Raphael Gribetz of Presque Isle shows off his recently purchased ebike at Riverside Park. Gribetz, an artist and longtime cyclist, said he gets around 30 to 40 miles per battery charge. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star Herald

Aroostook County’s rural, hilly terrain may be grueling on a regular bicycle, but the landscape is perfect for e-bikes.  

E-bikes — bicycles with a battery-run electric motor — are growing in popularity statewide. The principle is simple: the cyclist can switch on the motor to help power the bike, which makes demanding hills and long trips easier.

Since they don’t use gasoline, e-bikes fit in with Maine’s climate goals to reduce fossil fuel use. A state law that went into effect on June 8 includes e-bikes in an electric vehicle rebate program for certain people who use them as their primary transportation.

But even more than the green factor, the cycles get people of all ages and abilities out riding, exercising and enjoying the outdoors. That includes people who once thought the uneven terrain was impossible to conquer, according to some bike shop owners.  

“Sales are going up every year,” said Mike Chasse, co-owner of Bike Board & Ski in Presque Isle. “We’re pretty wide open and rural, so there are a lot of opportunities to enjoy the Aroostook County scenery.”

E-bikes allow riders to cover a lot more ground and have more fun outdoors, Chasse said.

One customer’s life was transformed by an e-bike, he said. Having had no vehicle because of the expense, the person bought an e-bike and travels all over the city and beyond. The rider put 2,000 miles on it the first year.

The store started selling e-bikes about four years ago and sold one or two that year. The next year, he sold about 4, but the number of sales is on the rise, Chasse said. The store sells a few dozen a year now, representing from 5 to 10 percent of their bicycle sales.

There are three classes of e-bikes, as defined by most bicycle companies and Maine law. On Class I models, a motor kicks in only when the rider pedals and can go up to 20 mph. Class II bikes go up to 20 mph and are pedal-activated, but also have a throttle so the bike can run with the motor only. Class III e-bike motors are pedal-activated and can go up to 28 mph.

After a kayak ride on a 93-degree afternoon, Raphael Gribetz of Presque Isle loads the watercraft onto a trailer attached to his ebike. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star Herald

There’s a lot of technology that goes into them, Chasse said. Some use a cadence sensor, which starts the motor at the level the rider selects. Those with a torque sensor give more power based on how hard the rider is pedaling. Still others have a heart rate sensor and the rider can select more assistance based on that.

“There are all kinds of reasons for people to purchase them. It can be an equalizer,” said Scott Seymour, owner of Pat’s Bike in Brewer. “If either the husband or wife is an avid rider, and the other isn’t, it can help them keep up.”

Seymour’s store has also seen an uptick in sales. The shop has sold more e-bikes in the first half of this year than in all of 2022, though he didn’t have exact numbers.

E-bikes can cost anywhere from around $1,500 up to $10,000 or more. Models range from road bikes to mountain, commuter or fat-tire styles. Fat tires are suitable for more difficult terrain like extreme gravel or snow.

Some e-bikes are even specialized for hunting. They have larger, more powerful motors and may come with an attachable trailer for hauling game out of the woods, Seymour said, though the shop hasn’t sold any of those yet. For those who commute 5-10 miles or so to work, the e-bike can be a game-changer.

“An e-bike allows you to not show up all sweaty,” he said. “I feel it’s going to be much more mainstream or common to get around by bicycle.”

Chasse, also a Presque Isle city councilor, agrees. The city is developing a downtown redesign with the Maine Department of Transportation’s Village Partnership Initiative that is trying to make the city friendly for pedestrians, cyclists and those who use other modes of transportation.  

The goal is to get more people downtown safely, however they choose to travel, he said.

Raphael Gribetz of Presque Isle, a longtime cyclist, purchased a Class III e-bike about a month ago. Able to go up to 28 mph, the bike lets him fit in with road traffic.

In Thursday’s 93-degree temperatures, he loaded his kayak on the bike trailer and headed to the Riverside Park boat launch to do some fishing.

It’s transformative, Gribetz said, particularly since Aroostook County has some strong winds.

“If you ride a regular bicycle too long a time, you begin to see the wind either as an adversary or, if it’s behind you, as a great help,” he said. “On an e-bike, it’s [a help] all the time.”

Saddlebags on the bike enable him to carry loads of groceries with ease.

He and Chasse calculated he gets from 30 to 40 miles per battery charge, depending on the load and the terrain.

As more people discover what they can do, Chasse thinks e-bikes will continue to grow in Aroostook County, where residents and visitors alike are drawn to the outdoors.  

“It’s catching on, and I would expect more rapid growth here in the next five years,” he said.