and to maintain more of the fitness benefits, the program focused on Class 1 e-bikes. “We wanted to test the waters with the most approachable type of bike,” says Green. The system was simple: local bike shops could provide vouchers for residents to use for the subsidy. “It’s pretty low tech but it’s worked out really well so far,” says Green. “I would recommend that as a place to start for cities or places that want to get a program going.”
As the program and vouchers became available, locals took advantage. “I think it probably did tip people over the edge to say this was the incentive that I needed,” says Janeway, the local bike shop owner. “I used to assume it was just going to be people who are older who get e-bikes, but it is across the board.” Janeway sees real benefits to getting all types of riders on e-bikes, and has, from the start of Piccadilly, tried to cultivate a shop that promotes that. “We set out from day one to put forth the notion that electric bikes and bicycles, we are all part of the same family.”
Thankfully for Janeway, and all the other riders in Ashland, Green was able to use funding from the state’s Clean Fuels Program to extend the subsidy. “We are going to switch over to a permanent program and it’s also going to include class 2 bikes,” says Green. Though, to extend the longevity, the subsidy will likely drop to $200.
Like in most cities though, Green and Janeway say Ashland could benefit from a broader system of established and protected bike lanes. Though they both see momentum shifting to promote more multi-modal transportation in the city, “We need to be cognizant that everybody is going to need a spot,” says Green.
But as activists, riders and regular citizens push for more infrastructure, perhaps the best thing to help push the needle is getting more folks on bikes of all types, especially those who would have otherwise never considered it. “You achieve a critical mass where you have cars seeing a regular flow of bicyclists,” says Janeway. “Instead of being an outlier, they can see bicycles and say, ‘They look like they are having fun.’”
There are plenty of reasons to buy an e-bike: environmental, health, convenience. No matter what your reason is, Ashland is a place you can find the paths, hills and people to have fun while you do it.